Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is God enough?

    My mind is always busy with various thoughts, possibilities, and future plans(generally all kinds of potential future plans, dependent on all sorts of odd contingencies). Lately, one of the things that I have been thinking about is my relationship with God and others, as it relates to the idea of dependency. I'm sure everyone has heard the saying, "God is the only thing/relationship you need." Obviously, this is true, right? Well, lately I have been questioning that premise, not so much in the sense of whether it is true or false, but whether it is a fairly framed question.
    You may have already branded me as a heretic for even considering the possibility that the believer's relationship with God in this life might not be enough to be completely fulfilled. That's fine, however, I have been feeling lately that this question has much more to do with a right understanding of design rather than a lack of trust, although I suppose I could be deluding myself. Let me give a little background...

    For awhile now, I have noticed that my awareness and level of fulfillment in my relationship with God is seemingly very closely connected with my relationship and intimacy with other believers. For many years, I felt there was something wrong with this. Now don't misunderstand me , there have certainly been times in my life where I have been unhealthily dependent on others for fulfillment(I still struggle with this being a very relational person). But, this connection between community, fellowship, and relationship, both on a spiritual and physical level, has led me to ask, "Is a relationship with God alone enough to fulfill the believer in this life?"

    My tentative conclusion is this, a relationship with God alone is generally not enough for me to be fulfilled in this life. Okay, some of you are probably tearing your clothes and desperately looking for some ashes right about now. I understand...But I have come to this conclusion not because I doubt God's ability to fulfill me, ( in fact, the most fulfilling moments in my life have been the times I have undoubtedly and overwhelmingly been in His presence in humility and brokenness)but rather because I think he DESIGNED me(and humans in general) to need and relate to others.

    First, I want to clarify. I only think that horizontal relationships can be fulfilling when we have our vertical relationship right. Also, I think there are certain situations(such as being imprisoned and isolated for faith, etc...) where a believer may only have God to rely on, being separated from other believers. With that being said, everything I read in Scripture points to God designing man to be fulfilled through other individuals as well as Himself. Even before the fall, when Adam still enjoyed unbroken communion with God, God concluded that it "wasn't good for man to be alone." Wait, man wasn't alone right? Adam had unbroken fellowship with God! Yet, God apparently didn't make man to be fulfilled ONLY through that vertical relationship, at least while on earth.

    The reason this is important to discuss, is because I think sometimes believers feel guilty experiencing fulfilling relationships with others when their quiet time is struggling/stagnant. I am speaking from personal experience on this one and I still struggle with it at times. Why do I feel that fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers have to be separately categorized? As I have been reading in the Word, especially the New Testament, it seems clear that in one sense fulfillment through others is experiencing God.  God reveals himself to believers through the fellowship of other believers. That fulfillment that we receive through deep spiritual conversation and connecting on a heart level with others is a gift and manifestation of God! This is why we are commanded to love our brothers and sisters in the faith, our enemies, and everyone else, because that love(given and enabled by God) is God revealing himself, both to them and us. This is why we are called in Hebrews 3:13 to "encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

     Now, several cautions. Fellowship with other believers is not a substitute for time spent alone with God. Many times, there are things God wants to teach me I have only heard when I am "meditating in my heart, on my bed, in silence." Many times I have had significant conversations with others, only to realize I substituted it for my time alone with God, which isn't productive or healthy. Also, my love and allegiance to others should never be greater than my love for God (Matthew 10:37). Oddly enough, although I have never figured out why, when I am truly valuing God above all else, it actually makes me more productive and loving in my other relationships. Lastly, it is impossible to be fulfilled without God. Although I think in certain situations God chooses to meet the relational needs in me that he designed others to meet, people are never able to meet the area of need that God has placed in my heart for Him.

