So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man… The man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome…” So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” – Genesis 32:22-30
I am not sure exactly where I’m going with this post so hang on for the ride if you’re willing. Of course, I may well hit delete after a few minutes and move on to something else; then – like a tree falling (noiselessly) in the forest – we will never have had this conversation.
I’ll begin with some criticism of my teaching style (usually at church). A few days ago I threw a caution flag on myself – even if it was unnecessary – because I find that it’s always useful to take a step back, to look over my own shoulder, and to reevaluate.
Here’s how it started, via an email. Later I shared the same sentiments with the Sunday morning class I’m teaching (Christian Doctrine in the Reformed tradition, using Shirley Guthrie’s classic text). I had a similar conversation with the men’s group too.
“Dear Sunday morning friends – I feel it is important that I draw attention to the way I approach leading/teaching/facilitating: I am completely fascinated with our subject matter – and at the same time I am very much aware of my personal limitations when it comes to even beginning to understand the nature and the person of The Almighty. I know I will never fully grasp God yet my faith is not dependent on wrapping my head around anything. Because of Jesus, I feel that I know God intimately. All this intellectual wrestling, then, is about interfacing with the wonder of God with everything that I have. My doubts are always to do with my own limitations, not with the fact or the redemptive work of God. Like I said this past Sunday, there is no wrong way to imagine who God is for us, because all of our knowledge is incomplete. What we want to and need to do is to desire to know God more deeply and more completely, and to see where that leads us.Love and blessings – Derek”
Maybe I should throw another flag here?
It has occurred to me this might be an issue in this blog space too. Now, with 6,533 followers plus other readers who drop in from time to time, there is no reasonable expectation that I understand how everyone thinks, or how they process their relationship to God. But it is important that you all know where I am coming from and how my passion for wrestling difficult questions is not an expression of doubt so much as it is an experience of wonder.
However, that may not be “okay” for all of you:
- Some of you may find my interface with God hard to follow, or unsettling, or uncomfortable, or even sacrilegious.
- What fascinates me may instead set up doubt in your heart and mind.
- When I am stimulated by the knowledge that there is no way I can wrap my mind around this or that aspect of God’s nature, you may be in a place where it needs to make logical sense.
- Where I find tidy, manageable answers inadequate or limiting to my understanding of God, you may need them to fit because where you stand today is built on that kind of foundation.
Please understand it is not my intention to cast aspersions on your faith or your unique journey, I am simply interested in sharing mine. And my journey, like Jacob’s, involves a lot of wrestling with God.
I wrote recently that “God calls uniquely, not equally“, well, I believe the same applies to our journey as followers of The Way of Jesus. It is always a unique journey. The key is to be constantly moving forward, with Jesus as our friend and guide, to be faithful to what God teaches us through the scriptures, and – especially – to pour everything through the filter of Christ’s commandment to love.
I’m going to wrap up this post by repeating something I said in my communication with the classes I teach:
“All of our knowledge is incomplete. What we want to and need to do is to desire to know God more deeply and more completely, and to see where that leads us.”
Always, moving forward in faith – DEREK