The Startling Conclusion

Resuming the stages of faith and leadership.

Somewhere along this journey comes– the Dark Night of the Soul II– which I simply call “Gethsemane.” Yes, Jesus had two dark nights of the soul, and as he told us, the servant is not greater than the master. We can expect no less– unless we short-circuit the process, and choose to stay at an earlier level. But if we choose growth, we will encounter a second dark night of the soul.

The First, like Jesus temptation in the wilderness, tempts us with easy choices. Indeed, in M. Scott Peck’s “The People of the Lie,” which is an examination of evil, Peck’s conclusion is that the real evil is making easy choices. Not only do I agree with it, it frightens me. Because I’m always tempted to make the easy choice.

When we get to the dark night of the soul II, to Gethsemane, we are overwhelmed with the sense of futility. We know who we are, we know our mission in life, but it seems that we will make the sacrifice and receive nothing in return. After a whole lifetime of seeking and struggling, is this all there is?

And the answer comes back, as it did for Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Perhaps our witness seems ineffective. The darkness appears stronger than our small candle. Like the flower that blooms unseen, we may think that we have lived in vain.

But of course the darkness can nevery overwhelm the light. We can never know which life we have touched that will have great results, and which would have not happened for our witness. And no flower ever blooms unseen. For the Father of all notes the fall of a sparrow, sees the light from a smoldering flax, and traces the thousands of tiny influences that lead a soul to salvation.

We live to Him and for Him, or we live for naught. And when we claw our way through Gethsemane, when we reach the conclusion “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours–” we come to the last stage: Unconditional Love.

The wrongs we have suffered no longer matter. The sacrifices shrink into insignificance. Having come into complete accord with God’s will, we can no longer hate anyone.

Now, I don’t claim to have inhabited this exalted state. At times, I think I may have visited. I have met others who certainly appeared to have attained this state.

One would think that, when a person attains this unconditional love, peace would result. And internal, spiritual peace does (once again, I have visited, not attained). But that does not mean that the world is at peace with us. Quite the contrary. For if you love everyone, then you also love my enemies, and I find that particularly upsetting.

It’s interesting that nearly every one of the Disciples died a violent death. What we know of their deaths, they approached them with peace in their hearts. They were not killed because they had done violence, but because their existence was a reproach to those around them.

When confronted with Christ, or with a truly Christian person, there are two basic reactions. We see this in the gospel. The Pharisees saw Christ, and said, “Why does he have to be that way?” The disciples saw Christ and said, “Why can’t I be like that?”

True saintliness almost always evokes both those extremes. We either aspire to be like that person, or to be rid of his or her offensive example.

And this leads to M. Scott Peck’s final dictum on these stages of development. Once again, they are:

I. Romance

II. Discipleship

III. Success

IV. The Inward Journey

V. The Outward Journey

VI. Unconditional Love

Peck said, when you are one stage ahead of those around you, they admire you. When you are two stages ahead of those around you, they are perplexed by you. When you are three stages ahead of those around you– they will kill you.

I was startled when I first heard this. But then I realized I had seen it again and again. Many, many church members get stuck in the first two stages. Those who are in Romance are horrified and frightened by someone embarking on the inward journey, with its Dark Night. For them, everything’s wonderful, so anyone struggling must be ‘losing his faith.’

For the person in Discipleship, with its earnest seeking to internalize all the rules and norms, someone embarking on the Outward Journey appears to be breaking all those rules. Worse, his very existence brings tough questions to the Disciple’s world view that are not easily answered, situations with which the Disciples’ rules simply cannot cope.

In both cases, the main remedy appears to be to simply cast out the troubling individual.  They will kill you.

There’s more, but this is enough for now.


Comments

The Startling Conclusion — 1 Comment

  1. Interesting Ed,

    I am anticipating the “more” that you have promised. Having read (many years ago) two of Peck’s books, I am tempted to go back and re-read the one you mention.

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