Thursday, February 26, 2015
This week I started Middlemarch by George Eliot for the third time. This time I'm determined to finish it. I tried reading it in high school, and never got into it either from it not being more like Jane Austen or it being a little too advanced. In college it was assigned for my British Novel class my junior year, but I had a stack of 11 novels to read that spring semester along with the rest of my homework and too many extra curricular activities, so a poor skimming of the first 100 pages or so was as far as I got.
It's funny to find myself enjoying a book that I had not enjoyed two times before, but this is certainly not the first time this has happened to me.
I always tried reading books that were a little too advanced for me when I was younger, for two reasons: I loved reading and was always looking for something new to read, and because I would certainly take pride in reading a book that was considered too difficult for someone my age.
Against my mother's advice I tried reading A Tale of Two Cities in 5th grade. I had seen the Wishbone episode with the terrier starring as Charles Darnay and didn't think it could be too hard. That book was soon set aside after reading a confusing chapter about a knitting woman and references to a revolution I hadn't studied yet.
In junior high I slaved over the pages of Emma after loving the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow. I finished it, but the story was much richer and easier to understand when I read it over again in high school.
In high school I spent over a year reading War and Peace off and on. As an adult I read Anna Karenina with much less effort and better comprehension.
As I considered these misadventures and failures in reading, I thought about my spiritual life. In high school I got emotional in an apologetics class when the teacher suggested that children didn't really understand the gospel when they accepted Christ at a young age. I spoke up and shared that my conversion experience as a four year old was very real, and I knew that I had accepted the gospel to the level I was capable of at that age. At that time in my life, I was seriously doubting areas of my faith, but deep down I knew that the day I accepted Jesus as my Savior in our apartment in South Carolina, something had changed and altered the course of my life.
I think saying someone could not have a genuine spiritual experience when they are a small child would be like saying I could not read when I failed to finish A Tale of Two Cities in 5th grade. I was certainly capable of reading at that time, and had been reading for a number of years already, but conceptually there were ideas I could not yet grasp fully. As I advanced in my understanding and experience of the world, more and more books have opened up to me, but I was not less of a reader as a 6-year-old than I am now. The day words began to have meaning instead of being mysterious symbols I could not comprehend, I became a reader and have been one ever since.
Similarly, I think our spiritual journeys often parallel the experience I had with reading. When I accepted Jesus at four, there were many concepts and truths I didn't understand fully or even knew existed. Grace and sanctification, joy and trust, propitiation and redemption. Words that I could never have defined for you on that couch in South Carolina, but Jesus was starting a work in my heart even then.
As we grow in our faith there are often watershed moments. When I first began to really understand grace, I had already been a Christian for a very long time. It was a face-palming moment. How could I have been so blind to a grace that has been here all along? This concept is so integral to my faith. Why had I fought against it for so many years?
The longer we are Christians, the more time we have to understand a God so big and so great that even after we have spent thousands of years with Him in heaven we will only have dipped our toes into the unfathomable depths of His being.
There is no shame in recognizing how much you didn't understand about your faith when you first started, whether as a child or much later. There is no shame in realizing how wrong you may have been about God even as you grew to love Him.
Sometimes I think in church we recommit ourselves to God over and over again, not just as an adjustment in the trajectory towards Him, but in face-reddening shame, feeling like we were never Christians in the first place. Sometimes this may be true, but I think we are missing the fact that we are works in a process of sanctification. No acceptance of the gospel equals spiritual perfection. If that were true, we'd all need a do-over because none of us are perfect. That's why we need Jesus.
If I had been told I didn't understand reading as a child because I couldn't yet read Tolstoy or Dickens, I probably would have quit right then. If teachers thought they had to have their students reading Paradise Lost in kindergarten, they wouldn't try teaching children to read at all.
I think we do this with children or the childlike when teaching spiritual truths and concepts. Children's ministries suffer when people think that children can't fully understand the gospel. People with disabilities can be neglected altogether because they do not have the attention span to sit through a normal Sunday school presentation and tend to be disruptive. Jesus was willing to share the good news to people of all levels. He asked for the little children to be brought to him. He stuck with the disciples even though they repeatedly misunderstood His teachings and calling. In fact Jesus even said we have something to learn from the way children accept the gospel, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Luke 18:17
God doesn't expect us to get everything right at the moment of salvation, so we can rest knowing that our spiritual experiences are genuine even if we don't have all the pieces yet. We can go forth and share the gospel with confidence knowing that we are all works in progress, and newer, deeper spiritual experience doesn't negate the effect the gospel has already had on our lives.
