Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Berserker Faith

In Danish history the Vikings were known as a bloodthirsty lot. They were particularly adept at pillaging and plundering neighboring areas. They kidnapped whole villages for slaves when manual labor was necessary. They were not likely to top anyone’s list of “people to get to know better”. Yet, as bad as the reputation the Vikings had created for themselves was there are accounts of warriors among the Vikings who were even more highly feared. They fought in such a way that they could only be stopped at the cost of many enemy lives.
They were called Berserkers. They were given the name “Berserker”, which means “bear shirt”, because they wore shirts made from bear skin.
Shortly before, or during, battle Berserkers gave themselves over to a “battle rage” that allowed them to fight with such abandon that they were left surrounded by a field of enemies who had been pierced, hacked and bloodied to such a degree that the only sure thing about them was that they were, or soon would be, dead. The Berserker in his rage desired only one thing: to remove their threat. They were in his way and they had no place there. The only solution was their removal and the only way to accomplish that was with the battleaxe in his grip. Shields were split and limbs hewed until there was simply no one left. No sense of his surroundings remained to him; his only awareness was of the world within reach of his weapon. His fellow warriors always stayed clear of him in battle for he would recognize none of them when the red mist of his fury clouded his vision. His style of fighting was never described as graceful, nor did it reflect any sense of “finesse”. It did, however, get the job done.
But there was one thing about the Berserker that always struck me as his most effective trait in battle: The Berserker always fought with no thought to his own defense. He never actively parried an enemy’s weapon. If it happened to be in his way he merely batted it aside as he brought his own weapon into play. If he took a wound it went unnoticed until the battle was over and the rage had left him.
The Berserker, in his frenzy, was motivated by one thought: Move forward.
Clear a path. No defense. Attack is the only option. Never back up. There is no retreat.
It’s ironic that as long as there was an obstruction in front of him the Berserker refused to stop. He stopped only when the path was clear, and there was no one left to resist him.
The thought struck me one day, as odd as it sounds, that in many ways my faith should be characterized by some of the same properties that the Berserker displayed.
For instance; he fought with no thought to his own defense.
How often do I hesitate to share my faith out of fear of being attacked in response, or being asked a question that I can’t answer?
What if I practiced a defenseless faith?
The thing about being a Christian is that God is bigger than anything we can comprehend.
Most of our defenses are built to guard against attacks against our own integrity based on our own sins. God forgave us in order to neutralize their threat, to remove the need for self defense. His forgiveness is meant to complete us; for if His forgiveness is all that truly matters then the accusations of our fellow sinners are meaningless.
The other part of our defenses deal with our insufficient knowledge of God.
He does not require us to defend Him. He’s a big God; He can take care of Himself. He is able to answer the big questions. When we attempt to defend Him we tend to do it by judging the intent and motivations of those attacking Him, and yet He tells us “Judge not” because we are not qualified to judge.
The human standard of judgment cannot be overcome by a human standard of forgiveness. The capacity to forgive must be greater than the standard of judgment in order for justice to be complete. The one who judges must have the authority to either implement the punishment, or forgive the offense completely. The standard of judgment must also be consistent, which takes it completely beyond the ability of man, because every person judges by their own standard. Only He has the authority to apply the penalty of that judgment. And because He is capable of defending His judgments and actions we need not fear the attacks that come from those who are judged. Our only job here is to let them know they have an Advocate when their attacks have failed and they are left defenseless.
Only God has the capacity to truly forgive so only He is qualified to judge anyone, which is to my great benefit, because if all of my sins were known to my fellow man I highly doubt that I would be considered a Godly man by human standards.
I am extremely fortunate that the standard for being Godly is determined by God. It was the prophet Samuel who said of David, “...the Lord sought for Himself a man after His own heart.” (1Samuel 13:14) It was not a designation given by man to man. And when I look at the people God used to do such great and Godly things in this world in most cases I find myself completely unimpressed by their character. In fact, I find (surprise, surprise) that they are actually a lot like me; weak, inconsistent, and prone to failure requiring repentance. So while you might think that God’s standard is harder to live up to that man’s, I find that when Christ said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30) it has a much greater meaning when I realize that while God’s standard is indeed higher than man’s, God Himself provides the means to reach it.
Man’s standard is like the Pharisees rule book for living in Jewish society; it requires a lot of work and produces no reward. You feel like you must be doing something, but you have nothing of value to show for all your efforts.
Another applicable trait is that anything blocking the Berserker’s path only motivated him further to overcome it.
When I find something that causes me to falter in my pursuit of a closer relationship with Him it seems I more often find myself sitting down and bemoaning the fact of the obstacle’s presence rather than finding a way to neutralize it.
When we are presented with an attack on God it does hurt us, because what hurts Him would hurt His children as well, but they should not leave us cowed. If I am asked a question I can’t answer, I simply find the answer and I am prepared for the next time. If it’s an answer I don’t like, but God said it, well that’s the answer, and I am back to letting God say what He’s always said. He’s pretty good about being consistent. We aren’t, but that’s a different issue. Part of our problem is that we keep trying to make God more “palatable” to the world at large, and this requires that we change His answers to be more “politically correct”. We start reinterpreting what He has clearly said about something so that it sounds entirely different.
This is unacceptable. God cannot be required to conform.
God gave us His word to apply to our lives not just theorize about how it should be used. The Pharisees of Jesus time took this to a higher level of mediocrity with a series of laws that attempted to control every minor function of the every day lives of the Jews.
This actually put the Pharisees in a position of complete dependence on the society they sought to control. They only dealt with “spiritual” things and lived off of the well being of their society. They became, in effect, parasites. They created more obstacles than they destroyed.
The Word of God is applicable to our lives. It has an impact on what we do and how we act when we actually listen to what He says, and then do it. So often in my own life I have found that I didn’t start honestly applying God’s word to my life until I had absolutely no answer of my own and no control over what happened, and those are the times that I learned most clearly that He has every intention of taking care of me despite my insistence that I can do it all by myself.
So having said all this and making all these really rather odd comparisons, I have to wonder where my faith is on the spectrum of strength. It seems to fluctuate quite a bit.
The grace of God is a wild, uncontrollable thing, and what I need is a faith to match it.
Imagine a faith which my enemies would fear simply for being the opposite of all they have been told by the world. For the world will believe anything that allows them to continue their inevitable slide toward death.
Dorothy Sayers, a great English writer and contemporary of C.S. Lewis once wrote: "In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die."
I need a faith with which they would fear I might kill them, but which ultimately would be the death of me in the end.
It would be a faith in which I would approach my enemy with the open arms of forgiveness knowing that he would not grant me the same. Knowing that once my forgiveness was offered I could easily be dead or injured, for this faith would require no defense. Knowing that as I approached him with the full armor of God that while the Breastplate of Righteousness would protect my soul, it might still be allowed to be pierced in order that my heart might bleed grace on his hands.
It would be a wild faith.
An uncontrollable faith.
A raging faith.
A Berserker Faith.
©Dan Bode 2006