trying to understand

About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Life brings with it many questions. Some are over simple matters in which we can often get quick satisfactory answers. Other things are more difficult to try to figure out, and some things don’t yield easy answers at all. Living in “the information age” we expect everything to be at our fingertips, just a press away, and perhaps the solution shipped to our door or readily accessible to us one way or another. We tend to be impatient over matters which may yield no answer right away, taking time.

Scripture not only mirrors life with real life characters, but like life, often yields no easy answers for us. Scripture can seem a mystery to us, to those without the Spirit- foolishness or making no sense, and to young followers of Christ, often difficult at best even while intriguing and interesting.

I often don’t read Scripture to try to understand, but simply to see or receive whatever God might give me through it. But when we are stuck on something, it’s good to slow down, turn it over and over in our minds again, and prayerfully try to understand. The book of Hebrews from which is the passage quoted above, is often challenging. One needs to be in all of Scripture which will help. And read it discerningly with the help of Bible scholars who dig into the original meaning of the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, the original languages in which the Bible was written, along with a cultural understanding derived from written accounts and archaeology. And we need to seek to read and discern together, a staple of the faith tradition of which I’m a part.

We have to keep at it, or as the writer to the Hebrews above warns us, we are in danger of falling away. It’s either pressing on toward maturity, not giving up, trying to understand, or not doing that. One or the other.

God will help us as we continue on, trying to find whatever it is that God has for us, as well as trying to understand all of its application to all of our lives. In and through Jesus.

what if we’re not meant to tie up all the loose ends?

And the Lord said to Job:

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond.”

Then Job answered the Lord:

“See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.”

Job 40:1-5; NRSV

I have been a part of a tradition for decades which has a tendency to either try to answer every question, or comes across as if it answers all the questions which matter.* I believe that God does give us what we need. But we may wonder why God doesn’t give us what we think we need, as if we’re somehow equals with God. In fact we know from Scripture and from experience that it does seem to me anyhow that we are left hanging when it comes to lots of things.

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 29:29; NIV

What if we’re meant to live in wonderment? What if mystery is just as basic to our faith as what is actually revealed? When you think about it, even in theology this is as plain as day. We have reasoned from Scripture and discerned that God as Trinity is clearly taught. But we also realize that it can’t be explained, that we can’t understand that any more fully than we can understand God. In the world we find that science itself opens up doors which really elude human understanding as far as really being able to pin it down such as is the case in quantum physics.

This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t make known to us what we need to understand to live well. It just means that part of that is to begin to understand that we’re often left with questions unanswered. After all, God answered Job on God’s terms, not on Job’s. It seems that an important part of our knowing is to realize that we simply don’t know. But that God gives us all we need to live in the goodness along with the challenge of God’s will in this life. We don’t like to feel like our feet are off the ground. We would like everything to be settled. But like in the story of Job, what is just beyond or clearly beyond us may be an important part of our present life, and surely to some extent of the life to come. In and through Jesus.

Note this service and message from Gerald Mast: “Unclean Lips and Heavenly Things” from First Mennonite Church in Bluffton, Ohio.

*That’s probably an overstatement, but just speaks of a tendency within that tradition. And I think that tradition gravitates toward that. I am speaking of the evangelical tradition if anyone might wonder. I do so uncomfortably, but believing this is the case, with surely many who would at least want to be exceptions to this rule. But there are exceptions to this rule, though I just don’t see any emphasis on what we don’t know within that tradition. Hence the change in the post with the added word “tendency.”

open to new thoughts, new ideas

“This is God’s Message, the God who made earth, made it livable and lasting, known everywhere as God: ‘Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.’”

Jeremiah 33:2-3; MSG

I’m more than kind of averse to personality tests and whatever else they’re called. There may be well some value in them, and people who seem to have God’s blessing on their ministry along with other seemingly successful people more or less see benefit in them. I recently took a surely simplified but still rather thorough online test and scored highest in two categories, the highest I think being a category which someone said is made up of people who have trouble fitting into the evangelical world. The idea is that they tend to ask a lot of questions and just keep asking them, along with other characteristics or tendencies. I remember that because that is a big part of my own thought process day after day. Many of my questions lead to dead ends, but I have to look for the bright side, and surely this is part of how God made some of us. And surely part of how all of us need to approach life.

