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I’m sorry God, but I think you’re crazy.

_

Mystery of God

I was 27 years old when I nearly walked away from God. It did not happen in the clutches of a wayward woman.  It didn’t come in the aftermath of some drunken rebellion.  It didn’t even follow some great tragedy or misfortune.  No, this darkness, this flooding void, came as a leach upon something very good.  Theology.

For me theology was life and death.  It was not something to simply peruse and browse and set aside when the hour became late or the topic too deep.  It was a map; the very map which made life possible. Setting it aside not only admitted defeat, it stopped all progress.  It felt as if my life would lose all meaning if I ran upon something I could not understand.

This was foolish of course, because it was inevitable I would encounter such a challenge.  But I believed it was simply a lack of effort which prevented people from reaching true understanding. I would not give up, so it seemed fair to expect such a derailment was perfectly avoidable.

I recall the sermon vividly.  Our pastor was trying to convince a reluctant congregation that predestination was a tremendous blessing.  Towards the end of the sermon he used an example to help illustrate the fruits of this theology.  He described a father watching his child play on the sidewalk in front of their house.  As the young boy is kicking the ball, he loses control of it and it rolls into the street.  The father, sensing disaster, runs and grabs the boy a split second before he lunges into the path of a speeding truck.

The pastor finished the story with a big confident smile.  A smile that made it very clear this story was supposed to make us very happy.  This was the moment we were to say praise the Lord, it all makes sense now. I looked around a bit, hoping I wasn’t the only one who didn’t feel the joy.  Someone else who heard the same story but came away with a different conclusion.

The audience seemed divided.  Some I could see accepted the news with great thankfulness, a ready affirmation to their belief.  Others looked quietly distraught, a simmering confusion boiling beneath the surface.  I was not confused.  I was horrified.

The pastor went on to explain how the father represents God and we are the child. And this is a metaphor to our story of salvation, how God reaches down and plucks us from certain disaster.  This was very confusing to me.  It seemed like only half the story.  And of the two halves, by far the only one that is presentable enough to explain from the pulpit.

I leaned over to the person sitting next to me and asked what about the other boy, the one who the father sat back and watched run in front of the Mack truck? If I was the kid, I hardly think the joy of avoiding my own death would equal the despair of my watching my father let my brother die.

I wanted to ask the pastor what he thought.  I wanted to stop the sermon, stand up and ask about the brother.  What should we think of him?  A sacrificial pawn?  Perhaps just some unfortunate cost of doing business?

I didn’t.  I sat in my chair and seethed.  It was one thing to come against some confusing aspect of God’s nature. Some seeming contradiction between two descriptions of our Father. But quite another to be told it ought to make perfect sense.

I think it was the presentation that sat so coldly.  The easy calmness, the smug projection of self assuredness.  A tone of pity telling me that my intellect was too soft and infantile to accept such a truth.

The sermon ended, the worship band played a few songs and we shuffled outside.  On the way to my car I caught a friend with a tear in her eye.  We spoke for a bit and it was clear she had found the same dark side of the story. She told me if this was how God really was, then He wasn’t a God worth worshipping. I nodded my head, unwilling to disagree.

I drove home.  Anger and confusion casting a pallid shadow over all my thoughts. I had been here before, I knew the terrain well. But it did little to keep the devil at bay.  It simply couldn’t be.  How could a loving God create people for the sole purpose of eternal suffering without any chance of repentance? If this were true, the whole thing seemed meaningless.

Why should I get out of bed?  Why should I tell my neighbor about the gospel?  And perhaps even more so, why should I worship?  Does the praise of a robot truly delight the Father’s ear?  I suppose it may, and if it does, I can only protest, He is still God.  And He may still ask me to praise Him.  I imagine I still would, but it would be as a slave bows to his cruel master.  A movement of actions but not of the heart.

But there was some truth to it.  I found it in scripture.  Often, right next to a verse describing free will and choice.  This almost made it worse because it kept me from throwing out the idea in its entirety. That would be much simpler.  I could just call myself an Arminian and find another church.  But no, however distasteful, it was clearly there and must be faced.

Over the next days and weeks a dramatic shift careened through my life.  This single idea, this theological wrecking ball wielded such power it consumed all light from my relationship with God.  God was still there, I never walked away from the belief in His power, in His existence.  But now He sat upon a different throne.  A black throne in a black cave.

I wish I could say the answer came through further study.  Some brilliant theological deduction that brought the conflicting pieces together.  Some answer that held free will and God’s sovereignty in perfect union.  It simply never came.  Hours and days I poured over scripture, books, sermons, looking for a logical answer.

