Lessons From The Night Season

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.” Psalm 40:1 (NIV)

There’s a vicious cycle I’ve experienced in the spiritual life, a phenomena you, too, may have experienced. I’m going through a dry season, a time of drought in my relationship with God.

It’s one of those periods where reading the Word seems to yield no fruit, where you leave feeling more discouraged than when you started, when there is no passion in you for prayer, when your soul longs and gropes for something, anything – an experience, an encouragement, a breakthrough – to reassure you that God is still there, still faithful, still holding on to you.

I wish I could say I was one of those faithful, patient spiritual warriors who remain steadfast in prayer despite apparently receiving no answer, who wait for breakthrough and experience it dramatically and powerfully one day after months of desperate, passionate prayer and worship, who keep rejoicing in darkness despite everything that stands against their faith.

But I’m not.

I’m one of those people who crumple at the first spiritual hurdle. I’m someone who, without a tangible and regular experience of God’s love and grace, grows weary of prayer – so I give up with it. I’m one of those make-excuses-why-not, get-on-with-life, pray-out-of-obligation kind of pray-ers. I’m a quick-fix kind of guy. I’m impatient, and when I don’t get an answer, I take matters into my own hands – and stumble and fall.

At the source of my unenthusiasm for prayer is a sense of guilt and shame. Because, time and time again, consciously or not, I’ve thought that receiving from God rests on my effort, some special method or discipline that I don’t have. I’ve grown weary in prayer because I don’t think I’m good at it and because I don’t think I know how to do it. So I give it up. And then, my relationship with God seems to deteriorate, so it’s ever-harder to reclaim lost enthusiasm and love, to come to Him again.

I don’t want to pray or study the Word because I think I’m getting it wrong, I don’t know where to begin again, and it seems to yield no fruit. So, you see, I’m in a spiritual rut.

And I don’t think this pattern is isolated to me. I’ve been reflecting on that a lot recently.

I’ve believed a lie that receiving from God rests on my spiritual efforts and exertions. I’ve believed that I need to pray better, longer, more articulate prayers to get an answer, believed that I need to spend hours in arduous Bible study to truly be counted a man of God. I’ve felt far away from that mark. I’ve felt a spiritual fraud, because I don’t have passion for that.

In other words, I’ve lost sight of grace. In a subversive, discrete way, a law of works has crept back into my spiritual life. The dangerous thought has infested my head that by doing more, by working harder, I can somehow get on better terms with God, to leverage an experience from him again.

And when I’ve failed, I’ve grown bitter and impatient.

The truth is, the great men and women of God in the Bible never lost their status as great men and women of God because they underwent periods of spiritual drought, darkness and doubt. Rather, what made them great men and women of God was simply that they waited. They trusted. They hoped.

They didn’t pray longer or harder or more passionate prayers. They didn’t learn new disciplines or skills to try and exert an answer from God. No. They did something much harder yet more beautiful. They waited in silence. They came to God day by day, hoping, trusting, faithful, simply positioning themselves for the day when the rain came again, so that they would be best placed to receive the shower.

They didn’t fall away at the first sign of difficulty. They didn’t think they were any less connected to God because He didn’t seem to respond to them, or because they didn’t experience Him. Neither did they become self-pitying, self-critical, guilty or ashamed that they were doing something wrong in their spiritual life.

They knew that God would not restrain mercy and abundant, steadfast love from them, would come through again. They knew that though the seasons change, His love remains the same yesterday, today and forever. They knew that silence from heaven was not a sign that God loved them or cared for them any less.

Just because clouds mask the sun, doesn’t mean that the sun isn’t there any longer. On a grey, overcast week, I don’t stop believing that the sun will break through again and that I will experience the warmth of its rays. So it is with God. Though there are dark spiritual clouds overhead, that doesn’t stand to reduce my assertion that the Light is behind them, and that I shall “rejoice and be glad” in the rays of heaven’s laughter once more.

Prayer, I am learning, isn’t a means of exerting an instant fix or experience from God. My faith is far too often founded on fleeting experiences and encounters, and when I don’t get them, I fall away. Faith goes much deeper than that. Faithful prayer does not exist in the kingdom of instant gratification or feel-good experiences.

