One of the most frustrating aspects of life is the predictably unreliable nature of our better angels. Our best selves seem to elude us so often, and when they do emerge the moments seem uncontrollable. It’s as if we are outside looking in at some of the best moments of life, feeling less like actors on its stage and more like patrons in a theater. It’s this perennial and universal experience that leads people to give up on faith, New Year’s resolutions, diets, relationships, and even on themselves.
I was reading from Friedrich Schleiermacher’s sermons this morning when I came across one entitled “Christ’s Resurrection as the Image of our New Life.” It concludes with these words which hopefully illumine the one step forward two step back character of redemption:
And lastly, my friends, we cannot feel all these comforting and glorious things in which our new life resembles the resurrection life of our Lord, without being at the same time, on another side, moved to sorrow by this resemblance. For if we put together all that the evangelists and the apostles of the Lord have preserved for us about His resurrection life, we still cannot out of it all form an entirely consecutive history. There are separate moments and hours, separate conversations and actions, and then the risen One vanishes again from the eyes that look for Him; in vain we ask where He can have tarried, we must wait till He appears again. Not that in Himself there was anything of this broken or uncertain life, but as to our view of it, it is and cannot but be so; and we try in vain to penetrate into the intervals between those detached moments and hours. Well, and is it not, to our sorrow, the same with the new life that is like Christ’s resurrection life? I do not mean that this life is limited to the few hours of social worship and prayer, glorious and profitable as they are; for in that case there would be cause to fear that it was a mere pretence; nor to the services, always but small and desultory, that each of us, actively working through the gifts of the Spirit, accomplishes, as it were, visibly and tangibly according to his measure, for the kingdom of God. In manifold ways besides these we become conscious of this new life; there are many quieter and secret moments in which it is strongly felt, though only deep in our inmost heart. But notwithstanding this, I think all without exception must confess that we are by no means conscious of this new life as an entirely continuous state; on the contrary, each of us loses sight of it only too often, not only among friends, among disturbances and cares, but amidst the commendable occupations of this world. But this experience, my dear friends, humbling as it is, ought not to make us unbelieving, as if perhaps our consciousness of being a new creature in Christ were a delusion, and what we had regarded as indications of this life were only morbid and overstrained emotions. As the Lord convinced His disciples that He had flesh and bones, so we may all convince ourselves and each other that this is an actual life; but in that case we must believe that, though in a hidden way and not always present to our consciousness, yet it is always in existence, just as the Lord was still in existence even at the times when He did not appear to His disciples; and had neither returned to the grave, nor as yet ascended to heaven. Only let us not overlook this difference. In the case of Christ we do not apprehend it as a natural and necessary thing that during those forty days He led a life apparently so interrupted; but each of us must easily understand how, as the influence of this new life on our outward ways can only gradually become perceptible, it should often and for a long time be quite hidden from us, especially when we are very busy with outward work, and our attention is taken up with it. But this is an imperfection from which as time goes on we should be always becoming more free. Therefore always back, my friends, to Him who is the only fountain of this spiritual life! If, ever and anon, we cannot find it in ourselves, we always find it in Him, and it is always pouring forth afresh from Him the Head to us His members. If every moment in which we do not perceive it is a moment of longing, as soon as we become conscious of the void; then it is also a moment in which the risen One appears to our spirit, and breathes on us anew with His life-giving power. And thus drawing only from Him, we shall attain to having His heavenly gifts becoming in us more and more an inexhaustible, continually flowing fountain of spiritual and eternal life. For this He rose from the dead by the glory of the Father, that we should be made into the likeness of His resurrection. That was finished in His return to the Father; our new life is to become more and more His and the Father’s return into the depths of our souls; there they desire to make their abode; and the life of God is to be ever assuming a more continuous, active and powerful form in us, that our life in the service of righteousness may become, and continue even here, according to the Lord’s promise, an eternal life.