That’s kind of strange when you think about it.
The only escape from God’s wrath is God’s mercy.
“you have been in constant suspense…” Acts 27:33
I fear what is coming. Will God rescue me from this threat or hand me over to it? I can’t trust Him to spare me as He never promised He would. I know bad things happen to ‘good’ people. Is it my turn to suffer? The unknown taunts me and as the saying goes, ‘the suspense is killing me’.
This week a local two-year old boy went missing near his rural home. Volunteers dropped everything to walk as an army of determined locusts over farm fields to find him. The day went. The moon rose. Quietly dawn peeked over the horizon.
When we are in suspense what do we fear? The news that ushers the fear into reality or worse, living after hearing it? Somehow the moment of truth seems survivable, but how can we face a future in light of it?
Awhile ago, I asked my friends if anticipation was needed to enjoy life. Can one be happy if they have nothing to look forward to? Anticipation is simply the belief that a tomorrow down the road will bring something good and we look forward to it. When we lose hope in that, when we have no promise of a good tomorrow, today suffers. Isn’t that why the threat of the opposite is so devastating? It works to remove hope.
This is found in the Bible, and it talks about Paul who was a missionary. He was on a ship that was taking him to his trial in the Roman courts. The ship is caught in a fierce storm and for days he and the others aboard are tossed about without relief. They lived in suspense. Would the ship stay firm or would it sink? Paul knew none of them would die because of a revelation he had but beyond that nothing. Anticipation of God rescuing the situation faded as the days wore on and the sun and stars refused to appear. In their place a storm raged and threatened the future of Paul and those with him. At some point, everyone gave up hoping. Even Paul. They anticipated no salvation. They were left in suspense to face the fear they did not want to happen…sinking. Paul had hope in the ending…but he had none in the situation.
The two-year old boy was found in the trunk of a car on the property, a few mere feet from all the anxious activity. The day he went missing Wisconsin was suffering intense heat. He was found the day after, dead. The suspense ended and the fear turned into a reality.
With the fear realized, I wonder if his parent’s anticipation for the future left them too. I feel despair and I do not even know this family. The pain is palpable even if you are not the one experiencing it. They must continue living….but how?
The hope was always there but Paul had to wait for the storm to pass to see it. It was only after the ship finally wrecked and left the frightened travelers abandoned on an island that Paul could finally see the stars again. Eventually, even after our worst fears are realized, hope returns. Sometimes it takes days, weeks, months…years, but the skies slowly clear and hope reemerges.
That is part of the secret to contentment, I think. Contentment knows that no matter what comes, hope will return. Contentment can survive the fate of today because it knows today is not the end. Grief is strong… and big… and scary… and its intensity often overshadows what lies above… but it does not obliterate it. Storms that end badly can be endured only because we know that the sadness it brings is not forever. Eventually, the sting becomes numb and fades and our eyes turn to new possibilities. We see the stars again. Faith, hope, love….somehow these always remain though we can not produce them ourselves. There will always be hope after tragedy because God created hope in the heart of man for a purpose; in His wisdom He knows that without it we would all perish in our grief. Yet He did not create a baseless hope, no, there is a grand hope ahead, not just in the eternal but in the here and now. A hope that secures a contentment that can be had in the most dire of circumstances. Whatever you are facing, above the clouds, there are stars and an amazing SON shining.
I don’t think I was very old in the Lord before breathtaking things started happening. Prayers were answered in ways that sent chills down my spine. The Spirit provoked me to do ‘crazy’ things and incredible things happened. I would go to my Bible and say, “Lord I need a word on….”, open my Bible and find something staring back at me so pointed that it would make me cower. At times during worship I felt like I was on the edge of a trance and afraid He would make a spectacle of me. I felt His presence. Saw His presence through events. I had dreams. Demon possessed people fled from me holding their ears when I proclaimed the truth. I saw provision come when there was none to be found. I snuck Bibles into Communist countries without incident.
I’m ashamed to say that at some point the rush of the experience had purpose in itself. My walk felt validated by what was outwardly happening. I inwardly looked forward to the next ‘miracle’ like experience. I liked my exciting life with God.
My focus subtly shifted from serving God to looking for His miracles and comforts. During this time, I thought that the closer I walked with Him the more consistent these amazing things would occur. If I lived ‘this’ way, God would do ‘that’.
God showed me much of the realities of the spiritual life as a newbie and I cherish each of those instances. But, as you know, only the wicked want to be entertained with the Vegas show of God. Only unbelievers need to see signs and miracles to know He is in their midst. Me, the new believer, so fresh out of the gates, had to learn that I was in the presence of God even when the bush never lit fire...I had to learn to know He was there by faith. I also needed to stop relying on experience as a way to escape the tediousness of the mundane.
