Thursday, March 13, 2008

No virtue without a miracle

"Went on reading St. Augustine. Interested to note that he left Carthage, where he had been teaching, to go to Rome because in Carthage his students were so undisciplined ("the license of the students is gross, and beyond all measure"). Convinced more than ever that St. Augustine, and those like him, alone have found the answer to life, which is to 'slaughter our self-conceits like birds, the curiosities by which we voyage through the secret ways of the abyss like the fish of the sea, our carnal lusts like the beasts of the field' in order that 'you, O God, you the consuming fire, should burn up those dead cares and renew the men themselves to immortal life.' Walking around St. James' Park I thought intensely of the difference between Tolstoy and St. Augustine. Tolstoy tried to achieve virtue, and particularly continence, through the exercise of his will; St. Augustine saw that, for man, there is no virtue without a miracle. Thus St. Augustine's asceticism brought him serenity, and Tolstoy's anguish, conflict, and the final collapse of his life into tragic buffoonery."

Malcolm Muggeridge, writing in his diary, 26-27 March 1951, as recorded in Like It Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge, page 434.

Authentic Christianity is more than a mechanism for intensified will-power over our temptations. Authentic Christianity is miracle through-and-through. It is, as Henry Scougal put it, "the life of God in the soul of man." It is, as Thomas Chalmers put it, "the expulsive power of a new affection." It is, as Jesus put it, "abiding in me."

Every one of us is so massively ordinary. Still more, we are sinners who break out in a rash at the approach of God our only true Friend. But the good news is that that Friend works miracles of love in ordinary, evil people who don't even want him around, people who continually oscillate between self-hating moral failure and self-exalting moral success. The miraculous virtue he creates comes through a Spirit-imparted bright new awareness and embrace of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners:

"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

That is miracle, that is Christianity, and that is what God is doing in the world today.

The questions I never stop asking are, Is that miracle my experience today, right now? If not, how can I get back into that zone? Is that miracle our corporate experience at church? If not, how must we adjust to stay in that zone where God, God, God is at work with his unmistakable power?

I just don't want anything else. Only having correct doctrine, important as that is, and biblical structures and attractive programs, etc. -- reducing Christianity to the humanly manageable is unendurable to me. The miracle is too desirable. Lord, make my life a miracle. Make my church a miracle.