Lake of Fire

Infinite Mass

Of late, I have become fixated on a curious yet dreary task, still in its infancy, of understanding the type of person who drives a car with a loud engine. I’m talking about the ones that rev and split the night like a steam-punk thunderbolt, interrupting both audible and internal conversations with indiscriminate malice. 

As someone who navigates the spoken word as though it were an uphill ice slope, struggling with gasping efforts at articulation should I find the grace of your undivided attention, you can understand how I might feel about such interruptions.

You can understand me when I say: it would not strike me as unjust to round up these renegade road warriors and detain them for questioning. But I promise this sentiment is academic; I mean them no harm.

And you know that whenever someone says, “I promise,” you can bet grandma’s farm that they mean it.

You see, I’m the kind of person who likes to sit and think—sometimes about deep, meaningful things, but more often about things that don’t matter, things that could never happen, but I sure as Hell know exactly how I would behave if they did!

If you know me, if we’re even the slightest bit friends, there is a good chance I’ve spent the better part of an hour sitting and thinking about how I might rescue you from a band of ornery terrorists, armed with nothing but my cunning and my trusty Red Rider BB Gun.

I’ve burned more hours in serious, internal debate as to which of my family members—if any—I would confide in, supposing I had a real-life bat cave or if I were suddenly endowed with the coveted power of bodily flight. Would I believe my eleven-year-old niece if she claimed to have found a snowy forest (and a curious creature like a faun) just beyond the second carton of oat milk in the fridge? Thus, I have spent the better part of countless days.

Now to the crux: it is my fundamental need to sit and think up eventful nonsense that has me wrestling with angels to understand the kind of person who needs their “Hammer-of-Thor” engine to split the anvil in my skull before I can follow my God-given bent and think with vivid precision about things that aren’t so silly.

And there it is. My fundamental need to sit and think makes neither threat nor attempt to upset the RW’s need to be loud. Alas, if only this were a two-way street. If by my sitting and thinking, I could push the limits of human evolution (not unlike the RW pushing his machine to the edge of its specifications) and, achieving telepathy, interrupt his loudness with my nonsense, then this, and only this, would serve as a kind of justice.

I can see it now: an overweight, twenty-something good-ol’ boy, let’s call him Cooper, racing up 23rd Street at ten o’clock on a Wednesday night, as pleased with his external big bang as he is oblivious to his internal dark matter, beset by a vision of a thirty-something male, five-feet-six-inches, vice-gripping a terrorist’s throat with his cyclist’s thighs while dismantling a bomb and shouting “Yippee-ki-yay, mother-f***ers!” In honor of Hitchcock, the bomb never goes off. 

Of course, Cooper doesn’t know anything about Hitchcock, though he digs the Die Hard reference (who wouldn’t?). But the thing that haunts Cooper as the vision fades and as he speeds along on Hell’s highway is not so much the unsolicited violent thought as it is the loudness of having to think—about anything—in such high definition. Cooper finds that he has been interrupted by a kind of noise, one he doesn’t like.

If such an absurdity were possible, I would have no cause to complain. Rather, my telepathy would bring the present state of the world just a bit closer, if I am allowed a cliché, to something like an “even playing field.” I say the world, but of course, I mean my world. 

And with all this talk about justice and even playing fields, I should at least confess that, in Cooper’s case, I have crafted a caricature, a straw man, a dummy villain who cannot speak for himself unless I give him the words, without whom my complaint might seem little more than a geriatric groan, despising youth (or something like it) all because it happens to be too loud and too fast.

Sure, that might be all there is to it.

But loud and fast are relative terms devoid of context. Rest assured, the loudness and fastness alone are not the sources of my ire. A movie sequence can be loud and fill the senses with awe; a roller coaster can go fast and awaken the inner child. No, it’s something deeper. 

As for Cooper’s sawed-off muffler, the car’s loudness and fastness exist for one, self-absorbed purpose—not merely to let everyone else within a two-mile radius know that Cooper is alive and well, but to cancel all thought and conversation in a grand, smiling-dick attempt to re-affirm that singular and (debatably) unfortunate fact.

The Coopers of the world are so preoccupied with alerting us to their existence that they’ve lost the ability to alert themselves. God help them if they should ever endure more than a few seconds of quiet introspection, for it might lead to a terrible revelation, a beholding of a two-faced self—one clothed in torn rags drooping over leprous flesh, encumbered by sin; the other, more terrifying, stripped down to its naked soul reflecting the light of a thousand sunrises, waiting to be clothed in new flesh, the kind that will never age, gash, or rot. 

Although Cooper is unlikely to discover this in the first encounter, the image is misleading. While it suggests a duality of opposing selves on equal footing, the truth is quite different. Both selves are waiting for the first to die, whereupon the second self can suit up and, at last, assume an identity.

The explosive engine also serves Cooper more clandestinely. Not only is it the mechanism by which to cancel all thought and deliberate speech, but it also shields him from the one telepathic interruption that might lead to such introspection, which in turn might lead to a first date with self-awareness and, in the end (and God forbid), something like a mystical experience.

To be clear, my telepathy is not fighting for a shot at Cooper’s undivided attention—for (surprise!) I do not have that power. But there is One who does, and once anyone should be so unlucky as to encounter the blossoming image of His gentlest thought, there is no unseeing, no un-knowing, no washing away the tan from that momentary spotlight on the stripped-down and shivering soul. For Cooper, the stakes have never been higher.

The same rings true for you and me. But we’ll get to that momentarily.

At present, I admit I have been unfair to Cooper, for he is not the only archetype with a canceling mechanism, albeit his is arguably the most disruptive given its blast radius. What I mean is, if you think I will stop at pointing out that Cooper is the one archetype capable of constructing external mechanisms to ensure he remains blind to the sin-laden, zombified self, then you have either underestimated me or misread my intentions. That’s the first point to get out of the way. 

The second is that if you think by my describing two selves, one “material” and the other “spiritual,” that I should espouse both Platonic and Gnostic creeds, you will have misinterpreted me again, and this time in such a way as to—how should I put it?—piss me off.

I like to think I’m smarter than Cooper. If I am, you can bet my mechanisms are not only more sophisticated; they are also more sinister. Earlier, I spoke of justice and even playing fields. In meandering turns of prose, I said that I would like to assault Cooper’s mind, incepting violent (albeit action-packed) visions that would startle and even frighten. Were you paying attention?

But if Cooper is ever to become the second self (the one from the vision he refuses to behold), then the telepathic intrusion into his awareness for which I ought to hope is not one of my infantile fantasies, where the violence is comical.

Rather, I ought to hope for an 8K HDR snapshot of the only violence that has ever done the world any good. I should hope for a vision of Golgotha, and there, one like a Son of man being nailed to a scandalous cross.

But in my corruptible heart, that’s not what I want. What I want is something like the Western-Evangelical certainty that some, as if predestined, will welcome the second self in totality while others must—inevitably—allow the first to drag them down to the fiery dungeons of Tartarus (with obligatory pit-stops at Hades and Gehenna on the way).

In a spirit of devout Augustinian[1] hope, I want Cooper to go on being a smiling dick so I can go on being a frowning one, waiting for the justice I know is due to all unbelievers, self-promoters, and speed-obsessed materialists. In the most distorted irony, I want to keep that privileged vision of the second self all to my first.

As I said earlier, if I could achieve telepathy, I would barrage Cooper with every untamed thought and image in my expansive repertoire—every image except the Imago Dei, rescuing all who behold it.

Recall my warning not to mistake me for a Gnostic; that warning re-emerges here in higher resolution. At its core, Gnosticism proclaims a deity who not only averts its gaze from the sin-laden self but abandons it at the apex of its suffering and demise. Not so with the Imago Dei, Who became sin (yet having no sin in Himself)[2] so that we might become Imagoes Dei, spitting images of God-With-Us.

“That’s great, Adam, but what does this have to do with Cooper and his thundering, second-rate Batmobile impersonation?” Nothing, except that of all the archetypes I could see myself most willing to inflict the judgment of eternal conscious torment, Cooper wins first prize. In other words, it is my lack—my vengeful, scheming, warped intelligence masquerading as piety—that deserves to be put on trial.

Cooper is, indeed, a straw man, but one I have created to draw out the worst bits of my nature into the spotlight for your inspection.

We all have our Coopers, that category of people we’ve written off. The introspective bookworms, like me, have written off the engine-revving road warriors, and vice versa. The Baptists have written off the Charismatics, and vice versa. The Liberals demonize the Conservatives, and most certainly vice versa. One group is going to Heaven, the other is going to Hell, and it’s anyone’s guess whether any of them will make it halfway to something like a unified and transcendent hope. 