After weeks of fruitless searching, I simply quite.  I gave up.  Set aside the books and gave up. It became clear to me that pursuing this any further was bringing me dangerously close to a point of no return.  A moment when the confusion would put to death all belief. A kind of spiritual panic attack when fears and assumptions are taken to ridiculous extremes.

In the end it was a decision.  A cold force of will to declare the topic off limits.  Perhaps to be revisited during a time of greater spiritual strength.  At first it felt like defeat, like I was quitting out of a pathetic mental weakness.

Yet this weakness turned into great solace.  A few weeks later, after I regained some composure, I realized a great truth.  There is a purpose in God’s mystery.  If I understood it all, if it all made perfect cohesive sense, what would that mean?  I would be God.

This acceptance brought tremendous freedom.  And even more than freedom I found a certain joy.  A release from the burden of predicating my love for Jesus on my understanding for His actions.

The more I dug, the more aspects of life I found stained by a refusal to accept this truth.  How many times had I judged God, launching criticisms in a moment of haste because His actions didn’t make sense. A broken relationship, a lost job, an uncured disease. All blame laid at His feet because it didn’t fit into my explanation.

I returned to scripture, but now I found something very different.  The stories, the parables, the teachings, they all made much more sense in light of His divine mystery.  I realized there was a reason He taught in parables rather than systematic theology.  At some level, He must delight in Him being God and us being humans.  And with this, delight in the chasm between our understanding.

He asked me to simply be a human.  Accept my limitations, love Him and love those around me.  And learn to love Him at a much more basic level.  Love Him not because I understood His perfect plan, but because I first believed that He loved me.  That in His very nature was a loving and just God.

The doubts and confusion remain to this day. I imagine they will always be a part of my faith. But they have lost their power.  Still questions to ponder and wrestle, but never again will they throw their claws around the Father Himself.

Comments

Comment from Caleb
Time February 28, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Great post. You’ve inspired me and I ended up writing quite a long response . Thanks!

“At some level, He must delight in Him being God and us being humans. And with this, delight in the chasm between our understanding.”

When I read this I miss read it as:

“delight (is) the chasm between our understanding”

Meaning the chasm is our delight.

I went back and read it again and saw that the way you wrote it was intended to point at God’s delight not ours. Then I thought about it… I believe it’s both.

At times when I gaze into that chasm that is filled with the complexity and glory of God I come away humbled and joyful. Other times my gaze results in pride and anger towards God.

You could use the common example of going to the Grand Canyon here… hey this fits, it’s a chasm. One man goes to revel in amazement and wonder. Quite enjoyable to be sure! Satisfied with his experience he leaves along with the rest of the crowd and heads off back to normal life. Another man may go seeking understanding. Sure he wonders and awes at the sights, but he says to himself, “This is nice, but I want to know more, tell me what, where, how, when, why and who!” the real enjoyment is found in understanding for him. At the end of the day he has answered many of his questions but they have only turned up more. Discouraged with this net gain of zero he leaves, perhaps to make an attempt another day. Yet a third man goes, and at first he appears no different than the first, but he seems to take things one step further. You soon notice that he is not only seeks enjoyment from the experience but also from understanding. After the initial shock and awe, he wants to know more. Inside he says to himself, “How amazing is this!! Give me the details!! I want more! Tell me why, what, where, how and when. I want to know”! He leaves with the same lack of understanding as the second man but has a joy that lasts longer then the first man’s.

In hind sight, I think there is little difference between the last two men. I believe they are both seeking the same thing; however, the second man has left the most important questions till last while the third man found that answer first. He now lives seeking to answer the rest of his questions out of his delight of the answer to his first.

I think that delight lies both in the pursuit and the destination of the complex and difficult things. As Christian we have been given both. Without both, like you said, “I would be God.”

Comment from Caleb
Time February 28, 2009 at 1:36 pm

by the way, ultimate, 2 pm, Sunday 2/29, Magnason.

Comment from Melissa
Time March 1, 2009 at 10:15 pm

“There is a purpose in God’s mystery”
I have thought about this a great deal over the last several months. As humans we can only understand so much. Like you, I spent some time trying to understand something I now believe we simply cannot. There are times when child-like understanding might mean more to Him. Simplisitic…… but, pure, honest love and trust for God bring Him and us joy.

Comment from jrmallory
Time March 2, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Caleb – Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it makes total sense. I should rewrite it and add it in somehow. I like your imagery of the hiker in the Grand Canyon. Which reminds me, I need to go there, I haven’t been yet.