Rather, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). Hope obtains to things that cannot be seen – things that have been tasted, maybe, but are still yet to come in fullness. We have but tasted a drizzle of eternity’s waters, but we wait patiently for the day we shall swim and plunge into their depths.

Faithful prayer is not about earning the right to dip in those waters, but rather to cultivate the soil to receive them. The rain will come regardless of whether we work or not. But prayer positions us to soak it up, to fully receive from God when it does. Experiencing God again is not based on any effort of my own. The season of waiting and drought doesn’t diminish my status as a Son of God bought with the precious blood of Christ, loved by the Father.

Rather, what I do in the season of waiting is a formative experience. It is a time for us to make ready the land to receive the rain that we wait patiently for and hope for. Solid faith does not rest on a bundle of gratified experiences, but patient, steadfast, enduring hope that stands beyond the ebbing and waning pull of emotions, and firm in the truth of God’s faithfulness to us.

The Myth of Social Justice

“Social justice” has become something of a fashionable catchphrase, especially among us millennials.

Libertarian principles, egalitarianism, universal human rights – in the light of recent events and tragedies, our generation has rallied to these principles like revolutionaries to a progressive manifesto, caught up in the glory and struggle of the war against injustice.

Social media platforms are plastered with outcries against current affairs, petitions for upheavals of various unjust systems litter the internet, and everywhere everyone has an opinion about how we can usher in a new age of social and economic equality.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m wholeheartedly behind the spirit of such avid campaigning. I’m an advocate for justice with all my heart; both my convictions about God’s mandate to see this world restored and my own conscience converge on the need to pursue justice with our whole being. But I also see in all this activity a dark underbelly, deep inconsistencies in the way our generation seeks out so-called justice.

Maybe this is a self-reflection of my own motives only. Maybe I’m wrong about what I’m seeing. But I’m afraid I’m not.

The problem is, in the fight for “social justice,” we all too often expose ourselves as hypocrites, self-defeaters of the thing we speak out so passionately about. We wear a façade of progressive values and well-meaning words like equality and rights, but our actions betray us as frauds – because we are lovers of justice in word only, and not in deed.

Let me elaborate. Talking about justice for the poor or sharing a post that #blacklivesmatter, may appear to display our well-founded support for these causes, easing our consciences and making a case for what we so passionately believe needs to change about society. Indeed, advocacy and challenging perceptions is a crucial element of seeing justice done. But, if we make these claims and protests in the safety of our own homes behind the shield of our computer screens, and then walk ignorantly by the homeless person in the street or fail to stand up for the black woman who is suffering racial abuse in our own neighbourhood, we are no more than hypocrites.

Such “clicktivism” and popularism can become a cover for our own passivity. Most of the time, if we’re sharing such posts and sentiments with like-minded people, we’re at best preaching to the choir. At worst, we’re using our ideals as a means of making us appear self-righteous and egalitarian, to give off the appearance of suave progressiveness to our peers.

If our words about justice are not backed up in how we live, our talk of social justice is no more than idealistic waffle of a fantastical kind. Justice done in word and not deed is not justice, but passivity.

I’m by no means saying that it is wrong to make a case for social justice online and in our conversation. A great deal of good and progress has been made when perceptions are challenged and information is shared. As they say, information is power, and in an age where information can so easily be deployed, social media can be a powerful platform. But, we can – and need to – do so much more.

Do you want to really help the poor? By all means, share that article about economic inequality in the Congo, but that is just the start. Do more – support a charity who is doing something about it. Stop buying technology from multi-nationals that exploit resources from conflict mining in the country. Think about where your clothes come from – because the workers who made that dress you’re probably going to stop wearing three months down the line were probably abused and unjustly treated for the sake of our instant gratification.

And then, look at the state of your own city. If you care about justice, live with integrity. Don’t ignore the homeless man you walk past. Don’t slander the poorer areas of your town even though everyone else does, but think about how you can show love and compassion to those considered “outcasts” in your locality.

