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Wonder Beyond Fear April 18, 2009

Posted by dan snyder in Christianity, Devotional Journal, God.

‘Wonder’ is critical to the life of the church. In our postmodern crisis ‘wonder’ reigns among issues like ‘truth’ and ‘love’; but modern concepts like technocratic thinking, industrialism and capitalism have rendered ‘wonder’ irrelevant. ‘Wonder’ and ‘play’ (the soil in which wonder grows) do not contribute well to the gross national product. Even in church, this matters more than some would be willing to admit.

Scientific Discovery Through Visualization

Scientific Discovery Through Visualization

When wonder is missing from a church – and by ‘church’ I include those people within who participate in the life of faith – there are at least three consequences I have observed.

First, the loss of wonder reduces life to what can be measured and understood scientifically. There is no longer the sense that the universe – which does not only include undiscovered planets, but family members and grass – is full of mystery. People stop looking for golden apples on trees, because they have been told this is scientifically impossible. Liturgy and people made in God’s image become familiar and boring. Bible study becomes about filling in blanks with right answers ad infinitum. When the notion that the mysterious cannot be found in one church, people shop around seeking the extraordinary elsewhere because their hearts long to be amazed. Extreme missions trips or sensationalized worship experiences are popular ways to fill the void.

The second consequence of the loss of wonder in the church is ungratefulness. People who are no longer astonished that they breathe, that the sun rises, that they make it home safely from work, stop being thankful for such wonders. The practice of ‘un-thanksgiving’ nurtures self-aggrandizement giving way to a sense of entitlement leading to voracious greed. With so much ‘stuff’ to protect, these people feel out of control and that the world is no longer a safe place in which to live. Fear breeds obsessive control in the form of laws that cannot possibly be kept. People who cannot keep the law (especially those established to burgeon the church) eventually despise the frailty of humanity in themselves and others. Rather than developing loving character, an ungrateful church produces mean and hateful people with an urgency that leaves them no time to play.

A third consequence of the loss of wonder is emptiness. People not only jump from church to church, they become spiritual experience junkies. And like drug addicts, they are never satisfied and forever empty. This is why ‘play’ in and of itself cannot save such people. Boredom eventually characterizes their church experience anywhere they go. For some boredom leads to a ‘neurotic apocalyptic’ – doomsday is just around the corner. For others boredom develops into ‘overconfident wisdom’ – they know the mind of God better than God does.

I agree that the older you get, the more it takes to fill your heart with wonder. And I also believe only God is big enough to fill that void.apple0922

Only when the church exercises disciplined attention toward God as revealed in nature and scripture will character be its pursuit and restful trust its posture. Without this ‘lingering’, the church will be like the person who quickly dips his teabag into hot water and is disappointed because the drink still taste like hot water. He then becomes frustrated because the directions implied that submersing the teabag would result in a rich cup of tea.

Once the God of Wonders becomes the pursuit of the church, deep growth follows. People will understand that, believe it or not, it’s okay to be human – that is our place in God’s universe. And we will once again see that the world is a safe place to be because we know the God who oversees it.

What have you ‘wondered’ over this week?

Conversing with a Dangerous God April 2, 2009

Posted by dan snyder in Bible: Old Testament, God.
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The Raft of the Medusa

The Raft of the Medusa

Even a cursory reading of the Biblical Prophets uncovers some rather bold and stark images for God. My notion is that the degree of this boldness is proportional to the degree of “spiritual blindness” in those first hearers. Flannery O’Connor, when asked why she creates such bizarre images in her stories, replied, “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock, to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.” If we don’t think like this we can be tempted to sit in judgment of the writers since some of these images seem reckless and negligent.

The prophetic metaphors are presented to Israel in the context of “spiritual blindness” symptomatic of decades of idolatry and missed Sabbaths. Augustine famously stated that humans are restless until we find our rest in God. And G.K. Chesterton continued this train of thought by saying that when we “cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” This practice of erecting God substitutes makes a person “blind” to God. The eyes of the heart focus on everything but God. Though stated in the negative, God’s assignment to Isaiah implies that the purpose of the prophetic message is to restore spiritual hearing and seeing:

“Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

Make the heart of this people calloused;

make their ears dull and close their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

(Isaiah 6:9-10)

challengingpropheticmetaphoDr. Julia O’Brien in the book Challenging Prophetic Metaphor identifies three metaphors for God that are not simply bold, they might be considered “toxic”: God as (Abusing) Husband (Hosea 1-2), God as (Authoritarian) Father (Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 63-64), and God as (Angry) Warrior (Nahum). She writes,

“I believe it is important, even ethically mandatory, to recognize and resist dangerous thinking wherever it occurs, including and perhaps especially in the Bible. To be faithful, I believe, demands recognizing the problems of biblical texts, how they participate in a web of power relations that are toxic. As long as the Bible . . . carries weight in the church and in the culture, I believe it has to be read responsibly, with eyes wide open . . . But I also maintain that these books should be read, that they have value for the life well lived. [W]resting with these books has led me into deep reflection on intimate relationships, parenting, anger violence, politics, the power of language, and the responsibility that Christians have for the way that they think and talk about the divine”

Reading the Bible responsibly includes examining all the images it contains – even the ones we don’t like because they make us uncomfortable or we cannot explain them. Responsible readers do not avoid texts that are difficult to understand. They do not try to soften sayings that shock. Neither do they apologize for things that offend feeling like they need to defend the Bible. Maturity is the result of this kind of responsible reading. Maturity allows readers to doubt with courage and converse with God about what the Bible says.

Many Christians have not matured beyond a “Sunday School” faith. Avoiding honest dialogue about metaphors like the ones O’Brien deals with in her book contributes to this immaturity because people maintain a selective understanding of the Bible and a constricted knowledge of God. The only option these people have in this condition is the idolatry of which the prophets warned hearers in the first place.

“Looking North” – fixing our eyes on Jesus – must mean being informed by every piece of revelation we can get our eyes on. Will you trust the “Good Shepherd” to keep you and lead you as you pursue knowing the fullness of this God?

What images and metaphors are in the Bible that you have struggled with throughout your Christian experience?

Visit Dr. Julia O’Brien’s blog at Amazon.