So God taught me that.
And for years I didn’t like it. It felt cold. I feared I was straying, that I was back-sliding, that I was becoming luke-warm towards God. Heaven was quiet and I felt alone. Why was I abandoned? Why didn’t He do anything? How did I screw it up?
It wasn’t just for a few weeks, or months. He became quiet in my life….for a very, very, long time. I still knew His presence but it wasn’t adorned with things I could see, feel or sense. I knew it through faith. Much of my walk during this time was done through sheer conviction and determination of mind to follow. To believe in Him even if He appeared to fail me.
Of course not. We can experience both the magnificent sunset and the crazy, boring drive through parts of the U.S. Midwest. We experience both but one we enjoy, the other we do not. We naturally run after things that titillate us and make us feel alive. It doesn’t seem worth running after the mundane. Why bother with the cake when there is frosting to be had? Who chooses school over a field trip? Living out our faith though is often a mundane experience. It plods along and every day it grows quietly stronger.
I, like all of you, love the God-shivers.
Rejoice in those moments when God powerfully moves and you ‘see’ Him. Rejoice, but keep it from becoming your focus, or you will handicap your faith like I unwittingly did at first. Perseverance in faith is the only way we become strong and resilient. We must learn to stand in naked faith, without the props of experiences, and become comfortable with the mundane. When one has learned to walk in the quiet they also learn to hear God in the quiet.
I have met many people who deceive others but I have never met someone who wishes to be deceived. All acknowledge that they want to know the truth and do not want to be tricked into believing a lie. Furthermore, no one I know is willing to readily admit that they may have believed a lie. It is shameful in a way and exposes a weakness. Thus most people believe that what they believe is the truth.
But many unwittingly do believe lies.
Our extended family is a bit of a mess at the moment. A nephew who has dropped hints of homosexuality for years used his college graduation party this last week to fling his closet door open in the presence of all who love him. He emerged from his closet and his relatives had mere hours, some only a fraction of minutes, to formulate a response.
One uncle, only hours before the party, threatened to not show up on moral grounds. He did not believe that homosexuality was right and did not want to appear to be condoning it. His stance appeared hypocritical and narrow-minded even to me who also believes homosexuality is wrong. What made it seem so hypocritical was it was merely his opinion. It was not based on anything besides his perception: he didn’t think being gay was right but he viewed what he does as right, just because he felt that way. Unfortunately, there are many other things in his life and in his children’s lives that others could easily point to as being wrong based on some vague understanding of cultural norms. And there-in, enters the rub.
The rest of the family lined up against him. Who is he to call the kettle black? On and on the self-righteous tongue wagging went until all, either politely or pointedly, agreed that the nephew was not doing anything wrong by living a gay life style. The uncle who refused to accept it was considered to be wrong and needed to be chastised.
I commend my in-laws, nephews and nieces for wanting to be open-minded about something that they are in many ways uncomfortable with though none of them are big enough to admit it-they contend that it does not pulse them one way or another but the fact that they had to think through it exposes this lie. I suspect they feel rather good about themselves for being willing to accept something they themselves would not do. They feel good about themselves for they have not judged but accepted my nephew for his differences. More importantly, they feel SAFE because they have eliminated through their tolerance any possibility of the finger being pointed at them in the future. They went home congratulating themselves for taking such a loving stance opposed to the narrow minded one that insisted some sort of moral line was being crossed.
As for me, I sought to remain outside of the conversation because it was obvious no one was really trying to figure out the truth and it was therefore pointless to enter the debate. Each had assumed they already knew what truth is. Each was convinced of it. Yet obviously one of the opposing sides has to be deceived because both can’t be right. The strange thing is, if I have any discernment at all, all of them on both sides are deceived.
We all want to know the truth but what we want more often is for our pleasures to be granted and we get all bristly when someone wants to stand in our way. People tote tolerance because they realize what goes around, comes around. If I take the high road here, they might come back at me with the same high road. So they all agree to allow everyone to do as they please. Yet we each have this unexplained need to live rightly. The only way to do that and allow people to live differently is to remove any moral grounds and replace it with something different-what makes one happy.
We welcome truth when it is on our side and dismiss it when it points the finger at us. When it accuses us, we would prefer to live in a lie than accept truth. One cannot reason with a stubborn heart bent on pursuing what they want. They will find a way to justify their course in their conscience because nothing is more sacred to them than achieving what feels pleasing.
The folly of my family is probably obvious to most of you reading this but my folly is probably not. I have found that there is no thought that I hold dear that should not be minutely examined. Where have I allowed myself to be deceived? What principle, right or pleasure do I cling to so tenaciously that the thought of releasing them makes me ill or despondent? Why? Look closely at what you love and determine how you guard it and why you guard it… never assume that the father of lies could not deceive you, even you, holy and blessed by God our Father! Be careful, circumspect in all things, lest you fall.
