Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gagging on God's Word

My pastor describes it as standing beneath a waterfall, the weight of the falling water pounding down over and around you as you stand on the rocks beneath, arm outstretched, trying to fill your cup. Simple physics says most of the never-ending stream of water will pass you by, failing to quench your thirst. Yet, drenched and weak from standing in the torrential downpour, you're thankful for what little bit remains in the cup for you to drink.

This is what it's like to read and seek to understand God's word.

These past two weeks, though, my interaction with the Word has looked a bit different. I stand beneath the waterfall, but with no cup. Instead, my mouth is wide open as I try to consume the big things of God. Much like my oldest son playing in the water sprinkler, each time I try to swallow, the water just won't go down my throat--it's too much for me to handle, and I gag in confusion.

Gagging on God's Word. It may not be an image we're comfortable with in relation to our interaction with the Word. Yet, if we're honest with ourselves (and if we don't pick and choose which Scriptures we read or dwell upon), there are plenty of passages in the Bible that make us pause, scratch our heads in confusion, and yes, gag, as we try to wrap our heads around a truth much too big for our finite minds to fathom.

Predestination. Faith and works. God's complete sovereignty and control over all sin while not being evil or sinful Himself. God giving saving faith and man accepting that faith even though Scripture says one can do nothing in herself to be saved. Being content in circumstances while praying earnestly about all things (like those circumstances).

It's topics like these that some Christians make sure to take the long way around, even if it means skipping entire books of the Bible. Others just merely accept without much thought the tension between the seeming opposites, calmly filing these topics away in the "unknowable" folder of their mind.

I understand that. God said through the prophet Isaiah, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Is. 55:9).

But does that mean we just don't try, that if after hours and hours of study, the Spirit still hasn't revealed the truth to us, we just give up? Do we simply avoid those mysteries that just might stay a mystery until God reveals Himself to us beyond the grave? Should we not strive to understand how seemingly opposite verses are held in perfect tension by our awesome God?

I'm uncomfortable with a "closed" file I tuck Scriptures away in just because they make me uneasy, cause me to question who God is, or make my head pound as my mind truly strives to understand the incomprehensible.

Also, Paul tells us God planned to reveal His mysterious wisdom to us even before the world was created: "No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began" (1 Cor. 2:7, my italics).

Before the Garden of Eden. Before the stars. Before time itself--God wanted me to know Him. He wanted me to understand the deep mysteries of Him, to gain His "wisdom."

The word wisdom, as used in the New Testament, has several definitions. One is "skills in the affairs of life, practical wisdom, wise management as shown in forming the best plans and selecting the best means, including the idea of sound judgment and good sense." The second definition is, "In a higher sense, wisdom, deep knowledge, natural and moral insight, learning, science, implying cultivation of mind and enlightened understanding."

Both definitions seem to fit together, the second implying both the attainment of knowledge and the first the ability to apply it. In short, "In respect to divine things, wisdom, knowledge, insight, deep understanding, represented everywhere as a divine gift, and including the idea of practical application."**

To that end--of obtaining and applying Godly knowledge--God gave us the Spirit, which "searches all things, even the deep things of God" (v. 10). Those "deep things" are not revealed to us all at once, though. Paul states, "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words" (v. 13)

Two times in the previous verse, Paul uses the word "taught." Here, the Spirit is the great teacher, instructing us, giving us understanding as we move forward in our Christian walk.

If I've learned anything as a teacher, it's that learning takes time. Even geniuses don't just learn everything there is to know overnight. In fact, the term "lifelong learner" has become fashionable over the past decade, promoting the concept that one never ceases to learn.

The same is true of God and His Word. His Spirit will teach us the deep truths of God, but not all at once and not even all while we are here on earth. Yes, while we may sometimes think of death as the end, it is really just the continuation of our Christian walk, merely face to face with our Creator instead of through a dark glass. Perhaps, even our learning will continue throughout eternity.

I don't know all the reasons why God doesn't immediately reveal Himself in His entirety to each Christian. Perhaps it's because we're not really ready for all the "solid food" of God that we think we're ready for.

Whatever the reason, that doesn't mean we just stop trying to understand the deep things of God through the Spirit. To do so would mean less knowledge of who God is, and that would mean less knowledge to apply in our attempt to live Godly lives.

For now, I'll keep standing beneath that waterfall, mouth wide open to whatever pours in. I may gag every now and then, but with the knowledge that if I step out of the downpour of His living water, I'll miss the clean, refreshing Words that He will choose to teach and reveal to me.
**(Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. 1301).

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