Wednesday, January 6, 2010

an ant farm

perspective is important. that is an understatement.

in my opinion, a person's perspective is at the very foundation of who they are - it controls how they think, and so how they speak and act. even as a young person, i know that a person's success hinges largely on whether or not, when given lemons, they choose to make lemonade or cry about it - whether they view themselves as one who overcomes or one who is overcome.

this is why i believe that theology is so fascinating - it provides us with countless little blocks from which we can pick and choose to build our perspective - how we view people, how we view ourselves, how we view God, how we view the earth - the list goes on. hopefully the picking and choosing has more to do with truth than convenience, but that's a topic for another time.

one day, long ago, i was sitting in a theology class, and we were discussing atonement theories (how, exactly, the whole "salvation" thing works). i was intrigued because not one had ever told me that there were varying theories. this came as good news, because the image that had evolved in my head was somewhat frightening:

i saw God as an old-fashioned judge, with the gray wig and everything, sitting at a high judge desk with a giant wooden gavel. i am a tiny little person, standing under the gavel on that little wooden circle on which judges bang gavels. God looks at me and says 'you have been judged and you have been found wanting.' as soon as he says it, he raises the gavel high in the air to squash me and then Jesus shoves me out of the way and gets squished himself. God then leaves me alone, being satisfied to have squashed someone, even if it wasn't me. now, no one ever told me that story, but it's the imagery that comes to mind when we sing words like 'the wrath of God is satisfied.' (absolutely no offense to that song - it's one of my favorites, apart from that line.)

when i was in this theology class and we were discussing atonement theories, my professor spoke about it in a different way. he proposed that, instead of being squashed by God, Jesus, in his death and resurrection, was defeating death. my professor made a fist and called it humanity, and then covered his fist with his other hand and called it death - death was something that eventually subdued every single human. but, when Jesus died and rose, the fist suddenly opened - throwing off the other hand - freeing humanity from bondage and making fear of death a thing of the past.

disclaimer - i'm not really trying to propose that this salvation idea is something different than you think it might be, i'm just trying to propose a different way of looking at it. perspective.

i've come up with my own analogy. an ant farm. i know i've never had an ant farm, and i may have never even seen an ant farm in real life, so if something about this analogy is inconsistent with known ant farm truths, you'll have to forgive me.

so, in this ant farm analogy, we are ants. God is the little kid watching us, overjoyed. now, the little kid feeds the ants by putting their food, let's say a delicious christmas cookie, on top of the dirt. at first, all is well - the ants walk around on top of the dirt, eating the cookie, looking up at the little kid with grateful, even teary, eyes because they love their christmas cookie so much. (i'm not an expert on ant nutrition, so let's just pretend that christmas cookies are very good for them.)

eventually, one of the ants finds its way into the dirt. all of the others follow, forgetting about christmas cookie. once the ants are underground, they can't find their own way out and they begin to starve. this is devastating to the little kid, who loved nothing more than to watch the ants enjoy his cookie. instead of giving up on his precious little pets, he sits and watches as the ants, who are mere centimeters away from what they need, run around with no way back to the top.

if i didn't lose you at the christmas cookie, i might lose you here:
the little kid then turns himself into an ant and follows the ants underground. he finds a few of the ants, gains their little ant trust and leads them back to the christmas cookie at the top. the journey wasn't easy, but he did have some extra insight, having seen the ant farm from the outside.

i'm going to stop the story right here, before we get into the last ant supper, methods of early ant execution, or the great insect commission, but i think you get the point, hopefully. and hopefully i get the point too.

no analogy is perfect - not the artist in my last post, not the gavel, not the fist, not the ants. but each of them can help us make sense of things. i just like to remind myself that i don't know everything. in fact, one could make the argument that i don't know anything. therefore, i certainly can't pretend that there is only one way of looking at something and i've found it, especially when it comes to important things, like christmas cookies.

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