Ironic language subverts our givens. Divine and conspiracy seem as likely to be title companions as chaos and order. When Jimmy gave me a copy of The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, I recall feeling a bit of vertigo. That was 1998.
If you have read Willard’s masterpiece, as Richard Foster describes it, then you recall the imagery of flying upside down thinking you are right side up found in the Introduction.
Recently a pilot was practicing high-speed maneuvers in a jet fighter. She turned the controls for what she thought was a steep ascent – and flew straight into the ground. She was unaware that she had been flying upside down.
This parable of human existence in our times – not exactly that everyone is crashing, though there is enough of that – but most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high-speed, and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside down or right-side up. Indeed, we are haunted by a strong suspicion that there may be no difference – or at least that it is unknown or irrelevant. (TDC, 1-2)
The depiction is an apt description for juxtaposing divine and conspiracy. Most of us find it difficult to nuance conspiracy in a positive way, that is, we children of the Nixon era.
Once beyond the infamous first chapter, a matter that Willard once suggested readers come back to rather than give up on the book, we find it easier to nuance conspiracy. The new vision might be termed conspiring goodness. Or, in Jesus, God conspires goodness for all humanity. Rachel Held Evans posted a quote that bears offering here,
“We must understand that God does not ‘love’ us without liking us – through gritted teeth – as ‘Christian’ love is sometimes thought to do. Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core – which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word ‘love’.”
I was challenged by Willard’s description of the gospel of sin management, as he called it. I bought a copy for a couple of new staff members more than ten years ago. We found Willard’s critique healthy and his treatment of the Sermon on the Mount excellent.
My mentor, after taking a denominational job in Texas, called and said, “If you could invite one person to come speak at a conference who would you invite? I mean, who would you drive to Texas to hear?” One name came to mind, Dallas Willard.
Rick hosted a meeting. He invited Dallas. During the course of that meeting he arranged a dinner for a half dozen people with Willard. I remember Dallas looking across the table and asking about my life, my family, and my ministry. I could not help but think to myself, “Mr. Willard, we are hear to listen to you!” That one instance solidified in my way of thinking that Willard’s pattern of living Jesus’ way always pointed him to the other. Life was not about him.
Several friends accompanied me on the trip to see Dallas in Dallas – Eddie, Shawn, Nathan, Jason, Paul, and Lyle. It was after that conference that Lyle began to blog. What was his chosen blog title? Divine Conspirator. I make no certain claims about how life after life after death works itself out. Here I am thinking of certainty as something that may be said with absolutely no equivocation. That is not to say I don’t have my ideas. But, I am sated in my sadness at the loss of Dallas Willard by thinking of Dallas and Lyle sharing a conversation as they enjoy the goodness that is God’s conspiracy for humanity.