As I’ve been writing this blog, I have always tried to convey theology in a common language that (hopefully) everyday people can understand. I’ve been far removed from my faith and I’ve also been enamored by some of the more trivial aspects, but I’ve always tried to be open to encountering God. There are times though, where words fail.
When I got out of high school, I spent several months in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I would see families huddle into a small cinderblock building for Sunday morning worship. As they sang together, I saw people looking for relief from a life filled with burden. When they worshipped they found it. I could not deny that. Some light would come upon their face and when you talked about Christ, they were filled with joy. They didn’t really care about minute details of Christian doctrine. They just knew that they were lost and wounded and the shepherd came and found them.
When I’ve volunteered in inner-city ministries where drug addicts, the abused and used people would come to seek food and life, they’d find Christ in compassion and genuine servanthood of volunteers and ministry workers. If you weren’t walking the walk, they didn’t really care to listen to you evangelize.
When the apostle Paul would journey from city to city, He would preach the truth of God and He wasn’t handing out exams afterwards to make sure people understood all the answers correctly. Instead, He asked them to repent and devote their lives to Jesus Christ.
See, I believe that theology and doctrine are signposts which point to God. They aren’t apart from scriptures – they are the scriptures. They aren’t apart from the Church – they are in the Church. Ultimately though, it’s not just the words which are what matter, but the Word matters.
When Jesus spoke of His mission on earth, He didn’t explain the Trinity or get into atonement theory. Rather, He spoke a prophetic word from Isaiah. This word also spoke of His actions going forward, which were grounded to both a spiritual and physical state we’re in. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy and would encounter those realities within our own humanity:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19) KJV
Christianity is primarily an encounter with God -the God who made the heavens and the earth came to us to free us and to heal us from the cycle of sin and death that ensnared us. He encounters us in our weakness and shows the way back to communion with Himself. All the theology in the world can’t make someone encounter God. It can only explore the depths of that encounter in a world which is blind to God. Exploring it can add meaning to that encounter if it’s done with humility and grace.
What is most important to encountering God though? Prayer.
I find it funny that even when a non-believer is at his or her wit’s end, many will try prayer. Even if they’re 99% sure it won’t work, reaching for some sort of higher power becomes our gut reaction for survival. I think we do know somewhere deep down that there is a universal entity that might care about the crap in our lives, or even might be the cause of the pain. We either want to know someone is in control and steering the situation for our benefit, or we want someone to shake our fist at the sky to. In any case, prayer is where we reach out with something inside of ourselves to that entity.
It might be a symptom of the mindset of the modern world, but there is one group that tends to believe that intellect can either solve all of our problem and then there’s another group that sees intellect as the enemy to faith. However, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandments were, His first answer was to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind (Matt. 22:37). There was a clear connection between all three and there wasn’t necessarily a hierarchy, but because we were created with these three parts of us interconnected, they are engaged with God in an interconnected way. The mind is a piece which directs us into a deeper encounter with God, but we don’t only engage with the mind and we don’t abandon it either.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (Prov. 3:5-6) NKJV
What I ultimately want to say is that a simple faith is not to be scoffed at. Does that excuse us from being tossed to and fro by any wave of doctrine that makes us feel good? Does it mean that those who can’t stop having doubts in their faith are wrong? No, but the one with simple faith knows that the truth they cleave to is only worth one red cent if it causes them to pray more and stretch their hands out for the hem of His robe. They are looking for someone to set them free and bind up their broken hearts, so they just reach out and are open to God somehow moving in their lives. They aren’t so concerned about the systematic paradigm of sovereignty or atonement theories. How can our belief have any power and truth? When it generates a heart in us that makes us take up our Cross and humble ourselves to Him. The world needs more Christians like that than it needs apologists (sorry, William Lane Craig).
I can only hope that I remember this fact every moment and every day of my own life. Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.