The message Jeremiah received from God quoted above reminds us that we need God’s revelation to us for us to even begin to see and get it. And I’m referring here to what seems straightforward from the pages of Scripture. But to see how this fits into life in this world surely will require some imagination. It comes to us, to each one of us, and to us collectively together, as we sift through what God might be saying to us. What each one of us has to contribute is important, but the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts. God is the one who can bring it all together and help us see what God gives us to see, but that requires us, together. And I think this requires questions we have, and certainly requests to help us see and understand what God wants us to know.

Yes, there are a few prophets out there like Jeremiah who can point us this direction. But the invitation to call to God for needed insight, indeed for something new was given to the people of Judah. It wasn’t given to Jeremiah, but through Jeremiah to God’s people. So the help God desires to give won’t come through just one person, though we can learn a lot from each one of God’s servants. But it comes to and then from us together. God wants to help us today through what God can and will give us. We humbly sharing our part and receiving from others, as we seek to discern the whole, what God is telling us or wants us to know for now. An ongoing process. In and through Jesus.

through the shock and storm

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[e] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2:9-10

Job is an amazing book, chalk full of wisdom, but in a way, not one of my favorite stories in Scripture, not that that really matters. But for God to take up a wager with Satan over one of God’s servants, just seems to me to be strange at best, and then to let Satan do what he did, just a mystery. Well, if it’s truly a story which actually happened, then yes, I’ll just let it remain in mystery, a category that is becoming increasingly meaningful to me over time. But actually I hold it to be a wisdom story, telling a tale which actually did not happen. Where is the land of Uz? A story well worth going over again and again for the wisdom one can glean. Indeed part of the wisdom literature in Scripture.

What Job went through as indeed shock and awe, more like awful, one might say the shock and storm which followed. Although Job maintained his integrity and held on to faith in God, it was not without severely questioning God to the max. His three friends did well initially, just being with him in silence for seven days. But when they opened their mouths, their help became a hindrance. Or one can say, something Job had to work through as well, not just his own protests, maybe one might say doubts and surely wonderment before God, but also what surely sounded like pious platitudes in his ears, eloquently expressed by his three friends, with a young man adding some on at the end, although the latter might have been getting a little warmer to the truth in what he said.

Job is a case in point of what we need to do when we face hard times, hardship in whatever way it might come, difficulty, and even rejection from our friends and yes, companions in the faith. Job’s friends were each men of faith from different perspectives, maybe different traditions of practice of it. Well meaning to be sure, and sincere to the nth degree. In the end Job had to pray for them, which in itself is instructive to us, but God somehow required that for their forgiveness, which again is a word to us to try to avoid their error.

Through the shock and the storm we must hang in their and remain in faith, in the faith. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to go through it, though faith surely will lessen if not the difficulty, at least the harm done to us, and should hopefully mitigate or diminish, indeed negate any harm to our souls.

Surely Job was never the same afterwards. He had known of God he said, but through the experience he had come to see God. And he lost his first seven sons and three daughters forever in this life. But God brought him through. A lot of this a mystery to me, but maybe part of the brutal necessity of this life, living in this broken world. God will see us through to the other side as long as we hold on in faith, come what may. In and through Jesus.

processing over time

I am so to speak a word processor. And it takes time for me to get to what might take others an instant. I don’t know why, though I have some guesses. Part of it is surely the weakness of often not being able to make up my mind, and then later regretting a decision. Almost like a knee jerk reaction, I usually do that, second guessing myself.

I am beginning to understand that a large part of it is probably just trying to sift through everything. To consider each part and the whole. All of that takes time. Thoughts primarily, but experience as well, and all that goes into life.

