Humility and Anxiety

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

 1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)

At first glance humility and anxiety do not seem connected. They feel like two different categories of our thought life. What would one have to do with the other? In fact, most people only memorize the second section of this passage, the one about casting our anxiety on the Lord because he cares for us. This of course it the right thing and perfectly true. Yet Peter bases his exhortation to release our worries to God on the foundation of our humbling ourselves under his mighty hand. Some translations obscure the connection by making the second clause its own sentence, as if Peter were saying two different things, one about humility and another about anxiety. But the Greek sentence makes the second exhortation a continuation of the first. Which means that humbling ourselves under God’s personal sovereign providence actually sources the peace that replaces the anxiety.

What Peter is saying in this passage then, is that we can rest in the providence of God, but not if we insist that we know how everything ought to turn out. That’s the problem. We try to rest in God’s providence without letting go of our own sovereignty over the outcome. That insistence on our own wisdom regarding the issues that pertain to us is the essence of our pride, which in turn is the source of our anxiety, because we manifestly do not have control over our lives the way we like to think we do. So, humility reduces anxiety by undermining the very American idea that we are entirely in charge of our own future and that we must make it a good one. Or to put it another way; anxiety grows in the soil of our pride as we plan how our lives, families, careers, ministries and futures ought to go (see Jas.4:13-17).

So, part of trusting God’s providence is letting go of the idea that our plan is the only one or the best one. This is humility because it keeps us in mind of our responsibility to live as wisely as we can, yet rests in the fact that we are not the gods of our own lives and that our wisdom is not the ultimate answer to anything. And self-humbling under God’s providence is a safe thing to do because the Lord actually cares for us. It doesn’t always feel like it, though. Which is why Peter emphasizes it. Faith in Christ means knowing that he loves us so much that he died for us, then wrestled sin and death … to death … on our behalf. That being the case, one of the prime entailments of real faith in Christ is trusting that the Lord cares for us and loves us even when our feelings and circumstances do not seem to bear this out.

It stings a bit to realize that our most painful anxieties may find their origins in our own fallen pride. We have a settled conviction (cultivated in fact by our culture) that we always know what’s best for us, and that what’s best for us is a life of ease, success, happiness at all levels, and upward mobility at all times. Our latent moralism tends to give us the intuition that if we are good little boys and girls, God will certainly let us have “our best life now.” But a life of unbroken comfort and ease never produces the character we know we want or the faith we really need. Faith and character only grow by being stretched to the breaking point from time to time. That breaking point can feel like the opposite of faith to us, but our feelings are not reliable guides to spiritual growth. In reality, when faith feels like it’s being stretched too far it is actually being exercised in order to become stronger (Jas.1:2-4; Rom.5:3-6). This is why the Lord often answers our prayers by not giving us what we ask for in the timing we ask for it. Not only does he know what we really need, but the stress of having to trust him without knowing that he’s up to is precisely the growth of faith that we asked him for in the first place.

Just a Thought,

Pastor Rick

Discouragement in Prayer

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Luke 18:1

 This is the opening of Jesus’ famous parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge. The parable itself is a fascinating piece of teaching by Jesus, but I would like to ask a question that arises before he even gets into the story. Why does Jesus teach a parable specifically to encourage persistence in prayer? The counterintuitive answer is that he gives this teaching because discouragement is the most normal experience in the life of prayer. The Greek word translated “lose heart” here means to be deflated, weary, tired, despairing, in a mood to quit. That describes most Christians sometimes and some Christians all the time. Oddly, what Jesus is basically saying is that prayer, by its very nature in this age, will be at times a very frustrating exercise. Why is it this way? Let me offer at least three possible reasons.

 

First, answers to prayer do not usually come quickly enough to keep our attention. Many divine responses come long after we have given up praying for the thing! Our gnat-like attention spans lose track of the request long before the answer arrives and so we are not impressed. On top of that many of us are closet skeptics anyway, and so are prepared to interpret events as coincidences or accidents unless they happen immediately.

 

Second, answers to prayer rarely present as “miracles.” The Lord isn’t in the entertainment business and much of his work slides under our sensory radar unless we calibrate our awareness to look for him. Also, we expect a certain sort of answer and he often solves the problem in a completely unexpected and unimpressive way. When this happens it doesn’t occur to us that he did the thing, because it wasn’t quite the thing we requested.

 

Third, time itself is a crucial element in all that God does in this fallen era. Speed does not improve God’s work, either in our hearts or in our circumstances. Any cook knows that time in the oven is just as crucial as any other ingredient in the recipe. Especially relational issues are this way; friendships, romances, business partnerships, anything that relies on humans to know and trust each other, will take time—usually more of it than we want to invest. This is why the Psalms are filled with exhortations to wait on the Lord.

 

All three of these issues conspire to discourage us in prayer. So, the Lord says we must not give up. A rule of thumb that I use is that if I am severely tempted to give up praying for something important, that’s the time to specifically stay at it. It’s good to know that being discouraged is a normal part of being a prayer partner in any meaningful aspect of God’s work.

 

So, let us pray …

 

Christian Prayer

In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.