     This is an analogy that helps me. God is like a prism. When light passes through the prism, all the ranges of colors are seen and understood in their rightful places. And as humans, we are designed to see the range of colors, red, orange, blue, violet, etc...Let's say the color red is representative of a romantic relationship/spouse and blue is representative of other important friend relationships. For the believer, red should be representative of one area of life and fulfillment. Yet, many times, it is possible to get so focused on red that one starts trying to find blue in red. But, that's impossible. So then, red becomes kinda dull and boring. It isn't meeting all of the needs that it seemingly should. Why? Because the expectation placed on red is much more than it could ever possibly meet. Red can't be blue, any more than it can be orange or violet. It can only be red. But, when viewed through the prism, it is possible to see the worth and place of all of the other colors. THEN, Red fits and acts as a certain part of the picture, one that can now be seen for the vibrant, beautiful, and lovely part that it is. And now being able to see red's rightful place, green, blue, and orange fit and make sense. I have explained this better before, but that's the general idea.

    If I had a little more time, I could probably better illustrate my position. But, Shakespeare is calling. I guess the point of this whole thing for me, is that God has been revealing to me that I don't need to feel guilty about wanting close relationships with others, and feeling somewhat less than human in the times when I am not experiencing those to any measurable degree. I have talked with friends who struggle with this same issue. But, the more I have prayed and studied it, the more I feel there is a subtlety false dichotomy that Christians sometimes force their thoughts about fulfillment and dependency into. Can God be enough? Of course! But I feel the better question is, Did he make us to be fulfilled and encouraged solely through relationship with Him? At this point, I don't think so...Loving God AND loving others as well as allowing God and others to love me, that is the Kingdom.

P.S. Any thoughts? Feel free to correct and council if you feel I am woefully off track or missing some important point. :-)



Saturday, March 10, 2012

Thank You...

This evening as I was doing my devos, I found myself distracted and unfocused. In an attempt to quiet and refocus my heart and mind, I began writing a genuinely random and completely haphazard thank you list to God. I share this simply because I have a blessed life and want to give praise to my Father. Plus, the psalmist seemed to follow a similar literary pattern, so I figured I was in good company(transcribed straight from my journal, follow my thought pattern if you can)...

1. Thank You for Your abundant faithfulness and lovingkindess
2. Thank You for the aesthetic sensitivity You have awakened in my heart
3. Thank You for the joy you have revealed to me
4. Thank You for Your peace
5. Thank You for health and strength
6. Thank You for family and friends
7. Thank You for accountability and assurance
8. Thank You for abundant provision
9. Thank You for Your love
10. Thank You for Your forgiveness
11. Thank You for Your power to live in holiness
12. Thank You for Your protection
13. Thank You for Your wisdom
14. Thank You for my access to Your steadfast Spirit
15. Thank You for growth, humility, and perspective
16. Thank You for Your guidance
17. Thank You for Your promises
18. Thank You for Your body(the church)
19. Thank You for Your patience
20. Thank You for Your favor
21. Thank You for Your hope
22. Thank You for Your purpose
23. Thank You for Your transcendence
24. Thank You for Your immutability
25. Thank You for beauty
26. Thank You for coffee
27. Thank You for the changing of the seasons
28. Thank You for water
29. Thank You for thunderstorms
30. Thank You for spring/summer breezes
31. Thank You for music
32. Thank You for harmony
33. Thank You for gifts, talents, and abilities
34. Thank You for trust
35. Thank You for vision
36. Thank You for empathy
37. Thank You for good food
38. Thank You for soft beds, warm showers, and heat
39. Thank You for fishing
40. Thank You for inspiration
41. Thank You for diversity
42. Thank You for freedom
43. Thank You for emotions
44. Thank You for knowledge
45. Thank you for stories
46. Thank You for snow
47. Thank You for rest
48. Thank You for Fridays
49. Thank You for White Chocolate Caramel Mocha Blended Lattes
50. Thank You for people who are especially skilled at making White Chocolate Caramel Mocha Blended    Lattes
51. Thank You for the ability to learn
52. Thank You for animals
53. Thank You for people much smarter than me
54. Thank You for shared responsibility
55. Thank You for miracles
56. Thank You for the little things
57. Thank You for healthy competition
58. Thank You for excercise
59. Thank You for life
60. Thank You for the cross
61. Thank You for the ressurection
62. Thank You for milk
63. Thank You for hobbies
64. Thank You for caring for me