We’re all “wired” differently. One way of being is not at all better than another. We actually all need each other. I’m glad there are others who have quicker insights into things enough to make some hard decisions immediately with clarity. I tend to ask the “what if” questions. It takes a while to be solidified along a certain line. When we get there we can make split second decisions when need be, and stick with them.

This reminds me of people in Scripture like Daniel and the John of the Revelation. And others. Life is a process, and we all change over time, hopefully for the better. We need to accept that we’ll be at a loss certain times. Not settled. That is actually kind of where I’m at right now. Yes, settled in the faith. But not necessarily how that faith plays out in this world. More time in Scripture, prayer and in life for me. As I seek to sort it out with others. In and through Jesus.

a cheerful malcontent

George Will calls Barry Goldwater, “the cheerful malcontent” (see his recent book). I have found something of hope in that for me. For whatever reasons, not likely all good, I find myself to be something of a contrarian. I have liked to ask questions, questioning what is commonly accepted hopefully not for the sake of being contrary, but simply because I wondered. That is where we need some loving mentors to help us, maybe taking us under their wings for a time not to script us- getting us to think the same way they do, but in helping us learn to do it well ourselves with the unique gift and insight God gives us.

In my case, I’ve been more or less a malcontent for years, though not just that, thankfully. But what I take as a drop of wisdom, mentioned above makes me want to be a cheerful malcontent, and I seem to have a peace from God to enter into just that. Not grinding, or insisting that I’m always right when I know better than that. I am never spot on on anything, much less right in everything.

It’s not an easy road to be a malcontent. It can color our character, who we are, and make us dismal to be around even for loved ones, along with acquaintances and even friends, though hopefully we have a friend who stays with us through thick and thin, and we with them (Proverbs 18:24). And it can make us unlikable even to ourselves.

In the way of Jesus, to be a malcontent is always with the promise from God that through Jesus and some Day once for all, God will make everything right. That is certainly a tall order, but part of the “hope” that is ours as Christians, meaning the anticipation of what we look forward to. Even as we hope for something better in this life as well as the next for everyone. In and through Jesus.

*When it comes to American politics, I’m a registered Independent. In no way should this post be seen as an endorsement of any particular political persuasion.

not fiction, but reality

Recently I noticed the thought that some people, even leaders have left the faith because they were supposedly too Bible-centered, and not sufficiently centered and grounded in God and the gospel within the tradition God has given the church. While I think there may be some truth in that, I would like to push back a bit. (See this helpful post.)

Yes, there’s no doubt that the gospel and the church and the tradition in and from that is far more central to our faith than many realize, or at least they’re supposed to be. We can find that to be the case from the Bible itself.

Comparing real life with the Bible can be instructive. Yes, over and over again in the Bible, which calls itself Scripture and God’s word we find cases in point which either don’t make sense to us, or necessarily ring true at the time. But don’t we find that to be the case over and over again in life? Life just doesn’t make sense for so many reasons. The autistic child, a relatively young person just ready to enter their calling who dies, militias terrorizing common people with brutal killings, a loved spouse saying they love no more, a child who rejects the faith, the never ending problems of everyday life, etc., etc., etc.

It seems to me that the Bible doesn’t paint the picture any rosier than life actually is. There was once a well known painter who painted landscapes with human culture as if it all existed in Eden prior to the Fall. Something akin to that lies ahead. But such is not the real world now. Kudos to the Bible. It is rooted in a world that though culturally is often different from ours, in essence is the same, just as messed up as our own. Yes, with the promise of something wonderful to come. And it points us to where we can find the help we need to navigate through the storms, and even do well, come what may. But just like it presents life in its reality, not on our terms, so the blessedness that can be ours is not on our terms. It’s not the way we might write it. But in the end, it somehow will be better than all of that. At least that’s the case according to the Bible.

Life is hard, no doubt. It can seem that all of life is caving in. But we can find our way through the instruction, warnings, and encouragement the Bible gives. God’s very word to us and to the world. In and through Jesus.

making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.

for the downcast from the psalms

BOOK II

Psalms 42–72

Psalm 42

For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

 

Psalm 42-43

“In many Hebrew manuscripts Psalms 42 and 43 constitute one psalm” (NIV footnote). I am working on memorizing and meditating on this passage right now. It speaks powerfully to me in ways I sorely need.

