As I explained in my Hating God post, hating God through control began my freshman year of high school. At the time, I was ready to check out of the church. That said, I really didn’t have any other place to go. I was an outcast at school, the magic of Boy Scouts vanished, and I didn’t have any other hobbies beyond video games. I was, in every way, lost.
Then a guy named Ken, who volunteered with my parents’ church’s youth group, noticed me. I can’t explain why, but somehow, this lost kid ended up on his radar and he made it his personal mission to save me. Ken was a bit wild and crazy. In my straight-laced world, he had the appeal of a rebel. But more than anything, he cared.
I wasn’t any good at basketball, but he used to drive miles out of his way to pick me up and drop me off for the church’s youth league games and practices. He did the same for other youth group events. Perhaps most importantly, he helped me connect with other youth. Before long, I had friends.
This created a new conundrum for me. I hated God, but all of my friends were connected to the church. How do you balance those two realities? For me, the answer was to control. I used my intellect and the discipline of theology to box in God. It started in high school and continued through undergrad. My Master of Divinity degree is descriptive as my life’s aim was mastering the divine.
It’s hard to identify when I stopped boxing in God. Perhaps in some ways, I have yet to. But here are a few key steps along the journey and a project to help all of us embrace an uncontrollable faith.
Words About the Word
About eight months after I’d upended my life at the end of 2010, the pastor of the church I attended asked me to lead a one-week study on the formation of the Bible. I obliged. I don’t recall what I intended to teach that day, but what came out rocked my world and changed my entire perspective on Scripture. Since that day my views have expanded and evolved, but that day marked a paradigm shift.
Up until then, I saw the Bible itself as God’s self-revelation. Therefore I saw everything in its pages as equally important and, more importantly, written from God’s perspective. But that day while teaching, a little phrase slipped out of my mouth that took on a life of its own. The Bible isn’t God’s Word, it’s words about God’s Word (Jesus).The Bible isn't God's Word, it's words about God's Word. Click To Tweet
Scripture isn’t God’s revelation, Jesus is. The Bible records God’s people seeking to know, understand and live in God’s self-revelation. It is the account of a community, called by God, wrestling with and seeking to understand that calling. And all of it, ultimately, is designed to point us to Jesus who came to reveal both what God is like and what it means to fully embrace our humanity.The Bible records God's people seeking to know, understand & live in God's self-revelation. Click To Tweet
For me, this became an invitation to abandon a form of Gnosticism (gaining knowledge about God in Scripture) and embrace a form of mysticism (an encounter with the divine through Scripture).
For some, that last line might suggest that I’ve abandoned academic integrity when it comes to the Bible. This is far from the truth. Rather, I have a far more academically rigorous approach to the Bible today, but for a far different purpose.
In the past, Bible study, both historical context or grammatical analysis, centered on expanding knowledge about God. It was about further developing my theological framework. In the end, it was about control.
Today, however, the study disembeds me from the world I know and understand. It’s sort of like taking a trip overseas and spending time in a foreign culture. Studying Scripture invites me to question, challenge, and reconsider the world as I understand it. This means expanding my study beyond the text itself and into the broader ancient world.
For example, as people formed through the Enlightenment, 21st Century Americans turn to science for answers. We also ask questions that science can answer. So, from my native culture, I look at Genesis 1 and 2 and want to answer how the physical world came into existence. However, when I explore the Bible and the surrounding cultures, I discover that Genesis 1 and 2 are examples of cosmological mythologies. They are stories, embraced by a group of people, designed to root them in an understanding of their identity and purpose (I also discussed this here). The problem isn’t science’s answer, it’s that our scientific perspective has us asking the wrong question.
In Jesus day, it’s helpful to understand the 1st Century Roman world where Caesar was lord and the prince of peace. However, this lordship and peace came through the sword and fear of punishment. Jesus offers a lordship that stands in direct contrast to that of Rome. This truth feels rather uncomfortable when I realize that, like Rome in Jesus’ day, I am a citizen of the world’s greatest superpower with its most intimidating military.
In the end, both in the past and today I valued academic integrity when reading Scripture, but, where I used to read for information and strengthening my perspective, I now read for transformation that begins with disembedding me from the world I know.
When I bring these two shifts together, I find myself living with an uncontrollable faith. Instead of something comfortable and manageable, God explodes out my box in a mix of light and color. The world as I know it deconstructs and an entirely different realm of possibilities appear before my eyes. They undermine all of the assumptions I’ve built my life on and I’m left with no choice but to fall into God.
Reading Scripture begins with questions and a desire to understand how the original reader would hear the text in light of culture and context. I consider where my world might intersect with the ancient one. There’s reflection on how the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought to the ancient world might manifest today. Contemplative listening and prayer invite me into the presence of Jesus. This life is undone and rebuilt. It’s a terrifyingly beautiful experience.
The Modern Mystic App
Do you want guidance into an uncontrollable faith?
Would you like to find yourself in a terrifyingly beautiful place where God explodes from the box in a mix of light and color?
Historically, Christians wanting this kind of faith but found themselves citizens of global superpowers turned to monasteries. There, in a set apart community, they would engage daily practices drawing them into the text and sending them into the community. However, all too often, communities that were set apart failed to re-enter the world they came from. The mystics vanished and failed to live as activists of the Kingdom.
Today, technology offers an opportunity to change this trend. I have a dream of an app called Modern Mystic. It functions as a monastery in your pocket, with guided courses, prayers, meditations, and readings based on a daily/weekly rule that you develop.
But it doesn’t stop there. Instead, it provides opportunities to interact with other users and, because faith is ultimately incarnational, helps you develop offline communities for fellowship, spiritual formation, and service.
Sounds interesting? Would you like to help make the app move from dream to reality? Please share your feedback in the form below and let’s discover an uncontrollable faith: