“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is to your advantage that I go away… But if I go, I will send him [Holy Spirit] to you.” Jesus (John 16:7, 32-33)
I don’t like writing about the Dark Night. First of all, I feel very uncomfortable equating my experiences with those who have experienced a true absence of God’s presence and extended season of desolation, especially when it is accompanied by persecution, oppression, and other tragic or “dark” encounters during the course of their Christian journey. I often feel like a novice as I read the journals and memoirs of those great saints who have traveled the road of faith before me. I do not feel qualified to talk at length about some of my experiences and when I do, I feel as though they sometimes seem trivial and fall short of a reputable example for the subject that I might be speaking about.
On the other hand, I process my thoughts better when I write and talk about them. It puts me in a vulnerable spot, but I suppose that is the risk and trade-off for trying to figure out my spiritual journey. The end result is that I might not know what I’m talking about at all, but I’m willing to take the chance for the hopeful promise that I might make a step or two forward in my understanding of who God is, who I am, and who we are together. Sometimes the risk is in proportion to the reward, so I write…and I talk…and I think, out loud.
The past few years I have met seasons of loneliness, times when God felt distant, feelings of being misunderstood, times of discontent, days of melancholy, stretches of spiritual grief, attitudes of apathy, and bouts with depression. There are probably a few other “attitudes” I have encountered, but these are some I have most commonly identified. These times are always troublesome for me. I think it goes without saying that one reason would be the overall discomfort they bring. Another reason is the doubt that invariably comes as part of the package. I do not like to feel bad…ever, and I certainly do not like feeling bad within the context of my own spirituality. Moreover, I have an especially strong distaste for these things when they are accompanied with self-doubt.
What goes on during these seasons of the soul? What is it that makes us feel so lonely and lost? Why is it, try as we might, that we cannot seem to go back to a “healthier” time in our walk with Jesus? I do not think I can speak definitively to all these questions, at least in a way that is sufficient to answer the questions for every person who may ask them, but I feel confident in sharing my own experiences and some of what I’ve learned through the process.
Studying and learning from the great spiritual masters has benefited me greatly; in particular to this writing, the journals from St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila have been most helpful. Also, there have been several contemporary sources that have helped my understanding as well: Dr. Gerald May, Dr. Bruce Demarest, Dr. David Benner, and a few others. So, what is it that I have learned or perhaps better asked, what is that I am learning?
God loves me. I love God. These are two guiding principles for my existence. These principles are challenged by issues in remediation. God wants my love to be perfected and is active in leading me in the ways of perfection. I am damaged goods on the path of restoration. While there are a number of issues that challenge me in my Christian journey, there are a few that manifest themselves as “root” causes for most of those challenges. I believe I could narrow them down to pride, independence, and idolatry.
Pride is a serious challenge. I believe the fact that on any particular day I can wake up and feel as though it has been conquered serves me as evidence that it has not… been conquered at all. Pride is a most subversive agent; it often hides in plain sight. It was pride that served as the seed of humankind’s fall; its root runs deep and its fruit is plenty.
Independence is another great challenge. Not only are we hampered by pride in overcoming independence, but we also face the challenge of the great American culture that teaches individualism and independence as virtues for which everyone is to aspire. Independence is antithetical to the very nature of our communing Triune God who is a community Himself. It was God, who when creating humanity, said that it was not good for man to be alone.
Idolatry might be the greatest challenge of them all. I recall a quote by John Calvin, who said; “The human heart is a factory of idols…Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” I am unsure if idolatry gives birth to pride and independence or if it is the other way around. These issues are so closely interrelated it is difficult to determine where the beginning point is.
How do these character challenges affect the “Dark Night” or a sense of God’s absence? What do they have to do with God’s apparent silence?
I believe the Bible teaches us that God desires each of his children (me and you and every other created soul) to be wholly complete, as He first imagined us. This, I believe, is part of the order in God’s plan of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Therefore, God has enacted a means of being reconciled to Him through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, but that redemptive act is just the threshold—a wonderful and mysterious threshold, but a starting point nonetheless.
As we journey with God on the way of restoration and wholeness, being transformed in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, we encounter the challenges and their myriad manifestations I mentioned earlier. I could write and talk at length about so many of these challenges, but I would like to address the connection of “Dark Night” and absence/silence of God with wholeness and restoration.
