Stabbed By the Spirit

Let’s face it, we all think we’re pretty smart. We would not believe what we do unless we were convinced that it’s right. We would not go to church, read the Bible, hold certain dogmas and doctrines, etc. unless we were sure about their veracity. I like to think, read, and talk about theology, ecclesiology, Christian practice, and other topics connected with God. My views matter to me and I have invested a lot of time into them. And yet a bomb dropped on me this morning when I read Isaiah 29:13-14.

In a message assuring the destruction of Jerusalem, a city that had ceased to listen to God, Isaiah proclaimed,

“And so the Lord says, ‘These people say they are mine. they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. And their worship of me amounts to nothing more than human laws learned by rote. Bexause of this, I will do wonders among these hypocrites. I will show that human wisdom is foolish and even the most brilliant people lack understanding.” NLT

There were two things that screamed to me from this passage.

1. How the Spirit works
In a college class on reading the Bible, I remember seeing the neat diagram that showed a little stick man on one side and Bible on the other. There was one arrow connecting the stick man to the Bible, as he needs to study the Biblical world, and then another arrow that represents the application of the “timeless principles” of scripture to his context. What seems to be lacking, among other acknowledgements of the infinitely complex interactions that occur when we read Scripture, is the role of the Spirit.

I have drawn my own diagrams that attempt to include the Spirit, the context of the original reader that he can never quite escape, as well as the context of the scriptures that we will never quite understand completely. Yet I think that this is just another foolish attempt to understand something that is a divine mystery. There was something that happened today that I cannot explain in which inspired and truthful words on a page were used by God to challenge my intellectual pride. I am so limited and finite. There is no way that I could ever claim to understand how God works.

My diagram of the “Bible reading process” now would be more like a dust cloud or comic book explosion with all of the interpretive elements flying around within it helter skelter, somehow interacting in a way only known to God, communicating God’s message as the Spirit uses the Bible to thump me off of my intellectual high horse.

2. Where Our Hearts Belong
The other observation was that we can place a lot of things in the place of worshipping Christ. As Isaiah warns, we can talk about God and do things for God while not giving him our hearts. How we do we know when something has usurped God’s place? One thought I have is to remove it from your Christian life and see how you do.

An example of my own: My wife was given a prophetic word that she would marry a “David”. It certainly made her aware of a guy’s first name in social settings! But she ended up marrying me. an Ed, not a David . . . technically. But I’m a worshipper. God just seems to use me whether alone or with people when leading worship. My acoustic guitar is one of my dearest possessions. It’s right up there with the Bible in worshipping God for me. Worshipping has been a tremendously large portion of my Christianity, but it’s not the reason why I am a Christian. It’s a means to an end. And lately, God has uplugged this connection point to him. It seems that silent meditation has been a major way to meet with God. Perhaps I had become so attached to “worship music” that I needed a break from it.

Other issues when we get into doctrine can be a bit dicey. I’ve heard stories of Christian students at Christian colleges who openly wept in biology class when they learned about evolution. With the debate aside for now, does our relationship with Christ really depend on the process of creation? Does the Bible have to be interpreted in just one manner in order for it to be true?

Luther claimed that the church stands and falls on the doctrine of justification by faith through grace. (and here is where I duck from all of the stones). But does it really? I like and believe in Luther’s formulation of this doctrine, but I think the church stands and falls on Christ. Did I become a Christian because I intellectually liked Luther’s justification formula better than my Catholic one? Is this doctrine my reason for remaining in the faith? Not at all.

I am inseparably woven into Christ. I am a part of him. I’ve tried to go my own way and do my own thing, but somehow he graciously holds onto me. Christ’s presence in my life is a reality that I simply cannot deny. If we find out a 100 years from now that Luther could have been more precise or accurate in his formulation of this doctrine, my relationship with Christ is still secure. Truth is essential and important. No one would deny that. Yet it is the God who gives that truth who must be supreme over all.

So while I choose to believe in Luther’s doctrine on justification, I also believe that some Catholics have equal access to God. Though it may be more difficult to find Christ in some Catholic churches (at least as my experience has been), I think that dogmas or doctrines (no matter how central they are) cannot precede Christ.

