God’s light breaking through

And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

1 Corinthians 2:13

Usually we all plod along, often struggling to understand, but proceeding from what understanding we have.

Then there are those seasons, usually short times, maybe a bit each day but probably less often when God’s light just seems to flood us and help us see and seemingly understand better many things. When that window is open there seems almost no end to where we might go, what we might explore. Though God’s light is for life, not for our speculation or mere knowledge. Head knowledge by itself is not enough, though it is good to have.

But I’m soon back to where I almost always am. Struggling to understand, but looking to God for the insight only God can give. 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.”

reading Scripture differently

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Luke 24:32

There is no doubt that we need the Spirit of God, Christ himself to give us clarity and understanding when we’re reading Scripture. Otherwise we won’t get it the way God wants us to get it. Something of that was going on here, no doubt. But also Jesus was surely teaching his disciples what the church has learned at least in the best of its tradition to do: Read Scripture, specifically the Old Testament, but all of Scripture in light of Christ and the fulfillment he brings. Otherwise we’ll tend to see it primarily through our own cultural lens. First and foremost we must see all of Scripture through the revelation which Christ brings.

But add to this, we as Christians can differ in how we read Scripture in another basic way. We can fall into what I think is the error of practically seeing Scripture as an end in itself, and miss out to a significant extent on its main point: the gospel, the good news fulfilled in Christ. Some make such an important matter out of an inerrant view of Scripture that they think Scripture depends on that being the case. But what Scripture actually depends on is the truth and reality centered in Jesus, in the gospel, in the truth of the resurrection. All hinges on that. Of course there’s much we can and should glean from the parts of Scripture, without losing sight of the whole, and the point of it.

We also need to read Scripture in the light God gives us elsewhere: in science, culture, from wherever that light may come. That doesn’t nullify a word in Scripture one iota. But it does help us understand its own historical context. And to see how Scripture points us to something which is above and beyond such contexts, yet can still be played out within any setting.

What is most important for us is that we seek to remain in Scripture, intent in believing and obeying God, intent in following Christ with others through the gospel.

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.

back to the basics: communication

For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.

2 Corinthians 1:13

Yesterday I kind of tried what amounts to a thought experiment which I felt was over my head, but shared anyway, at my wife’s insistence. But today I’m back into my comfort zone, trying to work through things which are more or less clear to me. If we would seek to be faithful in what we do understand, surely God would help us understand more.

Communication to me is so very basic, and something I want to take pains to do. What’s at stake here is my own understanding, then along with that, the understanding of others. I’m not sure if this came from years and years of listening to the New International Version of the Bible being read, or if I preferred that version because of its emphasis on clarity and accuracy. Supposedly it gives up some accuracy for clarity, and depending on how you look at that, I suppose you can say that’s so, though I might try to argue against that. It really ends up being just what you’re looking for in a translation. I hope for retaining as much of the sense of the original as possible, but communicated in the way we speak and think. After all, it seems like at least most of the Bible was written in vernacular, the spoken language of those who received it.

But more important than any of that is just the priority of simply understanding, and not letting go until one does understand. Though I have to admit that along the way sometimes I’m still a bit puzzled at what’s actually being said. I am in Proverbs right now, and that’s certainly the case with a number of sayings there. But proverbs are often intended to be somewhat of a puzzle that we’re to turn over and over again in our minds, for more reasons than simply understanding them.

Understanding itself is definitely not enough. We then need to respond in faith and act accordingly. We need to ask how it applies to ourselves, and us together as God’s people.

There is the sense of mystery that should be honored. We need to realize that we’re not going to understand everything. Even though God makes his thoughts known to us, we will never plumb the depths of them, or fully understand and know as God does. And it does seem like God wants that to be a part of our faith journey now. Like Abraham, we go on by faith, even when we don’t know where we’re going, just what the future holds. Leaning not to our own understanding, but trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, submitting to him in all our ways. So when we don’t understand, which in some respects is all the time, we bow to the Mystery, to God.

In the meantime I’ll continue to try to translate God’s directives into my life, into my involvement in the community of Jesus, and in the world. I’ll keep working at that, because I often am at a loss. For the goal of hopefully following Jesus in this world with others, and being faithful to the good news. Beginning with myself. In and through Jesus.

is Christianity about following Christ, becoming more like him?

Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.

Dallas Willard

We are flooded with so much that distracts us from our true calling as Christians. It’s not like we’re to ignore everything else. But what’s at the heart of who we really are?

For Christians it’s to be no less than Christ himself. And that doesn’t mean only to save us, and help us through life. But much more. To be in the process of becoming more and more like him, no less.

When people think of the word Christian, I wonder what comes to mind? Too often Christendom and the vestiges of that, I’m afraid. Not that all and everything in that is bad. But there has been much there, and still much remains that is really not Christ-like.

Notice what Dallas Willard says. This is a process, not something instantaneous. It requires effort and takes time. And prayer, and the work of God’s Spirit. It is certainly beyond us, not something we can achieve by following a few rules, not by our own self-effort.

