Pondering at Pecos:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the place of “darkness” and “un-knowing” that, I think, is a place that God leads us into… especially during those seasons where we experience intense grief, pain, suffering, and other inexplicable life events.
It seems the habit of humanity is to try and find reason and understanding during these life occurrences that will help us to reconcile the horrors of pain (whatever that may be) and suffering (of any kind) with what we believe is a “good and loving” God. It is in the equation of this reckoning I believe we find some semblance or possibility of an answer, but let me qualify my response before I begin.
These things I am speaking are far above my ability to comprehend and I know all the details are still shrouded in the mystery and shadows of God’s movements, but I have been overcome with a divine peace as some of these ideas have clarified in my thoughts and reflections. I share my opinion here with humble hope that it may be helpful for others.
No matter how much we know or think we know about God, he is still beyond our ability to fully grasp or understand. Recalling instruction from the Old Testament Scriptures, it was God who commanded that man should make no graven image of him… and, while we may not hammer out sheets of bronze and gold sculptures of him, we do no less when we construct mental images, personifications, and other attributes of our own persuasion that detail who or what we believe God is or should be. Yes, it is true that God attributes certain personifications to himself as he reveals his nature to mankind, but I do not think that our personifications are limited to those shared from God about himself in the Scriptures. We have a shared tendency of adding attributes to his nature that make God into someone or something that is more easily understood and likable. While this may not be “idolatry” in the classical sense, it is very much idolatry in the spiritual sense. We’ve simply exchanged the “graven image” with our personal objectification—we’ve created a god of our own making.
Let me be clear, I do not believe this idol-making is from a sinister heart. I think we are sincere with our desire to seek deeper understanding and knowledge of God—and I believe this is the very reason God invites us deeper, to embark upon a journey into shadows, mystery, and uncertainty.
God alone knows the purity of our heart and he wants to purge us of every wrong and/or impure thought we have of him; Scripture teaches this is true. Therefore, it can, and often may be, during times of extreme grief, pain, and suffering that God drives us into the wilderness of our own soul, so we may be stripped of our false notions of him and find our true identity and absolute reliance upon him. We can remember from Scripture that it was God who drove the young Hebrew nation into the wilderness and it was also God, the Holy Spirit, who drove Jesus into the wilderness following his baptism. Both of these examples served a similar purpose, both were identity defining seasons, both were instances teaching the true nature of God, and both provided opportunity to `practice communion and reliance upon God.
Our wilderness experiences can be terrifying for us and they can also be our undoing. These journeys into the unknown and grievously painful places are the nexus where all that we know about God is tested and pushed to its limit. We enter into our “wilderness” with feet firmly planted on the solid foundation of all we know of Jesus, and we have our wilderness “survival gear” with us too… our Bible compass, canteen of holy water, and theology walking sticks firmly gripped in both hands—confident that we are prepared to battle any devils that would distract and disturb our knowledge of God.
Then, it happens.
(The following is a fictitious and allegorical scenario) The blue skies of our wilderness begin to cloud over when a prayer is not answered in agreement with what we had asked or the prayer was answered, but the outcome is not at all what we expected. Our wilderness trail becomes less smooth and what was flat terrain begins to incline, but we press on. The ground is still firm beneath us we still have all our supplies and theological walking sticks firmly in hand.
Pushing further into our wilderness slightly discouraged, but stoic in our faith nonetheless, we are met with another stunning blow when we witness tragedy strike close to home—perhaps a gruesomely ravenous terminal illness strikes the child of a close friend or we get news that a drunk driver has taken the life our pastor’s pregnant wife—and we wonder where, O where, is God in this moment. How could something so horrific have been allowed by God?
Dizzied and shaken, the skies of our journey grow darker and the direction we travel seems less sure as we begin to question our “compass,” but…the ground is still firm beneath our feet, we still have our supplies, and our theological walking sticks are still firmly in hand.
We are weak now, perhaps feeling as though we cannot take another blow. We tell ourselves that God “will never put anything on us that we cannot take,” and we press on thanking God for protection and somehow glorifying himself through all this suffering.
Then, it happens.
We experience a “Job-like”(Job from the Old Testament Book) atomic bomb getting dropped on our world. All is lost… word comes to us that a canyon fire destroys our home; all material possessions lost. We get word our wayward daughter who has runaway is found OD’d on heroin. An investigation into the drunk driving accident that had taken our pastor’s pregnant wife reveals it was our son who was that driver! If all this unbelievable pain is not enough, tests for our spouse’s migraines reveal inoperable and terminal brain cancer.
Our dark night wilderness is now pitch black, the earth that was once firm beneath our feet is no more, our compass and holy water are gone when they became too burdensome to carry due to the incline and difficulty of our trail. Now, in the black with no firm footing beneath us, we feel our hands being ripped from the firm grip we had on our theological walking sticks! We float in uncertainty, screaming and flailing trying to find an anchor, searching for light, begging at the top of our lungs for answers to all this madness. Terrified in the dark and the quiet, I no longer know what I believe about this god I had thought I knew.
It is here, in this moment, where we have been stripped of our false notions about God, that we are given choice. We can choose to turn and run from this great un-knowing dark or we can stay; we can stop flailing and trust the dark un-knowing. It is here, in this uncertainty where what we don’t know of God is made sure to us. The dark is God…the un-knowing is God. It is in this place where we are surrounded by God, embraced by God, and we know complete loving union with God…if we relax, and if we will trust, and if we will believe that He is good and wants our good. He desires for us to know him in the full…no false notions, no impure additives, and no contrived personal ideas and definitions of good. He desires for us to know him alone…and to love him alone, not our ideas of him.
I don’t think this is the normal path for every spiritual journey. I’ve obviously exaggerated the allegory to stress a point, but I’ve known people in my life who have experienced some of what I’ve shared and I’ve even experienced some measure of these illustrations in my own life. It is our nature to want to make logical sense of things we experience, but that may not be possible in our spiritual journeys. God transcends our logic and is beyond our ability to fully comprehend on this side of eternity. The Bible teaches that God made us for the express reason to share communion with himself, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Restoring our fallen nature to the place of eternal union and communion with him can be a complicated and sometimes painfully difficult process, but God will not be deterred in his efforts to bring us to the place of our destiny…no matter the cost. He loves us and wants us to know him, more than we could ever imagine.