Memorizing the dictionary

Knowing about God is not nearly enough to do much of anything fruitful besides confuse someone about what God actually wants from us. I understand that is a weighted statement, but sometimes we quantify our proximity to God, goodness, and in general, our affiliation with a specific religious movement based upon our perceived enlightenment. That acquired knowledge gives a false sense of relationship and proximity. It becomes dangerous if we ever truly desire to venture into actual relationship with God.

I have played the drums since I was in fifth grade. I am consistently fidgeting and so perhaps drumming was always a natural calling. I still play today and am greatly influenced by plenty of drummers and musicians.  Although those in other realms of the music world critique him, Travis Barker, current drums of Blink 182, has always been my greatest musical influence. I know tons about Travis’ musical styling’s, his upbringing, his family, his relationships. I own his signature drumsticks. I know that He loves drum core drumming and that he has a thing for classic Cadillac’s. The list could go on and on. I know more than the average person about Travis Barker.

As my knowledge grows about him, my admiration can also grow and expand. It would be foolish however for me to say that I know Travis Barker. You would demand a picture or video, perhaps a copy of a letter or email exchange to prove my relationship and friendship with him. No matter how much knowledge I gave you about him, I could not prove relationship from knowledge. It is the same with God. He doesn’t demand knowledge; he doesn’t much care if you could win Jeopardy: Bible Edition because of your fact accumulation. What he asks of us is relationship, and out of that relationship is where actual knowledge of God comes. If you have ever wondered why Christians you encounter may seem to act contrary to which Jesus is, perhaps it is because far to many of us have acquired quite a bit of knowledge about him, but don’t actually know him. 

One of the most remarkable stories of transformation from knowledge to relationship is found in Acts chapter 9. We encounter a man named Saul who, from everything we scholars can gather, was a brilliant man of his time. He was a religious leader in Jerusalem and a rising star of the academic/theological world.  Saul’s significance was such that he was trusted as one of the major figureheads in exterminating the new Christian movement following Jesus’ Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. We read that followers of Jesus had begun to rally more and more followers, expanding the Christian movement at a rapid pace. The Jewish leaders, sensing that the major threat had clearly not been eliminated, began to persecute Christians. A few chapters earlier in Acts we read of Stephen, the first person killed because of his Christian faith, and we read that Saul was present and approved of the killing.

So here is Saul again. The very first thing said about him is that he is still “breathing out murderous threats.” He gets permission to head to Damascus from Jerusalem, to try to eliminate what could be one of the last Christian strongholds.  His mission was simple, he was to go and take anyone, men, women, and children, who was a follower of the Way and bring them as prisoners back to Jerusalem.

What is so remarkable about Saul’s story at this point is that he believed that he believed he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. He knew the Scriptures, likely had many of them memorized, had devoted his life to the people of God, was going to study God and scripture for the rest of his life, yet Paul marched on to eliminate the movement of God because he thought that was what God wanted. Crazy right? He knew so much about God and yet his mission and life was acting in direct opposition to God. Why? Because he didn’t really know God, he only knew about him.

Clive Staples Lewis was a young Englishmen who grew up in a church going family. Eventually he began to see the Christian life more as duty and chores however. He later would describe his feelings toward God as, “being every angry with God for not existing.” Lewis lived much of his early adulthood as an Atheist, not finding it conceivable to reconcile a God with the way the world actually was.  He was a brilliant man, a professor at Oxford University, and he was successful by most standards. He was a man of wisdom and intellect. He knew a lot, a lot about God or his lack of existence, and a lot about life. Certainly he was not a person who could be criticized for converting to Christianity on account of great tragedy or false hope. He was however progressively persuaded by the conversation of friends, specifically J.R.R. Tolkien, an Oxford colleague. He wrote in Surprised by Joy of his encounter with God that one night he finally, “gave in, admitted that God was God, knelt and prayed.” Following his conversion he shifted his work to write extensively on the Christian faith indirectly in works like the Chronicles of Narnia, and directly in such books as The Great Divorce, and Mere Christianity. His works have been translated into more than 30 languages and distributed around the world.  In 2008 Time Magazine ranked him 11th on their list of 50 greatest British authors since 1945. He is considered to be one of the most influential Christian voices of the 20th century.

As Saul marched toward Damascus, he too had an encounter with God. He was stopped in his tracks, confused, and temporarily blinded. It is ironic to read that the first question such a great theological scholar asks when encountering Jesus is “who are you?” He did not recognize God, even though he knew so much about him. He actually has an introduction to God. Following their brief interaction, Jesus gives Paul a simple instruction, “Go.” And Paul obeys.

At the same time, God encounters a follower living in the city named Ananias. He is told that Paul is coming and he should go meet him and help him. God tells Ananias, “Go,” and yet the man who is already a follower of God lists of a page of excuses as to why Saul is beyond hope. The man who just met God for the first time went but the man who was a follower hesitates to follow.

Eventually we read that Ananias meets Saul and it begins Saul’s mission to spread the new of a relationship with God to the entire world.  But it is interesting to see the response these two men give. God call’s them both to “go” but only one immediately obeys. God calls us all to go, somewhere, to something, to someone. Imagine if Ananias had not shown up for Saul, who later became Paul, planted many of the initial churches in the first century world and wrote the second most amounts of pages in the New Testament. Sometimes it’s our knowledge, sometimes its our fear, sometimes its a combination that causes us to resist where God is calling us to go. But he calls us nonetheless, and he promises that if we know him, not just about him, but truly pursue experiencing, loving, and following God (and allowing him to love, pursue, and experience us) then through his grace he will call us t do great things.

Grace is perhaps one of the most radical ideas, if not the most radical idea, in the history of the world. Why would one believe that God, not by punishment, not coercion, but by love? C.S. Lewis was a knowledgeable person, but it wasn’t until grace pierced his soul that he became what he is know for today. Paul was a great success story, but before the grace that God could turn a Christian murderer into a Christian evangelist,  Paul was the villain, not the hero.  This isn’t just a shallow love, restrained by parameters, tasks that must be met, deeds that must be done, money that must be given, but by a love that is deeper and wider than we could ever imagine, love that surpasses our knowledge and ability to grasp it (Eph 3:18-19).

 When I was younger my grandpa told me that I should memorize the dictionary. “The person who knows the most words is the smartest person in the world, “he told me. Whether or not that is true, and even if I did memorize the book, I would look foolish to claim that I had a relationship with the dictionary. I guarantee no one would believe me to be the smartest person I the world. It is the same with God. We are called to participate in this relationship with God. He calls us to go. Had Paul resisted who knows what would have happened with the initial movement of the Christian church? Had Ananias hesitated who know what would have happened with Paul. Had Lewis not gone from atheist to Christian writer he would have denied the world and church with such significant contribution. Where is God calling you to go? Why are you resisting? What will the world miss if you won’t go?

 

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