Skin for Skin

“Living is loving – giving it all away”

 

There’s an old philosophical position which argues that our world, for all its faults, is the best of all possible worlds. The author Aldous Huxley, of “Brave New World” fame wrote a poem, in which he refers to this philosophical position, and somewhat satirically;

 

“’Tis The Lord’s doing. Marvellous is the plan

By which this best of worlds is wisely planned”

 

  1. Huxley: from: “The Second Philosopher’s Song”

 

I felt there was a broad wave of acid hostility towards Theism being expressed by the author in this “Second Philosopher’s Song” of his.

 

Furthermore anyone is able to read in the Bible that ‘nothing is impossible with God’, and because God has been brought into the business by Aldous Huxleyuxley, I believe that this Biblical statement gives the lie to his bitter satire in this poem.  God because He is omnipotent might have made the world in any way he chose, and why he chose the way he made this world of ours is a question of some interest.

 

My friend this morning told me of a guy who blogs on the web and who has quite a following of readers/viewers at his platform.  The guy, so the story went, lives on his ‘income’ from his blog; and his blog makes him a sum much higher than he needs for his family and household needs and wants.

 

So he gives away to people among his audience all the income he has which he feels is superfluous to his budgets.  Yet this act of him giving away excess income has not had the expected effect of curbing his holdings of excess money.  It has in fact prompted more people to give to him more money; and his income has been growing; and against his intention of lowering it by him giving much of it away.

 

Myself I don’t find this outcome all that surprising.

 

Going back to The Bible any person can read there that it is the case:

 

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 

The important part is the latter part: “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 

Now I have called this article “Skin for Skin” and these words are taken from The Book of Job in The Bible and they are said by Satan there – and by him to God.  Satan is saying that Job, whom we are told is a man blameless before God, will rebel and turn against God, were God to allow Satan to blight his life.

 

God gives the nod to Satan to blight Job’s life; and Satan does so. But Job does not repent of his faith in God. Satan’s expectation, of ‘skin for skin’, that any person will rise up against another when that other treats him unjustly, unkindly, with an apparent vicious nastiness, is contradicted by that Job who has become a proverb for patience and endurance under acute hardship.

 

But Satan when he chooses to combat God’s confidence and complaisance in Job his blameless servant, he is talking about the psychology of the world and of worldlings when he expects almost presumptuously that Job will cave and cry ‘skin for skin!’ up to God and the Heavens.

 

This then is the way of the world, and it is counter to the teachings and recommendation of Jesus Christ who calls us to:

 

Love your enemies” and to “pray for those who despitefully use you”

 

These recommendations to us of our Saviour are the very non-worldly, non-worldling behaviours which are able to break that cycle of ‘skin for skin’ which the worldly world uses and expects, and itself recommends. These are truly the only behaviours able absolutely to break this vicious cycle of ‘skin for skin’ redolent in everyday profane lifestyles.

 

Repressions and oppressions are able to dampen ‘skin for skin’, to bottle it up, even to shake the bottle and fizz it; but as soon as the repressions and oppressions are lifted, by revolutions from below and/or by decay from corruptions above, the lid is blown off and ‘skin for skin’ with a vengeance spills out all over the place.

 

The Balkan wars of the late 20th century were largely uprisings able to occur when they did because of the fall of The Soviet Union and its Empire in 1989, which effectively lifted decades or repression and this blew the lid off a long-simmering set of ‘skin for skin’ grievances in the region.

 

Today, in Britain, there is anger and hostility being shown to people who are contented with the old order of women in kitchens and bedrooms, of a muted and underground society only being available to gender-different people, with a half-life for people with disabilities, even for exclusions due to ethnic otherness; and it is an anger all the same, whether just or not; it is a product of years, decades, centuries of sufferings under repressions imposed by older societies upon these groups of people, and lately begun being lifted.

 

This anger towards old-school people can display, in part, ‘skin for skin’.

 

Yet the upside-down turnaround feature of this same ‘skin for skin’ is seen in the behaviours of ordinary people, probably mostly secular souls, who instead of grasping at ‘free money’ from the blog and content guy who feels he has too much; they in total, in return, provide him with even more money than he had before he got rid of much of it!  “Skin for skin’ – but not as we commonly know it!

 

Such a bountiful, positive, generous, kindly, type of ‘skin for skin; as this blog guy started up is akin to that recommendation of our Lord to ‘love our enemies’ in its extraordinariness as human everyday behaviour and in its astounding repercussions and results. Although it may not be powerful to break the cycle of vicious vengeful ‘skin for skin’ it is perhaps powerful enough to point up to and persuade secular persons who enjoy and take note of its motions, signal to them the fact that there exists, dare I suggest it, a way in nature, by which they can find harmony and grace and peace in themselves and for others.  This Way of course is Jesus.

 

Did he not do the same as the blogger guy with the loaves and fishes?

 

But I did say in nature – and I said it deliberately because it is the theme of this my essay here – and I want to claim, going back to my first  thoughts above about the world being or not being the best of all possible, and about God finding nothing impossible to do, to create; I want to connect these conjectures on God and worlds with the guy blogging giving away money and its ensuing results, and build an argument which I hope in part goes towards answering the question: why did God make this world and did not make a world working in different ways to this one?

 

I want to connect ‘skin for skin’ in its bad and its good forms; with fallen nature (bear with me and with this term if you baulk at it – think of it as a handy convenience to express an essential conundrum to our existence) and with The Lord Jesus’ commandments (recommendations) to us which I claim are those only behaviours we can adopt which are able to break the cycle of negative, vengeful, ‘skin for skin’ from common use amongst us. “Love your enemies”. Pray for those who despitefully use you”.

 

Basing my claim on evidences such as provided by the actions of the money dispensing blogger (I have several other exemplary examples of the same kind to bolster this evidence – so it is not a one–off but has precedents and supersedents) I wish to propose that the world, the universe, all things, including mankind, all which falls under the general title “nature”, is so set up, has been set up so, that inherent in everything is that “natural admonisher” that “natural encourager” that “natural sifter and winnower” .

 

The Bible speaks of “The Lord’s two-edged sword, which penetrates and divides the hearts of men – and women.”  That: “His sword seeks out and examines the heart and cut to the quick deeply”. Hence we can read in the Book of Acts, when Peter the Apostle, “filled with The Holy Spirit” speaks to the crowds and narrates to them how Jesus Christ had lately been treated by them at Jerusalem:

 

“God has raised this Jesus to life, to which we are all witnesses. Exalted, then, to the right hand of God, He has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 

Therefore let all {..} know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise belongs to you and to your children and to all who are far off, to all whom the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

This same two-edged sword of The Lord is I say present and at work silently, secretly, inconspicuously, powerfully, unstoppably, in all nature – on each of us, and collectively among all our everyday lives. Every millisecond matters and counts, is part of the motions of this ‘Spirit’ in all nature, which is a part of God’s mills which grind slowly and to a very fine end, for each of us.

 

There are forerunners to the giveaway blog guy; people like St Francis of Assisi, born into a stupendously wealthy family, and who gave all his possessions away so as be able to follow God without hindrances and clutter, baggage; there is Jesus himself who was contented to have “nowhere to lay his head”; there is Socrates who abjured all personal wealth so as to practice his seeking after the goals of life; and there is, in a different mode perhaps, Pytor Iyllich Tchaikovsky, the great composer, who followed his star with passion and love, having none of his own money.

 

For the religions men let us say God provided; and for the ancient Socrates and for Tchaikovsky benefactor patrons provided, possibly as being unknowing intermediaries of God?  Socrates gave up all worldly ambition and goods to be able to pursue his view of God and life-meaning – luckily a person, an admirer, stepped up and sustained his bodily needs, but Socrates had no inkling it would be so before he quit the desires of the world.

 

Tchaikovsky said, I believe, that:

 

Where the heart does not enter; there can be no music

 

And

 

Truly there would be reason to go mad were it not for music.

 

He was indeed ‘saved’ from madness or worse, by a female patron whose only condition for patronage of him was that they two should never meet! God thus gave him to the world who otherwise would have been unable to have leisure to compose his astounding music.

 

But I’m digressing a little.

 

On the debit side of the balance sheet a person might cite Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens” a drama about a man (Timon) who gives away his great wealth to all who befriend him with a great generosity and a blinded gladness; not perceiving how so many of his so-called friends are mere gold-diggers.  After some years he becomes poverty stricken and his erstwhile friends abandon him and refuse to help or rescue him. He turns from genial friendly generous in spirit to bitter nasty angry disenchanted. A sad occasion.

 

I hope and expect we can put Timon into a similar category to Simon The Sorcerer who in the Book of Acts comes across as being a naïve man who having seen the Apostles after Pentecost, working miracles in Christ’s name, asks Peter the Apostle to sell to him for gold that power to do miracles as given to Peter by The Holy Spirit.  Simon covets the power. He admires the facility. He sees in terms of buying and selling and not in what might be said to be spiritual terms. Peter gives him a telling off and rebukes him severely.

 

Timon likewise maybe is buying friendship and affection. He might be bathing in the enjoyment of being generous and much admired. His heart in short may be wrong with God; and in doing alms and gifting is giving a gratification to himself.

 

Giving away one’s wealth; sacrificing everything for a worthy generous passion – for music or for philosophy (Socrates, Tchaikovsky) – and thereby throwing oneself utterly on Providence for support; or just relinquishing all wealth and position (St Francis/Jesus himself), in fact really disemburdening oneself of all material impediments to a pure spirituality; these actions are all of the spirit because nothing in them is ulterior; nothing in them redounds to the doer’s own ego and self-aggrandisement.

 

In a very gradual and reluctant way, all believers, and some who are to come to be believers in Christ, are I think cajoled by, knocked about by, violently forced into,  candidature for The Kingdom of Heaven, by these slow, and ineluctable, mills grinding throughout and everywhere, every-when, in nature, in our daily lives, every second, waking and asleep.  This in short is our life.

 

These mills of nature grind so as eventually to bring us to ‘the overwhelming question” as T S Eliot puts it, at some point they ‘bring the moment to its crisis’.

 

They work in us as us being secular persons via means such as the embedded law of ‘skin for skin’ – both in its positive and negative shapes; negative also, because I have heard so many ex soldiers tell me how sick and tired of carnage they are,  and how they wish for nothing but for peace and good will in anyone’s life. Even out of evils come good things.

 

Hence – if my conjecture is correct, that all nature rumbles slowly relentlessly to bring each of us to our personal crisis; that indeed this is what nature is for, and this is the purpose of it, and the reason why our world is the way it is, and has been established so as to be this way; then the absolute necessity of freewill and of open choice to each of us, has to be the corollary and the case; and is also likewise embedded in nature, for the same reasons, by the same hand, as part of the same sifter/divider/sword/winnower.

 

Without us each having in tackling this ultimate question an untrammelled freewill choice before us, the rest of established nature remains powerless and moribund to the schema of Salvation. Freewill must – it has to be existent – and I believe it is. To deny freewill is to abolish the civil and criminal law courts, justice, due punishments and rewards, merit for character (as opposed to education and intelligence and to a degree position) – no-one should ever get a pat on the back or a reprimand from anyone else – the whole fibre and fabric upon which our societies work would be a joke, a recipe for chaos come again.

The humanist might posit a self-contained human justice etc etc; but nonetheless without a Divine endorsement and settlement it seems inevitable that the natural tendency in society, as we are seeing happen right now in so many western countries, is, will always be, towards declension to decay.

 

And this is the marvellous utility of nature embedded with Divinity as she is, which like Nanny McPhee, hangs around and serves ably amply whilst she is needed; but when she is wanted must pack up and go away, her job is done, and the teaching she has imparted is embedded in the self. I am speaking ideally now – few if any of us reach such a pitch of solid faith.

 

Nature, when people are exposed to her proper brings them back from jaded ways which are without God; for a society or a person to live oblivious to or negligent of the groundings of nature – perhaps because they have people ‘doing’ for them in all the chores and necessities of their lives? – or for other reasons like (I jest not) too many takeaways, too much money, too many shops, with too many easy to buy items; no struggle, no endurance; no sight of a field of corn, or a wild flower – so that once indifference to cooking, to providing for oneself by effort, and to admiration of ordinary natural things, are lost, the person lacking these is in a parlous sorry state.

 

The Lord Jesus has said in separate places:

 

Those not with me are against me

 

And

 

Those not against me are with me

 

Both statements are true and accurate. Why? Because at that crisis point where one is being compelled by life, circumstance, nature, to decide one’s life-decision of all life-decisions, which is Yes to Love and to Creation or else Yes to selfhood and to the world, at this point, at the fulcrum of existence, there is no middle ground; one has to be either one or the other. “Maybe” is OK for moments of ordinary intensity; but in the final instance, come when it may, a decision has to be taken and honoured and held accountable to.

 

I do not think there is Eternal Punishment.  I think perhaps God is too good for that. I do not know the answers. None of what I have written may be the case? But I do have hope and faith and my life experience tells me as evidence that it is possible, even highly likely; since there have been and are so many, many things which point to its truth, and they cannot all be serendipitous coincidence arisen out of a melee of chaos, and not from a loving hand, giving us a help onto our feet.

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