manalive (part i)

it is irresponsible to forget you are alive. in fact, it is dangerous.

i didn’t think much about this concept until i read g.k. chesterton’s novel “manalive.” i took it for granted that i was alive — i breathed, i slept, i ate, i did other things. of course i was alive. i was relatively young, reasonably healthy, somewhat more than ordinarily cautious. why would i not be alive? if someone had asked me “are you alive?” before i read this book, i would likely have looked at them with a mixture of confusion and suspicion and replied ” … yes?”

then i read the book. actually, i read it over the course of a year, i think. i started it, read a few chapters, admired the beauty of the writing, put it down for some reason and didn’t pick it up again for several months. when i restarted it i finished it, and it blew my mind.

so let me ask you: are you alive? keep thinking while you read.

without spoiling the plot for you any (because you really, really should read this book), “manalive” is about the intense, vibrant preciousness of life.

“oh,” perhaps you’re thinking, “that sounds like it would make such an interesting plot for a novel. um, no thanks.” (like the sarcasm i gave you?)

tell me, when was the last time you saw the sunrise? or the sunset? this question isn’t trying to guilt you into getting up earlier, don’t worry. but did it ever occur to you that the sun comes up every morning, without fail?

of course it does! what’s so special about that?

did you ever consider that it doesn’t have to? God makes the sun rise; He’s the one Who directs the show, y’know. He paints those sunrises and sunsets whether you go look at them or not. He choreographs the way the winds dance on a peaceful summer day or drive and howl in the midst of a hurricane. He gave you the first breath you ever breathed. He gave you the one you’re breathing right now, and the next one, and the next one … He’s the one Who gives life and the one who sustains life, and ultimately He’s the only one Who can take life away.

He gave us life when He didn’t have to.

God created us to enjoy Him. and we, being the idiotic little beggars we are, told Him He wasn’t enough. we turned our backs on Him and said “forget you — we’re going to do this our way.”

you know, i don’t think God had to give us free will, either. but He chose to, even though He knew what we would do with it. He gave us life.

and instead we chose death.

at that point, God would have been completely justified in destroying adam and eve and all traces of humanity. but He didn’t. even though we had to suffer with the consequences of knowing good and evil (the ultimate consequence being death), He had still created us to enjoy Him, to revel in the mind-bending beauty of His passion and joy and holiness. He still wanted the best thing in the universe for us, even though we were off playing in the garbage.

so He did something shocking. He sent His Son — His own beautiful, precious, perfect Son — down to the dirty, stinking, snot-nosed monsters playing king of the trash pile in paper crowns. because He loved them, inconceivable as that may be. God isn’t about doing the thing we expect, you see.

and that beautiful, precious, perfect Son? nothing on this planet could taint Him because He loved His Father so much. but because He loved His Father, and because He loved us, He gave up everything He was to take on everything we were, and He took every act of cosmic treason we ever committed against God, every shame we ever felt, every hurt, every terror, every desire to kill someone, every desire to die ourselves, on His own shoulders before His Father. God had to turn away His loving eyes from His Son and pour out all His fiery, holy, just wrath against our sin on Him. He didn’t pour it out on us, although we’re the ones who deserve it. Jesus absorbed all of that for us. He died.

but He died so we could live. and when God raised Jesus from the dead, that meant that every man and woman could be alive, too. not just alive in the biological sense of the term, but alive in the spiritual sense — to have Life itself dwelling in you for all eternity. to have the identity of a beautiful, precious, perfect, beloved son or daughter of God. to see God face-to-face one day without the fear of being annihilated. to know that God is present with you at any and every moment and would never leave you for anything. to know that nothing can separate you ever from the love of God once you are His because He sees you through Jesus.

this is how eugene peterson paraphrases it in “the message”:

I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. — Galations 2:19-20

so if you belong to God, Christ is your life. while your physical body will probably age, stop working correctly and eventually die, nothing can touch the life you have in Christ. and He promises to restore you one day to a body beyond what you can imagine right now.

okay, so this is life. if you belong to God, do you see your life as a precious thing Jesus’ blood bought for you? do you see it as a constant adventure with the most beautiful being in the universe?

or do you forget you’re alive? it’s frighteningly easy to do. routine kicks in and we make the rounds of meals, work or school, playtime, sleep. maybe we talk to God in there sometimes. maybe even for a long time. maybe we busy ourselves with all sorts of “good Christian activities” because we need to earn enough points to buy our way to the next level of spiritual arrival. hello! that is not living. that is existing. that is not at all the same thing.

i have so much more to say on this that i think i’ll have to save the rest for another post. but until then, here’s something g.k. chesterton himself says about life:

“here i am only trying to describe the enormous emotions which cannot be described. and the strongest emotion was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. it was an ecstasy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity.”

so tell me: are you alive?