This iteration of The Lamb's War, Micah Bales' outstanding vehicle, centered as it was around this quotation from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, really spoke to me.
[People] are told they ought to love God. They cannot find any such feeling in themselves. What are they to do? The answer is the same as before. Act as if you did. Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings. Ask yourself, 'if I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?' When you have found the answer, go and do it. - C.S. Lewis,Mere Christianity, pg. 132
I was one time thrown off--way, way off--by this thinking error, which did not take me to green pastures and still waters. It led me through rapids and into the desert. Getting back has been a journey.
I saw descriptions of a direct experience with God, much like my own, validated in Protestant scripture and theology, in the Protestant notions that have come to be incorporated into Quaker faith and practice. I therefore came to the conclusion (thinking, thinking) that everything else described in orthodox (mere) Christianity had a validity equal to that of my experience.
In for a dime, as it is written, in for a dollar.
The Quaker cliche that spiritual experience is validated by scripture led me to the thinking error that spiritual experience requires scriptural validation but that scriptures do not require the validation of spiritual experience.
In for a dime, it is written, in for a dollar.
Lewis says fake it, act on what you can reason from theology tells you is true, until you make it, until your experience shows you it's real. If your experience never validates the theology/ideology then keep right on distrusting your experience and keep right on trying to live in the "reality" the keepers of your theology recommends to you. Even though your experience never aligns with notions about the nature, character and plans of God (say the certified smart interpreters of this theology/ideology) do not distrust it, do not lay it down in favor of what you are hearing from God. Who are you, anyway, to be hearing things from God?
That did not work out for me, at least it didn't move me toward realizing the fruits of the spirit in my own life. In fact, it worked the other way around. I accepted orthodox Protestant notions--inferences humans have made--conclusions to which they have jumped--based on their own experience with God or on second-hand descriptions from others of their experiences with God. These inferences (built on other inferences), came to me in the same package as the description of "that still small voice" that I recognized and raised those notions to a level of validity that was not proved in my experience.
These orthodox notions completely subverted the experiential leading of God in my life and left me, and many like me, signing on to notions such as "the teachings of Jesus do not require us to help the 'undeserving' poor." Most notably, to me, was the idea that the church should line up to support the wars waged by the powers against one another.
No matter how many times I crucified Christ when It showed up to lead me out of that mess, no matter how many times I buried Christ in the tomb of my heart so as to raise theological notions to lead my life, sooner or I later I heard the rock rolling away and found myself, face to face, with Reality (AKA Truth). Could this, and not all the theology, be Reality?
From the time of that opening I began to "deconstruct" my "Christian" "beliefs," winnowing them down to what I could say from my own own experience. I can say that God deals with me as scripture describes David (and many others, including Jesus) being dealt with, at times. I can say that by going with that, and not resisting it, I more closely resemble the image of Galatians 5:22-26 and Matthew 5-7. That's what I can say.
When C.S. Lewis talks up what comes down to "What Would Jesus Do?" he loses me completely. It' a trap that lured me into relying on drawing rational/rationalizing conclusions about my moral choices based on second hand, hearsay notions (reasonings) about the nature, purpose and plans of God. Did Augustine really not hear God's voice when he thought out the theology of "just war?" Or was he relying on his own reasoning, compromised by the values and power he and the church had, anointed as they were by the powers Christ, it is written, came to destroy? When Augustine spoke was he seeing himself and the church as the power behind the thrones? Was he clueless that the thrones were the power behind him and his church?
Am I the only person who ever noticed how many times "interpretation of scripture" actually rationalizes evil, allowing us to continue in the states of mind from which that evil springs in our lives?
This I can say: I have lived in and been delivered from this trap.
The other thinking error from which I have been delivered that came to mind in reading Micah's blog was the necessity to work my own way through the "dry periods"--the times that God seems so far away that I could not find God.
I remember a line from a play (Inherit The Wind) in which it was said of someone that he was a good man who got lost looking for God too high up and too far away. It was both liberating and edifying to realize that the absence of burning bushes is not a sign of the absence of God. It's a still small voice. It caused an earthquake in my soul, but it didn't sound like a freight train, all the time. And it certainly didn't, and still doesn't, leave me feeling all warm and loved all the time.