It's not failure when we admit we don't understand everything. Knowing that we don't know everything is the posture of a learner. The only failure is in refusing to learn and grow beyond where you are currently.
If I never moved on from Dr. Seuss and Curious George to read deeper and more complicated works of literature, my life would be less rich and my understanding of the world far narrower. I would not have ceased to be a reader, but I would have missed out on so much.
So let's run further up and further in, chasing God through our lives, seeking to understand Him better and better each day. Some days we may feel like giving up, as I did reading novels that were out of my depth, but I promise, those moments where God reveals to you something you never understood before but struggled with your whole life, those moments are worth the journey and the struggle to get there.
Monday, February 16, 2015
21 Christian men were beheaded this weekend by the Islamic State. It’s trending on Facebook as Christian friends across America share their horror and a call to pray for our brothers and sisters that are being persecuted and killed. 21. And that’s just the deaths that were made public. Who knows how many Christians have died anonymously today, their churches burned down, dying in the darkness of a brothel, or beaten to death for not denying Christ.
But I brush past it. I look to other posts about SNL’s 40th anniversary or a baby’s birthday or anything, anything else to help me forget the distant horror and my inability to prevent these things from happening to my brothers and sisters.
I shudder at my apathy, my attempts to move on before sitting with this tragedy and praying for the ones who lose everything for the gospel. The gospel that I have the audacity to say means everything to me as well.
So I stop, I try to think, make myself reflect.
I think about my family. My family. The one thing that helps me connect the dots of empathy when others suffer. What if my husband was on that video? What if today my daughter was stolen from me and sold into slavery? The stabs of pain that rise instinctively in my heart make the souls of sisters who lost their husbands, brothers, fathers today appear in my mind and rest in my heart. Screams buried in pillows and unconsolable weeping on the floor. Crying out to God for vengeance, to God for mercy. Or no words, just Spirit groaning that we cannot, dare not utter.
When I stop and think, and reflect on the God these men died for so bravely... I understand the God in my Bible better than I did before I woke up this morning. I understand why God will judge and avenge. What father will not seek justice when his children are brutally murdered before him?
I understand better why the Jews cried out for God to repay their enemies after they were oppressed and killed by their adversaries. I understand why Jesus is coming back and will separate the wheat from the chaff. Because my soul wants vengeance, I want justice for every innocent person that dies worldwide. For every child that dies without a choice, for every child that loses their parents, for every wife that loses her husband, for every parent that loses their children. I want to scream, “No more! Jesus, precious Jesus, please come back! No more bloodshed!”
And then I think about Jesus Himself, dying brutally on the cross, no stranger to suffering. Dying for us, dying that mercy could be extended even to the ones who killed Him.
Mercy. My God, the God of the 21, is not only a God of judgment. But a God of mercy. And He waits, in His waiting for judgment there is mercy. I remember that there is mercy because all the murderers and the murdered are all children of God, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. He gives one more minute, one more hour, one more day, one more year. One more chance for the murderers, the ones who murder innocent people and the ones who murder in their heart, for the adulterers, for the liars, for the coveters, for the abusers, for the thieves, for the gossipers, for the apathetic, for the careless, for the victims. One more chance for every one to come to Him, because He made us, He loves us, and wills that none should perish for eternity even though we die temporarily... He has mercy because our eternity is hanging in the balance, and He wants us to spend it with Him.
Most days judgment and mercy are hard to reconcile. But today, if I stop and reflect, they are clearer than ever before. Today I’m praying for justice, and praying for mercy. Today I’m praying for comfort and peace for the sufferers, and that the oppressors would meet the Prince of Peace. I’m praying that the blood that was spilled would not be forgotten, and trust that God who sees even the sparrow fall, will not let it be in vain.
Today I will not pass by, and will petition the God who sees all to have mercy and judgment in His time.
Today I will not pass by, and will petition the God who sees all to have mercy and judgment in His time.