Friday, December 09, 2016

Other Christians

I am in one of those phases when other Christians are puzzling me.  A work friend, a wonderful woman of around 60 who I have known for years said.  "We're doing a study on The Secret Place Of The Most High."  I thought it must be a new book or audio series.  She has always been "into prophecy," and those works often have odd titles like that.  But no, she and her evening Bible study at church are studying that topic. "Aren't you interested in knowing what the secret place of the most high is?"

Well, frankly, no.  It seems to be a poetic statement that means more in its original context than here.  Looking it up, it is sometimes synonymous with "shelter" or "hiding place."  Lovely stuff, really.  I can buy into that image of God as shelterer, rescuer, protector.  I have sought that myself at times, especially in dark hours.  But that's it.  I don't see it as meaning anything more.  I wonder if the word "secret" suggests that you are going to learn a secret about God that most people don't know. I mistrust such things.  They often go hand-in-hand with a fascination with prophecy in the sense of interpreting world events.  They smack of gnosticism, an unhealthy trend.

The small group that I am in has chosen to study - well, I won't name the writer.  But it's a sort of evangelical mysticism about knowing the will of God that claims to be entirely biblical but just seems like cliches to me.  I see all around me that lots of Christians like this approach.  Very nice people, very sincere.  But they seem to be speaking a language about knowing God that only they understand. Being skeptical, I always think "if this method were so much better, wouldn't this crew just stand out in the churches as the great saints who bore much fruit? Wouldn't even a 1% increase in God-contact just blow everyone else out of the water, to those who had eyes to see?"  Yet it is not so.

I will risk a judgement that is probably unfair to many, even if there is some truth in it in a general way. They seem to evangelise well for mysticism, to others who also like this sort of Presence of God focus.  The people who like this approach see those who articulate their love for it as very inspiring saints.  But that's not the same thing as evangelising for the faith as received, or understanding Jesus. Mysticism has an honored tradition in church history (though I will note, not much in the New Testament), including some who bore much fruit. It may simply be my lack that I don't get it, a flaw of fear or intellectualisation or something. But I've been at this for a while and I have to say I don't see more fruit - and maybe less. Plus, I can at least imagine that it chases some seekers away who don't see any Jesus in it or can't relate.  Can we talk about whether we lose more than we gain with this?  But the complaint that worries me most is that it is simply a waste of time.

I read up on how Jesus prayed, and I think attempts to equate his actions with Quiet Time or being "present" with God are forced. His approach to knowing the will of the Father isn't quite the same - not the same words, not the same focus.  They are accurate enough that you might not notice that they are only half-truths. Yet I think they are.

Full Disclosure:  Whenever we get even close to that sort of God as Reverie I think of the book Hinds Feet On High Places, an appalling book that was popular when I first became a Christian. Listening to people enthuse about it almost pushed me away into some back row of the church, so I can perhaps too-easily imagine someone walking out the door altogether.  I see it still has 5 stars averaged over 1,000 reviews at Amazon.  There is a type of Christian who clearly loves this stuff.  I'm just not one of them, and I don't understand those who do. I am also deeply suspicious of their absolute assurance that they are on the right track, and if they have not yet obtained, it is because they haven't done enough of this. Nothing seems to cause them to wonder if they might have it wrong.

You know how that last worries me.


Texan99 said...

It feels to me like treating the Bible as a book of magic spells. I also think that anything that distracts me from my plain duty to love and obey God is simply a temptation to be resisted. Sure I'd rather solve puzzles and be in the know regarding a great and exclusive secret, but it's not what God told the prophets to tell me to do, and it's not what Jesus constantly enjoined everyone to do. He never encouraged us to get caught up in arcana, quite the opposite.

I won't claim any of it is out-and-out wrong, any more than it's wrong to study any arcane field, but I do think it's a mistake to confuse it with learning to give our hearts to God in order to be closer to Him. He's not a mechanical lock we can force open by being clever enough.

Sam L. said...

I'm missing the connection to/of female deer.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I couldn't remember which minor prophet, but it's Habakkuk 3:19. "The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights." The book is an allegory of learning to not be afraid.

james said...

As part of a lesson on spiritual disciplines (the "study") part, I asked the men in the group to contribute a list of books they had read that they thought useful, with any comments they had. I collected and distributed the list. These aren't, by and large, spring chickens--maybe a third are substantially older than I, and another third are about my age. Many returned only 1 suggestion, and many of the replies were "lite" books. These are men with quite a bit of experience and often wisdom--but apparently about half of them weren't frequent readers.

I thought Mere Christianity was a very accessible book, but 25 years ago one fellow I recommended it to said he found it a hard slog.

I wonder if part of the interest in things like Hinds Feet(*) is that they are simple. Simple to read--no need for the extra background you'd need for Imitation of Christ--and uncomplicated concepts.

Pilgrim's Progress seemed simple to read, but (at least with Parts 1 and 2 together) pretty far-reaching.

(*) I'm guessing: I haven't read that one, nor the Prayer of Jabez. Wikipedia suggests that it borrows somewhat from Pilgrim's Progress.