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
I don’t like the idea that I am an idol factory or idolater. However, if I am honest and objective, I am an idol maker…and will likely be until Christ’s return or my life ends on this side of eternity. Perhaps a bit of clarification is in order. While God allows us to know Him, our knowledge is imperfect, although as we seek God with pure hearts in spirit and in truth, He reveals more and more of himself to us. Still, this revelation and knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. This imperfect and incomplete knowledge of God introduces a problem to us; many of us are not satisfied with incomplete pictures/images. The remedy for this problem of incomplete image is to complete it and I believe this is what many people try to do…complete the image of incomplete knowledge. This is a form of idolatry.
No matter how pure my intent and no matter how mature my spirituality is, I form an image of God in my mind and heart based on what I know of Him. I do not necessarily believe this is blatantly wicked, nor do I believe that in itself is separating from God, but it can and does create strain on our relationship with Him which has potential to lead us away from Him.
How it Works…
As I avail myself to God’s Self revealing through His Word, prayer, interacting with other believers, indwelling guidance from Holy Spirit, and many other means of revelation, I am able to form an understanding of who God is…I form an image of God. Now, some of this image may be true, but being incomplete, the best I can do is to create a “wire-frame” image of God. There are elements missing, dots remain unconnected. I have two choices at this juncture; I can continue my journey with a limited and incomplete God based upon my partial image of Him or I can complete the construction of my wire-frame with my own embellishments. Both of these options are not always done intentionally, but the process of completion often takes place nonetheless even despite our best efforts to prevent it. The end result is a god of our making whom we will often project on to others through teaching, witness, or other lifestyle actions.
God’s best is for us to know Him in Spirit and in Truth. The evidence of Scripture and the reality of the Incarnation teach us that God wants human beings to know Him. I think it stands to reason that God desires our knowledge should be true and not manufactured by us, so as we journey with Him along the way of restoration, He leads us into places of wilderness, Gethsemane gardens, and hills of Golgotha. Each of these places are defining moments for us and can be places of barrenness, loneliness, anxiety, doubt, fear, the sense of God’s absence, and places of extreme silence. It is in these places where the student is tested… the Potter beats, moulds, and shapes… the Metal smith fires, forges, hammers, and sharpens… It is in this place where false images are erased and idols are crushed.
It is important to know this defining place is not a place of punishment, but a process of refinement. It is my experience too that it is not a “one and done” visit. It seems with each visit and increasing awareness of God’s character, there is an eventual follow-up encounter for pride smashing and idol crushing. I think the process will continue until… I also believe this is a natural spiritual order.
What has been my greatest understanding as I’ve encountered these seasons of absence and breaking? Probably among the most important things I’ve come to realize is that God loves me so much that He will not leave me with a false image of Himself as long as my heart is pursuing Him. True knowledge of God is conditional; we have to be pursuing Him with humble heart and pure intent. Otherwise, even what we think we know of Him will be taken away and will lead us to our own destruction (Luke 8:18 NLT).
“God who is everywhere never leaves us…Yet he may be more present to us when he is absent than when he is present.” -Thomas Merton
I am also learning that God never, ever, truly departs or is absent from us—what leaves or betrays us is not God, but our [false] images, concepts, and sensations of God. It is here in God’s “silence” or “absence” where He can usually be found speaking His loudest. Here is the time where it behooves us to exercise our best listening skills, here in the quiet of God. In the times where we feel that God is absent, it is the time and place where we often find even greater intimacy with Him. Do not despair in the moments of desolation and loneliness…for it is here that God’s presence is even more manifest.
Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
In the ancient Palestinian wilderness, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and Golgotha’s Hill—God spoke with non-words and was present in His absence. As paradoxical as it may seem, I believe there are times when God is even more present in His absence than He is present in His presence.
God is specially present in the hearts of his people by his Holy Spirit. Indeed the hearts of holy men are truly his temples. In type and foreshadow, they are heaven itself. For God reigns in the hearts of his servants. There is his kingdom.” -Jeremy Taylor
Putting Jesus in the Friend Zone
Readings: Exodus 12:30—27:21
As I continue reading through the Bible and the Book of Exodus, a picture has emerged in my mind as I reflect and consider the passages I’ve read in parallel with life and culture. I would caution about reading too much into my metaphor of “Friend Zone,” but it seems an accurate assessment if not taken too literally. #enddisclaimer
One theme I know is true, but never seem to remember how boldly it is proclaimed is God’s call for purity, fidelity, focus, and detail with the scope of relationship between God and man. God establishes laws, boundaries, and instructions for every aspect of living in community with Him and even extends the same measure of detail for living and relationships for the community itself. Essentially, after freeing the covenant peoples of Israel, God defines the relationship; He dictates the conditions to Moses and Moses reads them aloud in painstaking detail to the people.
“Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people: and they said, ‘All that the LORD as spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’”(Exodus 24:7)
Even with the oath and proclamation of obedience by the people, God knows in advance they will not “be perfect as He is perfect.” He establishes a means of forgiveness and cleansing for the sins of the people in the system of sacrifices and offerings; therefore, when the people fail to follow the rules of relationship, there is a means of reconciliation in place to prevent fracture and break-up and provide restoration.
As the years pass, so does the honeymoon stage of the relationship between the covenant people and God. The relationship itself is taken for granted by the people and the sacrificial system becomes a justifying means to an end. The attitudes of the people become apathetic, non-committal, and adulterous toward their God. The sacrifices necessary for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of the people mean nothing to those who offer the sacrifices and ultimately mean nothing to God (Isaiah 1:11-12; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21).
I hope I’m not reading too much into what I’ve perceived, but it seems to me that the trajectory of the relationship was something like this: God establishes and defines the relationship between He and the Israelites; the Israelites agree to the lifestyle of purity, civility, and fidelity God defines; God provides a means for the Israelites restoration when they fail their commitment. As the timeline continues and the commitment made by the Israelites is diluted through their generations, the people move from offering sacrifices for their failures to not recognizing their failures at all. In effect, the people, by the association of their actions, redefine the relationship with their God. What God calls sin, the people fail or rarely recognize as such. The people boldly engage in worship of false gods, mistreat their fellow human beings, lie, cheat, and steal from one another…and more, all of which were clearly defined as abhorrent and unacceptable to God. It appears a combination of things occurred in the hearts and minds of this former covenant keeping people; one is that they stopped caring about the Creator God who had rescued and provided for them all the years of their existence, and another is that it appeared they no longer considered many of their actions sin.
Years pass and Jesus steps into the scene. No longer, does man have to live behind the blemished façade of a false self; God comes to dwell amongst men and provide them a means to be wholly reconciled and fully restored to the imago dei (Image of God). Man no longer has to live in sin (hamartia: missing the mark of God), but God in the flesh shows man the way to accurately reflect and embody the divine nature.
Fast Forward Some More
Here we are; today, the world in which we live. It often seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. From ancient middle-eastern culture to modern western society, the attitudes and excuses of living and life seem to spring remarkably from the same headwaters: selfish pride. We enjoy having “God on our side.” We like the benefits of name-dropping; “Yo, me and J.C. are tight.” It is comforting to us to think we have an omnipotent God to turn to when the pressures of life squeeze tight. While we might not say it, we often treat God like our “Ace in the hole” only calling Him out when all our other “cards” fail to produce the winning hand for us. Many of us, calling ourselves Christians, live a dual life—keeping God separate from most of the messier areas of our life—our relationship with God resembles the “pretty room” many of us might remember we or our friends had as kids growing up. You know the one I’m talking about; it’s the room that was perfect that no one was allowed to go in or sit on the furniture and strictly made for looking at…no practical function whatsoever. Yeah, that’s the sum of much Christianity today, except that in reality it is not even pretty to look at if we are truly honest with one another and it certainly doesn’t look like anything passable for the Christianity that is modeled in our Bibles.
What Is Wrong
My opinions are my own, but I would like to offer them for consideration. I think there are several factors that are damaging the cause of spiritual transformation in the image of Christ. The first problem is a theology that has deviated from the Trinitarian example of our Lord Jesus. Many people seem to have abandoned the God of the Old Testament entirely or relegated Him to “mean and angry old God” status, openly thankful that they do not have to deal with that God now that Jesus has “taken over.” This attitude and belief is a form of Marcionism, which was denounced as heresy as early as the mid second century. Interestingly enough, this belief seems as strong and prevalent as it ever may have been if not stronger. Other heresies involving Jesus that have significant impact on how we respond to God and His work of spiritual transformation in us include forms of Docetism and Eutychianism, both of which argue points of Jesus’ nature of being fully man and fully God. The damaging point for us as followers is that embracing these beliefs (even through ignorance) presents challenges that can be almost impossible to overcome. I have heard it said many, many times from believers; “I cannot follow Jesus and be like him. Jesus was God and I am not.” While Jesus is God and I am not is a true statement, the greater truth is that we can follow him. God has imparted the divine nature to be shared in us (2 Peter 1:3-7) for the very reason of walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
I think the bottom line after accounting for the ignorance of our beliefs and heresies, is that many of us have not “died to self,” which is arguably the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ and becoming transformed into the image of God (Luke 14:25-27). Without this critical first step, we remain in charge of ourselves and constantly redefine the relationships (be that as it may) that we have with the Trinitarian God to suit our own needs at the time whatever they may be. This is not Christianity—it is Meianity and it doesn’t fly with the call of Christ to “Follow Me.”
God Almighty came to this earth setting aside his divine right, so we might become one with the Godhead (Philippians 2:5-7; John 17:20-23). It is the desire of God to share intimately His oneness with us, but there are conditions and distinctives He has given us for that level of relationship to be made true in us. We, listen to the words of God who defines the relationship and become dismayed, but we like Jesus…we just don’t want to marry Him. Jesus wants intimacy and monogamy, we do not want that level of commitment and want to be free to do what we want when we want. So, we respond; “Jesus, can’t we just be friends?” I believe the Bible teaches us that proposition is rejected, at least in the sense that we mean it. Being friends with Jesus inside the marriage relationship is good and “yes.” Trying to be friends with Jesus outside of the covenant of marriage with Him is difficult to impossible and in my opinion an emphatic “no.” Truly, we cannot relegate God to the “Friend Zone” and expect to be a part of His Kingdom. The teaching of the Bible does not support that ideology (Matthew 7:21).
Seasons. Cycles. Ups, downs, and plateaus. Times of plenty and times that are lean. Times of good and times that are not-so-good. This is life. Sometimes we don’t notice it as such because we are so involved in the race of life itself …it can be difficult to notice the cycles, but they are always there.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:12-13 NIV
While seemingly written to address life in general, I think these words of Paul might be equally applied to the seasons of life and the seasons of the soul. I am hopeful that I find, one day, that same place of quiet, peaceful, comfort, and assurance.
I wrote a few days ago about the invisible God. Some of the thoughts I was having then were sparked by the same things going on in my soul even now. As I said then, I will say now; the condition of my soul is good. I have this assurance and peace that is faithful and solid, but seasons are still what they are and they are uniquely different, one from the other.
I don’t think I would classify my current season as a season of “dry” or “dark.” I know there have been seasons where my journey with Jesus has been nothing short of electrifying and there have been seasons that have been varying degrees less than electrifying, but still very much alive and active. I’m speaking in terms of the “felt presence of God” or other tactile senses…”feelings.” This, my present season, is not one of those times.
Although the reading of my spiritual landscape seems less busy and more quiet, it isn’t so in terms of God’s nearness to me. He manifests Himself in countless ways throughout my day and week. It’s humorous to me that just this week a friend from my small group emailed me a video lecture of a man who was speaking about the very nature of this spiritual season I might be experiencing. Serendipity? Coincidence? Providence? I had to chuckle as I was watching and listening to it.
It seems as though I might be complaining about the state of my soul, but I’m not… well, not entirely anyway. I feel at peace, but I feel a bit restless too and I think this is the nature of my complaint, if there is one. I’m troubled by my restlessness. I have God…and I think, God has me. What else is there? I am aware that not a moment of my life escapes me that God is not with me. The presence of God is within me; guiding, teaching, comforting, protecting, nurturing, restoring, healing, and so much more. Why, then, do I feel restless? God is enough! Isn’t he?
I “stumbled” over some prayerfully encouraging words from Teresa of Avila earlier this week that have comforted me. I was also led to read from Psalm 149, amongst others, which led me to some other words and thoughts that have been my prayer this week.
