Friday, January 29, 2010

Here we go

I am consistently amazed by the variety of people's experience with the Lord. One will pray for healing and He heals. One will ask for deliverance from an abusive relationship and He says, "No." I look at Haiti, 9/11, the Holocaust, and by experience I must ask the question, "Who is this God that I follow and love? What do these events say about His character?" I've been asking these same type of questions for a long time. I remember sitting on the back deck of my parent's house in Chattanooga while home from college. Mom and I were discussing His character. I was asking the old standards like, "If He's sovereign couldn't He make it so we don't hurt?" and "Why in the world would any father knowingly send his son someplace where he knew he would die a horrible death?" Mom did everything she could to share her assurance of faith with me yet I was in no place to hear any of it.
I believe Paul speaks to this towards the end of 1st Corinthians 13 he says, "
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." So I take it that I can only see in part which certainly makes sense as I look backwards at my life and see the straight path along which He's led me. That said, there's not much comfort to me in saying, "You just don't see what I'm doing, it will be okay." Why not? I only trust someone whose character is such that I believe they have my best interests at heart. The question for me then becomes, can I judge God by what I see or must I judge what I see by who God is? On the surface this comes across, at least to me in the circular arguments of my brain, as a mind game I use to make sense of everything. I have a preconceived notion of a holy, loving God and since my world does not seem to match up with that notion I must "spin" what I see to make sense of Him. There are few things I hate as much as, "Well, I don't understand, but I have faith." So if I can't go to an irrational faith based on nothing but emotion, and I have circumstances that don't appear, on the surface at least, to match up with what I know to be true of His character, I must focus then on the one constant in all of this...Him.
I love this analogy as I believe it makes sense of what I'm trying to say. Have you ever looked at a straw in a clear glass of water? What happens to how you see the straw once its penetrates the surface of the water? Does it not look to you as if the straw is no longer straight? Seriously, try it. Am I to judge the truth of the straw's "straightness" by what I see in the water or by what I know to be true about the character of the straw? You can take the analogy even further; what happens to the apparent size of the straw once it penetrates the water? Is it not different from that portion of the straw still above the surface? Let's call the water "circumstances" and the straw our proxy for God. To get an accurate picture of the straw, its length, breadth, "straightness", we must take it out of the water or at a minimum study it before entering the water. The Lord has been gracious enough to tell me "Stop judging me by circumstances and judge the circumstances by who I am!"
I was asking my dad about how to put a study together that would talk about difference in experience, how we each see the Lord, and how do we see past the physical and live faith (I Corinthians 5:7). He made a great point, any systematic theology starts with God. It doesn't start with faith, means of grace, sanctification, any of our great big "I know about God" words. It starts with Him, who He is, His attributes, His character. I want to explore for just a little longer why my view of Him is skewed then hammer away at who He is as only through an accurate view of my Father will anything make any sense.
I've spent a lot of time lately in Genesis 3, the fall of man. I'm am always amazed that each and every time I read it the Lord shows me something else out of the passage. If there was ever a couple that had it made it was Adam and Eve. They walked with Lord in the garden, talking with Him, spending time in perfect communion. If there was ever a couple that had no reason to be tempted they were the two. You all know the story, the serpent tempts Eve to eat. (By the way, what in the world is Eve doing talking to a snake? No, seriously. Was the garden the first Narnia with talking animals? I bet you that whole "Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe" was totally taken from Genesis!!) What did Satan ask her? "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"- Gen 3:1b. Notice he didn't walk up with a sales pitch and a "look at that great apple!" He focuses her on what the Lord said.
Again you'll remember her answer, they could eat of any tree except for the one in the middle of the garden for if they did they would die. Did Satan then say, "Yeah, but wouldn't it be worth it? Look how nice and ripe and juicy and tasty the apple is! Don't you want some?" NO! He attacks the Lord's character and calls Him into question!! " 'You will not surely die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'" - Gen 3:4,5. Do you see it? According to Satan, the Lord is holding out on you! That's why He lets pain and suffering enter your life because He's not interested in you, He's only interested in playing God in your life; pulling strings and watching you dangle at the end. He only heals some and saves others to keep you interested enough in asking Him for help inevitably giving Him the opportunity to pull the rug out from under your feet when He tells you, "No!" It only took three chapters into the Bible for us to question God and His character and you sit there wondering why you don't get it? The "water" Satan had Eve look through and by extension Adam skewed their view of Him. They judged God by what they saw in the glass and not by what they knew to be true of the straw before it was placed in the water.
And so that's what I want to help us see. We're going to pull God out of the water and learn about His character as He truly is, not as we see Him. (That last line is a blatant paraphrase of C.S. Lewis. I can't remember the book in which I read it, so my citing of his work is woefully inadequate, but just know I can't claim ownership of "see You as You are, not as I think You are.") I will never see God as He is until I see Him in glory. I am finite and spend my days meditating on the infinite. As such there will be things that even when pulled out of the water I'm not going to fully understand. My dad told me about Francis Schaffer saying, "God has not revealed Himself completely, but He has revealed Himself sufficiently." Father, please come, visit us, reveal Yourself to us and help us to more clearly see who You are and not what our flesh would tell us about You. Thank you, Father. In Jesus' name, amen.


