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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Beyond Knowing It All

image from madmick99
"What Plato and Aristotle recognize is that a fulfilling life requires something beyond having our material needs met and enjoying healthy human relationships.  In their view the only thing that can truly fulfill us is being able to spend our life contemplating that which is higher than ourselves, attempting to understand it but never fully being able to...  Since we can never fully know it, it cannot be fully explained...  Since this is transcendent, theologians might refer to it as God.  For Plato and Aristotle, contemplation of that which is beyond us is foundational for the best life possible. 
To the contemporary world, which is so fixated on activity to the exclusion of the contemplative, such a statement sounds like abject nonsense.  Yet Plato and Aristotle believe that the only thing that can truly satisfy us is to engage in a pursuit we can never finish because it is the only pursuit with which we will never grow bored.  It is in this quest that human fulfillment is complete.  In the [traditional world], the happiest life requires that we be philosophical or theological (seeking to know that which is beyond us), and as we find fulfillment in that pursuit, we can find fulfillment in all our relationships.  The best life possible comprises all these elements." 
-Dale S. Kuehne, Sex and the iWorld

As I read these words one week ago today, I thought about a paper I wrote for my Psychology 101 class in 2013 about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  Later in life he had added "Transcendence" as a level of human fulfillment even higher than the previously designated highest level of "Self-Actualization."  As someone who has been a believer in God for as long as I can remember, this made sense to me even then, but it makes even more sense now as I reflect upon this old idea that the only thing that can truly satisfy is a pursuit that we cannot finish.

A little over a year ago, a handful of people in the church where I worked became very vocal about their displeasure with the direction in which they felt our church was headed.  Kuehne's thoughts on contemplation brought this to mind because I specifically remember these folks railing against all things related to "contemplation" or "mystery" or "spiritual formation."  Their relentless insistence upon addressing and demonizing things like this eventually led to a truly massive implosion in our church family from which emotional and relational debris is still being cleaned up.


The sad truth is I was not far from this kind of dogmatism in the past.  The subculture in which I've spent much of my life -- "Amerivangelistianity" as one of my friends has dubbed it -- often acts as though it has cornered the market on theology and holds most, if not all, of the answers.  Oh, it might not describe itself that way, but the dismissive nature that plagues so many branches of this subculture toward people who hold alternate views betrays any claims to the contrary.  I bought into this in the past and found security in my "right-ness."

Considering this tendency toward overconfidence and a demonstrable fear of the unknown, Kuehne's words made me wonder how we can possibly be surprised that so many people in the U.S., even within the walls of the church, seem so marked by disillusionment.  We act as though we've found the end of the road (or perhaps the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow) in our Calvinism or our Dispensationalism or whatever sacred cow appeals to any particular group.

We strip all sense of mystery from the Christian life, leaving no room for awe or wonder or exploration, believing the boxes we've created (or subscribed to) are sufficient display cases for the "awesome God" we seek to worship and serve.

No wonder people in America are bored with Christianity.  And no wonder even in the church (perhaps especially so), relationships suffer great brokenness.  We prefer knowledge to relationship and embrace the illusion of certainty over a humility that would enable us to love.  The journey into which we invite people is not compelling, and our overblown sense of confidence in our own knowledge leaves little room for the complexities inherent in humanity.

At Q Boston, Jefferson Bethke spoke of our need to give people a better "yes" instead of simply telling them "no" all the time.  What if, rather than shaming those who don't meet our expectations, we actually lived lives of love for God and others -- not some mere obligatory, duty-driven sense of "love" but one that actually delights in God and others?  What if we actually learned to enjoy people for who they are -- as they are -- and truly trusted God's Spirit to lead them into greater depths of grace and truth, transforming them in His way and His timing, as He sees fit, instead of imposing our own particular set of convictions on all those we meet?

Surely a world in which we are not seeking to control everything and everyone but instead are constantly seeking reasons to rejoice and ways to love people would offer people a better "yes."  Surely a world in which we stop trying to dominate and instead pursue peace would be one people might actually be drawn to join.  Surely it would more clearly reflect the Kingdom Jesus began to build as He challenged the religious structures that heaped burdens on people in His culture and as He embraced the outcasts and failures.

Can we lay down our self-righteous sacrifice for the sake of mercy?
Can we lay down our pride for the sake of humility?
Can we lay down our dogma for the sake of a little mystery?
Can we lay down our fear for the sake of love?
Can we lay down our sense of doom and judgment for the sake of hope?

As I said earlier, I've been the self-righteous, prideful, dogmatic, fearful, judgmental person in the past.  To be sure, I'm not fully cured of it.  But I began to learn a few years ago that it was just about the most invigorating thing in the world to allow my thinking to be challenged (often by the life and words of Jesus, no less)!  Being willing to consider things beyond what I currently believe to be true at any given moment has yet to cause me to lose my faith.  On the contrary, it has strengthened my faith exponentially to see that God is not as small and powerless and, most importantly, uncaring as we often make Him out to be.  Spend some hours soaking in the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, and I can almost guarantee you will walk away with less certainty and more questions but also with greater hope in a God who doesn't seek to shame or despise or reject but who comforts the shamed, loves the despised, and identifies with the rejected.

I realize that I can convince absolutely no one of anything I'm saying.  One must be open to the possibility that God is more complex than we've understood Him to be.  But I can say with confidence that given a true chance, He will happily shatter many of the boxes to which you've believed Him to be confined, and allowing Him to do that will be the start of perhaps the most life-giving, joyful, sometimes scary but ultimately freeing journey of your life.

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