We need to commit ourselves to wanting to know Christ. Simply asking Christ to make himself known to us is a good start. And then with the commitment to follow him in all of life, even when we have no clue what that means. I can’t imagine who Christ is myself. I need God’s revelation to help me. As God begins to give that to me over time, then I’ll learn more and more what that means. In loving others, in seeing in myself what is not Christ-like, in seeking to prayerfully adjust my life accordingly.

In and through Jesus.

going on what we do know

Oftentimes when I’m reading the Bible I just don’t get it. Or I should say, yes, I can give some sort of explanation for everything, but I’m left wondering about this or that. I have questions myself.

Sometimes that might be an issue of translation of Scripture, but I think more often it’s just the natural head fog we have, because we’re often spiritually obtuse, that is, unenlightened, not getting it because the message of the Bible is not meant just to be known, but to be lived out. And a big part of that is our walk by faith when we hardly know where we’re going, but trusting God for each step.

What we need to do is simply go on what we do know by faith. And keep going. Light will come to help us understand more if we just keep going. And regardless, God will give us all the light we need for life through faith in his word and the message of the gospel. In and through Jesus.

the needed difference

צ Tsadhe

You are righteous, LORD,
and your laws are right.
The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
they are fully trustworthy.
My zeal wears me out,
for my enemies ignore your words.
Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.
Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands give me delight.
Your statutes are always righteous;
give me understanding that I may live.

Psalm 119:137-144

It seems like those who are in the know are the ones who seem to lack heart in listening to God. When one has been given something of a heart to listen to God, they come to realize what little they know, that actually they are completely dependent on God for the knowledge they need for life. Such knowledge is given by revelation, in other words revealed to us humans by God.

Those not privy to this are cast on their own devices and lack of knowledge, but often with seemingly little lack of self-confidence, completely or largely unaware of what God can give. And therefore not understanding those who do receive this revelation from God.

For those of us who have, we know the needed difference it makes in life to fulfill the righteousness of God given to us in and through Jesus.

 

 

 

trying to fully understand (much less, explain) God

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job 42:1-6

I am both heartened and a bit disheartened reading of attempts today to portray God in a way that resonates with humans, particularly emphasizing God’s love, but all too often at the expense of not considering all of Scripture, which doesn’t cast doubt on God’s love, but reminds us that God can’t be put into a box, or made plain by any systematic theology, or any explanation for that matter.

Of course that doesn’t mean that we don’t have any understanding of God. God has given that to us through the revelation of Scripture, and in Jesus as given to us in Scripture.

The book of Job is a conundrum for modern sensibilities, and in the end, God denies Job what Job might wish, since God is actually way to big for Job to take in, even by revelation. I take it that for all the redeemed, the knowledge of God will unfold forever throughout eternity, yet never end.

What we do have revealed about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and as seen in the face of Christ within the context of Scripture, we must hold on to. Not letting go of any of that, and realizing we’ll never comprehend it all. But being satisfied just to know that God knows us and that we know God, and that God is love through and through. In and through Jesus.

realizing we don’t know God, the passageway to coming to know God

I recently wrote a piece questioning whether or not we tend to have a diminished view of Christ and God. I can speak for myself in thinking I certainly do. Of course if any of us thinks they have a handle on knowing God, then we’re sorely mistaken.

It’s becoming helpful, and even life-giving to me to realize that I really don’t get it when it comes to knowing God. Of course we know God through knowing Jesus. When Jesus’s disciple Philip asked him to show them the Father, Jesus told Philip that whoever has seen him, has seen the Father.

I’m not saying that I haven’t known God at all through the years as a Christian. I take it by faith that I have. But our conception of God is often clouded, since we are so prone to making God somehow in our own image, or what we ourselves conceive God to be. Of course Jesus is both the image of humanity, and the image of God. Do we understand what it means to be fully human? Jesus is. Or to be God? Jesus is fully that. So yes, Jesus is human like us through and through, unlike us- unbroken in his humanity. And unlike us, Jesus is God, as God the Son with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. So in Jesus’s essential being, he is different than us, and will ever remain so.

And when it comes right down to it, we don’t really understand humanity all that well, much less Deity. People in the world are often at a loss to understand what humans really are. We know from scripture that relationships are essential in what it means to be human, as well as responsibility in significant works. But we still struggle over our own meaning. And we’ll never fathom the endless mystery of God. We share in something of God, being made in God’s image. But God remains God, while we remain human, albeit glorified in and through Jesus forever.

A key for me is to realize I just don’t have the knowledge of God in any way, shape, or form. I can’t figure God out by reading scripture, not even by looking at Jesus. That is something that remains mystery to us. The Spirit alone reveals God to us, even something of the deep things of God. But part of that is simply to realize that there’s no end to that; we won’t reach its end in the next life, much less in this one. And not that scripture and seeing Jesus in scripture is not important in this revelation from the Spirit, because it most certainly is.

The big takeaway for me that has emerged lately is that I simply don’t really know God, not well enough. Through that it’s beginning to dawn on me, something of the awareness of God. In and through Jesus.