Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Response to Forester Regarding Fasting

Forester raised a good issue regarding fasting and my response grew so long that I decided to post it. He wrote,
My question is this: if fasting is necessary when we are in such desperation -- and, by your last sentence, we would rightly fast more if we better understood our dire straits -- then how does all of this fit in with rejoicing always, having a thankful heart, etc?

The profound sense of dissatisfaction at the status quo that you bewail -- is this the only motivation for fasting? Should this be a believer's regular mode? Your post suggests an Oswald Chambersian cultivation of an attitude you termed "holy dissatisfaction," which is strange, because I so often find myself striving to live in a regular state of "holy satisfaction" -- the contentment that Paul describes in Philippians 4, that the Psalmist describes in Psalm 16: "The boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant places." Could fasting not be of use in this attitude as well?

Hmmm. . . Appreciate your thoughts here. As you suggest, I think there is something to be said for good ol' fashion contentment. And I think that spiritual angst can be overrated. I used to be of the mind that the greater the spirituality, the greater the angst. But such a sentiment flies in the face of your comments--and more importantly David's and Paul's.

Having said that however, I do believe there is an appropriate place for spiritual angst. We live in the land of the in between--the "already/not yet." The kingdom has come—the kingdom is coming. The messiah has come—the messiah is coming. He is with us to the end of the age—we do not yet see him face to face. The old man has been crucified, yet still he strives against the nails and curses us in his death throes. Like a man on a mountaintop facing the morning, we behold the light of the sun as it rises in the east, yet behind us the land still lies shrouded in darkness.

So we rejoice in what we have already attained, and in this we are content. Yet we long for what we do not have, and like creation, groan for our redemption. I like to think of it as a contented discontentment. We are content because we know in whom we have believed and are convinced that he is able to keep that which we have entrusted to him; we are appropriately discontent because we have yet to take hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of us. It is in this tension that we fast—a fasting that enables us in our contentment to lay aside that which threatens to rob us of it. In my mind the pious soul should experience a natural ebb and flow between the two as the Spirit moves in the heart. We must not live perpetually in either frame of mind. It is an insult to this present regeneration if we do not rejoice, yet equally an insult to the coming regeneration if we do not mourn.

In regards to fasting being an expression of contentment—I’ve not thought of this before. It does seem to me, however, that fasting is most often associated in scripture with need, rather than fulfillment. We fast because we are seeking, not because we have found. But I would be interested in hearing any furthers thoughts you might have on how fasting might relate to contentment.

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