Perhaps this relates in a way to Josh’s post on denominations. Let’s face it, we can proof-text scriptures all day (the way that all Christians do most of the time) and claim “case closed” on our arguments because of the wealth of scripture behind our views. But should not search the scriptures for life, we search the scriptures because they are a means to Christ. The scope of the entire story of scripture is that humanity turned away from God and that God has provided a restored relationship through Christ. There’s the good news. God is advancing into our lives and our world to bring his rule, a restored relationship with his creation.

I pray that nothing in this world or in our minds would ever supplant the supreme place of Christ. Though creeds and doctrines are important, they cannot take the place of Christ in our hearts.

One thought on “Stabbed By the Spirit

  1. nate hulfish

    As you have joined my conversation (both via Josh and through your comments on my blog), I figure it’s my job to bring it full circle and join your conversation. Thanks for your thoughts here (and in other places)…they are both helpful and encouraging…it can only be the Holy Spirit when those who haven’t crossed paths in about 4 years end up having the same conversation.

    One comment/idea on the multitude of good stuff that you have written here…

    I believe I was actually in class with you when the pretty little stick man and his studying of/application of the Bible was drawn. I remember being very frustrated and thinking that studying the Bible must include more than that. I too remember wondering where the Holy Spirit fit in. Where was the mystery? And what about the context? Isn’t that just as important as present application for understanding the Bible? I too have attempted some diagrams to fix the problem…but more and more have become convinced that we can’t fit God into a box or a diagram or a set of bullet points and expect that those things will help us figure him out. He doesn’t want to be figured out…he wants to know and be known. He wants relationship. It works the same way in my marriage. My wife doesn’t want to be figured out…she wants to be known…she wants to know me…and I’ll never be able to figure her out anyway! I accept that and try to know her intimately.

    I like the idea of a dust cloud or comic book explosion “diagram”. I like the idea of an idea/analogy over a traditional diagram. The one that I’ve been slowly developing over the course of the last 5 or 6 years is a little different but close…let me know your thoughts…

    The two missing key elements for me when it comes to the “Bible reading process” have to do with 1) the role of the Holy Spirit and 2) the context of the Scriptures. The same to elements that you’ve described. The aspects of mystery and setting are just as important as the stick man and the book.

    My “diagram” (idea/analogy) goes like this…

    Bible reading is like light.

    We need light, we rely on it daily, we interact with it.

    And light affects us. It enters into our lives…it reveals, it exposes, it illuminates.

    It’s a two way street…we rely on it…it affects us (note the similarity between this and the stick man/ book diagram).

    But here’s the thing about light. It cannot be understood. It cannot be figured out. We exist in relationship to it, but there is more to it than us interacting with it and it affecting us like stick men.

    There has to be mystery (the Holy Spirit) and there has to be setting (the context of Scripture).

    The Mystery

    What is light? How does it work? Is it a wave? Is it a particle? Honestly, the evidence supports that is behaves like both. That is a mystery. Different people may take different approaches, but they each must concede that they just don’t know how it works. It is a mystery.

    In the same way as we interact with and are affected by the Bible, we must concede that the way it works (via the Holy Spirit) is a mystery…we all may take different approaches to our understanding…but in the end we need to concede that we just don’t know. And that’s okay…what we need to agree on is that the Holy Spirit is playing a role (mysterious as it is).

    The Setting

    How does light travel? Scientists tell us that light travels in a straight line. But that’s a bit of a misnomer. Light only travels in a straight line when it’s in space…unencumbered by anything. In our atmosphere it’s different. It bends, it reflects, it splits into a prism (do you remember watching the Flyers on Prism?).

    In a vacuum, we can expect light to look and act a certain way. And it is important to study it in its context. In the atmosphere, it’s different…it acts different, it looks different, it plays by different rules (so to speak)…but it’s still light.

    That’s how the Bible is as well. In its original context/setting we can expect it to look and act a certain way. That is crucially importan and needs to be examinedt. But as it enters our “atmosphere” it often ends up different…it acts different, it looks different, it plays by different rules…but it’s still the Bible.

    Well that’s my thoughts…my “diagram”…please add to, take away from, continue to explore…it’s far from accurate or complete…

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