I don’t mean to sound unfairly harsh or to pile on guilt. I’m guilty-as-charged of everything I’ve protested against above – failing to make that admission would make me a fraud – so this is a sermon preached to myself as much as to anyone else. Guilt can never be the motivation for our actions – only love. But we need to challenge the status quo. If we continue living behind the façade of idealistic passivity, we are nothing but hypocrites.

Let’s be a people known for our integrity, our perseverance in the hard, uphill climb for active justice, rather than being drawn along on the tide of popular idealism simply to ignorantly forget about it when the opportunity to do justice arises in a way that will mean a real sacrifice.

There is a cheap justice, and a costly justice.

And costly justice is the only way we’ll see this world truly changed, but it means self-sacrifice. We must ask, what other option is there?

Referendum: Crisis and Opportunity

I open this post with a searingly obvious observation, one which has most likely plagued you as much as it has irritated me:

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to access any objective “facts,” either from Remain or Leave, in order to make a seriously informed choice.

Of course, there is no neutral knowledge – every piece of information is slanted according to the particular context and motive of the deliverer.But the amount of “othering,” hurtful polemic and polarisation by both sides of the debate has been unhelpful and has confuscated the desire of those of you who, like me, want to achieve a fair and just outcome in this referendum.

As a Christian navigating the bewildering cross-section of opinions, presuppositions, and outright falsehoods in the stormy sea of arguments for and against, it is so easy to lose sight of our Biblical convictions in light of Sectarian arguments and political engineering.

But, the “word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In a society that places huge emphasis on reaching the most viable or pragmatic solution, according mainly to nationalistic and economic motives, are we allowing the word of God to judge our thoughts and intentions, and speak prophetic insight into our present social and political context?

What I write here is not a case for either Remain or Leave. I would be ill-equipped, at the least, to do so. Rather, I simply want to present some considerations for how we, as Christians, are to approach our decision making, what attitude we are to take, and how we let the word of God discern the “thoughts of the heart.”

Justice, Kindness, Humility

It strikes me that a few main factors have taken centre stage in the referendum campaigning, namely immigration, economy and political autonomy. At top level, each of these factors represent national interests, not necessarily the interests of all people. On the contrary, a Biblical approach stresses that, as Christians, we are among a body consisting of “all nations” (Psalm 86:9, Revelation 7:9), a global congregation of people who will one day worship God together with undivided intention or motive. The worldwide church is a family divided not by borders or national interests, but united “in Christ” as a transcendent common denominator (Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

Therefore, our approach to the EU Referendum must consider not only the interests of our own nation, but those of all peoples, in respect to how God calls us to live in this world. Namely, God’s concern and desire for mercy and justice, justice for all the world enacted through his people, must be at the forefront of our minds. Micah 6:8 puts this plainly and graphically enough: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This verse, like many cognate verses, challenges our motives and hearts as we make our decision in the referendum. Do we desire mercy for all people? Is our earnest desire to see the UK act with justice in the EU? Are we debating with others and putting forward our own views with humility?

Do Justice and love Kindness

Justice is a theme concurrent throughout the entirety of Scripture. At every stage of Israel’s history, culminating in the proclamation of a new age of release, freedom and healing in Christ (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:17-19), God commands that his people be actively engaged in pursuing justice for the poor and oppressed, the captive, orphan and widow.

In Isaiah 58, the Lord pronounces a chilling diatribe against those who worship him, rejecting their religious observances because, in raising their hands to the God of the Universe, they still oppressed their workers and failed to live lives actively engaged in seeking justice and mercy in the world.

I believe this speaks prophetically into our situation.

In our voting decision, can we worship God with authenticity and integrity unless we are concerned to see the “bonds of wickedness” undone, to see the “oppressed go free” and to “break every yoke”? Whether we vote Remain or Leave, are we actively engaged in seeking justice for both those living in Britain and those living in Europe, and are we prepared to follow our decision through with whatever the outcome is? No matter whether we agree with the outcome, will we continue to fight for justice with our entire being, knowing this is what we are called to?

Walk humbly with your God

So often with these matters, it is easy to fall into the idea that politics is a purely human activity with purely human solutions. We trust more in the actions and regimes of our political leaders, than give thought to God’s sovereignty over the world. Is this real faith in a God whom, though “the nations rage” and “the kingdoms totter”, when “he utters his voice, the earth melts” (Psalm 46:6)?

We are not to trust in merely human powers to bring about the solutions we are seeking, because to do so makes an idol out of man. Whatever the outcome is, it is not perfect, and we must continue to commit our cause to God.

This means modelling humility. Both Leave and Remain make the case that they have the solution, that theirs is the righteous cause. Both sides have good and understandable motives and outcomes in mind. In our discussions with others, we must act humbly, accepting that, as human beings, we are weak and have very little actual control over how events turn out.

We must be graceful, therefore, when debating – even if we think we have good grounds for our decision, we must accept that by no means do we have anything near the full picture, and that the other person or side also have good grounds for their own claims. And most of all,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)

In humility, let us pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim2:2), both for those leaders who support our cause and those who seem opposed to it.

Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), which is radically counter-cultural. When the present campaigning for the referendum is founded on dehumanising, vilifying polemic, we must seek to act with genuine love for those who oppose us, with integrity and grace despite our differences.

While I have provided no aid in making your decision, I hope these few (by no means comprehensive) observations help you make a more prayerful, Biblically convicted and wisdom-filled vote, keeping as central importance the justice and kindness of God.

_________

All scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV). Image: Telegraph

 

Heart in the Dock

My mind is a courtroom in which the Heart is the defendant and Guilt is the accuser and judge.

For as long as I have known, Guilt, this unrelenting prosecutor, has presided over the courtroom, laying charge upon charge on this helpless Heart of mine as it stands in the dock. The charges are countless and the sentences are heavy, too heavy to bear, extending into the vast abyss of a non-negotiable eternity.

There is no way out by any effort of the Heart. Under Guilt’s iron fist, there is no absolution, no forgiveness – there is only judgement, only fear, only slavery. There is no repayment for offences, no substitute for sin. Guilt’s infallible memory holds a heavy charge against the Heart, a memory that contains every little bad intention and transgression the Heart has committed, and will not forget.

Under the reign of Guilt, there is only terror and fear for the Heart. He lives under the constant threat of shame and resignation. With judgement there is fear, with fear there is slavery, and with slavery there is death.

“Unworthy,” points the finger of Guilt. “Lustful man. Idolater. Prideful. Jealous. Sinful. Guilty.

“Who do you think you are to come before God? I am your master. You’re not worthy of him, you vile wretch, you filthy sinner.”

This is the predicament of my heart – accused, powerless, weak.

“Guilt, you have no right to preside here -”

– I hear a quiet voice say. Alas – there is someone banging on the courtroom doors. A beautiful cacophony begins to rise above the malicious voice of Guilt. Words of love and mercy, words so foreign yet so sweet to my ears, can be heard through the impenetrable courtroom doors.

The doors fall. In their wake stands a man meek and mild, yet full of power, with love and mercy burning in his eyes. This man is Christ.

“Guilt, you have no right to preside here.”

Christ came not to judge the World but that the World might have eternal life through him. In judgement there is only fear, but in the love of God there is freedom, and in freedom, there is life. When Christ died, he put Death to death – and with it, the unlawful masters who sit in Death’s ranks: Guilt, Shame, Fear.

Christ died to remove Guilt as the harsh master of my Heart. Guilt has no right here.

Yet, like the cruel dictator he is, he tries with every scheme and ambition left in him to reside in his place. When my Heart has been freed from the slavery of judgement under a guilty conscience, Guilt clutches with every ounce of his strength to remain.

He condemns me as unworthy to enter the Courts of the King who now calls me a Son. He tries with every ounce of his meagre existence to take me back to a life of constant fear and anxiety, under the shadow of death. He feeds me with lies – and, in the knowledge of what a great Victory has been won on my behalf, I still listen to this nagging voice of Guilt.

But Christ died to win a victory over Death. Death has no sting. Death has no victory. There is only life, and life in abundance, for all who would draw water from the deep wellspring of the love of God. With the end of Death, Christ usurped every power that stood with him – including the Guilt that so long stood over my Heart with the threat of Death.

So, Heart, listen no longer to the lies of Guilt. When he says “Unworthy,” Christ declares you worthy. When he says you have no right to enter the Throne Room of God, Christ gives us full confidence and boldness to enter that place to receive mercy and grace, grace upon grace.

Draw no longer, O Heart, from the broken wellspring of Guilt, who feeds you only lies and slavery. In perfect Love there is no fear. In the deep wellspring of Christ, there is only Life and mercy and grace in endless abundance. Be usurped, Guilt.

You have no right in my mind. Be gone.

Merib-baal

There was once a man named Merib-baal.

Merib-baal was the son of a prince, grandson to a king – albeit a dead prince and a dead king, slain in battle against a foreign nation. This man had been crippled for years – he was just five years old when he heard the news of his father’s death in battle alongside his grandfather, and, in the haste to flee to safety, his nurse had dropped him, leaving him unable to walk unaided.

As you can see, Merib-baal was a man of unfortunate beginnings.

His disability had put him at a shameful disadvantage all his life, confirmed by the sly, sideward glances he noticed, on occasion, from his servants. He was lonely, a child whose family had perished in battle at a young age. He had very few memories of his father – except that he was a kind man, friendly with the man who was now-king. Merib-baal resided in a town called Lo-Debar – meaning, in his language, “not having” and “no pasture” – a forgotten place, cast out in the far Northerly border of a kingdom constantly under threat of attack and invasion.

He was a forgotten, insignificant man, living in a forgotten, insignificant place. He had nothing to his name, no advantage from his ancestral ties to a dead king, living in shame among a town of nobodies and rejects.

One day, the new king summoned him to court.

Alas, my time has come, he thought. I am either summoned to death or to imprisonment. A better fate than the one allotted me, anyway!

So, making the long journey south to the capital, made even slower because of his broken body, the last of his hope slowly transmuted into bitterness and then rage. As the miles passed, so his mind became consumed with swelling anger: So, this is the glorious end to my anguished life. A reject, now an enemy of the monarch, going to meet my execution as a wretch and a beggar.

So the journey passed, and with such thoughts he was escorted into the king’s court. He did the king mock homage, for what little good it would achieve.

But, to his great surprise, the King started to weep. Weeping tears of joy that the son of his lost friend was here, tears of bittersweet sadness that Merib-baal was the last among his family, salty tears infused with kindness.

“Do not be afraid!” said he, pouring compassion from his heart; “I will show you kindness, I will restore to you everything that was once your father’s.

“I will make you like my own son in my court. You will eat with me. You are accepted here; forget everything that has passed before. Every privilege my sons enjoy – ask, and they will be given to you also. You have suffered cruelly, and now you shall know kindness.”

Merib-baal, expecting the worst, could hardly believe his lot. Expecting death and judgement, he had been lavished with good gifts of which he was neither worthy nor expecting. His amazement left him speechless, and he stared blankly in disbelief.

It took Merib-baal years to become accustomed to dining in such luxury, excused for his lineage as a member of a competing dynasty, and treated with utter compassion despite his disability which had left him treated with contempt all his life.

It took him years to truly believe he was accepted. It took him years to lose the shame that he had been accustomed to. It took him years to believe he was accepted in spite of who he was. It took him years to accept he was loved by this king who should have treated him as an enemy.

You see, the story of Merib-baal is my story. I profess to believe in a King of compassion, a King who invites me into his courts, a king who accepts me despite every crime and disservice I have done him. Yet, just like Merib-baal, I still find myself held back, thinking myself a cripple, ashamed to come into court.

I still see myself an enemy of the dynasty, expecting the worst as I stand before the king. Like the Canaanite women who spoke to Jesus in the Gospel story, I can hardly believe myself to be worthy of the crumbs under the King’s table, never mind worthy to be sat at it like a son.  

Yet, this is the truth of the Christian proclamation. Guilty men are excused. Traitors are given a place at the King’s table. The lame and cripples, men and women physically crippled or spiritually crippled like myself, are given a seat at the table, staring into the compassion-filled eyes of a King who delights to see his many children playing and dancing in his courts.

Every gift and privilege the King gives to his only Son, Christ, he also lavishes upon us, treating us just the same way.

