One morning recently, I awoke aware of two battles raging inside my body. Most likely they were inside my body. Or at least, in my opinion, that’s where things like these battles happen: in bodies. The first battle was a dramatization of the most immersive sort, played on stage at the Biochemical Electric Opera, which is located between my ears, in my opinion. I don’t remember all the particulars—forgetfulness is a technique the Biochemical Electric Opera uses to keep me coming back—but I do recall that it was a Star Wars themed battle, and I was a Jedi Knight wielding an orange light saber. Yes, even my subconscious was uncool in junior high. And amid the fray, I woke to an entirely different battle raging, this one also happening inside my body, most likely.
Some of the greatest atrocities ever committed on earth were carried out with absolute conviction in their ultimate goodness. When Mao freed the peasants from the bonds of their material possessions and sent them into bondage on collective farms, it was because he believed in the power of common men to accomplish extraordinary things. When tens of millions of them began dying from starvation, he was still so confident in the power of common men that he refused to believe the stories. Common men, he thought, if they act with virtue, cannot but thrive, regardless of the obstacles. Faith in the Image of God, if you like, brandished and brought down with a crushing blow upon the Image of God.
All the time and everywhere, Good Things Fight Each Other To Exist. Mao’s naivete is an epic instance of this theme. The second battle that I awoke to, raging—most likely—inside my body, was by comparison barely an anecdotal instance. I seem to have acquired a virus. Now, viruses are teeny tiny demons made of phosphates, sugars, proteins, and the invisible stuff that demons are normally made of, like deception. My body is equipped to fight tiny demons with the Wisdom of God. That can look like a lot of things (e.g., having the good sense to take medicine). In this case, the hagia sophia was revealed in a myriad myriad white blood cells that swarmed the last known whereabouts of tiny demon and unleashed a shock and awe campaign called inflammation. Casualties included the epithelial cells of my laryngopharynx. To summarize: white blood cells, designed by Wisdom, raining down fire upon the inside of my throat and shooting chemicals into my brain stem to give me a fever.
And here, if I may lean in toward you and really tell you what’s what, is what I’m driving at with all this teeny tiny demon business. W. H. Auden wrote, “The slogan of Hell: Eat or be eaten. The slogan of Heaven: Eat and be eaten.” Somewhere, someheaven, there is a land that I cannot now hold in my mind. A land where life no longer comes from competition for life, but from the sacrifice of life in every living thing on behalf of every living thing, for Christ will fill all in all. A land where good things are free, for there is nothing left to pay with when we have spent even ourselves. How will we live? How will we receive good things if all that we have, we sacrifice? Everything filled by Christ, and everything to Christ. Good things not given first and then received, but at once given-and-received. Good things no longer fighting good things to exist as they do now in a zero-sum economy of being alive. Population without the population crisis. Cosmos. Shalom. Beauty. The perfect fitting of all good things alongside all other good things, with no cracks, no buckles. This is the land I dimly see into and cannot yet grasp. And in this land, nothing that sets good thing against good thing makes any sense. Eat or be eaten has the ring, there, of nonsense.
Having seen that land, I am angry at the Powers that set good things against other good things, and I am armed with an imprecatory Psalm or two. I do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with powers that set the lives of people in the United States against the lives of people in Pakistan. With the authorities that set the safety of Jewish families in Israel against the human rights of Palestinian families there. With the principalities that set men against women. And, much less dramatically, I wrestle with the elements that set my own immune system against my own now very sore throat. I can’t explain how invisible things can be made of phosphates, sugars, and proteins, or for that matter, how they can be made of other invisible things like deception, legislature, or cultural inheritances. I also can’t explain how my own mind, full of my own personality, can be made up of neurons, chemicals, squishy grey material that sits behind my eyeballs, or for that matter, dreams, ideas, and memories. But it is at least made of those things, if not other things, too, most likely. In my opinion.
But, oh, that other Land. In it, there shall be no more curse. And they shall see His face.