Truth That Sings 2: The Reckoning

Well, here goes the second installment in the “Truth That Sings” category, almost an entire year later. I sure know how to build on momentum, don’t I? Just to refresh, the whole idea of Truth That Sings is summed up by two quotes I came across in the last few years that solidified a few things I have always regarded as crucial to my understanding of Christianity, but always had a difficult time putting into words. The first is a concluding remark from Oxford professor Alister McGrath in an excellent book on the history of heresy in the church:

“The real challenge is for the churches to demonstrate that orthodoxy is imaginatively compelling, emotionally engaging, aesthetically enhancing, and personally liberating. We await this development with eager anticipation.”

As someone who is called, in various mediums, to proclaim the orthodox Christian faith, I have to emphatically agree: this is the real challenge. In so many ways the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ has become a product in our consumer-based culture. It has been packaged, shrink-wrapped, adorned with a plethora of disposable branded logos, and worst of all; processed into a predictable mush of inoffensive blandness. Ancient holy mysteries are reduced to pithy slogans. That terrifyingly numinous chasm between Creator and created becomes glossed-over with the reductionist anti-language of soul-crushing utility and mind-numbing hype. God’s great redemptive drama is reduced to a dry set of boring principles encoded in pages and pages of tedious “theology” resembling legal documents we usually have to pay trained specialists to decipher. Unfortunately, this is the situation across the board in American Christianity, to various degrees. The challenge is to cut through the crusted layers of American civil religion and bring out the “truth that dazzles gradually” in the words of Emily Dickinson. In a culture of instant gratification that has formed us to expect everything at our fingerprints with a point and a click, the idea of truth being something that we must be slowly and deliberately shaped to experience is offensive. But even a cursory glance at the New Testament shows us that God’s truth is just this way.

Jesus often equates the Kingdom of God with seeds being planted. Good “heart-soil” plus good seeds, plus nourishment and time equals lasting growth. In Mark 4:26-27, Jesus even points out the hidden mystery of Kingdom growth. We don’t understand exactly how it happens, much like farmer in the parable doesn’t see what is happening away from sight, under the surface. In the New Testament, we are never directed to “get a handle on” the gospel or shrink it down to our size. It’s as big as God’s love for us. There is no shrinking it down to a manageable size; we are directed to “grasp” what is the height, the depth, the width and the breadth of it. We are directed to be filled with all the fullness of Christ. We are always called to increase; never to reduce or “boil down” the gospel. If we communicate the gospel in short-hand (and we must), we should never encourage the hearer to stagnate in that reduction of the gospel, but to branch out, dive in, explore and discover the spine-tingling endlessness of it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most electrifying shock of beautiful truth the world has ever known. When it is unleashed without human constraints, it pierces the heart and enlarges the imagination. And that is because, in historical orthodox Christianity, truth is not a “thing”; truth is a relationship between three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three passionate beings who are one in essence. There is a lot of mystery in this reality, but this is the most basic teaching of Christianity: the triune God.

If the most basic teaching of Christianity is that God exists in an eternal relationship of overflowing love, truth cannot possibly be a “thing,” much less an impersonal thing. The second quote that originally inspired this Truth That Sings series is the following by Larry Crabb, in his newest book on the Bible, “66 Love Letters”:

“Well, do you want to learn facts you can organize into a system of truth that will let you feel smug in the belief that you’re right? Or do you want to discover truth that sings?”