Teresa of Avila writes; “Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you; the one who clings to God, will lack nothing… God alone is enough.” I have been letting these words play again and again through my mind and heart, letting them become the prayer of my breath since reading them earlier this week.
Another prayer I wrote in my journal a couple days ago continues to be a life-giving reminder to me.
I forget; the LORD takes delight in people… I forget; the LORD takes delight in me.
God is with me; but more, God is within me. I dwell for a moment on God’s life-giving presence in my body, in my mind, in my heart, as I write these words even now. I will close out the noise, I will rise above the noise—the noise that so quickly intercepts and separates, the noise that isolates. I need to always and only listen to God, who is always with and within me.
I remind myself that the LORD takes delight in his people… I remind myself the LORD delights in me.
I remind myself that I am in the presence of the LORD always. I will take refuge in His loving heart. He is my strength. He is my Comforter. He alone is always enough.
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O LORD, make haste to help me! Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You. I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my Deliverer; O LORD, do not delay! -Psalm 70:1, 4-5
Today, more than some others, I appreciate the tone and desperation of this psalm. Every other line ends with exclamation. The psalmist prays with intensity and urgency… NOW, is not soon enough for the deliverance of God to come for him. Only God is enough. Maranatha… even so, come Lord Jesus, come.
Surrender: “Let’s Go Die with Jesus”
Reading: John 11:9-16, 25-26 <> Psalm 31 <> Luke 9, 14, 22
The past few days I’ve been thinking about what it means to “surrender” to Jesus. I wonder about how surrender might be defined. It seems, in our society, there is a desire for this word to have cultural impositions placed upon it. Sometimes I get the impression from the words of others that “surrender” is similar to tolerance. Other times I get the impression that surrender is conditional and given only until it reaches a certain point of a person’s predetermined limitations; “I surrender this amount of me or I surrender only certain of my rights.” It seems rare that I encounter the idea of surrender being full and unconditional.
I wonder how Jesus interpreted and defined surrender.
We have the Bible to provide us with what Jesus said and while his words seem indisputable, they must be… disputable, because there are so many variations and degrees to how people interpret them. We have interpreted “Carry your cross…” from the wearing of a tiny charm/pendant to literally nailing ourselves to wooden crosses and everything in between those extremes. We’ve interpreted “Deny yourselves” from not eating chocolate to punishing, deathly ascetic lifestyles and every point in between those extremes. I’m reasonably sure other instructive commentary from Jesus; “You must lose your life to save it” and “Follow me…” have equally colorful interpretations as well. So, the question remains; “What does Jesus require with regard to a surrendered lifestyle?”
Over and over again, I am reminded of how Jesus emptied himself and provided us with the ultimate explanation and visible expression of surrender. I find these defining moments in many places throughout Scripture, but I think a few of the primary passages that bring substance to “surrender” can be found in the following:
All of the above verses represent a very radical commitment to the way of following Jesus, and in many cases, can be very different from what is taught to people attending Christian churches in North America. It is not my intent to slam or criticize anyone or any organization, but the message of radical surrender to the person and mission of Jesus Christ as Jesus described, taught, and modeled is a rare message in our churches today… even more rare in our society at large.
I don’t know what “surrender” means to other people, but when I read the call of Jesus from the Gospels, I cannot come to any other definition or meaning other than total and complete loss of and abandonment of self. Not only do I find his words crystal clear, but the example shared by the apostle Paul (Phil. 2:5-8) is difficult to argue against; “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” (The MSG Bible)
Surrender is what I encounter when I look upon the night of Jesus’ arrest as he prayed earnestly to his heavenly Father; “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want… Again, he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’” (Matthew 26:36-46 NRSV).
“Those who in fact risk all for God will find that they have both lost all and gained all… Everything other than pleasing God is nothing” -St Teresa of Avila
I think when it has all been considered… maybe Thomas had it pretty well defined. Jesus had announced to his disciples that he was heading back to Judea (where he had been threatened by stoning)and his disciples tried to change his mind, fearing for Jesus’ life and their own… I’m sure. After a few more words, Jesus is undaunted and begins to head back to Bethany… and Thomas adds; “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.” (John 11:16) NLT. Surrender. I think this captures the definition as well as can be described. Surrender is to “go too—and die with Jesus.”
