The Nature of God – Part 11
[If you are just now stumbling onto this post without having read the various parts in this series from the beginning, I strongly urge you to go back to the start and continue on from there through each successive post. None of these individual entries stand on their own, and you may wind up with little but confusion and unanswered questions by starting here. That is easily done by entering “The Nature of God” in the search box on the home page, which will list links to all available parts.]
I was earlier describing my difficulties with Christian Spirit-led living. Does so-called Spirit-led living exist at all? Yes, I believe so. Besides, it’s in print. It’s just not defined in a formulaic way, which is a good thing. Besides, if it took several whacks of a 2×4 to the head to bring me to Christ, it makes sense that I’m not likely to be real sensitive to the quiet promptings of His Spirit. It involves disengaging from preoccupations and being open to God’s Spirit, which is my own personal challenge. I do doubt that it’s meant to garner attention, peer respect and acclaim. I suspect that the cultural influences in this country (and our basic natures) tend to screw it up. It’s meant to achieve His quiet purposes, period. It ain’t for show. It’s for reflecting His nature, here and now – not the nature we take from ourselves and ascribe to Him.
I’ve since had sporadic promptings every great now and then. I’ve found that I can veto my way out of simple pangs of conscience, but not promptings. For me, promptings are simple and extremely specific drives for action, are always for someone else’s direct benefit. They just hang on, disturbingly unrelenting, until they are accomplished. You can override your conscience, but good luck on overriding a prompting. The only way to get rid of it is to do it. It’s like the mental equivalent of an overly full bladder, sorry to say. You can dance from foot to foot as long as you like, but there is only one solution: obey the prompting. Yes, it’s an unfortunate comparison, but one not without merit. That’s just my take, no more. In lesser things, I’m often too preoccupied and distracted to think of God, which is a ridiculous thing since He is at the heart of each day I have, whether I recognize it or not. As the Author of all life, He also sustains it, but it becomes easy to take my next breath and daily life for granted. Very fortunately for me, the good of Him is found in the quiet moments, and when those moments are lacking in me, He occasionally hits the override button to get through my din with a stark clarity that silences the mental noise. It is much like a connecting tunnel bored through layers of distraction, obfuscation and barriers, with a perception of both His presence and His nature cutting through the clutter to bring not just stillness, but a sudden awareness of an expanded reality and relationship, when compared to the vague haze we experience here and now. Being exposed to utter holiness in even a very limited way makes protective emotional barriers and every other form of “my reality” falsity and camouflage simply no longer exist, for as long as that exposure lasts. They don’t fade; they’re gone. That can be both alarming and healing at the same time. This brief and very throttled exposure to Reality – the Creator of all things – is as far from an intellectual exercise as is giving birth.
So, one day I was on a ladder patching a plaster ceiling on the enclosed front porch of my house. I was discovering that it took a lot more skill than I had, but that’s another story. I was busy thinking both improper and impure thoughts at the time, as circumstances were unwinding in a way not to my liking, no sir. Out of the blue, I felt not a presence so much as an unexplainable and enveloping sense of being deeply loved. It seemed to go from the outside in, and I couldn’t explain it because my thought patterns had not been exactly spiritual, repentant or helpful. But there it was anyway, surrounding me like a three-foot thick blanket of warmth, and something in me was soaking it in as fast as it could. I had never felt anything like it before, not remotely. This was really, really strange. A welcome strange, but still strange. It was a new and distinctly unfamiliar feeling despite my very fortunate upbringing.
“Well, isn’t that nice,” you say, “What did you do after it passed?” That’s just it – it didn’t. No matter what I did, including sleep and those naughty bathroom essentials, it never wavered for a week. I couldn’t screw it up or break it. I wasn’t being either holy or nice, but there it was. There was no reason, and certainly no justification for it. It just was, and the source was unmistakable. Silent, unspectacular and unseeable, it changed the core of my perception of God for life. When the sensation finally ended a full week later, I had no need to wish for more. I was convinced. God doesn’t love based on prior performance assessments, check sheets, or conditions like “obey Me and I’ll love you”. What’s more, it doesn’t come to a halt on those factors, either. A deep, constant, almost overwhelming love is not just what He does. It’s who He is.
As I read it at that time, the Bible had seemed to say quite something else, especially in the Old Testament, and yet the steady insistence there is that God is unchanging. At the same time, He seemed there to flip-flop in reaction to what the Hebrews were doing at the moment. Apparently, based on this new experience, I had missed some reality there. I didn’t know how to resolve this seeming conflict, and wouldn’t know for quite some time. Besides, any Scriptural problems of understanding seemed secondary. I hadn’t tried to hunt Him down there. He had hunted me down, in the midst of my life. My understanding of Him was not one based on Bible scholar intellect, but rather on direct exposure, with His Spirit seeming to illuminate this passage for me, or that one. I now knew the core that powered this relationship, and I tried not to make typically poor human assumptions about what it meant in practical terms, the if/then inferences that we eventually do to find out what we can expect and not expect, or perhaps what we can get away with before running afoul of it. This was very different from anything I knew, and I was too busy soaking it in to even think about having it make sense, or analyzing it.
This is obviously an incredibly rare experience, and I’ve hesitated to tell anyone about it, especially other Christians. If I was hearing it, I’d think, “Boy, I wish that would happen to me. Why has he had that experience and I haven’t? What’s wrong with me that God hasn’t given me such a strong and prolonged feeling of being surrounded by His love?” Here is a bit of an insider explanation: it’s for the same reason that He hasn’t had to make your donkey talk to you, either. You haven’t needed that in order to know Him or understand Him. You’re not as thick-headed or so strangely wired that such a thing would become necessary. He’s able to get through to you without that. Be thankful. Again, be thankful. You don’t want the rest of what it takes for Him to have to do such a wonderful thing. You really don’t. It’s nothing to brag about, as if I had anything to do with it. I relate it because it happened, and also to help illuminate His basic nature.
For you regular folks just reading this, you’ll just have to think of it what you will. The only thought in your head that I’ll dispute is that His deep love might only be for people like me who’ve already hesitantly stepped off the curb to follow Him in faith. Not so. If you can stand to keep reading this stuff, maybe I can eventually demonstrate otherwise to you, if you haven’t already gotten a faint glimmer of that from Part 2 of this series.
See, the overused and under-explained “God loves you,” and “God is love” actually has a basis that runs even deeper than “because Jesus died for your sins”. We hear that and assign it as an indicator or a proof of something that we may not really understand. We may think, “Okay, but I didn’t ask Him to do that. Now I’m supposed to owe Him, or what? Why’d He have to die at all, and why is that somehow my fault?” It may seem similar to having your neighbor tell you that he just went to extraordinary lengths to take care of something for you, but it doesn’t seem to you that it should have been a significant problem, much less something to be addressed by ordeal. So, we don’t think much of his or her apparent sacrifice. If you can’t bring yourself to jump at summary soundbites and catchphrases, good for you. Neither does He, because He wants us to truly understand Him, and to understand our place with Him. If you don’t warm to a God who’s just looking for you to do nothing more than mindlessly follow a tradition and mouth the words while bowing, good for you. His interest is in you, and what you have to say to Him in your own thoughts and words, good or bad. Whatever it is, He can take it, if it’s from your own heart. And, it won’t alter His deep affection for you. Should you for some reason decide to do that, just be sure you’re addressing the God who actually Is, not the one of your own assumptions, preferences and past expectations – maybe not even the same one you were taught. Odds are, He’s not the same One as those. He is beyond our definitions and surmises, including mine. You may sense that in the next post of this series.