Last week I had the pleasure and in some cases the burden of reading N.T. Wright’s book on St. Paul (Saul of Tarsus). The burden lay in my extreme lack of knowledge of a person who was so instrumental in developing the Christian theology as we practice it today. This burden was pouring through the details and minutiae which existed based on Wright’s expert knowledge of the subject. The pleasure in the reading was focused on learning the human aspects of a man, whom God personally chose, to bring the news of life to all peoples. His focus was primarily on the conversion to Christ. Christ, whom Paul never met, but who spoke with him on the fated road to Damascus. The blinding light, the voice, and the redemption given to Paul to proselytize the Christian mission until his dying days. So, this is where I would like to begin, and discuss the mission, the perceptions Paul faced and how we seem to face very similar derisive decisions in our own world today. How does this affect our daily lives as husbands and fathers, and just how can we fall more in love with God?
I think it might be fair to say, the ancient world was a tough place to live. From disease, short-lives, warring regimes, autocratic rule, religious fervor, and hard physical work. We see a lot to be miserable about but this isn’t what we find when we explore the words of Jesus or the disciples. We see tremendous hope in the face of the gravest danger, and this is compounded by conditions which would cause any one of us to shrink in our seats with fear. We see in numerous writings the joy which seemed to be infectious for those early Christian believers, a willingness to enter the homes of strangers, and the walls of societal implement being torn down to receive the open arms of love. If we were to believe what we see today, we might just think the world was in its own handbasket to hell. Everyone utilizes their own supposition based on nothing more than just their perceptions, and in the process they go through to know and understand why they believe something amounts to little more than a cursory search of multimedia pictures and click-bait ads. We are all experts at everything, and we all don’t need to be told how to do anything, especially by older people who are out of touch with reality, right? Wrong!
Something which occurred to me when I was reading Wright’s book was, how does he know all of this information? How can he know so much about a person who lived 2,000 years ago, and at best had very little written to explain motives and understandings of this person? It hit me with clarity, he knows because of his extensive knowledge of historical writings, of personal experience, of teaching and researching this topic ad nausea, and the culmination of his life’s work allows him to intelligently speak about topics which are as foreign to us as Greek (assuming you don’t speak Greek, but if you do that’s awesome). The more and more I looked into a person’s expertise the more I was astounded at the authors who neither have an expertise (including myself) and the numbers of people so willing to listen to a person who has no basis of knowledge whatsoever. I’m not saying the people who aren’t experts are going to make competent comparisons and analysis, but there is a great risk in accepting what is said at face value. Though we do this on a daily basis. We listen to the news, and we think because of the perception of the person delivering the news, we can trust what they have to say. Because the news isn’t so important we must check it daily, we accept stories with little to no fact as truth, and we buy into the acceptance of ideologies which neither have the capability to encapsulate our society nor explain it very well at all.
Non-Expert experts are everywhere. Their form is usually deceiving, and as life goes leads us down a path of regret and selfishness. I have been down this path, and I would owe it all to my inability to distinguish between what was really truth and what was not. I listened to anything which sounded like it made sense, and then built a cognitive stream of thought in order to rest my back upon this new founded information. At the end of the day though, there always seemed to be a “fly in the ointment” and would cause me to give up my new opinions or beliefs about something. After a period of time, this became so disconcerting, I almost felt like giving up. There seemed to be no redemptive quality in my actions, and the more I tried the more it seemed to compound me and cause a disconcerting turn of events to unfold against me.
This was when I began to realize, perhaps I should go deeper in to the meanings and trappings of life and find out a truer purpose than to just live. This presented me with a challenge, questions down to the very fiber of who I was. Questions which threatened to dismantle everything I ever thought I believed. Who is God to me, and just where do I think I go when I die? These questions have taken many years, and it seems to me, I always knew the answer, but my need to hang on to what was in this life carried precedence, to my shame.
My questions needed to be answered by those people who seemed to float in and out of my life, by the circumstances of everyday and the experiences I dealt with daily. I was given answers to these questions when I least expected it, but people I never thought would have the answers, and most importantly my humiliation was key to a realization of humility which for me is soul saving. This isn’t to presume I don’t continue to make mistakes daily, as though I’m in a contest to win a prize for the person who makes dumb decisions. I still have days which make me scratch my head and wonder just how I could have done something so selfish or stupid. However, on the overall scheme of things, I see a growth in myself which seems to breed an overflowing abundance of joy.
Those times which I just knew I was right, I was completely wrong, and this acknowledgement of my own flawed paradigm gave me the clarity to realize. We are all like this, we are seeking to prove our points of rightness, but we are all guilty of a failure to realize we don’t know everything. Not only do we not understand or have the ability to conceive everything in a competent way, we are miserable at it. Oh sure, we have experts on the law, on art, or ever on politics. Though, I find most people are seeking some truth in life, to become an expert in anything else is a way to fill the gaps in the more important question, who is God to you?
Ok, so the gauntlet has been thrown down. Is God your main point of purpose? Do you wake up and constantly think about God throughout your day? For most people the answer is no, and they have their “right” way of perception and a belief in their “rightness”. However this amounts to little more than a grasping of earthly footholds in an attempt to ascend a mountain of unknowable dimensions. The only way to truly ascend this mountain is to allow God’s loving hand to gently set us atop. The analogous understanding in all of this is, we are always in God’s hand and when we attempt to do it ourselves, we are trying to leave the grasp of the one who loves us the most. Think back on times, in your own family when you push away those who would love you unconditionally, and in your attempt to free yourself and possess the “rightness” you so desired, you were willing to hurt in the most egregious ways.
This is where I’ve been, I’ve been at the precipice of life thinking I was completely right, and when finally exposed to the objective truth, I was shocked. I was shocked at just how little thought I put into those things which required the most thought, and I was shocked at the depths with which I was accepted by those whom I hurt the most. This prompted me to begin to look at the world in a completely different way. I was willing to explore everything in its deepest way, to search for the meaning I could find in all of it. Believe me, this can be exhausting, but in the best possible way. The most exhausting part of my new perception has been to realize, most people don’t want to go too deep for fear of getting the answer I was so afraid to find out myself. Some people are sure, like I was, I am wrong and they don’t want to hear what I have to say which brings me to the next big point. A knowledge of the truth isn’t about telling everyone you meet, it’s about showing everyone you meet. Let them figure out through observation and discussion just why you are who you are. Let them know, your only motivation in life is the pursuance of God’s love. In this and only in this can you be a reflection of Christ’s light.
Now this isn’t to say, when you meet people you are bound to silence, we aren’t Trappist, but what we are, are people in awe of God. Delving deeply in to a love for God, means simply finding the deepest possible meaning in everything, even those which aim to hurt us and cause a tearing of the fabric to which we would cling in this life. It will present a paradigm, whereby God is our focus, and because we can never hope to completely comprehend his reasoning, we can accept it more fully.
My role as a father is a challenge every day, my wife challenged me a few days ago about my need to be more as a father to my kids. This wasn’t accepted well, but she wasn’t wrong. Her observations of my actions, and furthermore willingness to face my anger over her understanding of “rightness” as it pertains to the objective truth, was what my soul needed to accept the task, one more time, to try harder as a father. I was also challenged to accept, I wasn’t right in this instant, I was completely wrong. My back also felt this, as I was presented with a night on the couch as a means of my stubbornness to prove just how right I was.
As it just so happens, when I was more level headed the next day, and for all intents and purposes very humbled by just how wrong I actually was. I could see a definitive change in my interactions with everyone. It was as if I had been walking around in the dark, and suddenly the room was filled with bright light to illuminate the fact I was always standing near the door. My wife is a true reflection of God’s light in my life, and she is right most of the time because of this. I can only hope to have as much fervor and love for God as she does. I have so long to go, but I’m not discouraged in the least way. I am looking forward to my journey. I have conversed with several people about what I write, both good and bad, but I’ve learned something from everyone. I am so very thankful for God’s graces to be poured out in the manner in which I’ve received them. My stubborn need to be right, and my acceptance of just how wrong has been the sanctified understanding, my life is meant for more than just waking up and doing a job while running through the motions.
No matter what is happening to us at any given time, we must look deeper in to whatever it is we do. In most cases, as they pertain to life and God overall, we might just find we are more wrong than we are right. This should humble each and everyone one of us! When I entered my graduate program for business many years ago, I was challenged by a professor who asked each and every one of us, if we were aware of just how much we didn’t know. When I was asked, all I could see was a forest of knowledge and me standing on its edge fearfully waiting to enter. Don’t let fear hold you back from pursuit of God, don’t let fear dictate what you will or won’t do when it comes to the truth. Don’t be afraid of fear, don’t be subject to the paralysis which accompanies a fearful life. Go out and be a disciple of Christ, and spread the message of God through your works. As fathers and husbands, we must do this, we must be the example to our kids and our spouses. Although they may not say it to us, they rely on us. Although, my wife keeps me centered on us, she needs me to do the same for her when it comes down to it, but she also needs to be evenly yoked with me. Which above all else requires my dedication to my marriage and my family. If one spouse is doing all the work, the burden will be too heavy to sustain and will eventually cause the dissolution of the marriage, the failure of the covenant before God. When we let go and give everything we have to God, then although the world will still continue to move around us, we will have joy about it. Although we will still face hardness of hearts and times which cause deep sadness, we will still have joy in the understanding we are here for more than what amounts to a glimmer of time. We are here for more than to just be right, we are here to be wrong and recognize it. We need to be humbled, we need to seek redemption, and we can only do this by a self-reflective quality which will manifest itself in the silence we seek within the rightness of God’s voice!
I do hope some of my words will help, especially if you are struggling today with your life. You are truly loved and you are truly special in God’s eyes, but also every Christian who stops and answers those questions I posed to myself.
So I want to ask one more time, for you, as well as for myself. Who is God to you? Where will you go when you die? I hope these questions are a permanent fixture in your life from this day forward, if they already weren’t. Joy in life isn’t about being right, it’s about filling yourself up on the abundance of love provided only by God. May God bless you and your family!!!
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!