Friday, March 2, 2012

Imago Dei, Beauty, Art, and Christianity

Christopher Morley, American novelist and poet, declared that "In every man's heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty." This semester I am taking an art appreciation class, which has led me to think extensively about the nature of art, beauty, form, etc...and consequently, the intersection of all of those things with my faith. Generally when I think of old Gothic cathedrals, stained glass, church art, etc...I think excess; I think of those that could have used the food, clothes, and shelter all of that money could have provided. Do not misunderstand me, I still think of those things and they still bother me. However, I have also begun to realize the importance of beauty and imagery in the Christian life. Although still qualifying and re-considering, I have tentatively concluded that contemporary Christian culture(specifically evangelical, considering that is my background) could benefit from a renewed sense of the importance of beauty, aesthetics, and imagery...

The concept of "beauty" is something many have discussed and attempted to define since the beginning of recorded history. However, there is something in beauty that simply defies any kind of categorical definition. Interestingly, there is still a surprising amount of consensus concerning what is "beautiful." As a follower of Christ, I think beauty could be very generally thought of as "a manifestation, whether in creation or conceptualization, of some aspect related to the goodness and perfection of the person and character of God." There is something transcendent in beauty, something that takes us outside of ourselves.Whether it is a beautiful spring sunrise, someone sacrificing something for another, or the smile of someone you love, beauty affects our lives and pushes us to consider things outside of our own sphere of self.

One specific quotation from C.S. Lewis related to this topic has been on my mind. He concluded at the end of one of his sermon's by telling the audience, "You have never met a mere mortal." Every human is made in the image of God, Imago Dei. That image is a beautiful thing. God is a God of beauty(as generally defined above). One of the portions of scripture I really appreciate in the Old Testament is Exodus 25-31. The artfulness, care, creativity, and beauty with which the Ark of the Covenant and Tabernacle are crafted is astounding. Moses received those plans, down to the minutest detail, from the very mouth of God. Not only that, but God had already gifted several individuals(Oholiab and Bezalel) to complete His creation.

Yet, just like everything else, art, beauty, and image can be abused. A chapter later, the Israelites are using those same abilities to construct a golden calf,  an idols that mocks the true beauty of God as opposed to extolling and exemplifying it. I think the possibility of this abuse is what has so distanced contemporary Christian culture from  art, and the creative community in general(although this is slowly beginning to change). In addition, associations with high church and icon worship have made many evangelicals wary of incorporating art and imagery into church architecture,decoration, and even their own personal lifestyles(although some of this is certainly related to the cost and necessity also). This distance is understandable and I think in some ways justified.

However, what if we Christians started incorporating beauty(in the holistic sense), art(as an idea of representing God's character and creation), and imagery(appropriately of course)back into our lifestyle and vocabulary? See, even now I am qualifying...Oh well...What if some of our Christian artists donated some of their works to their church bodies? What if paintings of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection once again adorned our churches? What if our houses had frescoes on the walls? Would that be so bad? Would it be  at all helpful to serve as a reminder of the beauty of our Creator in its many forms, or would it simply be costly, time consuming and routine? Were the soaring arches, flying buttresses, and intricate artwork of Gothic cathedrals ridiculous excess, or was there something in them that captures the transcendence and glory of God in a way our churches fail to do?

I certainly do not claim to have answers and I am not advocating spending millions of dollars to build a gothic cathedral. But, I do feel that after having interacted with these questions, my life must include more creativity, beauty, and art. What might this look like on a practical level? For one, I want to paint a wall in my future home with blackboard paint, so that the whole family can write down prayer requests, quotations, verses, funny sayings of the day, etc...I mean come on, what kid doesn't like the idea of writing on a wall(not to mention adults)? Also, what about a pottery wheel? Couldn't you make some of your own plates, bowls, etc(might try this with one of my art buddies here shortly at school)?Being a plasterer, I also love the idea of doing something with Frescoes in various rooms. This would obviously be more complicated because it is more permanent and has implications for guests, hospitality, permanence etc...not to mention the fact it is a fairly laborious process. But, if nothing else, the idea fascinates me. There are so many possibilities... But anyway, I've rambled on long enough, what are your thoughts/ideas???