In line with that, I remember telling a Presbyterian pastor, after a Bible study, that sometimes it's hard to hear God for all the scripture ringing on my ears, for all the interpretations of scripture available to occupy and distract me when I should be listening to God. I can always find a way to avoid the hard and beautiful stuff by throwing a couple of Bible verses together and going out for a spiritual cheeseburger.
My experience of God's presence is not about being blissed-out. My experience of God's presence and guidance is as mundane and quotidian as remembering to feed the dogs, not letting the dirty dishes (actual and metaphorical) stack up in the sink, yielding the right of way and deciding to pick my daughter up from school when it's raining before she calls. Those are the kinds of things God seems to care about most, in my life.
God is always about what I am doing, or not doing. God never tells me about God, other people tell me about God, boy oh boy do other people tell me about God. I hear God telling me to love others, I never hear God telling me that God is love. That's an inference I could draw from my constant instructions to be loving, but God is not proved to be loving by telling me to love--and it isn't necessary for me to believe that God is loving, anyway. What's necessary is for me to love.
People tell me to love God. God doesn't. I don't even know what it means to love God. Maybe, because it's what I constantly hear about, I am loving God by loving other people--but that's just a notion. Maybe I am loving God when I accept the Grace of God's guidance and act on it. I don't know if any of that is true but what I know is I need to love people and accept God's guidance.
And God never tells me about other people. I have learned (the hard way--how else?) that when I think God is telling me about someone else it's really my compromised, judgmental little reasoning skills inferring things about other people's lives based on my experience. And when I am deluded enough to act on those kinds of inferences I discover, very soon, the immanent presence of God--insisting that I meditate on the conflict and strife I had stirred up and how much good I have done anyone involved.
Although I struggle with anthropomorphizing about God, I have very commonly envisioned God as standing with folded arms, tapping a foot with an expression that says "how many times, man, how many times, do I have to tell you to stop thinking about what I am and what I want and just do what I tell you?"
My experience is that God does not take vacations and that those times I used to think God was not present were times I didn't want God present to me (in the tomb you go!) or times that, trying to wade through all the theology to find God, my ears were full of second hand notions--religious ideology--about things that it did my condition no good to think about--thinking about things that ended up compromising my condition.
Odysseus, it is written, filled his sailors' ears with wax so they could not be led astray. Filling my own ears with theological wax actually worked the other way around--it made it possible for me to be misled, cut off from my guidance, into relying on what I thought that guidance would say if it could get through.
Micah has an idea about what God not seeming present might be about: He writes:
"It seems from my experience of this process that God periodically removes our training wheels. God gives us the freedom to experience the full possibilities of life in Christ.
This makes sense, doesn't it? As Christians, we believe that God desires us to freely choose relationship with God."
I honestly don't know if that's true, and no one else does, either. It might make sense, if the notional mainstay of Protestantism he describes as something we believe "as Christians" is, indeed, true. But I don't know if that is true. (That's part of the "free will" doctrine that seems as useful to me, spiritually, as the notion of a "free market" seems useful in understanding the real world of economics.) My experience actually cuts the other way, insofar as I can draw conclusions about it from how God treats me. God does not wait around for me to make the choice about being in relationship with God. I am and when I have tried to leave that relationship the "hounds of heaven" pulled me right back home. I cannot speak to the experience of others in this regard--I can only say what I can say.
I recall "dry spells" from my younger days. There were times I felt separated from God, but what I feel like is not necessarily what I really am. How many of us have felt fine while a terrible sickness developed in our bodies or while alienation from someone we loved eroded a relationship upon which we relied? And how many times have we known, although we still felt lousy, that we were on the mend, or that although it was still awkward and sometimes difficult a relationship was heading in the right direction? Feeling alienated from God is a feeling--it's not a description of my actual condition.
Those "dark nights of the soul" were times I was hung up trying to reconcile all the orthodox propositions about God so as to "understand" God and figure out what to do. Those were times I thought it was only if I understood the nature, character and plans of God that I could hope to live my life according to God's will.
But that's a thinking error. It's not for me to figure God out. It's for me to hear and obey--even if, perhaps especially if, what I hear doesn't "make sense" in light of all I have been told has been "figured out" about God.
Sometimes I really wish there was a book in the Bible that tried to get this across to me. I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble.