How Shall We Then Live

Augustine, in The Trinity, says, “it is difficult to contemplate and fully know the substance of God.” I would go further and say that it is not just “difficult, it is impossible to “fully know the Substance of God.” However, it is in the journey – the questions, the searching, the quest to know the unknowable – that God makes Godself known to us.

God is beyond all that we as finite humans can possibly imagine, but God is knowable in an intimate way that goes beyond any human relationship we can have. As Christians, we should affirm the fundamental orthodox doctrines of the Christian church, but at the same time, we must recognize that these are limited ways of expressing what we have come to understand as the nature of God. We move between the opposite extremes of mystery and knowability as we seek to live out a faith based upon the affirmation that “God is truth”; all the while knowing that our apprehension of that “Truth” is limited at best.

What can help us as we move toward a meaningful relationship with God and God’s creation? I can find nothing better than the affirmation from First John that says, “God is love.” I understand that the love of God takes many forms and sometimes it may be a form we don’t like – correction for example – but nevertheless, the pursuit of a life consumed by God’s love is, for me, the only answer to the often difficult question of “how should we then live.” In Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes…

For those who abandon themselves to it, God’s love contains every good thing, and if you long for it with all your heart and soul it will be yours. All God asks for is love, and if you search for this kingdom where God alone rules, you can be quite sure you will find it.

Every day, I am reminded that my “understanding” of God is limited at best and my ability to communicate that limited understanding will always be flawed. However, in a miraculous way, when we love people, God speaks. In that moment, God is revealed in a way that we could never hope to explain using words alone. It is the expression of faith through loving others that I have come to see as the truest representation of who I believe God to be.

So for me, as important as it may be to have a proper theological understanding of who God is, it is equally if not more important to love as God has loved me. My experience of God leads me to the conclusion that either through me or in-spite of me, God will be true to all that God has promised.

Disturbed By Statistics

I heard somewhere recently that only seven percent of millennials are self-described Christians. That means that we are in danger of losing an entire generation. If being a disciple of Jesus is as wonderful as we say it is, then why are so many rejecting our claims? Some will say that it is just a sign of the times and that this is only the beginning of the “great falling away.” Frankly, I just don’t buy that. I think that we have so distorted the image of Jesus with our pettiness, in-fighting, bickering, etc. that those on the outside looking in will have nothing to do with us. So the question is, what do we do now?

Pastor, I Need to Find God

“Pastor, I need to find God,” is a statement that is made often in one form or another. It is often stated after a person experiences a crisis and finds they are unable to cope with the situation they are in. The weight of the world seems to be pressing in on them threatening to smother their very life from their bodies. Sometimes it is stated after a person experiences disappointment or rejection, especially in a religious setting. When people we trust fail to live up to our expectations, it sometimes leaves us questioning God’s ability to work in our lives. Other times it is the result of a spiritual valley we are going through. It is a common occurrence for us to think God is far from us when things just don’t seem to be going right. And in those moments when we recognize that something in our life is out of place, whether we can identify it or not, our response as people of faith is often, “where is God?”

In Luke 19:10, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” If that is true, why would anyone ever feel “lost”? Did Jesus fail his mission? Is this simply about a one-time salvific event in the life of the believer? Or does “being lost” say more about our willingness to be found, than it does about God’s ability to find us.
The truly lost, those who have not had a conversion experience, but who genuinely seek God, seem to have no trouble “finding God.” In the moment when they reach that crisis of faith and they experience an overwhelming need for God, God is there. The stories told as a result of these experiences are often amazing. So, it is the believer, who after months or even years of living the faith and now find themselves seemingly far from God, that often require our best effort as pastoral-care-givers.

One of the most beneficial things I have done for my congregation is to work intently with them in the area of spiritual growth. My idea of spiritual growth has always been to grow in knowledge about God, to challenge my own presuppositions, and to discover God’s grace in new and exciting ways that leads to an active faith and ultimately a more intimate relationship with God. Spiritual growth allows us to explore those areas of theology with which we may be struggling, helps us to rediscover ways in which to express and live out our faith in a way that is relative to our society, and helps us to gain new perspectives on our lives as Christians. The opportunity to study, struggle, and grow with fellow seekers who share a commitment to the quest for an intimate relationship with God that makes a difference in our lives each moment is invaluable.

So, maybe one of the best things we as pastoral-care-givers can do is to help people to evaluate not only the places they are looking for God, but what they expect to find there. Is their image of God one that is faithful to the Biblical witness? Do the historical teachings of the church have something to offer a person seeking God? If a person doesn’t know who it is they are looking for, then it becomes increasingly unlikely that they will find who or what they seek. In his book, Taking on the Gods: The Task of the Pastoral Counselor, Merle R. Jordan says…

Confronting those psychic structures, forces, and images which masquerade as God; bringing love, faith, and hope into the lives of persons; and being an extension ministry of Jesus Christ walking in the hells of human existence are all ways of expressing the true evangelistic purposes of pastoral counseling.

First we listen to their stories and help to unearth the hidden theology that shapes their understanding of who’s they are. Then we carefully help them to find the one true God who will fill the God shaped hole in their lives. Not an easy task at all…but worth every effort.