A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Gospel According to Forrest Gump #2: Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates

My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

When I was a boy I remember my family getting one of those big boxes of assorted chocolates as a gift at Christmas. My favorite pieces were the peanut clusters and the caramels. The problem was that everyone liked them as well, so they didn't last long. Also, they were the only two kinds of candy in the box that could be identified on sight. The rest of the pieces were filled with the various assortment of creams-- some I liked, while others my young pallet rejected as something that tasted like chocolate covered liver. The problem was, of course, that I could not tell what was what just by looking at them; and that was before the days when candy manufacturers started putting a diagram on the underside of the box top to help in the process of identification.

Thus, the only way that I could tell what was inside a piece of chocolate was by tasting it, or pushing my thumb nail on the underside of the piece to get a look at whether the cream inside was to my liking. But I quickly discovered that the latter option was clearly out of bounds as my mother made clear. Any thumb marks on the bottom of the candy would mean that the culprit would be required to eat the piece so desecrated. That would be only the first step in my punishment.

I was left with quite a dilemma. I decided that the best course of action was not to eat any piece of chocolate I was not certain of. That would save me the disaster of having to eat something that tasted like chocolate covered liver as well as receiving any other unsavory punishments.

Life is indeed like a box of chocolates. We never know what we are going to get. I suspect most people understand that idea and embrace it in theory, but in practice we have a difficult time accepting it; especially in Western society where we believe that somehow we have to forge our own destinies through the power of the right of choice. I have suspected for some time that America's emphasis on choice (not on what choice is made, but simply having the choice in the first place) is a denial of the realities of life by setting up the false, and yes, the idolatrous belief that we are the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. At the end of the day we do not want to acknowledge that most of life is lived as a response to what comes upon us. The ancient Greeks, however, understood this as they reflected on human character and how it was shaped by how women and men responded to those events and happenings that impinged upon them through no choice of their own. We set up the myth that we are the determiners of our destiny through our choices so as not to have to truthfully encounter the meaning of life's contingencies. We may acknowledge in the abstract that life is like a box of chocolates, but when we get what we do not want, we have to somehow convince ourselves that it has nothing to do with who are as individuals, since we are supposed to be in charge of making our own identity.

But the truth of the matter is that most of life is indeed a response to that which comes upon us. We do not get to choose where we are born, nor do we get to decide which parents we want. We do not get to pick our genetic makeup, neither do we choose what socio-economic class we grow up in. And it certainly does not need to be said that we do not decide which country and under what government and in what situation we enter the world. We cannot control how others act toward us. We do not get to choose our gifts and graces. I could go on, but I think I have sufficiently made my point.

It is certainly true that we are responsible individuals and that our choices are important insofar as whether or not they are right choices and good choices, and how those choices impact others, but character is formed and revealed more in how we respond to the unexpected nature of life than in what we plan for. Indeed, it is the human character that is formed by the contingencies of life that is employed in the very choices we make. In other words, how I act in those happenings in life I can control is in large part the result of how I have been formed by those things that I do not expect.

We simply do not not know what we are going to get in life. Jesus himself reminded us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45) and calamity comes to all persons righteous and unrighteous (Luke 13:1-5). As followers of Jesus our task is to respond in faithfulness to everything that comes our way, things we plan for and things we don't; happenings we are prepared for, and happenings that are unexpected.

To be a disciple is to know that I am not the master of my fate, nor the captain of my soul. My fate and my soul lay in the hands of another who not only sends the rain on everyone, but also has secured my fate, my destiny, by his cross and resurrection.

Just like that box of chocolates I stared at as a boy, hoping not to get something I did not like, so in life I never know what I am going to get. But ultimately, that is OK-- Jesus Christ holds my life in his keeping. My task is to respond in faith and faithfulness, come what may.

Don't worry about the future; God is already there!

Previous Post

The Gospel According to Forrest Gump #1: Introduction


Bruce said...

Good post Allan, interesting to read as I ponder intineracy in the UMC.

Unknown said...

I actually liked the Fudge bar from this private label confectionery. This graham cracker fudge bar tastes good and you will definitely get all the taste of nut, marshmallow and chocolate.