Anyone who would get to know me would learn I can be downcast. Though I’m surprised and relieved, really over people near me not picking up on that. But my wife knows. The psalmist here engages both in some self-talk, and in reflection before God within the community of faith. We sorely and desperately need that for various reasons.

The psalmist struggled with what we might call depression today. And with some good reason. Things weren’t the same as in days past, and people were questioning both his faith, and his God as a result.

But the psalmist turns to God in a questioning yet sincere faith, and finds hope. In fact to just turn to God was what we might say, the cure for his depression. Hope sprung to life in his heart. Even in the midst of the ruin and despair.

A good passage for me, for us all to reflect on, and pray over. In and through Jesus.

grieving the loss of one of Jesus’s loved servants

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.

Psalm 116:15; NIV

The church we’ve been attending, and are in the process of joining lost a faithful servant who I never had the pleasure of meeting myself. But a young woman, married with a daughter, who was in love with her family, in love with life, and most of all in love with the Lord. In a tragic car accident. She was a faithful servant with a heart for children’s ministry. I want to say that this church, mega though it is, with a number of campuses, does everything so thoughtfully and well. Most of all bathed in love and prayers, prayers and love. The church has a big place and heart for children, and for children’s ministry, as it should be. And this young (to me) lady had what she considered her dream job in being in children’s ministry, coordinating that ministry on the main campus.

We are deeply grieving, but how much more those who knew her, especially her loved ones? And those who were her friends, and served with her in the work of the Lord? So our prayers along with our hearts go out to her loved ones, and to the church at this time.

I couldn’t understand how this could be. I have been so grateful for the ministry of this church in so many ways, for so many reasons. We can never be the same after this, I’m sure. We need God’s grace to carry on. How much more those who knew and loved her, and served with her. You get so close to the Lord and then to others through the Lord through a ministry like this. Little does one realize what they have sometimes, until it’s taken away. Or sometimes, sadly, we may not appreciate someone enough until they’re gone.

In the context of Psalm 116, God had rescued the psalmist from death in answer to prayer, and the psalmist was praising God for that. I’m sure that psalm alone can be one for meditation and prayer in the coming days, although there are so many passages in scripture in which we can find some help, comfort and solace.

Note the differences in how Psalm 116:15 is translated:

The Lord cares deeply
    when his loved ones die.

NLT

The death of the Lord’s faithful
    is a costly loss in his eyes.

CEB

The Lord values
the lives of his faithful followers.

NET Bible

I think the footnote of the NET Bible is helpful:

Heb “precious in the eyes of the Lord [is] the death of his godly ones.” The point is not that God delights in or finds satisfaction in the death of his followers! The psalmist, who has been delivered from death, affirms that the life-threatening experiences of God’s followers get God’s attention, just as a precious or rare object would attract someone’s eye. See Ps 72:14 for a similar expression of this belief.

We have to let this sit, while we sit before the Lord in silence. And while we reach out in love to those whose lives intersected closely with hers.

She is with the Lord she loved now, and I’m sure is full of complete joy and peace. I am not sure about whether or just how she might be interceding for those left behind, if departed ones do that. That could well be; it’s a tradition of the church, though I don’t think there’s any proof for it from scripture. But I’m sure she would want those left behind to continue on in the work of the Lord. And do well in it. In God’s love.

But some things can leave the heart numb for a time, especially in this case for those left behind. We want to ask the question, “Why Lord?” And we can. But we have to trust, as well. Even when it makes no sense at all. And when we say, we don’t care what good might come out of it. We don’t care at all. We don’t understand. But in the end, we have to entrust and leave it in God’s hands. And let it go at that. In silence. And in faith.

At the very end, when it’s all said and done, our lives are only a blink of time here. These awful happenings will be remembered no more. And we’ll all be together again. Let’s continue on with the same love, passion and ardent devotion this young lady showed to all by her life and service to Jesus. In and through him.