Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Phoenix Preacher: Hearing from God


Point 3 from yesterday couldn't get made without some enquiries as to what was meant by it.  Ergo, clarification and expansion.

Perhaps the most challenging application for me of the observation that God provides, which I've written about before, is that very often God providentially chooses to provide through His people or through people who aren't necessarily believers. In some ways a residual "me and God" relationship can still kick in.  In some places I've been that would get chalked up as pride and there'd be some truth to that.

At another level I've wondered how proud people can be in some professions. I spent close to a decade doing non-profit work and, don't get me wrong, I like non-profit work. At the risk of making a deliberately polemical observation those of us who have worked in non-profit are essentially professional beggars, begging on behalf of helping others. That goes triple for any church employee if you think about it, so pride in a church employee should be obscene. After all, if you work for a church you're working for an institution that, at least in the United States, is probably a non-profit (if not a 501(c)3 etc). You're supposed to not be a lover of money to even get a job there (not that this hasn't stopped legions of those who are lovers of money from getting jobs but that's another topic for some other day).

You're also supposed to recognize that even having this faith in Christ to share with others (or whichever faith it might be if you're not a Christian) is a gift to be shared.  If you raise funds for the work of the church where would pride come in?  That you're a better than average professional beggar?  I suppose there's "some" basis for pride in that if the pride is in the accomplishment of helping others.  Maybe Roy Baumeister would say that a person can have pleasure in the power of making a difference in someone's life, ergo the actions of wealthy philanthropists toward those they can't possibly get to know. You see, at various levels, the whole thing about pride as a problem is itself fraught with problems. If you keep running with this morbid introspection it never ends. It may be precisely why authors of scripture urge self-examination for a time but get back to fixing our eyes upon Christ.

I'm an ex-Pentecostal and if there is something I don't miss it's a mystical requirement of having some spiritual destiny, maybe connected in some way to End Times stuff. In my teens I was still Pentecostal and dispensationalist. I still took seriously the possibility that we were in the End Times in some Hal Lindsey way.  In the 1980s the Beast was being discussed as some supercomputer in Belgium associated with the European Common Market. The Antichrist was either going to come from the EU (revived Roman Empire, remember?) or maybe from Syria (since there was some shot at Syria brokering some deal between Israel and Palestinians in some fashion ... though I remember this far less clearly or accurately.  The main thing was if Jesus was coming back to Rapture away all the real Christians before the Tribulation you were either on the right team or you weren't.

People I know later admitted to me that not having kids before 2000 was partly due to concerns about the possibility that maybe this Tribulation stuff might even be true.  I had given up on the plausibility of the Rapture as a way to interpret biblical texts around 1992 but I certainly wasn't married and had jettisoned dispensationalist readings of Revelation by that time. I had come to the conclusion I was probably not cut out for married life on grounds other than that the End Times were so at hand it would be a waste of time to marry if Jesus was coming back and in the age to come no one would be married anyway. Other people, as Headless Unicorn Guy has mentioned here in some comments, decided to take the path of "Do not let the Rapture take you away a virgin, go get married now."  I never encountered anyone who got married just to get laid before Jesus came back.  I remember reading Michael Spenser's blog post "Wretched Urgency" but HUG's stories seem to bring a whole new level of meta to "desperate".

But at more mundane levels I get the urgency to know "what" God wants a person to do over who God wants a person to be. Nothing alleviates uncertainty about destiny or purpose quite like a god, right? If you can convince yourself, and especially others, that God has a destiny for you and you never waiver from that in any public setting (you can admit later that you had private doubts but that's to better cement the public certainty of your given destiny) then you can retain a pretty secure job.  You might even be able to set up an organization with 501(c)3 status, eventually.

A Christian I know once told me that if the promises of God aren't good for anything but the age to come they aren't really good ofr anything.  Well, there's always not being a Christian. The resurrection of the dead, particularly the resurrection of Jesus, and teh promise of a life to come is pretty much the focal point of the Christian faith.  Benefits accrued in this life are matters of providence (i.e. you get lucky and SOMETIMES may be wise). If you live in the United States and have a job and maybe weigh a little more than you should it means you're blessed beyond the imagination of many people across the world.  Life stinks at times but everyone dies at some point.

We're promised through Christ that in the age to come we will live and reign with Him.  Paul wrote, "Do you not know that we will judge the angels?" But it's no surprise if many of us are tempted to get some of that divine eternal destiny in this life, preferably as soon as possible! Then again in some parables Jesus taught that those who had rewards and their fill in this life would not have it so awesome later. We don't know what awaits us so it would be silly to imagine that the big shots who claim to be Christians in this life will be shining the shoes of believers who died of a water-borne illness in Bangladesh. That isn't really what Jesus was getting at saying that many who are first shall be last and many who are last shall be first, however tempting it might be for people who are sure they're coming up last may like that idea.

The opportunities to hear from God are, very often, mundane, so mundane it would be easy to suppose (as unbelievers obviously do) that God does not even speak through them. One of the things psychologists and neuroscientists have been discovering over the last forty years is that attention is directional and a limited resource. Go look up "The Invisible Gorilla".  When you are looking for X intently and actively you're not looking for Y and if you somehow manage to notice both X and Y you'll overlook Z.  One of the sobering things about Christian life that is also encouraging is that as a quest for destiny in this life goes the Christian faith reminds us that rather than laying out the options of A through Z our destiny, our legacy as Christians, is not ultimately even in that alphabet and that judging the success or failure of people on the basis of that alphabet is still, ultimately, a worldly point of view.

It's easy for people with upper end five-figure incomes (or more) to talk about identity and how important it is.  There's a kind of obsession with the grand meaning of life and legacy that comes form having the luxury of fretting about ultimate meaning and purpose.  Considering ultimate destiny and legacy may be the most uniquely luxurious of first world problems. Obviously these are questions that have consumed people since the dawn of humanity, but some Americans (and some Christians among them) have the discontent of wanting to change the world, as though just having a room named after them in some building were too small a legacy in this life.

Remember that in the second half of Hebrews there were a bunch of people who were described as dying, as starving, as cast off and you know what? They don't even get names. In an even more fitting irony we don't know the names of anyone who got the letter to the Hebrews. More amusingly ironic than even that, we don't even know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews! For that matter, traditional ascription withstanding, the gospels are anonymous. Often I want to hear from God about what to do and what will happen to me. I can see from psalms that I'm not alone in wondering these things. David himself had anxiety that the promises be kept and gave Solomon advice concerned with how to make sure that happened.  There's a bitter yet amusing irony in that if you want to go back and read that.

Sometimes I wonder if the big scandal for a lot of American Christians is having a boring, normal, uneventful life rather than an on-fire, sold-out, burning Gospel legacy that changes the world kind of life. It is, of course, a wonderful thing to have a life that matters and impacts people positively. I just wonder, as I have over the last few years, if that isn't the number one fast track for becoming a Pharisee.

1 comment:

Juniper said...

Sometomes I think that Paul's admonition to live a useful quiet life is a more radical approach to life. The world changes daily. Must we?