And yet I cannot believe it. In my prayers, I still act like the guilty child who only fearfully and tentatively comes before his father from whom he expects the worst. I expect condemnation. I cannot forgive myself. In being accepted, I still live under the veil of rejection. Rather than accepting my new title, I still wear the badge:

A Nobody from Nowhere.

But the great truth of the King’s kindness defies every scheme of the imagination, every plan of the guilty conscience to usurp hope.

Sinners, let go of your disbelief. Cripples, abandon your shame. Guilty men, forget your pasts. The Kingdom of this King is in the habit of turning upside-down these worldly expectations of ourselves and others. The Last are called First. The Poor are called Rich. Orphans are given the status of the Son. And we, friend, are among their ranks.

So, let go of your doubts. Come humbly, but approach with confidence. Enjoy every good blessing from the table. This is a good, good Father, and he accepts us, not because of who we are, but in spite of it.


This post tells an old story, from the ancient book of 2 Samuel. Read it here.

A Short Critique of Atheism

Foreword: After first publishing this post and subsequently talking it through with some good atheist friends of mine, it came to light that many of the issues I raise here may come across as a personal attack on atheism or atheists. They were never intended that way. Rather, what I set out here is a deconstruction of the particular flavour of Neo-Darwinism (New Atheism) found in Dawkins, Dennett, et al. when taken to its logical conclusion. Its purpose is philosophical, not personal. To all my thoughtful atheist friends and Christian family, this one’s for you, with love.

I am an atheist.

What does that mean?

“A person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.”

But if there is no God, there can be no “I am.” Without the divine, there is no self. There is no person. 

If all is the crackling of atoms in the dust, if all is neurons forming connections, if all is reduced to particles leaping together one moment and breaking apart in the next, there can be no “me,” no “you.”

By definition, an atheist cannot be an atheist, because atheism presupposes that there is no self to which that label refers. The human is not a person, but merely an evolved creature reduced to advanced cells reduced to bare atoms.

Let’s take this one step further. Humanism makes an atheist presupposition – namely, the human without the divine; morality derived from the natural rather than the supernatural. But this is problematic. Atheism takes the human out of humanism. There is no self to call your own, no common humanity from which ethics arises. No, we are all just dust and ashes swirling in and out of existence, labelled according to pragmatic scientific categories for the sake of simplicity.

Logically, when all is biology explained away by physical sciences alone, the “I am” by which you make the statement falls apart. There is no “I am.” The mind, the self, the soul – whatever personality to which you refer – is redundant. The mind is not a thing-in-itself – rather, it is simply the result of neurons moving and converging. There is only causality, with no freedom of will. There is no will. There is no way of externalising yourself. You (a term used with caution, because there can, in this system, be no you) are simply the result of a mechanistic system of cause and effect.

But this can be taken even further. If there is no absolute truth external to the human, and no truth internal to him because there is only flesh and dust, there can be no morality. Ethics becomes a game of what is most useful to society, the great game of the preservation of the species.

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that a society saw its most pragmatic ethical course as eradicating a particular people group for the sake of its survival and flourishing. Let’s imagine Hitler’s brand of National Socialism, and his systematic persecution and elimination of the Jews, for example. “Evil!” the humanist cries.

But, how can he say this with any substance? First, there is no moral order (external “right” or “wrong”) to which this cry of unfair play refers. Secondly, since there is no person, there can be no Holocaust – in the sense that no people were exterminated. For all is atoms. There can be only nihilism.

This is a tyrannically dangerous road to journey down. Atheism means the abolition of everything. Nothing is real, nothing is certain. There is no you or me or us. 

This isn’t an attempt to say there aren’t good reasons for being an atheist – rather, it is a plea to examine the logical consequences of your assertion.

If atheism is correct, there is no reason not to pillage, rape and murder – because anything can be justified by the “preservation of the species.” If, in retort, you appeal to “common humanity,” you have to go further and give me grounds for believing in the human being.

The natural cannot be explained away without the supernatural, because without God, there is, quite literally, nothing – nothing you can call yourself, or your lover, or the things you hold most dear.

