No Illusions Discovering God's realistic expectations from his people.

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In the early years of my life as a church musician, I remember the pastors would drop in every so often and commend us for our service and thank us for the time that we put in. But also they come to impress upon us the importance of our role with regard tos the church service. They would say stuff like, “Hey guys, what you are doing is so important because the members of the congregation, they are out in “The Real World” all week long, and it’s harsh there. They are facing a lot of pressures and problems, and it’s important that when they come into the church, that we help set an environment up in such a way that allows for them to forget about the cares and the problems of their lives for a while. Sit there and allow for them to be encouraged to get back out there and face the so-called “real world” in which they live.”

In a parallel life as a professional musician, playing for cover bands, our manager and club owners too would also set us aside to give us a pep talk, and their spiel went this way: “Hey guys, the patrons of the club you are about to play for, they are out in “The Real World” all week long, and when when they come in here, they are expecting to be taken into another world, so make sure you dial in your performance well and make sure your lineup and setup in such a way that they can dance and sing to bring them to this other world.”

Did you guys catch how uncanny the similarity is?

Somewhere out there is the real world with its real problems, real disappointments and real pressures, and coping with it is going to be so tough that at some point people are going to need some form of an escape from it—even if it’s just temporary. And depending on the kind of person you are, you get to choose the appropriate getaway. If you’re religious, go to church. If you’re a creature of the night and are into sappy love songs, come on down to the club. But whatever it is you do, or wherever it is you go, it doesn’t really matter; just leave behind your real life behind for a while, because your sanity might depend on it.

When I first started reading the scriptures seriously, I found something so conflicting that I couldn’t make sense of for a while. Somehow, I had trained myself to subconsciously think that anything that had to do with God was supposed to leave me feeling all happy and resolved. It disturbed me that the scriptures didn’t always to that.

Don’t get me wrong; the bible is full of great hymns of praise, passages that will inspire joy and hope that are worthy to be the subjects of paintings and cross-stitched art sold in most Christian bookstores. However, to be honest, there were just as much sections that were a bit depressing and just outright weird. Some passages seemed to contradict, or worse, call into question the very character of God himself. They made me secretly wonder, “How in the world did these texts even make it in here to begin with?”

After years of silently struggling, it began to dawn on me that maybe God wasn’t so interested in providing a temporary escape from our so-called real worlds. Maybe he wasn’t about giving us a shot on the arm experience to some alternate reality which lasts but a few moments, only to leave us crashing back to planet earth. More and more, it made sense that God has always been trying to meet us where we are and that the encounters with him would help transform us, not in some other dimension, but right where our real lives exist.

The more I embraced not just the glorious verses of the scriptures, but the depressing, weird and sometimes even boring passages, I began to see that God was tackling all of what we would experience to be human. He was giving us his Word as a companion for all seasons of life.

Author Philip Yancey wrote that “God was big enough to include in his revealed word arguments we would potentially use against Him.” Long before Nietzsche, Russell and Hume were tossing questions about the validity of God, the Psalms, the book of Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as the Prophets, had not only given us free access to these questions, it actually supplied us with them.

These writings take us boldly through issues like the silence of God during trying times, the seeming randomness of life, suffering and pain in the world, and why they often happen to people who don’t deserve them. Sometimes it gives amazing insight into understanding these subjects, and yet most of the time it leaves them unresolved, completely stripping us of no place to fall other than the sovereignty of God.

While God doesn’t unveil every mystery in these writings, it appears that what He’s doing is giving us a voice to vent. I’m not sure why or how, but somewhere in the mix, God seems to value our honesty and abhor our pretension. It’s as if God himself knew that real life on planet earth won’t always look like it was created by an infinitely loving God. He took the brave step of crafting for us a language which we can use to express our true feelings for, and sometimes, against him.

In the last few moments of his life, Jesus, while hanging on a Roman cross, had no words of his own to express his feeling of abandonment. And so he quotes an ancient poet-king, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus himself needed to borrow a line to get stuff out of his chest.

In a world where we are used to managing our image, hiding behind walls and putting up fronts, God knew that we too would need help exposing our true selves.

The overall theme of the narrative we find in the scriptures tells us that God has always been trying to pursue an intimate and personal relationship with people. If that is indeed true than it makes sense that God would allow for us humans some latitude to be honest about what it is we really think and feel in the depths and corners of our hearts—for the greatest enemy of Intimacy is pretense. You simply can’t know anybody intimately unless they expose who they really are inside.

Relationships characterized by intimacy often survive the test of time not because the individuals can make logical sense of why the other person feels a certain way; only the truth that these feelings exist. In other words, I don’t have to always understand why you feel that way, I only need to understand that you feel that way.

To put simply, because God loves you and wants an intimate relationship with you, He has made room for you to be you. You don’t have to jump high, duck low, or do whatever it is you think you need to do to get to God. The invitation is, come! Come as you are, come with your baggage, and most certainly come with your questions and even your doubts. He’s a big God, he can handle them. There is no need for another world, no need to use your illusion.

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