“We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts…How can GOd entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things!”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer
[Excerpt from The Cry of the Soul by: Dan Allender/Tremper Longman III]
Often, our hope is simply naive. It simply trusts that things will soon work out as we desire. This is actually magical desire. Hope centered in a person puts our future in their hands, so that we trust them to accomplish what we cannot do ourselves. Inevitably, naive and human-centered hope leads to profound disillusionment. And when hope is shattered, it is usually too painful to hope again.
"So you might be asking…How do you have a relationship with a God you can’t see?"
Once upon a time I worked as a football chaplain under the tutelage of a man named Tony Eubanks. The story didn’t end well. But that’s not what we are here to talk about and no, i’m not still bitter. : ) Tony would say this everytime he talked about God, and his answer was…faith. Years after my last interaction with this man this question has been revived in my brain as very relevant to my studies at Mars Hill Graduate School. Here’s why.
The past 4 months of my life have been consumed with a fascination as to how people become who they are, and how people can be changed from that state if it is unhealthy. Two books (A General Theory of Love & Attachment in Psychotherapy), along with my Human Growth and Development class, have really brought an incredible amount of insight into both areas for me lately.
The basic idea that attachment theory proposes is that people become who they are through intimate relationships, and it is only through intimate relationships that people can be changed. Adding a little seasoning to this idea is the research that tells us that the part of our brain (the limbic system) that holds our emotions and our general understanding of ourselves and the world (and God) cannot be changed by anything other than relational encounters. The limbic system can’t be exchanged by telling it to do something like the other parts of the brain. Practically we see this when we try to communicate a reality to someone and they just don’t get it. How many times have you heard…”I understand that mentally, but I just don’t feel it”. That is because words can only reinforce the realities that we understand, not change them. This isn’t really theory here…more just biology and physiology.
This should be a little provocative because if it is true then our sermon methods need to be revisited among other things…
So if the only way that people change is through intimate relationships where past models of relating can be redeemed through replacement experiences, then how do we become more like a God who we can’t actually see or touch relationally? To the person who hasn’t “tasted and seen” God, all he seems to offer are…his words. So can I actually become more like Christ or do i just become more like the followers who I pattern my faith after?
Connecting point—this is the same question that I ended with on my first post about running towards or away from God.
This post is long enough…but i’m curious to hear how you might resolve this tension. I’ll post tomorrow with the way in which i’ve begun to understand this complicated crossroads.
About a month ago at our tuesday night housechurch meeting, my roomate Scott led an interesting discussion. After prefacing this question with some personal narrative he asked the group what they did when in relation to God/Christ when they did something wrong.
Do you run to God, or do you run away from him? (you should answer as well…if you know what’s good for you! muahaha!)
A combination of things were happening in my life when GodScott (I will give them both credit) decided to drop this little mind bomb down on me. What ensued was pretty incredible. We all began answering this question in different ways-some ran away, some froze (not knowing what to do), some ran towards God. My answer went something like this:
“When I feel like God is going to come through for me I run towards him, trusting that I will be taken care of; when i don’t believe God is going to come through for me I seek other figures that I think will.”
(I’m going to introduce a new feature here on my blog that will be used frequently: Knox’s brain. When you see this feature i’m going to tell you what went through my brain.You’re welcome.)
Brain: Hmm…that’s interesting, I wonder if this reaction corresponds to the way I react to people when something happens? I’m going to ask them…
I asked everyone and sure enough, we all responded to people in the same way. This little predictor was dead on. However, being deeply steeped in attachment theory i was able to notice that it wasn’t my relationship with God that caused me to react this way with people, but vice versa. I acted this way with God because of the relational experiences i’d had over the course of my life.
Brain: This makes so much sense to me…
I thought about a relationship i’d had in which the person was sometimes a source of pleasure and sometimes a source of pain. When I trusted them and believed they would be good to me i ran towards them, when i didn’t trust them i ran away. and thus it played out with God.
food for thought: As Christians we use lingo like “Jesus Loves You”, or “all you need to do is be in a personal relationship with God”. The problem with this is that a person who has never been shown love, or never been in a healthy relationship CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT WE ARE SAYING. In fact, the ONLY reason why we can is because at some point, somebody modeled this for us.
Brain: So is it possible for me to understand a God that is not actually just the sum of my personal experience? Is he more than just the sum of my personal experience?