Learning that There's More

Monday, June 4, 2007

Below is an excerpt from a book called Divine Nobodies that Pete and I ran across yesterday afternoon. The author, Jim Palmer, is a former pastor whose guru-ministry was shattered when his wife filed for divorce. Therapy and counseling availed him nothing in dealing with his fall-out depression. He had to encounter God Himself.

"As conversation resumed, [Kit] asked me to describe where I was with God. Rambling off a heap of words, it sure didn't seem to be adding up to much. I was a born-again, inerrancy-defending, seeker-targeted pastor, steamrolled by life, trying to figure out, What now? After a moment or two of wallowing in my woes, he responded with, "Jim, could you describe what you know of God?" An inner sigh of relief (like the classroom discovery of knowing the right answer) came, remembering all I knew about God. God is eternal, infinite, holy, just, sovereign, wise, atemporal, amniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, majestic, unchanging, merciful, and loving. I had a few Gospel stories about Jesus to back it up, a couple of examples of how God "blessed" me, and I expected to earn extra credit upon citing the beauty of the New England winter as proof of virtually every attribute of God.

"Kit was unmoved by my theological competence. He rephrased his request this time by emphasizing, "Jim, describe what you know of God from personal experience." He clarified this further by saying, "Jim, how would you answer the question, 'Who is God?' if you could not use any information you've learned about God from the Bible? Describe for me who you have experienced God to be through your personal interaction with Him." Yikes! When's the soonest flight back to Nashville? I wondered. Every good evangelical knows that for all practical purposes, the Bible is God, and you don't rely on something as subjective as personal experience. Heck, I knew people who slept with their Bible beneath their pillow to keep God close. Perhaps Kit should stick to playing drums and leave religion to trained professionals...."

"For years of my life, my approach to God was akin to the field of astronomy. God was this immense celestial phenomenon, and the Bible was my telescope through which I caught distant glimpses, recording my observations, calculations, and interpretations in Sunday school guides and fill-in-the-blank sermon notes. My understanding of how things worked was that an accurate knowledge of the composition of God and the spiritual laws for relating to him was the difference between being blessed or blighted by this divine juggernaut. With a seminary degree and a lifetime of studying the Bible, I was considered an expert on God, and people drove from miles away to hear me explain him...."

"Admittedly, my purely intellectual approach to God was inconsistent with my evangelical jargon that often referred to a "personal relationship" with God. I had the rhetoric down but did not really experience God this way in everyday life. I did have a sort of relationship with my Bible, as much as one can have a relationship with a book. I had a wide range of motivations for making the Bible the center of my life. Sometimes I read the Bible because it was drilled into me that I should, a God-won't-like-me-if-I-don't kind of should. At other times, I came to the Bible as God's little instruction book for improving my life and fixing my problems. I searched the Scriptures for promises to claim and principles to apply in achieving a successful life (including financial independence, vocational achievement, and cured depression). Reading the Bible was also a checklist item I could easily mark off in order to feel good about myself, kind of like exercising daily and taking my vitamins.

"Referring to the Bible, Jesus once said, 'These Scriptures point to me.' Pondering Jesus's words, I was a little startled by the implication that the written Word and the Living Word or not one and the same. On one level, this is patently obvious. When Jesus returns, he will not be a book falling out of the sky. Yet, on another level, somehow I became dependent on the Bible independent of Jesus. Many world religions have sacred writings *e.g., Torah, Koran, Book of Mormon, and others), but I'm beginning to see that Christianity is centered on a Person, not a book. The written Word was given to draw us into relationship with the Living Word. Relationships revolve around the intimate interact of two....

"Being honest with myself, I was making the Bible God out of the need for safety and predictability. I could read any Scripture in the Bible and come back to it weeks later, and it would say the same thing. That is comforting, something solid, unchanging, controllable, and certain. Listening to and interacting with God in the moment in relational ways is messier and evokes fear. What if I fail? What if I hear wrong? What about those crazies who claim God "told them" to commit murder or the guy who believes God said to change jobs and it all falls apart? But aren't all relationships like this, exposing us to risk and vulnerability? Can growing, vibrant relationships be predictable and controllable, and aren't they a process of trial and error as we get to know the other? Maybe knowing God is less a science and more an art."


the Joneses said...

Fortunately I didn't have to experience depression and a life-shattering crisis to reach these same conclusions. But this is the reason why I react to what I perceive as the worship of "God the Father, God the Son, and God's Holy Word."

It was a revelation for me when I read in the Bible that "all riches and wisdom are through Christ." Not the Bible, not principles, not the right standards... but Christ. In the past four or so years, I've been far more excited about knowing Jesus than I was about knowing the Bible.

-- SJ

J said...

But Christ says He is the Word! He is the Word of God; He is the Bible! Declaring Christ to be separate from what He says He is great error! We must relate to God only through proper theological understanding of who He is!

Ok, that was snarky characterization of some other blogs I've read recently. I like this post and I hope anyone who has has difficulty relating to God with a true relationship will benefit. The books sounds like it could be an interesting read too; I'll check it out, thanks!

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