Starting Over

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
(Psalms 63:1)

God has been turning me inside out lately. I want so badly to understand him; his character, his commands, and his requirements of me. The more I seek the more I find my view of him to be miserably worthless. The creator of the universe in all his glory will not be contained within my own imagination nor the collective understanding of all mankind! I feel sometimes like I’ll burn from the inside out if I can’t somehow express what he is showing me, and yet I fall inevitably short of expressing him at all. He is magnificent beyond the most eloquent expression, whether word, song, or picture, and so it seems I must resign to continue burning.

In this burning, however, I am compelled to seek him out further; to study his word and read the musings of other believers who have done the same. This searching invariably leads me to questions that taunt and plague me at every silent moment. Often the searching only uncovers harder questions!

Although satisfactory answers are sometimes perpetually beyond reach, I find the hunt itself brings a satisfaction of it’s own; searching the unsearchable to better know the unknowable.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
(Romans 11:33)

Relying on Pillars

But there is a difficult thing that happens with this searching; many “unshakeable” truths are suddenly shaken to their core. Ideas I’ve clung to my entire life are suddenly no longer there for my support. Often the pillars that were once integral to the structure of my faith are revealed instead as ill-placed obstacles in need of demolition. I’ll refrain for now from discussing these pillars, but suffice it to say that it is a terribly unsettling experience! Which portions of my structure can be trusted, and which are about to buckle?

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.
(Hebrews 12:25:27)

With all those once unshakeable pillars having come into question I’ve had to step back and reevaluate what truths I can still rely upon… and I’ve narrowed it down to just one: the Word of God. This excludes even my own understanding, my personal experiences, my feelings, and intuitions. This excludes the assertions of the seemingly mature and well studied.

Bottom line: if I can’t line something up with scripture, no matter how much I or anyone else may feel it’s true, I have no choice but to conclude that it’s in error.

And this has been exceedingly difficult… maddening in fact. Not because my belief system is being turned inside out (although this too comes with it’s own challenges), but because it so often puts me on a collision course with some very popular ideas, and regrettably the people that cling to them; people with whom I really just want to get along with.

Relying on People

So when I’m wrestling with a question and the answers I find don’t sit well with fellow believers, especially when I so deeply respect those believers and their counsel, how should I respond? How do I know whether or not my thoughts on a matter are in error?

I have always believed and even taught others that we should rely on the counsel of fellow believers to know whether or not we are hearing from the Lord. I’ve held that our fallibility makes us too error prone to seek God on our own without the confirmation of others in the faith to bring us correction. While to some extent I would still recommend this as a good baseline, lately I’ve had to wrestle with a serious dilemma posed by this notion: What do I do when I’ve done all I can to seek a matter out using God’s Word as my compass and although it seems to clearly say one thing, the idea proves unsettling among the people whose confirmation I’m seeking?

Comparing my thoughts with the thoughts of others whom I respect has always served as sort of a litmus test for whether or not I’m still “in line”, but more recently I’ve found myself quite out of line with some well established ideas and the people that hold them. By my own standards this would mean I’ve lost my way and am in need of a course correction. If, however, the ideas posited in the verses I read seem clearly perpendicular to popular opinion and just won’t leave me alone… then what should I do?

Relying on God’s Word Directly

It’s tempting to just rely on established ideas and the people around me, but what if the Bible is saying something else? For awhile I couldn’t shake the idea that this must have meant I was really missing something. Surely a proper understanding of the word would result in unity between me and those around me, right?

Well as nice as that sounds it’s quite opposite of what I read in the Bible:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”
(Matthew 10:34-36)

“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three…”
(Luke 12:51-52)

It seems that finding yourself in disagreement with others may actually be par for the course. In fact the Bible clearly affirms that the prophets, Christ’s disciples, and even Jesus himself were rejected by others… especially religious leaders. That means my litmus test for self-examination by the opinions of others is no good, regardless of who those people are. It might even be that reversing the test would make it more effective; perhaps our understanding of God’s word SHOULD be unsettling and even polarizing to the majority.

Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
(Luke 6:26)

We CANNOT judge our understanding of scripture by how many people agree with us. God reveals himself to us individually and directly by his Spirit and through his word. We don’t need an interpreter or a higher level of understanding or greater intellect, because it isn’t through any of those things that God reveals himself to us.

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.”
(Acts 17:27-28)

It’s an old cliché, but God has no grandchildren. He directly teaches each of us through the Holy Spirit. Each one of us are to abide in him directly, not through the understanding of intermediaries.

Starting Over

It would be far easier to just fit in with everyone, but that isn’t the course he calls us to. It seems unthinkable that simply seeking him out could sometimes result in separation from the people we love, and yet isn’t that exactly what scripture tells us will happen?

So I do my best to seek out his word and be obedient to what he reveals through it. I still seek a multitude of counsel (Proverbs 11:14), but there are clearly many times in scripture where the multitude was completely wrong. Actually it’s far more often the rule than the exception. And although it’s a terrifying thing to be in the minority and be so unsure of myself, I must be personally convinced of God’s word and the Holy Spirit through whom he reveals it rather than denying it for the opinions of men.

So to you too, Christian, I say: be diligent in seeking him and know that he can and WILL be found.

I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me.
(Proverbs 8:17)