Sunday, September 13, 2009

Receiving the Moment (even when it does not make sense)

Oil on canvas. Image via WikipediaThis post is dealing with one of the most difficult aspects of contentment.  There are times in life that we are presented with seemingly contradictory information when looking at intrinsic truth and experiential truth.  Intrinsic truth are things that are true in themselves.  that is to say they are based in some value or moral that is contained within the truth itself.  Some examples of intrinsic truth is God, ethics, morality, and goodness.  On the other hand experiential truth is based on what can be observed, described, measured, tested, and/or experienced.  Some examples of experiential truths are empirical knowledge, heuristics (rules of thumb),  constructs,  and Common sense.  Unfortunately there are times when these two classes of truth present a dilemma in our lives when they appear contradictory.  If I have lost you that is OK I will attempt to give an example from the Bible that should clear up what I am saying.

"Take your son," He said, "your only [son] Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."  Gen 22:2 (HCSB)

This is quite possibly one of the most bizarre commands of God recorded in the Bible.  We tend to overlook it when we read it because we know the end of the story.  Abraham did not know the end!  In fact if we have never read the story before we are only held in this uncomfortable state for as long as it takes to read 10 verses (It took me 42 seconds to read the whole story).  Abraham on the other hand wrestled with this command for 3 days (Side note:  for those interested in symbolic numbers Jesus was in the grave for 3 days) .  By the way my interest in this dilemma was influenced by S�ren Kierkegaard's book "Fear and Trembling."   

I am not being irreverent when I say it is a bizarre command.  I am basing my opinion on experiential truth.  And my guess is that you would draw the same conclusion as well as well.  Considering it empirically (ie science of mind/brain) a man that hears the voice of God tell him to sacrifice his son is by definition psychotic.  In this case the command hallucination would be considered a bizarre hallucination.  Considering the rule of thumb it would be unwise to hang out with a person that would kill his son to please a deity.  God in my understanding loathes child sacrifice.  So hearing a command from him stating otherwise does not fit within my construct of who God is.  Therefore the command is absurd.  Common sense would say "God would not want you to do that!"  I am guessing the Sarah had it in this couple which is why he probably did not share what he was doing with with her.  Truly the command is beyond experiential truth and reason.  That makes the command bizarre.

'We must never tolerate an instant's unbelief as to the goodness of the Lord; whatever else may be questioned, this is absolutely certain, that Jehovah is good; His dispensations may vary, but His nature is always the same' (C. H. Spurgeon).

Intrinsic truth on the other hand indicates that God knows what he is doing (Omniscient).  What He does is good.  He can do and accomplish whatever he wants (Omnipotent).  Often times it is pointed out that God Abraham was trusting in the promise of:

I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you greatly. Gen 17:2 (HCSB)

Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring. Gen 17:19 (HCSB)

This is usually based on:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He received the promises and he was offering his unique son,  the one it had been said about, Your seed will be traced through Isaac.  He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead, and as an illustration, he received him back. Heb 11:17-19 (HCSB)

This fine for us who only have to be discomforted for the minute or so that we are uncomfortable while we read the story, but we did not walk in Abraham's shoes for those three days.  He is a hero of faith to be sure, but there is no way that anyone could walk in his shoes and feel heroic going through to do what he was going to do!

It is then reasonable to conclude that Abraham struggled with this very dilemma that I have put forward.  It is not possible in my estimation that a person of commendable reputation and character could be resigned to carry out such a task without this struggle.  If I were him I would have said something like, "My experiential knowledge is in conflict with my knowledge of God!"  I think if we are honest there are times (though not to this degree) that we to enter into a similar dilemma.  The dilemma usually starts with the word "why" and questions why God does or does not do something (usually the latter). 

This is a long introduction to my main point which is, We can only be content when we receive the moment exactly as God has given it to us.  I have already talked about how fighting reality in relationships is unmindful and invites suffering.  We can do the same in our circumstances.  Spiritually speaking when we choose our experiential knowledge over the knowledge of God we invite spiritual suffering.  This dissonance is no more greater than when our circumstances seem to contradict what we know about God.  At that moment we have a Crisis of Faith.  The difficulty with this crisis is that it gets to the root of whether we trust in God.  Do we accept what we have been given with the faith that God will work it out for His Glory and our good?

Abraham is a hero of faith because he chose the absurd and bizarre to be obedient that he might glorify God.  Frankly there are not many people like that in this world, but when it is put into context our minor discomforts seem trivial compared to what Abraham had to go through on those three days.  If we accept Abraham as a hero of faith then we ought to at least model his behavior in our own circumstances even when God does not make sense. 

So what did he do?  First he was listening.  Second, He received the instruction and the moment without objection or fighting.  There are times when we have to do just this.  We have to accept even though it does not make sense.  Third he put his faith into preparations.  It is quite easy to say that you believe something, but it is quite another to act on that belief.  Your actions are evidence of what you believe.  Don't get me wrong, it is easy thing to fall into doubt, but prolonged doubt is the catalyst of spiritual suffering. 

Fourth he moved forward without a clear picture of how God was going to work this out, only with the knowledge that he would.  This part strains the very core of our being.  Humans like to see the end before setting out on a journey.  Unfortunately if we are able to see the end in our mind and like the outcome, then choosing it is nor more faith than picking your favorite meal off a menu.  "I think I will take the Spaghetti Marinara."  Accepting God's will and taking the next step requires great faith when the outcome is unknown especially when the circumstances make it look hopeless. 

Fifth he placed his trust in the Lord's provision.  God is faithful.  Finally he endured great pain.  I think of sheer agony of binding his son in order to offer him up to God.  I would have been an emotional wreck.  Just thinking about it right now brings tears to my eyes and I was not there! 

Enduring pain and agony is the stuff that heroes are made of. I do not aspire to be a hero.  Most heroes don't either.  They are thrust into this role by their circumstances.  They become heroes because they are willing to enter into the absurdity of their circumstances and act in faith without the possibility of knowing if it will turn out good or bad, yet acting anyway! This is at its core is the greatest example of "recieving the moment" that I can think of.  In our own lives we fail to receive the moment when we 1) reject the reality of the situation, 2) fail to act, 3) fail to trust God, 4) try to find some way of escape.

In summary then we have to willing to "receive the moment" as it is.  This is done without fighting, yet not being resigned as a victim of fate.  But rather with great trust in this: 

Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. Heb 11:6 (HCSB)

And this:

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (HCSB)

With this kind of faith we can move through what ever circumstances this life might give us.  My hope is that when the trial comes my way that I would be found worthy of such honor and put my whole trust in God that He might see me through.

God bless you all!