I suppose the question we live and die with is whether or not we are truly willing to surrender according to Jesus’ definition and terms or do we constantly excuse ourselves from surrender with efforts to redefine what it really means?
It’s a tough call…but in the end, these are His words; “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me…” (John 12:24-26 NRSV). Maybe even more specifically, I should ask what losing my life looks like as I live my life for Christ day to day.
“But she gave all my gifts to Baal” -Hosea 2:8 NLT
“She doesn’t’ realize it was I who gave her everything she has… But she gave all my gifts to Baal.” -Hosea 2:8
This scripture is the LORD speaking through the prophet Hosea, specifically about the people of Israel, but I couldn’t help noticing a parallel application to my own life from a time not too long ago. It is easy to say everything we have and all that we receive comes from the gracious hand of God, but how often do we really acknowledge those words with what we do with our resources and how we live our lives through them?
I am a blessed man, no question about it. I was born into a gifted and blessed family, in a powerful and rich nation, and had access to many material riches that the overwhelming majority of the earth’s population can only dream about. All of these blessings, according to my Christian beliefs, come from the sovereign and providential Hand of God. I do not believe that a single act or marker in my life has been random; each event has been guided by the orchestration of God or determined by an act of my own freewill (in the instances where I have moved decidedly against the will of God).
What does all of it mean? “But (they) gave all my gifts to Baal.” I think what it means to me is this: whenever and wherever I have not acknowledged God in loving Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength I have given his gifts to me to a Baal.
I am Baal. I am my own idol whenever I choose other than God. I think the same is true for others too, but I’ll let you judge that one.
Each day I am (and all of us really…) are faced with hundreds of choices to acknowledge and choose God. We are allowed the opportunity to showcase him in a thousand ways every single day. The question remaining is this; “Do we?” Every day is a thousand new gifts He gives to us… will we acknowledge them with Praises to the Most High God or will we give them to Baal. I choose Jesus; with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a monthly Top-10 list on the blog, so I thought I might post a special double list today to commemorate the first day of September. I’m posting a list for Top Ten “most viewed” posts from this past month of August and a Top Ten list of the most viewed posts for the summer (June, July, and Aug).
You viewers/readers are awesome and I always appreciate the interaction you provide me with these posts. Thank You!
AUGUST TOP-TEN VIEWED POSTS
- Book Reviews
- Spiritual Direction
- Only God Can Tame a Soul
- Imaginative Prayer
- A Ram in the Bush
- Purifying Love
- Union With God
- Pen & Prose
- A Personal Rule of Life
SUMMER TOP-TEN (June, July, & Aug.)
The False Self: Distorting Our View of God
I wonder a lot; in fact, I probably think too much about stuff sometimes. Lately, I’ve been thinking about some of the ripple effects of what it means to “deny one’s self” according to the imperative given to us by Jesus (see the Gospel of Luke chapter fourteen). Actually, I’m thinking about what not denying self means; specifically, what it means to the person who wants to associate themselves with Jesus, but not fully commit themselves to His Way.
Today I was thinking about theodicy (defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil), this especially in the light of recent events taking place in Aurora, Colorado. As I’ve pondered the idea of why and how something so tragic could happen, I’ve also considered the angry comments, rants, and accusations of so many people expressing their hurt and outrage over the internet. It seems that there are almost as many different perceptions of who God is or is not as there are people… and I wonder why this is so.
I have become more and more convinced that so much of who we are as people, so much of what we know AND so much of what we believe is controlled by our ego—our relationships, our vocations, our worldview, our philosophy, our theology, and so much more—all and everything, influenced and even controlled by the fallen and broken persona that is “self.” This is the same “self” Jesus mandated his followers must deny and crucify before they could become his disciples. If we fail to deny self, we encounter a serious, if not insurmountable problem. If we attempt to follow Jesus without first denying “self,” all of life, our hopes, and our view of God are seen through the brokenness of our confused and false self; ultimately, this is a broken view…and a wrong view. Any perception or perceived understanding of God through the un-crucified self is a false understanding and results in an idolatrous view of God.
Without the purity of God’s purging truth we are unaware of the lies we hold as our version of reality. The Apostle Paul writes that we understand in part…we see through the glass dimly. This, I believe, is understood with the assumption that he writes to people who have assumedly begun the path of self-denial. If this is true for those who have agreed to live a life of self-denial, how much less do people know who have decided to hold on to self? The heart of the false self is full of deceit and misguided beliefs; it only knows what it knows. While this misguided false self may have noble intentions, it’s not following Truth… it can’t because it is ruled by itself. Thus, Jesus implores us: “Deny your self…” Denial of self is the first step toward clarity and whole truth. We cannot hope for understanding until we deny ourselves—the false and broken self—and allow God, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit to re-form us into the identity that is the true self, the self that was first formed in the image and likeness of God.
I do not have the answers to all the questions regarding theodicy, evil, persecution, injustice, oppression, and other issues of suffering. I do know that having a proper view of God and Spirit guided path through life are what I need to navigate a world with unresolved questions. A right view of God is the only hope I have when faced with pain and suffering I cannot provide answers or give reason for. A god of my own making doesn’t provide me with the comfort my heart needs and a god of my own making is what I get when I fail to deny self.
Icrucified. I. Crucified. Galatians 2:20
There seems to be quite a bit of “stirring” coming from my Bible reading these days. Not that this is unexpected or new…more, it is intended as a means of confession and accountability I suppose. I figure the stirring is meant to incite change in my actions and my thinking, so putting it “out there” sort of puts me on the spot…sorta.
I don’t know if, or think, the passages I’ll share are directly or contextually related; well actually, I know they are not, but in a general “big picture” application, I believe they are connected. I’ll share my thoughts as they came from my journal, raw and unedited.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
My Thoughts: What is the “yoke” of Jesus? I wonder if we truly consider what is involved with or counting the cost of coming under the authority of the One who guides the yoke. While there is partnership involved in sharing the yoke, there is always a dominant leader who “rules” the yoke— Sometimes I think we are eager for someone to help us share our load and manage our burden; however we are also quick to abandon the yoke when the course of sharing and partnering carries us onto a path we dislike… or when our progress and relief doesn’t come as quickly or in the form that we would like. I think we like to picture the yoke of Jesus more like the yoke on a team of oxen instead of a Roman cross… so much tamer that way.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God… Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. (James 4:4-10)
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. (1 John 2:15-16)
My Thoughts: Do we give these passages enough serious and honest thought? I think more often than not, we try to think or talk our way around them attempting to convince ourselves they mean something different than what they are intended to mean. I think we like the world and the comforts its systems and governmental order brings. We prefer comfort over sacrifice. We prefer compromise instead of pushing back against the systems that are antithetical to the ways of Jesus. We prefer selective obedience instead of whole-hearted submission to the authority of Christ. We choose the kingdom of men and the world over the Kingdom of God and excuse ourselves through self-deceiving lies intended to make us feel better about our disobedience to the commands of Jesus.
“What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29)
My Thoughts: Too often, I think; we take words like these above and say things like, “Oh, those are demons chatting up Jesus and the meaning of this to me (since I am a Christian) is their recognizing Jesus as Son of God. So, this proves Jesus is God…” and we move on. We think or assume this is the extent of what God has to speak to us about those words. Maybe we are mistaken.
More often than we care to admit, we tend to embrace the attitude of those demoniacs. Perhaps anytime we push back against the leadership of Christ Jesus we also say, “What have you to do with me Son of God?” We feign compliance to the will and way of God until it imposes too much discomfort on us—and then we rebel—either in a tantrum of overt disobedience and rejection of His commands, or passively aggressively we ignore, pretend not to hear, or reinterpret what we “hear” God say in order that we might justify our rebellion. Honestly, when we do this, we are not too far removed from those demoniacs.
O Lord, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.
And, I continue to ponder…reflect…
The Lord will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
MATT. 16:13 – “Who do people say I am?” “…and who do you say I am?”
Is this not the perennial question or questions before us? Who does the world say Jesus is and who do I say he is? The tension these question(s) bring and my response to them is what hangs in the balance—always before me—always begging an answer.
My heart is ready, O God; I will sing your praise. O LORD, Open my lips—and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
I say Jesus is God. I say he not only existed in the flesh and walked this same earth as two thousand years ago, but I say he is; in fact, the Immortal, Ancient of Days, who has always existed even before time was. He is the One who has no beginning or end, but simply… IS. I say he is the very breath that animates my body and the energy, which gives the spark of life to my soul. At times I can feel the smothering crackle of His Presence all around me, and flowing through me… at other times my faith must lay a siege works against my doubt, so I might be reminded evermore that He is near.