I ran across this question while reading Augustine’s Confessions and it got me to thinking. If you take away the pat answers, you might learn a lot about yourself, and God.
I do not love his form, the beauty I may imagine.
I do not love His bounty, in that He does not fulfill the pleasures of flesh.
I do not love his embrace, as the embrace of a human and the joy that brings.
I do not love the way He purposed my life to unfold, the trials and disappointments, the dreams left hanging.
And yet I do love Him, but why? What draws me to Him like a moth to a flame? What fills me with a love so complete and overwhelming?
I scribbled some thoughts down and the first were revealing. I encourage you to do the same before you continue reading. My initial thoughts I think, were the way my flesh responded to Him. As I continued I found my spirit genuinely responding and it was a wonderful exercise.
I love Him because He makes me feel secure,
I love Him because I think He is the only One I can truly trust,
I love Him because I can’t corrupt Him,
I love Him because He is superior, His ways always outshine mine,
I love Him because He is persistent despite my failures,
I love Him because He is beautiful, but not in a way my eyes see,
because he does fulfill me, but not in the ways my flesh would desire,
because He loves me so intimately, but beyond anything carnal,
because He is love, and though I can’t explain it, I am drawn to love.
In order for Psalm 23 to mean anything to someone they must be thinking Biblically. When our thinking becomes skewed, Psalm 23 makes no sense. The following is an attempt to show how the history of Western thought would have translated Psalm 23.
God created the universe and man. By making man and woman in His image He gave them meaning. As creator, He determined what is right and wrong and it is society’s responsibility to live within those bounds. That is the universal base. There is a foundation for law, rights and freedom. God, as understood through the Bible, is the final authority.
But suppose I do not want to be completely under God. I would like some ‘freedom’ to think for myself. What will be my new universal principle?
Why restrict ourselves to only what God has to say? The Bible is lowered and man is raised higher. The Bible becomes a guideline that can be veered from and the church is raised to become its equal. Salvation is by grace but begins to increasingly include the works of man because man is viewed as capable of doing it. Secular thinking starts to trump the Biblical base and distorts truth. People start believing and acting independent of the final authority.
Man is autonomous and independent of any supernatural force outside of himself. Absolutes are impossible to define because there is nothing to give them and therefore man is unsure of how to live. Optimistically, thinkers set out to find the way. Truth begins with man, not God. There is no final authority over man so man seeks how to guide himself.
I am left with the difficult question of what the purpose of life is and how I (and others) are to live. I trust my mind will lead me to the right answers.
Reason falters as it repeatedly runs into unacceptable conclusions. Opinions seem to be legion, but really there are only a few truly novel thoughts…but no one seems to know what to trust so I look for something outside of man, some natural principle that guides the world. I look to nature and find it both cruel and non-cruel. I believe I am only a small part of it, just a mass of atoms. I become nothing more than a cog in the machine.
Now I must let go of reason because it leads me only to a pessimistic outlook. Reason tells me that without a god I am only part of the machine of the universe, devoid of meaning. I can say those words but I can not live by them. History has exhausted its ideas and come up wanting. If one begins with man, nothing gives meaning. My ‘innards’ tell me that there must be a purpose somewhere in all of this. But where is it?
So I let go of reason and let the unreasonable give me meaning. My experiences will hopefully be powerful enough to give me a sense of fulfillment. (Embrace of Hinduism or Buddhism for some in the Western world may enter here, under the pursuit of experience.) My personal goals of peace and affluence will guide my decisions. What is right in one situation may not be right in another. Each act is based on circumstances and is thus arbitrary to the person and the situation. What is right will be determined by what I want the goal to be and there is nothing to tell me that my goal is wrong. What is must be what is right. My pleasures rule.
Without a universal base tying everything together with meaning I am only a part of this machine, devoid of purpose or direction. Nothing leads me anywhere. I can’t help but become apathetic. To keep from despairing I create schemes to keep my mind away from the impossible questions. In place of meaning I take up causes, like ending world poverty, or cleaning up the food system, or keeping the earth from getting too warm, or shaving a 1/2 minute off of my 8 minute mile. I exist and if you push me to tell you why I won’t know what to say.
All is bankrupt. Without a shepherd outside of myself my mind tells me I am no more than matter. Nature, experience and pleasure can not infuse me with any type of meaning or tell me what to value. Without an ultimate universal base society is left to the chaos of hedonism (pleasure rules) or the tyranny of authoritarianism by the élite to maintain peace. I have lost my freedom. I have lost my meaning. I have lost my bearings. I am empty.