Although I have justified opinions on which groups are more wholesome, that’s not the point, and my opinions do little but exacerbate the issue. The point is that cutting through the noise will require an exhibition of healing, forgiving, and redemptive power, unlike anything the world has ever seen.

To that end, it will demand we obey perhaps the most controversial command of our present epoch: to love our enemies and to pray for them.

And this next part is key—the exhibition cannot belong to a single individual or a charismatic personality. It must belong to an entire people, unified in faith, so that when anyone asks, “who is to blame for this unprecedented age of mercy and miracles?” the answer will be: Christ and Christ alone. That’s the man you want, officer. It’s all His doing.

“So, Adam, are you saying we should all just give in to our opponent’s demands and let them steamroll us in the name of loving our enemies?” No, and I hope I can get away without addressing that specific issue. My best answer to that problem, as it stands before us all, is that we continue to do the good we know we ought lest, in neglecting it, we succumb to the habitual sin of apathy. And I hope that is a sufficient stance for the present. 

My point remains: if we can pursue “the good” without demonizing our antagonists, all the better and, perhaps all the sooner, we might catch a glimpse of something like a Kingdom not of this world.

The furious north wind will never get the pilgrim to take off his coat. Who then can be saved?

This is the universal paradox of humankind’s deliverance: the Imago Dei rescues and transforms all who behold it while suffering no living soul to look away. Perhaps some of you will balk at this remark, citing John 6:36, “…you have seen me and still you do not believe” (NIV). I hear you, and I concede that the burden of believing without seeing rests upon us all.[3] 

I’ll counter by saying that my use of the word “behold” encompasses its etymological root, “to keep.” What an interesting predicament for me that I should be faced with the impossible task of sharing the very thing I am compelled to keep. And with Cooper, of all people (can I rescind my wish for telepathy?). With man, this is impossible. But with God….

The image of Christ, the lamb slain from the foundations of the world, is a rescuing image—one that exists as a thunderous intrusion into the benignly horrifying status quo of history. All who behold and hear it will be salted by its fire. To quote T.S. Eliot: “The only hope, or else despair / Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre— / To be redeemed from fire by fire.”[4]

Today’s specials include a flame-broiled pyre. Or, if you’re in the mood for something a little less intense, we also have a slow-roasted pyre. What’ll it be, folks?

Jokes aside, the Kingdom of Heaven presents us with a dreaded absolute: either we will put the zombified self to death now, or Christ will do it for us in the final rendering. And who can say how much more painful that experience will be should we attempt to prolong the inevitable?

If I cannot even wish to share the salvific vision, then all my quiet, calm, collected introspection is as worthless as dead grass. Cooper can speed by my office every day and every night for all I care—we are both burning vital fuel and going nowhere fast, though he is going there a little faster. It is thus all the more urgent that we share the vision. I said we would come round to it again: for us, those who claim to believe, the stakes have never been higher.

In the end, the rescuing image calls us to become rescuing people, a people for whom the phrase “whatever it takes” is as common as breathing.

As Cooper interrupts my thought with yet another fiery blast, my first response is to wish for the perfect revenge rather than to pray for a redemptive encounter with the Holiest of life-giving Spirits. But I am not beyond hope.

For it is this same Spirit that confronts me with the weight of my sin and then, in the grandest of plot twists, takes it all into Himself, where it has infinite space and yet, nowhere to go but into a burning reservoir—a glorious flaming lake of infinite mass.


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Notes

[1]See Augustine, City of God, Book I, Chapter 8: “And so, too, does the mercy of God embrace the good that it may cherish them, as the severity of God arrests the wicked to punish them.”

[2] See 2 Corinthians 5:21.

[3] See John 20:29.

[4] See T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” in Four Quartets


References

Schlabach, Gerald W. “Excerpts from Augustine’s City of God.” Accessed Jan. 7, 2022. https://www.geraldschlabach.net/misc/city-of-god/

Eliot, T.S. “Little Gidding” in Four Quartets. Accessed Jan. 7, 2022. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/history/winter/w3206/edit/tseliotlittlegidding.html

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Adam Burdeshaw

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One thought on “Infinite Mass”

  1. haha I love this so much. “All the archetypes I could see myself most willing to inflict the judgment of eternal conscious torment, Cooper wins first prize. In other words, it is my lack—my vengeful, scheming, warped intelligence masquerading as piety—that deserves to be put on trial.” Great thoughts!

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