Tuesday, March 17, 2009

being amazed at basic stuff I should've learned in church but was too busy animating ninjas in hymn books

I guess it’s timely that we focused on the glory of God last Sunday night, providing that I haven’t seen anything “glorious” about God in a long time. Not that I don’t think he’s glorious; I just don’t feel entirely excited by it.

Perhaps it’s because I haven’t done enough hand-waving on Sundays, or because I haven’t visualized an image of God that feels like the “right” kind of glory. Maybe I just feel there’s no point and there’s no way out of this cynicism. The world is far too complex for anyone – even God – to fix.

Well, these were some of the lame excuses I’ve been prone to making these days. Really, I’ve been having trouble believing in the glory of God and I know exactly why. I’ve stopped reading the Bible and praying.

A part of me still wants to roll my eyes despite knowing better. It’s just the kind of answer I don’t like to hear or provide. It sounds so 1-2-3 Christian-y: “Come git yer pat answers to life, the universe and everything!”

Despite my aversion to things coloured with mysterious Christian code-talk and hunky-dory WWJD solutions, I have to admit the truth in this. Currently, I’m reading through the Bible with Joash and found it at first really, really hard to do. I hardly wanted to read about mass circumcisions in the wilderness and talking donkeys. We might as well have read The Wizard of Oz on crack.

And I hardly wanted to tackle things about the OT which made me uncomfortable – all those questions about holy wars, God’s frightening character and those culturally alien Levitical laws. (So what does it say about tampons?) It was easier to not read it at all.

I’ve only gotten to the book of Joshua so far, but already my perspective is changing. With a little help from my theologian-wannabe husband, I’m understanding more about God’s character in these stories, undoing my pathetic, picture-bible assumptions of who he is and how I expect him to be.

It amazes me that no matter how many times his people doubt him and complain, he remains with them. And it also shocks me when I read how easily he can destroy those who disobey him. As a product of a permissive society, I can’t help wondering if God could’ve been a bit more merciful, a bit more forgiving. But, as Joash pointed out, God is God. He is holy – and that means, as a part of who he is, he cannot tolerate sin. And my reaction to this shows me how I want God to be: God the Friendly Ghost, God the wish-granter, God the grandfatherly figure who spoils his little ones rotten.

God, as it turns out, is glorious in ways that make people tremble at the faintest afterglow of Moses’ encounter with him. He parts seas and rivers, and causes city walls to crumble. This is no couch-potato god who watches all of our joys, grief, misdeeds and longings with ambivalence.

Of course, I still have many questions and there’s still a lot about the Bible I don’t understand, but the consistent theme of God’s desire to reveal himself to us and his supreme holiness help me understand the gospel better and how I fit into the story.

Sunday evening prayer has been helpful too. When this all began, I didn’t want to give up my belly-filling roommate nights for an evening of prayer. My immediate thought was how boring. I imagined sitting in silence for an hour with my mind wandering off, and least undesirably, to my hidden collection of things about myself that I despise.

Now after a few sessions, I am fully convinced of the importance of these prayer times. Between silent prayer spent listening to God and active, corporate prayer, I’m beginning to grasp something that I’ve been afraid to hold on to: hope. Despite going to church every Sunday, going to small group and taking part of the church community, I had begun to find the gospel bland, hackneyed and mundane. The truth is, I forgot that the gospel is alive, relevant and working each moment of every day. Just this simple fact had been difficult to believe in the humdrumness of my routine, self-serving life.

With a little more hope in my pocket and a little less cynicism, I’ve found myself more attracted to God’s glory, when everything used to look so grey and irritatingly “Christian.” I’m sick of praying just for myself and talking at God with a grocery list in hand. I’m sick of ascribing to a type of Christianity that exudes smugness and offers only simple answers to difficult questions.

But when I reflect on this God who has chosen to intertwine himself with messy humanity despite his holiness, I see once again that the Christian life is mysterious, multi-faceted and filled with the indelible grace of a creator so unfathomably good and terrifying, I’m compelled to step away from my self-righteousness as the only thing I can do. I’m humbled.

So, though I’m still not yet into praying unceasingly whether on the can or on the road, I’m happy at least to be enjoying my Bible readings and the hard questions they bring about. And though I still need to be motivated to pray independently, I know that all in all, I’m off to a pretty good start.

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