John 16:26-27

New Covenant prayer is arguably the single greatest practical privilege we have as Christians. Jesus is basically telling his friends that soon they will be able to pray the same way he does—directly to God as their Father based on a personal covenant love relationship that cannot fail. This is a distinctly new sort of experience he bestows on his disciples, or he wouldn’t have been as excited about it as he was. He is far more enthused about our potential prayer life than we are (Lk.11:1-13; 18:1-8; Jn.15:16; 16:23-24).  Note four things he says in this passage about Christian prayer:

First, prayer is in his name. That makes it in some mysterious and powerful way an improvement over prayer offered under the Old Covenant. A Christian is metaphysically joined to the authority and identity of Christ, the Messiah, God’s own Son (the name), by simple faith (“believing that I came from God”).  And because we are under his grace and authority we come into the Father’s presence in a relationship to him unknown prior to Christ (Rom.8:14-17; Heb.4:14-16). Before the gospel, before the work of the cross, this was not available. Jesus (shockingly) said that among the OT believers there was nobody greater than John the Baptist (A very radical thought in light of all the great names in the Old Testament!). And yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater (in a better position) than John (Lk.7:28). He must be referring to the work of regeneration and justification that comes in Christ to the simplest Christian, and with that New Covenant work—the right to pray like the Son of God himself. Wow!

Second, we call God “Father” when we talk to him, just like Jesus did. This was not done prior to Christ and was in fact one of the outstanding characteristics of his own prayer life. It is not found in any other religion and not available through any other message than the gospel of Christ. This means that what passes for “prayer” in much of the world, because it is emphatically not in the name of Christ, is not anything like what goes on in the smallest gathering of the most humble Christians. Wow!

Third, the Father hears us directly and personally, just like he heard Jesus. Jesus says that he will not ask the Father on our behalf, but our prayers are heard immediately by God himself. This means, among other things, that we don’t need other angelic or saintly “mediators” to “get God’s ear” for us (1 Tim.2:5; Heb.4:14-16). This does not mean that Christ does not speak to the Father about us. He does (Heb.7:25; 1 Jn.2:1-2). But it does mean that our access to the Father is, like Jesus’ access, instant, constant, secure, personal, and effective through the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:26). Wow!

Fourth, the Father hears our prayers because he loves us. Because we love Jesus, the Father loves us like he loves his own son. Consider the fact that God loves you as much as he loves Christ Jesus himself. In fact, he gave his son up to die for us so that he could have us in his family forever (Rom.8:31-32). Most of us simply do not believe this, and because we don’t believe it we feel less confident than we should about our prayers. Wow!

So, Christian prayer is a unique and powerful right. It is not like pagan prayer, Old Covenant prayer, New Age prayer, non-Christian religious prayer, or mystical meditation on the numinous. It is personal, perpetual, open communication with the God of the universe as our Father. Let us pray.

Pastor Rick

Should We Try To Forgive Ourselves?

A Pastoral Response

Rick Booye, Sr. Pastor, Trail Christian Fellowship

 

Greetings Pastor Rick,

 A few weeks ago you made a statement that got me thinking. Maybe I misunderstood it. You said that we cannot forgive ourselves; we don’t have the power to do that. I get that I can’t forgive my sins like Jesus does, or that I am not able to forgive others sins, that this is Gods job not mine. But I do think I can forgive people for hurts they have caused me, and I can forgive myself for hurts I have caused myself. This type of forgiveness is not the same as what God does obviously. Am I wrong, did I miss-understand what you said? 

 That’s a great question, 

First, about “forgiving ourselves.” We may be just talking semantics here, or I could have miss-stated what I meant. I completely agree with you that we are able (and required in fact) to forgive others for the hurts they have caused us (I assume this means real sins against us, not just hurt feelings, though that too requires grace from us). This is completely biblical. But the idea that I need to forgive myself for the hurts (sins?) I have caused myself is a bit opaque to me. I guess that if all I’m talking about is the “hurts” I have done to me, then the Me that is offended can say “I forgive me.” Maybe that’s a way of getting through our internal stuff. It might be a helpful process. But if the “hurts” are real sins, real crimes in God’s court, then Someone greater than me needs to do the forgiving or it won’t work. The Bible is utterly silent on people “forgiving themselves,” which strikes me as odd in light of the heavy emphasis many Christians place on the concept. I think we mean by that phrase that we should take seriously the fact that the Lord has forgiven us, appropriate it personally and live in the reality of it. If that is our intent then I have no objection to the phrase at all. But I wonder if that is what we mean.

 What I was trying to address in my statement is the fact that many Christians don’t reach a sense of true peace about their forgiven sins, and they suppose that it is because they have not “forgiven themselves.” My suggestion is that that is the wrong way to put it. I would say that they haven’t really trusted the Lord to forgive them in a tangible way. My reason is that the Self is not the agent of forgiveness because the Self doesn’t have the authority to forgive in the first place. Which is in fact precisely why these folks can’t seem to find the peace of God in the situation—they’re seeking the peace from within themselves (a very western and American idea, and utterly absent from the biblical worldview). They seem to attribute more authority (and far more attention) to their own feelings about themselves than they do to what the Lord thinks about them. I suspect this is because in our culture for about the last 100 or so years we have gradually come to believe that what we think about ourselves (or anything else for that matter) is the ultimate arbiter of reality on the subject. But this is not true. What God thinks about us is infinitely more important and making that adjustment in our thinking is crucial to living in the grace of Christ. The Self is not Lord, Christ is Lord. What I’m wanting Christians to realize is that if Christ Jesus forgives them, then they should take is word for it rather than try to do it themselves. When they feel “unforgiven” (as happens often in cases of real sin) what they need to do is continually remind themselves of the gospel, that they are not at the mercy of their conscience but at the mercy of Christ (1 Jn.2:1-2; 3:19-20). And the cross of Christ has really, truly, eternally, completely wiped away their blame for the evil they committed. I think this is part of “taking every thought captive to obedience to Christ” (2 Cor.10:3-5).

 It seems to me that Paul alludes to something like this in 1 Cor.4:3-5. There he says, “…But it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself [un-confessed sin], but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

 The key phrases in this passage for our thoughts here are, “I am not by that acquitted,” and In fact, I don’t even judge myself.” Paul was criticized by people for being a bad steward of the ministry. His response to this is at least two-fold. First, he says that he is not aware of any unconfessed sin in his life, but that his clear conscience is not what acquits him of guilt. In other words, it is not his sense of being clean that makes him really clean. This is an astounding statement when you think about it. He consults his conscience obviously, but he does not let it stand as the agent of forgiveness or guilt. The second thing he says is that not only did he not care that much what his critics thought—he didn’t care that much for what he himself thought of his work. Instead he only cared what the Lord thinks and he recommends letting all judgment rest there. It seems to me that, based on this statement regarding his faithfulness in ministry, Paul would have thought it strange that on the much more important issue of forgiveness of sins, he should rely on his own ability to forgive himself in order to come to peace.

 I think what happens for many of us is that we unconsciously make a distinction between our theoretical and general “forgiveness of sins” and our daily, oh so specific, sense of shame and guilt. We subscribe theologically to the lofty doctrine of “forgiveness,” but we don’t let it actually penetrate our feelings about the way we have failed today in the myriad small sins we all are aware of. For those daily pangs and heartaches we take the over-the-counter advice of our world and try to “forgive ourselves.” But I’m encouraging Christians to apply the blood of Christ to those small issues as well as to the big ones. Jesus washed the dust off his disciples’ feet even after they had “bathed” in his eternal grace (Jn.13:10).

 Hope this clarifies a bit.

 Grace and peace,

 Pastor Rick

 

Thoughts on Christian Art

Rick Booye

Art is creative material use of the imagination.  That is, it is the extension into material reality of human thought in the form of music, sculpture, design, drawing/painting and so forth.  It takes abstract ideas of beauty and form and materializes them for others to view, hear, enjoy, critique, absorb and consider.  Art comes from the imagination, which is the God-given capacity to visualize something before it takes material shape or form.  Only two beings in the universe make art: God (his art is called creation) and His primary artistic expression—humans. (Yes, humans are works of art, God’s art). No other creatures (including angels as far as we can tell) make art.  Art among humans is an amazing evidence for God’s existence.  It is a pointer to a sort of creativity that is inexplicable apart from the existence of a creative God.

Critiquing art is crucial to its usefulness because good art not only conveys beauty, but also incites meaningful thought, which in turn almost always creates some controversy.  That is not so say that “controversial art” is always good, but that good art makes people think about important things; and people often disagree about the most important things.

Art conveys and/or challenges worldviews, too.  Like fiction writing, art of all kinds has a subtext, a meaning intended or assumed by the artist.  This is true even of art that conveys a sense of random meaninglessness, lacking classic beauty or symmetry.  Abstract art is a statement of worldview, often of despair.  But that itself is a philosophical (existentialist or nihilist) worldview.  On the other end of the spectrum, who can take in Thomas Kinkaid’s work without sensing the deep peace, tranquility and intuitive creational beauty that seem to be the subtext of his work?  We know now that Kinkaid’s personal life was not as tranquil as his paintings, yet the yearning for warmth and meaning remains, does it not?  His pieces are not usually overtly Christian in the classic sacred genre (though he does put a lot of churches in his scenes), yet they convey a warmth that strikes an intuitive chord, a chord that sounds like the universe should make sense, should be safe.  That intuition is crucial to the Christian worldview because that is God’s final plan for the redeemed universe.  Art critics slam Kinkaid for his sentimental feel, but people want to know something good is happening somewhere, even if not in their own life at the moment.

This worldview aspect of art is why Christian art should not be limited to classic, explicit portrayals of Christian themes such as pictures of Jesus, the disciples and so on.  These are fine in their own way, but Christians should also be producing art that, while not explicitly “sacred” in its overt structure, is nevertheless prompting thought that might do one of two things: 1) subvert the reigning worldview (be it spiritistic or naturalistic); 2) advance a biblical worldview, one that shows deeper meaning, touching material reality with a transcendent reality, conveying love, compassion, forgiveness, grace and so on.  Art that makes people question naturalism or think about creation or beauty from a theistic worldview may not look Christian (read “churchy”) on the surface, but it communicates at an intuitive level, tilling the emotional soil and creating an environment where gospel reality might penetrate.