Something about that phrase “truth that sings” clicked with me immediately. I think it’s because I have always equated the purest form of truth with something called objectivity. “Objective truth” has always been a corrective to an overly subjective form of truth that can easily descend into mere preferences disguised as dogma. Unfortunately, this can also happen in the minds of those who proclaim that their version of truth is the most objective because it is dry, cold and overly precise. They may simply have a preference for dry, cold and precise things and therefore assume that this presentation of truth is the most pure and objective. Straight lines, sharp corners, a bed made in the military style, etc. Those who have an affinity for administrative activities might fall into this category. That’s not a bad thing at all, because God is a God of order. Creation itself is defined by the deliberate elimination of chaos. So, in a lot of ways, we need the systematic. A wise professor I have sat under recently put it this way, “Just because something is tedious doesn’t mean it isn’t important.” True words. BUT…

This isn’t the deepest level of truth, according to Christianity. The deepest dimension of truth is the love of God. The love that the members of the Trinity have for each other and the love that overflows out and into creation. The love that created the sun, moon and stars. The love that created hot summer nights and pristine winter mornings. The love that spoke you into existence. The love that intently “knit” you and I together in whatever hidden place there is before we appear mysteriously in the womb as a distinct heartbeat. An erratic rhythm matching no other. The love of God is the deepest truth there is, and the love of God is what Christianity is all about at its deepest level. I know there are strains of Christianity that separate and systematize God’s love and His justice, but I see no way to put God on a table and dissect Him thusly. God is love, which means His truest nature is loving. If God is angry, He is lovingly angry. If He is just, He is lovingly just. If He is holy, He is lovingly holy. To dissect God and mete out His “attributes” in a dry, calculating fashion is to make God abstract. Nowhere does the Bible do this. The Bible presents God as relentlessly passionate and personal. Any step we take in the opposite direction is unfaithful to the witness of scripture. To know what is the height, depth and width of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord is to make the exhilarating discovery that God’s deepest nature is an infinite ocean of raging love. There is no way to overstate that, but we often understate it for the sake of “systematizing” truth.

Why do we systematize truth? We need to systematize truth to an extent. We are created to separate, organize and name reality. That is the image of God in us. I love Christian apologetics. It engages the mind with the glory of God. But there is more to the image of God in us. There is another level to truth that cannot be reduced or labeled. It is too holy. Any reduction of it amounts to idolatry. Moses at the burning bush taking off his shoes and receiving a summons that scared him to death. A thundering voice from Sinai that made the people of Israel beg Moses to ask God to stop talking to them. I used to naively pray to God to take me out of a nice, comfortable faith and throw me into the “whipping winds of Mount Sinai.” I was a fool to pray such a prayer. Sinai is the fearful place in which the irreducibility of God’s holiness was manifested in all its fearsomeness. Sinai was the place where it was revealed that God’s very existence is a terrifying prospect. Because we can’t explain God. We can’t understand God. We can’t “get a handle” on God, no matter how much “God-language” we use, He will always transcend it. If God spoke to us in His native tongue or appeared to us as He is with no buffers or filters, it would kill us. “No man can see God and live.” We can’t tame God. “Aslan is not a tame lion.” When I refer to God as wild in subsequent posts, I do not mean He is uncouth and devoid of manners, I mean He is the kind of God that when you build a temple in His honor, will enter in a rage and begin turning over the tables. Literally. We have attempted again and again to domesticate the God of the Bible, to “declaw the Lion of Judah,” but this is the God of the unexpected. We’ve just been through the Easter season, where we celebrate the most unexpected, unbelievable event of all: the resurrection. In the words of Frederick Buechner, Easter means “we can never nail Him down, not even if the nails we use are real and the thing we nail Him to is a cross”.

So as I continue in this Truth That Sings series, I am attempting to explore a theology which does not reduce or trivialize the gospel. I do so with much trepidation, because of the current theological climate. There is so much boiling rage out there and suspicious minds. If you misword something, you might be labeled a heretic. If you hint at something or refuse to condemn an idea with a certain veracity, you will get an ugly label from the doctrine police. But these are risks anyone takes who attempts to speak of God. Our puny brains can only go so far. There is so much intricacy to His artisanship, so much depth to His nature, so much complexity to the revealed story so far… and yet words must be spoken; life must be communicated – God must be reckoned with. So I would ask for prayer as I explore and discover the beautiful truth of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ in the medium of written language. This is a form of working out my salvation with fear and trembling, and at its essence, that’s what all theology is.

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~ by shardsofeternity on May 18, 2011.

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