Melissa – Yes, perhaps the real lesson is knowing when to love Him with simplicity. To know when our brain has gone too far ahead of our heart.

Comment from 3GirlKnight
Time April 9, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Great post jr!

Just this morning some friends and I studied Luke 9. A couple of times in there Jesus said something that his disciples just didn’t understand. In verse 23 Jesus talked about “taking up your cross and following daily.” At the time, the disciples probably didn’t know what ‘taking up the cross’ meant because the crucifiction hadn’t happened yet. Then again; in verse 44 Jesus talked about his betrayal and verse 45 specifically says that the disciples didn’t understand and the meaning was actually hidden from them.

I’ve heard it mentioned that entering Heaven will be the ultimate “AHA!” moment. Perfect clarity and understanding. Faith will take us a long way in this lifetime, and it will be enough, but to think that “someday I’ll understand this” eases the pain of not understanding….at least a little.

Comment from Heather
Time May 5, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Mallory! When do we get to read some new writings? looking forward to more..

Heather

Comment from Boomer
Time June 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Jimmy,

Interesting that was something that tripped you up. It did me as well. Funny enough it was the first seminary class that I ever took, Systematic Theology. I walked away from the class rocked and not knowing what to do or believe. I basically put God on the shelf. But, being a child of God, I was never beyond his reach and the further I drifted from him the more miserable I became.

Coming back into relationship with God has given me the peace in my life that I could never attain. There are many things I will not understand but I have no choice now as to my faith in God. I was kicking the goads and it wasn’t fun.

Comment from Lisa
Time June 8, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Thanks for this post, Jimmy–I stumbled upon it tonight and I really appreciated your thoughts. I too find great peace in just accepting that we just cannot fathom God’s ways..at least not this side of heaven.

Comment from Susan
Time July 16, 2009 at 9:39 am

Hi. My dad is a pastor. One thing he has always taught at different churches where God has placed him and at the schools (graduate schools) where he has taught (and to his family too – [smile]) is this:

“For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? So simple that a child can understand it. I don’t mean to sound like a smarty pants. All I’m saying is maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said we can’t enter Heaven unless we have faith like a little child, a simple trust in the promises of God’s Word. We like to make things oh so complicated, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Oh surely God’s workings and ways are a mystery at times, like the time I became a twenty-five-year-old widow raising a nine-month old son. All the specific details of God’s plan and His ways – I’ll leave that up to God.

BUT He has made the way to Heaven very clear and that way is open to all who would believe. (see John 14:6) In the end, it all boils down to a simple Bible verse like John 3:16, doesn’t it? My dad always encourages his congregation, students and his family to interpret the more difficult Scriptures in light of the easier ones.

WHOEVER in John 3:16 is not limited. Whoever will may come. It is the Father’s work of salvation through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection; all we need to do is come to him seeking forgiveness and accept Christ’s work on the cross. That’s God’s grace.

God so loved the WORLD – that is not limited, it’s the “whosoever” that believe on Him who will be saved from their sin and live with God in Heaven. Whoever is not an exclusive group, it is just what the Bible says, WHOEVER, not whoever is elect. God does not choose people to go to Heaven or Hell. We have been given free will to make a choice to accept God’s provision made possible through Jesus Christ. As for election, it always has to do with service once a person is saved. Predestination has to do with God’s specific plan for you once you are saved – it is always service or work related. And we know from God’s Word (Eph. 2:8,9) that we can’t work or earn our way to Heaven.

Maybe a better explanation of the story of a father protecting his children would be this: A father reached out to take his childrens’ hands to cross the street. One stubborn child did not obey and ran out into the street and got hit by a car. The other child willingly grasped his Father’s strong, capable hand. Both children were given a choice and in the end provision for protection was made for both even though only one child accepted it.

And as for letting go of God’s hand? Once we take hold of God’s hand, He won’t ever let us go. John 10:28 – that’s the specific verse that gave me peace after my first husband (who asked Jesus to be His Savior) died in a car accident. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.”

One final thought is a Bible verse that I recently underlined during my devotional time when I read my Bible. It’s I Timothy 4:10. “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of ALL men, especially of THOSE WHO BELIEVE.”

God’s provision is for all, but not all will believe.

Comment from Rhys
Time November 12, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Great stuff – The blackness in the hole of depair I fell into was ONLY dispelled when I looked up and began to see light. Theology and logic couldn’t dispel it, but when I gave up thinking, and actually began to listen to the still small voice, it all started to make perfect sense, and has ever since

Comment from Jeremy R
Time January 6, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Man, thanks for writing this.

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