For example, I read not long ago (but I can’t remember where) that there is a powerful purveyor of the Christian worldview (note: not always the gospel itself, but the worldview that assumes the truth of the gospel) in American culture not found in church or Christian publications.  It is Country Music. That’s right, Country Music.  There are a lot of Christians in that industry, yes, but whether the artist is a Christian or not, the basic underlying worldview in almost all Country music, the assumed priority and meaning structure, the shape of the morality (or immorality), the understanding of good and bad, virtue and vice, is grounded in a Christian worldview.  Country music artists do not write existentialist, nihilist, spiritist, or postmodern lyrics.  Blues writers may; Jazz writers may; and Head Bangers, Alternatives and Rock and Roll artists often do—but not Country singers.  Even when the music is sad, corny, funny, angry, or immoral, the basic ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, virtue and vice that underlie the lyrics are all informed by the existence of a real God, the biblical God.  Furthermore, the vice/virtue tensions in the music always reflect biblical ethics, even when the singer is siding with the vice in question (alcoholism and philandering are favorites).

So art communicates at the intuitive level.  In a world desperate for better intuitions than those on offer from naturalism (we’re grown up germs, accidental blips on the vast, dark, lifeless screen of the universe), any art that prompts hope will be welcome.  Christians who do art for the purpose of revealing God’s thoughts about his universe, and specifically his own work of art—humanity—have their work cut out for them.  And we need more of them.  Tim Keller highlights the need for musicians:

The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. The simple fact is that the imagination ‘gets you,’ even when your reason is completely against the idea of God. “Imagination communicates,” as Arthur Danto says, “indefinable but inescapable truth.” Those who read a book or listen to music expose themselves to that inescapable truth. There is a sort of schizophrenia that occurs if you are listening to Bach and you hear the glory of God and yet your mind says there is no God and there is no meaning. You are committed to believing nothing means anything and yet the music comes in and takes you over with your imagination. When you listen to great music, you can’t believe life is meaningless. Your heart knows what your mind is denying. We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk.”[1]

What Keller points out about music is true of all art forms.  Good art presupposes (unconsciously?) a Christian worldview, that is a worldview in which beauty, virtue, love, and relationship have ultimate value.  Danto’s insight about “indefinable but inescapable truth” is on point.  Christian artists can help people define the inescapable truth of God’s presence by focusing the imagination and the intuition of their audiences on something other than the Self.  This subverts the nihilism of our pluralistic culture, while presenting to the heart the only alternative that offers real hope—the Lord, the Ultimate Artist.

Imagination, Intuition, and Seeing the Invisible

By Rick Booye

 I pray … that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, that you may know the hope to which he has called you …

Eph.1:18

 Imagination and intuition are two universal and crucial human capacities (created in God’s image) by which we perceive things that we are not necessarily looking at with our physical eyes.  They are aspects of knowledge, of knowing reality.  They are ways in which we “see the invisible” and so they relate intimately to what we call faith.  They get short shrift in most churches, but are words we should add to our vocabularies, especially in preaching.

Imagination

Imagination is the ability to bring into our minds things that are not present to our visual senses.[1]  These things, events, states of affairs, or actions, either have happened in our absence (in the past), or have not happened yet (in the future), or are currently happening in a different material location, but we can mentally visualize them happening, or “being.”  Because our imagining of things often turns out not to be precise or accurate, we usually associate the term imagination with fiction, so that when we say that a person is “imagining things” we mean that the things they are keeping or creating in their minds are not real—never have been, never will be.  But our imagination is not necessarily or innately inaccurate.  In other words, it doesn’t have to be untrue to reality.  If we are imagining something we have actually experienced, like snow skiing for instance, our imagination of the event might be very accurate and precise indeed, right down to the icy wind on our face and the feel of the crunching snow under the sharp ski edges as we schuss down the slope.  So, fiction is not the only way to use imagination, and in fact is not the most common creative way we use it. 

Imagination is the mental tool we use to do pretty much everything.  When I plan a road trip, even on a familiar route, my imagination almost instantly produces a picture in my mind of the road, the various turns and stop lights, crossroads, and the final destination.  It calculates the time, includes my sense of being in the car, listening to the stereo, sipping a Starbucks drip with no room.  All I have to do is do it, to fulfill what my imagination provided.  It doesn’t make me mistrust my mind if sometimes there is an unforeseen detour or delay on the road.  I know that my imagination is not perfect or flawless.  But I trust it enough (intuitively) to get in the car and put my foot on the gas.   If my imagination did not or could not supply the picture for my road trip, I would be unlikely to start it at all, for fear of the unforeseen. 

When a skilled person produces a piece of art, it begins in her imagination.  She then exercises material energy (painting, sculpting, drawing) to bring the imagined entity into physical reality.  We all imagine this way.  I am right now imagining what I will do when I finish writing this paragraph; in addition to how the writing will potentially look in the larger work I am creating for publication.  The thing isn’t done yet.  But I am seeing it done in my mind’s eye.  If this were not so, I couldn’t sit down and type a word.  Writer’s block, the bane of an author’s existence, is essentially a (hopefully momentary) failure of imagination, a blank spot on the mental DVD. 

When an architect plans a building, right down to what sorts of fasteners he will use, his imagination is working.  He visualizes the entire project, piece by piece at first, but eventually the thing is so clear in his mind that he can make a scale model of it to show to the people whose money he hopes to use to build it.  We would be veggies without our imaginations.  We are the high order of being that we are because of our ability to imagine, like our Creator.

God gave us the gift of imagination because he has it in perfect, infinite measure and power, and it is such a profound pleasure to create good things, especially for others, that he determined to share the power with us.  He knows how to hold something in his mind and then bring it into existence in a way that we can only … imagine.  We imagine and create in the material world by moving our hands, putting together material stuff, then building, shaping, sculpting, writing, painting, gluing, fixing, planting, watering, fertilizing, harvesting, until the thing is before us and available to others for their admiration and appreciation (which we sincerely hope for).  God does this by simply expressing his mind—speaking his Word.  So, Genesis 1 tells us that God “said” things into existence and experienced the intense pleasure of seeing that, of course, they were all “good, good, very good.”  The intense pleasure of creating good is so profound, so much a part of God’s own excellent life, that the creatures he created in his image simply must have it.  And we do.  Though we use our imaginations now for all sorts of evil things. 

All of our human imaginings find their source in our experience of the world around us (including our physical experiences, educational input, reading, and so on), mixed with our mental ability to “re-arrange” the imagined material.  We do not have the capacity to create images ex-nihilo, that is to imagine things that are totally foreign to our experience in every way. Which is why we cannot rightly “image” God’s person by using things from the created order.  “No images!” He insists (Ex 20:4; Deut. 5:8).   Neither can we very clearly imagine the realm he created called “the heavens” or the one he will create, the renovated New Heavens and New Earth that he has been designing all this time (John 14:1-2; 1 Cor. 13:12; Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1).  He uses symbols and apocalyptic imagery to seed our thoughts, teaching us to trust that what he has planned will be infinitely beyond what we can imagine (Eph. 3:20).  We use not infinite, creative energy, but our finite experiences, knowledge (including intuition), observations, learned skills, and combined energies, to imagine and create. 

Therefore, the ideas and images that inform us will set the course of our energy, our creative effort—and in fact, our destiny.  This is why God insists that we set our minds on him and let his word inform our imaginations.  This is the skill of meditation (Josh. 1:8; Pss. 1:1-4; Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:3).  In the case of the New Creation, we can meditate on the word of God regarding what he has said about it, in light of what he has created in this current vast universe.  If he created this, and even in its unfriendly state (any part of the universe can kill us in any number of ways) it is beautiful and fascinating, we should imagine a new universe in which goodness is the reality and danger never mars beauty.  In fact, judging by the fact that he speaks often of the wonders we cannot see, it seems he wants us to exercise our Scripture-informed imaginations deliberately to enhance our perception of his reality.  Oswald Chambers wrote,

“Is your imagination stayed on God or is it starved?  The starvation of the imagination is one of the most fruitful sources of exhaustion and sapping in a worker’s life.  If you have never used your imagination to put yourself before God, begin to do it now.  It is no use waiting for God to come; you must put your imagination away from the face of idols and look unto Him and be saved.  Imagination is the greatest gift God has given us and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him.  If you have been bringing every thought captive to obedience to Christ, it will be one of the greatest assets to faith when the time of trial comes, because your faith and the Spirit of God will work together.”[2]

However, in our fallen state, our imaginations are infected, deformed so to speak (Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 3:9-18; 7:13-25).  When we let our minds go they usually run to some form of evil, do they not?  Dark fantasies are the seepage of infected imaginations.  There are lust (epithumia) fantasies, anger fantasies, fear fantasies and so on.  When we set our minds on this age, ourselves, this world, to the exclusion of God, we use our imaginations in some terrible ways.  Look at the evil that we have created in the fictional worlds of media, movies, novels, music, computer graphics, and so on.  Witness the horror, the radically violent and immoral fantasies that bubble out of the entertainment industry like so much sludge from a failed septic system.  A computer researcher once told me that what fueled the expensive early research and development of VHS technology was pornography.  People were willing to pay huge prices to view porn in the secrecy of their own homes.  This is not the fault of the media itself.  Many people create beauty and blessing using film, literature, music, and computer technology.  But it does speak to the heart of humanity.  If half a tree produces good fruit, and the other half produces poison, what would we have to say about the tree?  Something is wrong (Matt. 7:16-20).  And something is wrong with the human imagination that only God’s regenerating grace can heal. 

Enter the gospel and the renewed mind resting on the invisible realities of the kingdom (Col. 3:1-5).

None of the rulers of this age understood this [the wisdom from God, the gospel], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him—“

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Cor. 2:8-13 ESV)

Human imagination can be healed and shaped by the Spirit to comprehend what the Lord has planned for his people.  We do not see it with our physical eyes, but with a regenerate imagination we can dwell on God’s reality and Christ’s presence in a way that grants certainty of future blessing even without precision of detail (1 Cor. 13:12). 

Though you have not seen him, you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:8-9 ESV).

Imagination, then, for a Christian, is not primarily a tool of fiction, but of faith.  If it is informed by the gospel and the witness of God’s word, it becomes a powerful aid to Spiritual knowledge and intuition.

Intuition

Intuition is an assurance or certainty of something not necessarily based on empirical cognition[3]  It is the internal sense that a particular course of action or item of knowledge is true, right, appropriate, or correct without needing immediate empirical data.   Intuition is more than a hunch or guess.  It is a form of knowing that is spontaneous, often but not always based on experience, and usually correct (We have a different word for things that come to mind and turn out routinely to be false: delusions.)  Philosophers J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig give the following useful definition of intuition:

“While philosophers differ over a precise definition of intuitions, a common usage defines an intuition as an immediate, direct awareness or acquaintance with something.  An intuition is a mode of awareness—sensory, intellectual or otherwise—in which something seems or appears to be directly present to one’s consciousness.

Intuitions are not infallible, but they are prima facie justified.  That is, if one carefully reflects on something, and a certain viewpoint intuitively seems to be true, then one is justified in believing that viewpoint in the absence of overriding counterarguments (which ultimately rely on alternative intuitions).  Furthermore, an appeal to intuitions does not rule out the use of additional arguments that add further support to that appeal.”[4]

In other words, intuition is a very important sort of knowing that all people do.  I am suggesting that faith is intimately associated with intuition.  It is a way of perceiving that is informed by various means, but not reliant on immediate sight.  Most of us understand “mother’s intuition,” by which we mean Mom’s sense that something needs to be trusted, done, avoided, provided, or otherwise experienced, when in fact there is no compelling empirical reason at hand.  But because Mom “just knows,” she turns out to be right most of the time, and even when she’s wrong, she’s not usually that wrong.  The same may be said for other fields of endeavor besides parenting.  I once heard a man question a business leader about a decision he made that seemed not to be based on the empirical data at hand.  He asked, “What’s that, just your feeling, your hunch?”   The leader responded, “Well, isn’t that really what you pay me for, my intuition in situations like these?  If it’s not, what do you pay me for?”  Good point.

Truth be told, most people make most of their decisions intuitively, even when they claim not to.  A hardnosed empiricist might insist that he never makes decisions on feelings, only on facts.  But a further question will reveal that the reason he makes his decisions this way is primarily because he feels strongly that this is the way to avoid the most mistakes.  Human beings are intuitive by nature.  God created us in his image and all of his knowledge is what we would call intuitive.  That is, it is immediately available to him without his having to “learn” it, figure it out, remember it, or test the theory to see if it works.  God’s knowledge is perfect, eternal, infinite, factual, true, exhaustive, and immediately intuitive to him in totality and at all times.[5]  People accustomed to God’s presence have always known this about him.  The Psalmist reminds us, “ Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”  (Ps 147:5 NASB) and John the apostle says, “For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”  (1 John 3:20 NIV)

The Lord gave us the gift of intuition in a limited (and in this age, fallible) way; and we are happiest when we use it successfully and rightly.  It is a way of “seeing the invisible” in that it senses and “intuits” rather than simply watching and cogitating.  Though intuition is not opposed to “thinking through things,” and in fact should welcome additional reliable insight, it offers a way of knowing that is particularly easy, natural and pleasing to us.  If you have ever “just done the right thing without thinking” and found afterward that it was excellent, productive, and rewarded, you have had the feeling of a successful intuition.  God created us to live this way all the time and redeemed people will live this way in the next age with unerring goodness and positive effect. 

Meanwhile, our intuition can be nourished, shaped and developed.  It is the “inner man,” the “circumcised heart” that responds to God’s word.  When the expression of the Lord’s mind (his Word) remains in our mind over time (John 15:7), it shapes the intuitions within the heart.  The result is an increase of “natural” responses to life that “just happen” to be very like what Jesus would do if he were in the situation you find yourself in.  On the other hand, if other ways of thinking “abide” in one’s mind, the intuitions take on a different shape.  For instance, a person steeped in sexual immorality has certain intuitions about how to approach the opposite gender (or in some cases the same gender).  They find that seducing and being seduced just “comes naturally” to them.  A cheater finds ways and means to cheat, a liar to lie, and so on.  This is intuition trained in particular way, the result of long-term, deliberate, imaginative meditation on evil themes, possibly coupled with various other visual or auditory stimuli.  

As with imagination, so with intuition.  God intends to shape it by his Spirit and his Word.  This is in large part what takes place in what we call spiritual transformation.  The Master molds our mental and volitional habits and intuitions to be like his (Mtt. 11:29-30; 28:18-20; Rom. 12:1-2; Gal. 4:19).  Pastoral work happens in this venue.

Pastors must teach the Word in a way that speaks to people’s imaginations and intuitions.  The Spirit takes the Word-made-text and reveals the Word-made-flesh in the souls/minds/hearts of the people who hear the Lord’s voice (Jn.10:27; 15:7).  It happens slowly, over time, and is always imbedded in the experiences (especially sorrow) of life in this age. 

Seeing the invisible, living by faith and not by sight, opening the eyes of our heart, all involve our imagination and our intuition.  From time to time we should ask ourselves the condition of our “inner person” with regard to these things.  What is shaping our imagination these days?  How is our intuition growing in Spirit-guided ways?  What is the role of meditation on God’s Word in these things?


[1] Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary defines imagination as, “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality; creative ability; a creation of the mind.” 

[2] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1935) 42.

[3] Note the similarity between this definition and that of faith in Hebrews 11:1.

[4] J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 422.

[5] Any good systematic theology will expound this in various ways, Open Theism notwithstanding.  For good discussions from different angles see: John Frame, Doctrine of God, 469-512; John Feinberg, No One Like Him 299-320; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology 190-193.