  1. My first thought is wow...what a tremendously practical,tangible and necessary study. My first thought is the question "How clean/clear is your water?" The amount of energy and committment it will require to remove the straw from the glass of water. I am not suggesting that the focus become our baggage but to begin with some reflection on the degree of distortion our glass of water can yield.
    I also think that however distorted our perception of God may be there is an additional amount of strength and bravery needed to dig in. Most I have encountered in christian circles "know that God is good...but it is sooo hard to trust". I think there is comfort in what is familiar even when what we believe contradicts what we are feeling. It is easier to leave the tension rather than push past the tension and dig into where the disconnect resides...not to mention the role of the Holy Spirit in this whole process.
    Tremendous entry...

  2. Great point about the water. I believe the degree to which the water is cloudy determines how difficult it is to see who He really is. I think the cloudiness can be determined by how emotionally difficult it is to believe that He is good. Said another way, if I am experientially challenged, i.e. I've had a tremendous amount of pain in my life, my water will trend to be cloudy. If I'm a person who's not experienced the pain, but rather have lived a fairly pain free life, the comment that "God is good" is not as emotionally difficult to believe. Thank you too for the mention of the Spirit as apart from Him and His work of revelation we'd all be stuck with no insight into His word. Again, well said.

  3. I'm struck reading your comments the amount of work that is required to pursue the heart of God. Generally pursuit of knowing someone comes naturally...a phone call, a cup of coffee, a round of golf. Pursuing God's heart isn't anywhere near as automatic; knowing God more deeply has revealed a depth of goodness and freedom that has changed me...most of the time. My thoughts about the amount of work doesn't stop with how hard it is...there's insight and healing to be gained and that knowing and living in the true character of God provides. I think about the hymn "How Deep the Fathers Love For Us"... embracing the depth requires engaging the complexity of it all. How great it is to have a God that loves us enough to let us wrestle with Him. He doesn't strike us down or SMITE (big seminary word) us with the bubonic plague for struggling...He welcomes us in and listens without judgement and continues on with His plan.
    If I had to break my experiences into two categories 1)wrestling with trust/trusting the character of God 2)grasping the true character of God and walking in that...the greater time has been spent wrestling. The depth of goodness that comes in the times of embracing and clarity far outweigh the former. I have to be perpetually willing to let go of what I think should or shouldn't be and look for God to reveal Himself where ever I am.
    I fear I have rambled a bit hope is to acknowledge the challenge and to speak to the depth of just how much God is FOR US...

  4. Believe it or not, the majority of my "getting to know God" lately has come as a result of a conversation with Garrison. He asked me why I did a "devotion" and started explaining that I could use the word "conversation" to describe it better. I told him that if there's something about Anna I don't know, I ask her about it. I pursue knowledge of who she is by engaging her daily with questions, listening, and acting towards her in relation to what I've learned. God has chosen to reveal Himself through His word, therefore I spend time asking questions then I read His word while asking the Holy Spirit to speak to me and reveal who He is. It's moved from knowing about God to wanting to know God, specifically His character; His true character and not the one I ascribe to Him based on the circumstances.

    I believe this dovetails with your comments around "wrestling." Piper calls it "seeing by hearing", or said another way, I can see God by hearing His word. Wrestling with Anna is easier because I get to know her by "sight" yet I have to work harder with Him because I must get to know him through revelation by the Holy Spirit through His word. That said, I couldn't agree more with your commentary around goodness and freedom. Well said.