Thursday, August 26, 2010

Get it?

Electronic switches.... millions of them, all very small. And something about a lot of 1’s and 0’s. It’s like this: 10010100000111110001 10011 11110 1000011 0110111111110 111000000000111 000100111100111 111110 11110000000 00010001 00011111 011110 111001 000011 01101111100010100 100011100010

Get it?

Yeah, not really. Of course, that’s about all of an explanation I can get when asking people who know to explain how computers work. Now, I don’t know about you, but sometimes an explanation of what something is or how it works is almost worse than having no explanation at all. At times it’s just better not to ask.

Some things are notoriously difficult to explain. An early Christian writer once wrote: “If no one asks me what time is, I know. But, if I try to explain it to the one who asks, I don’t know.” There is a sense in which this thing we’re calling ‘spiritual life’ is like that. If no one asks me, I know. But if you ask me to explain it, I don’t know. You know?

Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that a full understanding of what it is can only be had through direct, personal experience. Many things are like this. If you’ve never seen the color blue it doesn’t help an iota if I say: “Well, I’m glad you asked. Blue is a sensation that emerges in the human subject when the retina is stimulated by exposure to light frequencies in the range of 631 - 668 terahertz.”

See, it was better not to ask. It’s better just to have a look at blue.

Or, suppose you’d never laid eyes upon an animal. Never. Not a one. If I gave you a stack of schematic diagrams charting out everything from fine micro-structures in the cell to the big features, would that do it? Nah, it’s better just to spend some time with a lion.

I think spiritual life is something like this. It can only be fully known if you’re on the inside. It’s true. Nevertheless, having said that, there are certain true things that we can, indeed must say about it.

From the vantage point of the Bible, the answer to the question “What is spiritual life?” may be summed up in a word - God. God is the beginning and highest aspiration of the spiritual life. Put differently, true life, the life man was made for, is existence carried out in relation to God. It is, more pointedly, life lived in right relation to God.

If this rings at all true to you, it’s because, in one sense, this life is man’s native element. It’s where you belong. If, however, it doesn’t compute, it’s because it is also the most foreign of things. Exiled from this our true life, reports of home fall on our ears as an alien sound.

To be sure, there is a sense in which this life we are speaking of is the only authentic life that is. That is to say, Biblically speaking, whatever man is when he is alienated from his Maker is not even life, but a species of death.

Now, what you make of this will largely depend upon your thoughts on God. This is where it gets interesting. When I say that the highest goal, and indeed the great reward of spiritual life is God himself, this will not go over well unless you already know who God really is. That is, unless you already possess true knowledge of him.

And - follow me here - it is just exactly this, embracing God as he truly is, knowing and being known, that is the very definition of the spiritual life. Jesus said something like this when he said that eternal life is the knowledge of God. “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) He is the great One whom to know is immortality and fullness forever.

Having said that, if we have a distorted or skewed understanding of God, we will never come to him for said life. That is, if we only know him from the perspective of one alienated from him, only know him as judge and adversary, we will not come. First we must come to know his invincible power to reconcile us to himself, to reconcile those of us who are wandering in a far country, far from home.


  1. It is difficult to be far from home, wandering in a far country, but that can easily be solved by buying a ticket and boarding a plane. Every time I get on a plane I put my trust and my life in the hands of a pilot whom I have never seen nor ever talked to. I am confident that s/he will take me home safely and have yet to be disappointed. Is this what my relationship with God should be like? How do I know Him and be known? How do I let go and simply put my trust in Him as I do in a pilot?

  2. Great question. I hope to address this more fully in the next post or so. For now, let me say that there are many ways that God has and continues to make himself known to us. As someone else has said, "He is there, and He is not silent." This self-disclosure of God finds its greatest fulfillment in the person and work of Christ, who was God with and among us. And, beautifully, Christ is not only the one who makes God known to us, but represents us before God. But, more on this later. Again, great question.

  3. In my experience with this spiritual journey, the "letting go" aspect of faith is the most difficult. Perceptions of our own reality can vary dramatically, influenced by a million and one external forces acting and reacting. Yet the true reality of God is a constant and He is "the same today, yesterday and forever" (Heb 13:8). Our daily tragedies and triumphs in this mortal skin will eventually give way into an eternal union that we cannot yet fathom- the hope of Glory.


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