This is why, for the Christian, everything turns on Christ. Christ is the invisible God made visible, and the Son of Man – spirit intersected with flesh and blood and atoms. He is anthropology, producing a philosophy of the person – the supernatural intersecting with the natural, dust animated with spirit, atoms erupting in divinity.

All turns, therefore, on Christ. Without him, all talk of God can be put away safely because, even if there is a God out there, there would be no way for natural man to reach the supernatural. But with Christ, God presents himself to man, as man – personal being, identity and all. He, the perfect man, a model for humanity – who, by implication, are individual beings with selves, made according to that image.

Christ is the pivot on which it all hinges. Without him there is nothing, with him everything is at stake.

 

Stick it to the Whirlwind

Theologians have for millennia borrowed the language of the Philosophers of old – words like all-powerful, all-loving, and such forth – in an attempt to systematically describe God. But our theological language for God is a chasing after the wind to comprehend the incomprehensible. Using such terms to describe he who is by nature indescribable is like trying to stick a post-it-note to a hurricane.

This is what trying to describe God by reason alone is like, and our words will only ever get swept up in the terrifying beauty of unknowingness as we label and negate. That’s why, when the man Job called God to answer him, God spoke to him out of a whirlwind – uncontainable, boxless, boundless, without limit.

But theological language is limited in its scope.

Let’s use an illustration. The language of theology, we might say, is like an automobile. You see, as a regular driver, I possess very little knowledge of how my car works under the bonnet. When I open the door, sit myself in the driver’s seat, and turn on the ignition to start a journey, I am clueless as to the processes of combustion and technicalities of fuel injection and a myriad of other things working together to make the vehicle move.

I have elementary knowledge, yes – a few scattered items of intelligence picked up from my conversations with other drivers and my own experiences of driving. Nevertheless, I am able to drive the car without such technical knowledge, without the lingo and the jargon associated with the car’s inner workings. I trust that the car will get me from start to destination based on the instructions I got from my teacher, instructions sufficient for the purposes I need the car for.

After all, when I get out the car on the other side, none of that knowledge will need to be kept at the front of my mind. The car will have served its purpose, and I will get out and carry on with my business. My elementary intelligence will have been enough to do what I set out to do.

Let’s imagine, in the town I grew up in, the only person who possessed both this practical and technical knowledge was a single driving instructor – there are no mechanics, no scientists, no car experts to tell me about the car’s inner workings. Such knowledge would be beyond my reach. However, going on the word of the instructor, I still had enough practical information to pass my test and successfully journey in my car.

Now let’s imagine that this Driving Instructor is not like any other driving instructor. He is a mechanic’s son, but not any mechanic – the Expert Mechanic, the Architect of Driving itself, the Inventor who designed cars themselves. It sounds ludicrous, yes, but stretch your imagination with me for a moment.

In this analogy, despite knowing all there is to know about cars, the Mechanic’s Son chooses only to tell me how to use a car to get me from A to B. He realises that further knowledge is beyond me, would even overwhelm me. But he tells me all I need to know about driving – how to journey from start to finish. Anything else is an interesting matter of curiosity, but is nevertheless superfluous for my purposes.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Just as in the analogy it was only through the instruction of the Instructor that I could pass my test and complete my journey, so the language of Theology must begin and end with the words of the Son, the one alone who “holds the keys to eternal life.” Good theology is like the car that gets us from start to finish. God, the destination, is beyond the realms of human language, but in becoming flesh, the way to God is made manifest to man. All that is necessary for this end is a relationship with the Son, the Mechanic’s Son, the Instructor, in whom is all the knowledge we need to pass from here to the destination.

Such is faith, and such is theology – trust in this man who claimed to have the only Way. 

We are all running about with a thousand different words and concepts to comprehend the One who is incomprehensible. However, every word that has been conceived of God, the inner workings of the entire universe, culminates in Christ. What is beyond man’s limited comprehension is given to us in a tangible way in the God-man.

He is the Way. The only Way. God – inaccessible, beyond knowledge, beyond us – is accessible, knowable, tangible, through a man, Jesus Christ.

Where our theology is swept up into the whirlwind, Christ steps out, takes us by the hand, and gives us the only information we need to get to the destination, eternal life. We don’t need the inner workings of the car. We only need to know how to get it home.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”