I’ve never seen the ocean with my feet on the ground.
I’ve flown over it, I’ve driven past it, I’ve seen it on television, I’ve read books about it. Yet I know about the ocean. And out of all of the fascinating aspects of marine life and the seas they live in, the most intriguing are the tidal pools.
Tidal pools are hollows in the beach which trap water when the tide goes out, leaving behind a microcosm of the ocean. There are fish and sea anemones, crabs and plankton, sea cucumbers and starfish all stuck in these small pools. Most of the residents of a tidal pool are there through both high and low tides, living their aquatic lives dependent on the small amounts of food and oxygen each receding wave leaves them. They don’t leave, they don’t grow, they rarely impact the ocean. All a tidal pool does is eke out a life made up of whatever gets left behind.
Up until 22 minutes ago, I thought that Christianity was a tidal pool and not the ocean.
In life, we Christians are separate and set apart. To be sure, we certainly do interact with the world. We evangelize, we critique and seek to add to culture, we stay involved in the world at large. Regardless, there is a certain restriction to our faith, a specific depth that our faith won’t let us pass. We are strained out of parts of life. Or, that’s what I used to think. At the heart of things, I suppose I thought that following God, in spite of all of the positives, still resulted in a loss of sorts. And it is understandable that I thought that way. The ocean is rough.
The ocean is enormous, dark and cold. It lies carpeted with shipwrecks and lost, long-forgotten sailors. It is dangerous, full of sharks and gigantic whales, commercial fishing operations and pollution. The ocean remains the greatest unknown frontier here on earth. To be in the middle of the ocean is, no matter how many other people are with you, to be ultimately alone. The ocean can be a terrifying place.
But there are also corral reefs and tropical fish. There is every shade of blue and water which ranges from as murky as last week’s dreams to the clarity of hope. The ocean can be a warm and peaceful place. In fact, it can be so beautiful that scuba divers are supposed to dive in pairs so they can help one another avoid what is called “the ecstasy of the deep.” That happens when a diver becomes so enraptured by the otherworldly beauty of an undersea paradise that they forget to come back to the surface and drown. There is a transcendent power to the ocean.
There are great depths to our seas, both good and evil. But when we join Christ, it is not as though we are being restricted from certain parts of the ocean. We aren’t missing out on any part of life by being a Christian, we are receiving the greatest possible amount of life. It is only through our connection with God that we are able to plunge into those deepest depths without fear and see the ocean as it truly is. It is not a place where we must fear our mistakes. It is bigger than that. God is bigger than that. I am not talking about a license to simply swim as we see fit, but the ability to see the grand patterns and hints towards the design of the entire ocean. Although other might swim faster, more successfully, or simply have more fun, we know where everything is going. We can be uninhibited. That sets us free.
There are certainly good intentions behind the view of Christianity which shrinks it down to a tidal pool. This is not simply a view held by more conservative Christians, those who think it is most wise to look after their own holiness and hold the world at bay until Christ returns. What it comes from is how we look at ourselves and at life in general. When we believe that the greatest identifier of humanity is sin, then it follows that sin is what we stand to inherit. And if we turn down that inheritance and turn towards God, we are giving up what is ours in order to claim what is God’s. But in truth, despite sin, we are God’s children at the core of our selves. When we move back towards God, we are not giving something up, but reclaiming what was created to be ours. It is not that the world is evil and we must strive for small gains in the face of a crushing darkness to be vindicated at some point in the future. The world is good, the world is ours, but it has become polluted. When we follow God, we take the world back.
Life is not about being set aside or stuck swimming in a holding tank until we can be released into the ocean as it should be. It is about swimming the ocean we have.
I’m leaving the tidal pool.