As I have said before, in my childhood I somehow got the impression that to be a Christian is to "accept Jesus into your heart," and to memorize and be able to spout (or at best pass on to others) a list of facts about God, and live a moral life "like Jesus." A rational theology, for the most part, accompanied with a hazy concept of "faith" which itself is supposedly based on the "fact" of God, but kind of mysterious and hard to attain (though it could sometimes be "worked up" with a certain amount of emotionalism). I liked the rational part; it suited my way of thinking. I was nervous about the mystery and emotional part most of the time, and anyway, we have the Bible so we no longer "see through a glass darkly" if we just know the facts, right? To be honest, I starting doubting all that pretty quickly, even as a child, but it sure was buried deeply in my thinking from an early age, and has kept hounding me.
So this morning I was reading from the Sweet/Viola book, Jesus Manifesto. I've been exploring with Jesus lately, longing for Him to "reveal" Himself to me. And He has been. Slowly. Small bits at a time. I suppose I was hoping, after all, for a big emotional eureka moment. But I've been realizing that that isn't generally His way. Still, sometimes He does send a "sunrise" along after a long slow dawning. That kind of happened this morning, though I expect it's probably just the top edge of the orb rising over the dark mountain top! Still, I don't want to lose track of it when clouds roll in (which it seems they inevitably do from time to time) so I'm recording this bit of light for myself. If you happen to be reading this, it may seem so you that I'm awfully slow. That's okay. I am. Go ahead and read something else if you like :-)
So the book was talking about "mystery." It was also talking about my own "rational" approach to God, and where it has (or rather, hasn't) taken me:
And while Jesus contains the fullness of God, our knowledge of Him is limited by what we are able to receive at any given moment. God, being infinite, is more than any mortal can fully grasp. Thus there will always be more of Him in Christ to know and experience. But the end of existence is not understanding faith. It is living faith - a walk of utter dependence upon and loving attentiveness to Jesus Christ. (p84)So maybe I need to open myself to the "mystery" a bit more. After all, Paul wrote about it. And said that the mystery of God is Christ, and the mystery of Christ is the church. There's no doubt that the more facts I have stored away, the more mysterious Christ and the church have become to me. But why would God use mystery? How can truth and mystery be reconciled? It doesn't seem rational.
The book explained that this way: That when dealing with divine mystery, religion can display it, or can hide it. The latter is the religious approach I have experienced. It goes on to says that
Beginning with Descartes, Western Christianity moved from "truth as mystery" to "truth as certainty." (p 86)Aha! That's the "truth" that's been hounding me. "Truth as certainty." Learn the creeds, memorize Scripture, preach the Spiritual Laws, study Truth Projects, obey the rules, get into the church systems and educational systems and all. Easy, but ultimately, in my experience, awfully unsatisfying. Like the book says,
When truth is encountered as certainty rather than mystery, open spaces of providence and possibility begin to close.... Only by living the mystery can truth be discovered. (p 86)
Faith is not mental assent or wishful thinking. It's another sense as real as our physical senses. (p 87)That sure explains a lot. So I don't need to rationalize, know all there is to know about God. I can't. Even Moses only got to see God's back in passing.
To the person who walks in the Spirit, paradox, mystery, and uncertainty propel him forward instead of bogging him down. (p 87)
... to reject mystery ... often leads to the frail and foolish attempt to explain a God who is beyond explanation. (p 88)
So God doesn't give us His face. But He does give us His right hand - and its name is Jesus. (p 89)I've long thought that maybe if I just studied logic and Latin (as a number of home school folks recommend) then I would better understand theology and find the solutions to what have seemed to me to be illogicies and contradictions in theological systems. So I ordered workbooks and tried. Still didn't do it for me. And what about all those famous theologians who disagree? And bloggers, too :-)
As for us, we will always "know in part" until we meet Him "face to face." (p 89)
Christ is too immense, too imponderable, and too alive to be tied into any immovable system of thought constructed by finite humans... Jesus is too alive to be caged in any human system.... He is THE way.... He is THE truth.... He is THE life of God Himself. (p 89-90)So all those rational systems so many of us have been depending upon are, in the end, too small. And it is okay, after all, to have questions about them. In fact, I'm pretty sure that a lot of the questions I've had have come from the Spirit of Christ (though somewhere along the line early on, I was told that questioning comes from the enemy. So don't question. Hmmm). Of course if my questions arise out of my own "self" and "the world" - and yes, the "enemy" - I'll most likely just end up substituting a new system of my own making. Wow. So I really do need Christ in me.
.... following Jesus doesn't mean trying to create a weapons-grade theological system to analyze, explain, and contain Him. Neither does it mean trying to obey His teachings by the power of our own volition. When you say yes to Jesus, you are saying yes to a person, not to a proposition. (p 90)Oh, right. There's that relationship thing. That marriage analogy. The "Bride of Christ" picture the New Testament keeps coming back to.
You pledge your allegiance not to the vows, but to the person you love. The padlock of wedlock is not the vows; it's the love. (p 90)I have wondered (but hardly dared verbalize it) if I have "lost my first love" - or even if I ever had a first love to begin with. I can look to various times when I had emotional love experiences, when I felt peace, when I was excited to spread the gospel. But what is "first love" anyway? Is it just that joyful "feeling" and "excitement" new Christians supposedly have? What if one (me) didn't have that, so much? The book says of the church at Ephesus (as in Revelation 2 and 3):
Our theologies, doctrines, and subjective experiences are designed to flow organically from our loving relationship to Christ, but they are never to substitute for it. (p 90-91)
.... Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, "I determined not to anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (p 91)
Christ is the embodiment of all that God desires to give His children - both His teachings and His virtues.... May we, therefore, stop seeking "things" and instead lay hold of the "real thing" - Jesus. He is the razor edge of truth, the road that leads us out of the ditch." (p 92)
In their zeal for theological purity and social relevance, they lost their "first love" - the sovereign Christ and the supremacy of loving Him.Oh! Knowing and loving Jesus. Not just "getting it." But "getting, knowing Him."
So now what? At the same time as I've been going through this growing-to-be-in-relationship-and-to-know-Jesus space in my life recently, I've also been going through a stage of wondering where "I" as an individual stand in all this, how all this impacts my life on a practical basis. Do I just carry on with my life, maybe even dream and plan and act on my hopes and goals, or do I just sit and wait till somehow I suddenly "see clearly God's will for the next step"? Or maybe some kind of combination of both? For awhile, I was just sitting, feeling lost. Lately I got to the point where I decided to get busy and go ahead and do something - but at the same time be willing to let the Spirit guide me elsewhere as He desires. After all, scripture says we are to work, support ourselves, help others. Not just sit around waiting. But still, this nagging feeling that maybe my dreams, plans, goals are really "about me" after all.
The sun has been rising a bit above the mountain top, after a long, slow dawn, on that issue, too. You can check out my thoughts on that over here.
Thank You, Jesus, for Your light. Thank You that You are THE light.