Love and Reality

Love: A Meditation on Reality

By Rick Booye

The greatest commandment in the Law is to love God with all you’ve got, and love the people around you the same way you love yourself.  Everything else in the Law hangs on these two ideas.

–Jesus  

I am giving you a new command.  You absolutely must love each other.  I want you to do this in the same way I have loved you.  This is how people will know that you belong to me and are my apprentices, part of my kingdom, my family.  They will know because you love each other.

  –Jesus

If I speak in tongues so impressively that angels listen in on my prayer time, but do not have love—I am nothing but a noise-maker.  If I have all the Holy Spirit gifts and power you can imagine, speaking God’s direct Word, comprehending all mysterious spiritual Truth, possessing so much faith that I can literally move mountains by speaking to them, but do not have love—I am nothing.  If I am the most selfless, giving, sacrificial person you have ever heard of, giving away all my substance to the poor and throwing myself on a grenade for my friends, but do not have love—I gain nothing.

–Saint Paul, apprentice and servant of Jesus

People who claim to know God, yet hate other people, simply don’t get God at all.  God actually is Love in Person.

–Saint John, apprentice and servant of Jesus

If you really get what the Royal Command is, you will love the people around you like you love yourself.

–Saint James, apprentice and servant of Jesus

Since you have cleaned your souls completely by grasping and living in the Ultimate Truth, deciding in that realization to love each other, keep loving each other from your deepest inner being.

–Saint Peter, apprentice and servant of Jesus

 Love is a way of knowing and living that is eternal and foundational to the universe.  To not understand it is to be ignorant of something that is essential, like addition and subtraction or language.  In fact, Paul says that if one does not love, one’s “knowledge” (if you can call it that) is empty, meaningless and useless (1 Cor. 13:1-7).  In philosophical terms, love is its own existential epistemology (sorry for the big words).  That means when we experience love in a relationship, it changes our knowing somehow.  When we love (existential) it adds to or clarifies or in some way alters what and how we know (epistemology).  This is true despite the fact that many people do not grasp it.  When you love someone the love you feel alters how you perceive everything they say and do, which in turn changes your own knowledge structure in various ways.  This then alters your internal life, and you can feel it if you know how.  Have you ever thought a person completely wrong until you got to know them?  Once you came to appreciate them as a person, loving them to some extent, you began to understand what they were saying in a new way, and perhaps you began to change your mind about their point of view and yours.  Or, have you ever been certain that a particular idea or concept was stupid or mistaken, then discovered that someone you love and respect (these go together) believed it?  Didn’t it make you take a second look at the idea? 

It doesn’t always feel this way of course.  We can love a person deeply and disagree with them, even believe they are flat wrong about something.  In fact this is a necessary virtue in our fallen world, the ability to love somebody while disagreeing with them.  But it is not fun or pleasurable to do this.  And in order to make it work we must admit, assume, or pretend (three distinct and different mental processes) that the thing we disagree on is not as important as the love we have for each other—or we must make a huge personal sacrifice to express love to them.  If the thing we disagree on is to us an ultimate thing, more important than our love, the relationship to that extent suffers, sometimes beyond repair (I know of Christian brothers and sisters who loved each other deeply until they discovered that they voted for different presidential candidates, at which time the “Christian love” dissipated completely).  We humans would much rather agree on what is good and right, experiencing love in that context, the context of unity (Eph. 4:1-6).  This is because to be complete love must entail unity at a very deep, truthful, spiritual level, where the foundational convictions of life form the mental and emotional structure of our character.  When this love/unity matrix permeates one’s life and relationships, there is a deep joy, a profound peace.  This is the way God is, and the way we will be someday because of what he has done at the cross. 

All of this is part of the gospel.  It is why, in order for us to love and be loved truly by the Lord, in order for us to know him and be known by him at that deep level, the evil in our nature and actions must be dealt with.  In order for that to happen he had to love us more than we loved him, and die to remove the enmity caused by our sin.  He had to make the supreme sacrifice to heal our broken relationship (2 Cor. 5:21).  It is also why Jesus, the Master of Life, insists that we find our highest value, our supreme Reality, in him and his kingdom (Matt. 6:33) rather than in anything, any relationship, any priority that finds its rootage only in this age.  The priorities of this age cannot unify us and provide the ground of our eternal love for each other.  We will fight over money, prestige, personal fulfillment, politics, sex, ambition and any number of related issues when they become more important to us than the Lord and living his kingdom reality (see Jas.3:13-18).

Love is intuitive, but not less factual for that.  Love in fact, is a fact.  John Frame has written that there comes a point in all knowledge where mystery reveals its presence in our thinking and must be accepted as mystery rather than justified or explained.  At that point, when asked why we “know” something, we must respond simply with the intuition—I just do.[1]  The chain of justification cannot go on infinitely.  When we ask why we know something, we may offer some evidence or some authority, who in turn offers some evidence.  But ultimately we simply know and trust at a deep intuitive level.  When God in Christ is in us at that deep level his love permeates us.  This is the main thesis of St. John’s first letter.

Love is part of the actual structure of the universe, the “is-ness” of Reality, the ontology of the cosmos (the “being-ness” of all that is).  It is deeper in the universe than physics because it existed in the Trinity in eternity past, before there was what we call matter, space or time.  The reasoning that leads us here is theological rather than philosophical or “scientific.”  God is the Creator and sustainer of the universe (Gen.1:1; Heb. 1:1-3), and he is love (1 John 4:7-8).  As the Three in One, he has always loved in unity and perfection.  Augustine pointed out that even if we knew nothing of the Trinity (the tri-personality of God) we would need to postulate some sort of multi-personality in him based on John’s statement that God is Love.  For love to exist at all there must be more than one person.  This being the case, we should  understand the cosmos as a relational matrix before we consider it as a material reality, which is why love and loyalty are intuitively more important to us than quantum physics and general relativity.  On your death bed you will not regret failing to plumb the depths of superstring theory (a current idea in physics about how the universe works).  But you may regret not spending time with your family.  Why?  Because in some way we cannot measure the universe runs on love and loyalty, not just molecules and motion.  And that love and loyalty begins with a reconciled relationship with the One from whose Mind the entire universe came and who sustains it all at all times.

The gospel is the news that the ultimate relationship we need with the Author of all Reality has been healed by God himself in Christ, the king of loving Reality (2 Cor. 5:16-21).  The love he has for us (even while we were enemies) is the standard power and the very life force of our never-ending experience with him and each other.  This is why in this age loving is a command (John 13:34), forgiveness is not an option (Matt. 6:14-15; 18:35), God’s deep eternal affection for us flows in and through Christ (Rom. 8:38), and the greatest of all eternal, cosmic, mysterious forces is … Love (1 Cor. 13:8-13).

All of this sounds a bit odd to our ears, doesn’t it?  Perhaps this is because we don’t think of love as a hard science, a serious discipline like say, microbiology or astrophysics, or plumbing.  Neither do we consider it an acquired skill worth the effort to learn, like sewing, art, accounting, counseling, first aid, firefighting, or cooking.  Our culture does not consider love a crucial, serious, factual, practical peace of knowledge about reality.  To us it is a fleeting feeling, something we fall into (and out of), a gentle, desirable, uncontrollable sentiment rather than a firm fact of practical life.  When our kids ask about how the world works, we do not think of sitting them down for a sobering chat about the Facts of Love.  There are no college courses devoted solely to it, even in Christian institutions.  In our culture it is a value rather than a fact, which is to say it is good in a way, but not necessary to progress, wisdom, knowledge, culture, art, or success in life.  If it were, there would be courses, seminars, whole departments devoted to its development.  You could get a Master’s degree in it, or a Ph.D.  It would have cash value. 

This is not to say that we ignore love.  Far from it.  We write songs about it, which are mostly sentimental (not to say sappy), and put it into most movies, where it usually takes the shape of romance.  And (oddly) we honor the willingness to kill and/or die for it at times.  These intuitions we all seem to share about the importance of love force their way to the surface in our prayers, tears, anger, struggles, and relational traumas.   We sense how crucial love is to life at one level.  But when we need to discuss facts, figures, or the elements of “hard reality,” which become practical wisdom, how to get ahead, make a living, deal with the world, we send love into the other room while the grownups talk, right? 

This is especially the case among men, who can appreciate love, especially when it is coming their way in the form of romance or home life, but who would not usually put love at the top of their list of manly traits, things they work hard at and sacrifice for, like muscle, power, intellect, or wealth.  There are no cable shows on how men love, like there are for instance on how they fight.  FX doesn’t have any movies that make men want to become more sacrificial, team up to exercise selflessness under stress, or win great spirit victories by letting themselves be victimized for others (a very Jesus idea).  For many men love is something valuable to protect, by violence if necessary (?).  But unless it is defined as sexual prowess (the opposite of real love), it is not something they long to be really good at.

But this is not how Jesus sees things.  Which means it is not how God sees things.  Which means it is not how things really are.  Which means our view is out of phase with the ultimate power in the universe.  No wonder life flounders in our world.  Most of us are pitiably, disastrously wrong in our notions about love.  The same is true, by the way, about faith and hope, the other two divine realities that Paul says are eternal and foundational to understanding life (1 Cor. 13:13).  Faith in our world usually means the absence of and/or rejection of knowledge, understanding, expertise (precisely the opposite of what the Bible means by it).  Hope usually means wishful thinking (again, the opposite of what God means by it).  And Love usually means sensuality, sexuality, or sentimentality (so far out on the fringes of the biblical meaning that it renders the word useless).

So, what is God doing in this age, in his kingdom purpose, in the personal attention he gives to our lives and character as Christians?  He is teaching us to love, truthfully, sacrificially, against the odds, in all our relationships beginning with the most intimate, by using forgiveness as power, patience as skill, and prayer as an antidote for the hate fantasies that dominate our angry minds at times (1 Tim.1:5).  Spiritual warfare focuses on stopping us from loving each other and those around us and thus taking our thoughts captive, away from Jesus, his kingdom, his rightness.  We must grasp ever more tightly the reality of Christ’s lordship in the here and how and dare to live out his primary command (John 13:34) even when it seems dark all around and everything in our minds demands we lash out (Ps.37:8).  The deepest reality in the universe is God himself, in Christ.  And the essence of his person is love.  His love is eternal, alive, and will win the day.  We have much to learn.  John 3:16.

 


[1] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (New Jersey: P&R Publishing) 346.