Monday, August 04, 2008

The Crux of the Matter

"This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name: 3 'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.' (Jeremiah 33:2-3)

Seems simple enough. But have you ever wondered why God doesn't answer most of those prayers?

Okay, let's rephrase it, then: Why should our sincerity determine whether God answers? If God loves us, as He so often suggests-- if He calls out to us, as He so often suggests-- if He taps at the door every instant of our life on earth, why does He let these opportunities drift on by? Why are deathbed prayers and conversions so unrequited? (Granted, this is my own perception of the matter.)

Even when God came specifically to save the lost sheep of Israel, some fell through the cracks. Matthew 13:58 says that lack of faith denies miracles. If I'm to use a bit of deduction, I'd say the same applies to prayer. There's a huge disjunction there. If my conscious mind is not my will, I feel lost. If my volition is not expressed in my deliberate thought, if my earnestness is not intrinsically conducted through things I speak with my mouth, how can I know what I truly, truly desire? When I joined the Wesleyan church, for instance, I submitted myself to the discipline and gave up my weekly lotto tickets. Translation: the faith I had placed in a chance windfall not only belonged to God, it should be appropriately placed in Him. Fair enough, I stopped buying the things. Sure, I saved a couple bucks a week, but it doesn't seem like I'll possibly pay off my car loan by the time I feel God has called me to study theology. So what gives?

More importantly, why is my spiritual life so stale? Why is it that I can ask for the unsearchable truths and feel like I'm barking at the wind? Or chasing it, as Solomon would say. I think I finally have the answer, but there's a catch. In Luke 22, we see the famous exchange between Christ and Peter in which Christ predicts that Peter will deny Him three times. I think there is a profound message buried in verses 31 through 34, but I find it's a little more clear when I read it backwards.

Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." (Luke 22:34)

We do this every time we fail to profess our faith.

But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." (Luke 22:33)

We take theoretical decisions in our minds as if we intended to live them out. Then we don't.

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32)

We assume that a commitment to Christ reaches its fulfillment in the knowledge of Christ. (Some people might define this disaffected, cerebral profession as gnosticism, for the record.)

Those who cling exceedingly well to their faith might even be found to reflect a strong "Christian" demeanour and God-honouring attitude. By this I mean strictly in terms of conduct. As it says in the Bible, we judge each other by actions, not intentions. (See 1 Corinthians 2:9-15 to note how differently God works.) Attitude as an outward manifestation accomplishes little in Christian terms. I believe it's an evidential sign that one is in tune with the Spirit, but having a "good disposition" hardly makes one a Christian. The world hosts many good people, but God is not after the well-behaved; He's after the God-seeking. Furthermore, we've all fallen short of His glory, so good can never be sufficient. That's why those who regard acting properly as a means to salvation are extracting such a diluted and cheap form of grace from God's instruction, but that's the kind of grace that would give most of us the confidence to impulsively chime "I would die for my faith!"

Well, guess what. You not only have to; you have to die today. Right this second. If God has His way, it would have been accomplished the moment you accepted Christ. But as C.S. Lewis so astutely put it: whatever you keep of yourself, you lose in the next life. (Don't expect me to cite that properly, at least not tonight.)

At present, I just don't have it in me to treat this subject exhaustively. Besides, others have done a better job of it. But I will say this, and with confidence: If God is to give anyone so much as an ounce of unsearchable truth, it inherently caries with it a certain responsibility. Not just to the one receiving it, that he or she should live it out, but that it is to be shared with everyone. Otherwise stated, learning the mysteries of God MUST render you into a different person than the one who originally asked to be taught these transcendent truths. If you're just going to take a factoid from God and get cold feet about whether you can splice it with your life because it seems "too big a sacrifice to make," because it seems like it would take you too far out of your comfort zone, why should God hand it down to you? Conversely, even if you don't ask for it yet are capable of living it out, you don't even need to ask. Consider Saul of Tarsus or that unimpressive harpist named David or Abram. Two of them were so transformed that God saw fit to rename them. All men were created for His worship, but two of the aforementioned had changed so much that God couldn't call them by their former selves anymore. Inevitably, if God is to give you a new identity, it will be a better one. But the letting go...

It's one thing to know that Christ is the truth. It's one thing to know that an eternal separation from God would be much more devastating than living sacrificially like the apostles did. But honestly, there's enough teaching floating around that it's pretty damned impossible not to encounter these doctrines before one's passing. The question is, do you have a spirit that not only seeks God, that not only knows about Him, but that is willing to follow Him? No matter what? It has occurred to me on many occasions that all Biblical stories are essentially God asking people to follow Him. Every new lesson I absorb only reinforces that analogy.

I don't honestly know how I'd answer, though. My problem is I haven't got an excuse left in the world, either. God has made too much effort to win me over. Many months ago, I acceded. So what? Nowhere in the Bible does it suggest I just twiddle thumbs until my body decays and my spirit floats upward. My conscience doesn't let me sleep if I close my eyes thinking that I have no obligation to my brothers and sisters (in Christ or otherwise). So now I need to search within myself to see which is stronger: the fear or the faith. It's not easy. No one said it would be. God doesn't want behaviour or tithes or any of that legalistic junk. He wants me. Body, mind, spirit, soul. Everything. I don't get to hang on to any of it, whether tangible or abstract. And I'm discouraged by the fact that I know how to let go of my material things, AKA the stuff I hold on to, but what I can't wrap my little mind around is how to release what I'm holding on with. What's worse, I'm running out of time.

And yet, I'm so hungry for truth. I just pray that one of these times, when I catch a glimpse of it and it threatens to change me, I won't balk at the process.


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