Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Necessity's Children (Part Two)

Earlier this week, I brought up a quote from essayist Annie Dillard on necessity from "Living Like Weasels":

"The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at last ignobly in its talons."

The first half of the quote observes that we automatically hate necessity. I discussed the truth of this in Part One, which you can read below. The second half of the quote seems less obvious to me. Dillard claims that though we try all our lives to escape what is necessary, we ultimately cannot. In her estimation, we are slaves, essentially, victims of a sharp-eyed predator. But, before we can determine whether it is possible to escape necessity, or even whether it is something worth escaping, we have to define what it is.

There are as many opinions about what people need to do as there are people do what is necessary. On one end of the spectrum is a legalistic system like orthodox Judaism or Islam, where it is deemed necessary to govern everything that people eat and wear. Others believe that even their own life is not necessary if they choose to do away with it. Too, there is a distinction between what people need to do and what they ought to do. From purely earthly perspective, I need to eat and I ought to help the poor. From a biblical perspective, though, necessity and duty should be the same. Christians know that all mankind was created with a purpose. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of man is "to glorify God and enjoy him forever." It is necessary, then, that we glorify God. It is also necessary that we enjoy Him. We have been created for this, which is an amazing testimony to the grace of God. He wants us to find joy in Him. Joy is not just a byproduct or a fringe benefit, but something that is built into us. Sadly, because of the fall, most people do not do what is necessary. They neither honor God nor enjoy Him. People die every day having done what was necessary to keep themselves alive physically, but not what was necessary for spiritual life. In this sense they escaped what Dillard calls necessity's "talons," but not for anything better.

Without Christ we are fugitives, but we are not victims. We flee from our first and best purpose, blind and independent. For those who continue in this course, what happens is necessary, because it is just, but it is an awful tragedy. We would rather everyone embrace necessity now than find out what it is afterward. Still, in this sense, Dillard's quote rings very true. Those who have escaped necessity in life cannot escape it in death or at the end of the age. As Philippians 2:10-11 says, "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."      

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