Rejoice in the Lord always. The Lord is near.
Who do I say He is? I say He is Jesus, my Savior, my Lord, and my God… Regardless of my confession, no matter the radical nature of my conversion and transformation to His nature and image, I wrestle and groan while in this body. I only see in part—I only understand as much as this failing body and mind will allow. Yes, the Spirit transforms and reveals; I am being changed from glory to glory, but that will not be complete until He fulfills all things. I only see in part and I long to be made whole—truly whole, where all wrestling ceases and I cry no more.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
May the God of peace sanctify us entirely; and may our spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls us is faithful and will do this—Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Thank you, Almighty God, for your Ruach, the Spirit Breath, which keeps me alive in You.
[11MAY2012] Confession | Square Peg vs Round Hole
I have confessed from time to time on this blog that I go through seasons of being “disturbed.” I get this sense of soul indigestion or something; it’s somewhat difficult to describe or explain. I’ve been in one of these seasons for a couple of weeks now…still somewhat in it, since I’m trying to be transparent about it. I don’t think it is a “bad” thing and it is certainly nothing that erodes or even gnaws at my faith, but I much prefer the placid waters, gentle breezes, and blue sky faith over the choppy sea, misty gale force winds, and stormy-thunder sky faith. The tranquil faith is the kind I can do in my sleep with both hands tied behind my back, while the other entails that I work tenaciously and sometimes round the clock to answer the questions in my heart, chokehold the doubts, and rebuke the fear that would shipwreck my joy.
I think one of the most important lessons about these seasons is to recognize them for what they are; they are messengers of the soul. I’ve often referred to them as “dashboard lights.” Regardless of what the seasons are called, I do not believe they can be ignored, at least not without serious repercussion. David Benner writes about this occurrence in his book Spirituality and the Awakening Self; he writes the following insightful words:
In addition to whatever other functions psychological symptoms may serve, they do bring us information about the state of our inner self. That nagging depression or low-level anxiety, or the case with which we lose our temper or are tempted to despair—these are all messengers from our depths that have been sent into consciousness to tell each of us that all is not well in our soul. However, if we ignore or silence the messenger, or refuse to open the letter they bring and attend to the issue they are point us toward, we are doomed to allow the inner problem to worsen and simply postpone the crisis that is eventually awaiting each of us.
The past couple weeks I’ve spent “opening the letter” and “attending the issues,” at least I have been trying. It takes time and discernment to figure some things out, especially when the message isn’t so obvious. In the end, after all the extraneous indicators have been distilled to their lowest common denominators, the message resolves to learning to trust God, growing in patience as we wait with Him, and acting with faithful obedience to the things we know He desires of us. As simple as all this sounds, our spiritual journeys and the tests that we encounter along the way can become incredibly complex at times…and if that is not enough, the complex situations are sometimes divinely shrouded in discernment evading stealth technology. In other words, God does not make it easy on us to figure out the soul disturbances and/or what we are to do about them, so we wrestle.
What I’ve realized once again is that God has a unique calling on my life, of this I am sure. I continue to find myself the square peg and all my furniture is made with round holes. I keep wanting to rush out and get new furniture, but the Holy Spirit continues to stay my hand. I ask myself and the Spirit, if my edges should be shaved that I might be more comfortably fit to the round holes… to which I sense the Spirit saying “Trust Me. Wait with Me.” So, I’ll stay square… and it ain’t easy when you’re surrounded by round holes, but it is the season I’m in and I’ll trust the God who remains always with me.
I was comforted as I was talking with Jesus today and He replied to me through His Word from Ephesians to remember that I am united with Christ. I am holy and without fault in Christ. I am adopted into the family of God and my sins are forgiven. I am “showered” with wisdom and understanding from God. His (God’s) plans for me will not be thwarted because I am identified as His very own. He also gives to me the Holy Spirit. Nothing can change or take this away because He (Jesus) is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come (Ephesians 1:1-14, 21). And so, square peg is comforted…still a little stormy on the inside, but I’m not dictated by feelings; I am just made aware by them.