Here is a passage from a short story we covered in Indian literature class today. While the topic of this passage is obviously unrequited romantic love, I think there is something poignant in there that relates to any kind of love relationship. And I am going to suggest in the analysis below that it is true of human attitude to God. The passage is from Dr. Salaam by Padma Perera.
“Meanwhile, the Doctor’s ideal continued to be my sister – an ideal cherished with a combination of personal need and Petrarchan distance, almost as if her very remoteness was a necessary source of his sustenance: as long as she remained inaccessible, he could remain constant. He probably could have proposed to her at any time, but he never did. The nearest he came to declaring his devotion was murmuring wistfully that this was the kind of girl he’d like to marry; the nearest he came to showing his feelings was by being acutely embarrassed if he happened to be unshaven when she came into the room. How this admiration affected her, I could not tell. She continued exquisite and elusive, away at college or upstairs in her room most of the time, writing poetry or playing on her sitar. My parents, with their usual tolerance, accepted the situation; my mother, with her usual insight, remarked one evening that Dr Schlamm was an anachronism in time and space – no matter where he lived or when he would be out of his context, out of his time.”
I think this is a brilliantly worded and very quotable passage! It is quite a romantic tragedy. Now having gotten that out of the way, here is why I relate it to the human experience of relating to God. We build up this cherished ideal of what God is like on extra-Biblical ideas, making him out to be a benevolent “sky fairy” and all-around nice guy – I am quoting someone on the sky fairy but I am not sure who. (As a note, my definition of a reliable source of information on what God is like is whether it is Biblical.) In desperation to improve public opinion of God, or to not offend people who ‘have faith in God’, we construct a simplistic default that we can hold at a distance or wear as a badge. We cherish this ideal with personal need, knowing that we can’t make it alone and there must be ‘a higher power’ giving meaning to the world, but we are not entirely sure what that means.
Now as for Petrarchan distance, you must first know that Petrarchan love in literature is a distant innocent love of purity. The lovers never get involved with each other. Many people hold God off at a distance, not wanting to know too much because that could upset the status quo of personal belief: either you are driven away in fear or you must fall to your knees and accept God as who he is. As long as God remains remote and inaccessible, being just that indescribable ‘feeling’, no one needs to disagree. When a Christian is fearful of going deeper in their walk with God, it is because they fear finding out how extraordinary God is. That kind of awesomeness would deserve a whole lot more faith and exclusive loyalty out of you and could really shake things up.
Finally, it is quite common for people to be seeking the truth about God and how we should relate to him as humans, and it is quite common that this search goes on and on without any declaration of devotion. We fear commitment. I’m a 21 year old kid! I know the fear of commitment. When something as big as acknowledging the Almighty of the Universe is at stake, I can see a thought like this coming up: “This is the kind of God I’d like to believe in, but I am afraid that this belief might change me as a person, and might change the way I live.” Of course it may not be worded this way, as I think the second half about fear is a subconscious thing we don’t address or admit, but with the benefit of hindsight, I would say that is how I’d encompass the fear of getting to know God.
The last part on Dr. Salaam being an anachronism I think relates in a diversionary way to our not belonging on earth. We were made to desire (crave) higher and more perfect things than what’s here. In a strange way, the temporal sense you get from the word anachronism (something out of place in time) is very suitable to what I want to say: if we are made for the Eternal, thinking about life as spanning a mere 70-80 years (that would be a long life) would make us all feel quite anachronistic. I just want to lie on the beach in the sun forever!
“He could have proposed to her at any time, but he never did.” I don’t know how many people for whom this would be true in their decision (see point 4 for ‘the decision’) to commit to accepting Jesus as Lord – to commit to following him, come what may. It’s not that you don’t commit because you are uncertain, or because you’re not right for each other, or because you’re not ready (when will you be?); you don’t commit because you don’t commit.
[I need to re-read and edit this spewage of words another time]