Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Understanding God

Yes.  I know that there is no way that anyone can fully understand God.  

That being said, I believe that we can progressively understand Him, what He's all about, how He thinks (albeit in a very limited way since we are finite and He is infinite), what is important to Him, and how He feels.  

We do that by spending time with Him.  Traditionally that happens through prayer and through reading and studying the Bible, and meditating on its truths throughout the day.  

Easy to say.  Not so easy to do sometimes.  It kind of goes with the territory because - after all - God is "inscrutable."  That means that He can't be "figured out."  He's too vast for that: eternal, unchangeable, unattainable. Yet He invites us - through the Way Jesus opened for us on the cross and by His resurrection - to "know" Him.  So what does prayer, Bible-reading, and meditation look like?  Everyone has his or her own slant on things; there is no one "right" way because God has made each of us different, and is Himself a God of endless variety.  I can only speak to what I have experienced. 

I like to think of prayer, not as a formal exercise or a preset, prescribed formula of certain words said in a certain order in a certain place, but as more of an organic function.  For me, prayer is much like breathing.  In with the good air, out with the bad.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Repeat continuously.  The presence of God is everywhere - Jesus promised that He is with us always - and therefore we can inhale His presence (so to speak) and exhale the impurities that accumulate in our lives just by virtue of being human. We can't just do this once and mark it off our spiritual checklist; it's something that has to be regular, cyclical, alive.  There is no way we can survive without air and there is no way we can survive spiritually without a regular, conscious infilling of the goodness, the love, and the purity of God - which will gradually rid us of selfishness, bitterness, resentment, and hypocrisy.   Prayer is a way to bring our needs and desires, our loves and concerns for others, and most importantly our appreciation for Him and for His love, to touch the divine heartbeat and transform us from the inside out.  

The more we realize how deeply God loves us, the more we'll want to know what is important to Him so that we can do what pleases Him.  Most folks do that by reading the Bible.  Many people read the Bible as an intellectual exercise.  They learn things and amass knowledge.  I did that for many years as a believer.  There is nothing wrong with knowing more ABOUT God, ABOUT the history of His people, ABOUT the Bible.  Such things will come back to us when we need them.  But doing it to impress Him or get credits or ammunition to use in prayer is missing the point.  And sometimes, let's face it, the Bible is hard (if not impossible) to understand.  The mysteries are always unfolding.

What a nice photo, from this site
I've used many tools in studying the Word of God.  Among them have been Strong's Concordance (which gives the Hebrew and Greek meanings for words, enhancing and enriching my appreciation of the truths I discover), Harry A. Ironside's commentaries, and various translations of the Bible (such as the Greek New Testament, or Young's Literal Translation, or the New Living Translation) to shed more light on a particular passage. These are great tools, but I don't rely solely on them.  By far the very best tool I've found has been a simple, direct request, before I read, for God to illuminate His Word to me, to teach me what I need to know FOR THAT MOMENT, and to bring it to my mind again and again.  I can't count the times that I've been surprised by what He shows me, things that speak to my heart instead of just stimulating my intelligence. Things that hit me where I live, principles that I can use in my every day living.  And stories or poems that speak His love into me, show me that He understands me and that He remembers that I'm just human, that He loves me just as I am.  I need that.  SO much!

It's these things that come back to me as I meditate.  The Hebrew word translated "meditate" comes from the same word as the word "ruminate."  It's what a cow or a sheep does after it has eaten its fill.  It lies down and chews the cud... which is food the animal has already taken in but which needs further digestion.  It requires (1) quiet and (2) nourishment having already been ingested. The animal "brings it up" again and allows it to be better absorbed into the body.  Applying that to meditation, this means that I need to set aside time to be quiet before God and to think about what He is teaching me.  I compare it to "thinking God's thoughts" with Him.  If my own thoughts are mixed in there - if they intrude - I pay attention to them and bring them to Him... breathe spiritually: pray.  Eventually, my heart falls into step with His thoughts (as they apply to my life) and the unnecessary concerns and cares seem to slip away from me, not seem quite as important, or at the very least, they are put into a larger perspective.  

I don't always make the time to pray, read the Word and meditate.  I just don't.  I can always find excuses for not doing it, for not spending time connecting with God. Usually though, it's because there's a part of me that I want to hide from Him (or from myself).  Or I'm "coasting" - resting on my laurels: a dangerous occupation because they are so flimsy!  All I know is that when I DO make the time to spend with Him, whether I'm looking for it or for whatever reason, He finds a way to show me in ways that would only matter to me, that He is delighted with my company, and that He cares about the little things as well as the big things.  And I experience more "God-moments" - and am more aware of His presence with me.

I know I'll never fully understand God.  I'll never fully "know" Him. He's unfathomable.  I like how the French put it, though.  They have two verbs for "to know" - one is savoir - which means to know something completely (like a fact, or how to do something).  And the other one is the verb connaître - literally (from the root Latin) it means to 'be born alongside' and they use it to talk about getting to know a person - progressively becoming familiar with him or her.  In the French mind-set, one can never fully know another person; there is always some hidden part, some unknown thing or aspect of that person that can never be discovered by another human being.  So when they talk about "knowing God," they use connaître. Getting to know Him. 

That's what I'm talking about!  And we have the wonderful promise, "You will seek Me, and you will find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." (Jer. 29:13)

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