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“He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death.” -CS Lewis
Two weeks ago, I arrived at Biola University in La Mirada, California, and stopped to recollect over everything that had led up to this point. A trickle of blessings appeared out of nowhere this year, none of which I could have imagined before…
Part 1: Youthful Naivete
My story began innocently enough way back as a happy-go-lucky teenager. I had hopes and dreams of studying theoretical physics, finding a nice job, getting married, having a family, traveling, and settling into a house in the suburbs -everybody’s American dream.
With my upbringing I considered myself a Christian. In my mind this meant parroting a prayer, going to church, obeying a set of rules, and trying to be a nice person. The rest of my life was mine I thought. Of course I was naive. My thinking had two subtle yet significant flaws.
Firstly, the notion of a relationship with an invisible God seemed abstract and indistinguishable in my mind from following a set of external rules. The same held for the idea of centering one’s life on God. Afterall I could see no visible difference. Sure I “loved God,” but in a sense this was the same as “loving an abstract idea of God.”
Of course this meant that the notion of living by faith not by sight seemed even more perplexing and frustratingly irrational. My mind, which wanted to figure everything out, could not wrap itself around “invisible” and “not by sight.” And if I couldn’t figure it out, in my mind, I couldn’t trust it. I was subconsciously afraid of it. So I shelved it.
The second flaw stemmed from the first. Seeing Christianity as a set of rules or an “app” meant I could compartmentalize it. This meant, at least to my mind, that everything else was free. I could go about life doing what I wanted, so long as I didn’t break the aforementioned rules.
As a guy this felt good too. Guys naturally have a desire to want to be in control of things. Also to a guy it can feel “girlie” to “submit” in anything more than the obligatory fashion.
Anyway as I grew up, I saw many of my friends walk off from God and “have fun.” Mind you I still wanted to be nice and did not begrudge them. Though I was also optimistic that if I “followed the rules” and was “good” good things would eventually follow for me too.
Part 2: Dark Night of the Soul
Despite following the rules, things went sour. I got burned. Early on in college my heart was broken badly. I decided to be the “nice guy,” and this is what happened. It simply wasn’t fair. To make matters worse, the details of it were such that it seemed that God was directly responsible.
Then other things went sour too. My grades went down for a time, and I watched as my friends passed me by. I later wrote scifi novels. Everyone who read them loved them, but the agents said they were too long for first novels.
I decided to do the right thing, and this was how God repaid me, or so I thought. God’s promises seemed like cruel lies or sick jokes. Not only did they seem to be false, but it appeared as though God promised one thing and then turned around to do the exact opposite. He had taken away my hope and my future and ruined my life. Or so it seemed. At the time I felt I had nothing left to love -least of all God.
Needless to say I was bitter, but I realized I could never go through life constantly depressed. I decided that if I could no longer love, I would need to find something else to fuel me. I felt God had burned me and left me in a ditch. So I focused on the only thing I had left, hatred. It was a powerful fuel to drive me through life, but also caused me to forget all memory of love or hope or joy. I felt like I was very quickly imploding into a black hole.
In the process my view of God’s character became completely warped in a rather Orwellian manner. God was said to be a God of love and yet it appeared He did this to me.
From that point on, my view of good and with it everything else, turned completely upside down. My mind became poisoned with ugly lies: “God is love, but God hates me.” Thus I began to effectively view love as hate, and worship hate. “God is good, but God is a tyrant.” Thus I concluded tyranny is good. I even began to despise the broken-hearted young man I once was as a foolish “weak little boy.” Had I the chance, I thought I would have gladly killed that “weak little boy.”
Part 3: Ego vs Blessing
To distract myself, I focused on intellectual pursuits. I knew better than to become an atheist though, and could even argue for God from science, and try to replicate theology from metaphysics. Once in a flash of insight, I realized how submitting to God -out of love, not out of duty, allows one to be blessed.
It’s simple enough, so let me explain:
”He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church…” -Colossians 1:17-18
Verse 17 suggests idealism, that everything holds together inside of the Mind of God, which I have argued for from other angles in previous blogs. The beginning of verse 18 suggests, when taken in conjunction with the comparison of Christ and the church to a husband and bride (Ephesians 5:22-32), that God loves His creations within His Mind. All of those promises that I simply couldn’t believe before, were what God wants to do for those He loves.
“…for You have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.” -Revelation 4:11
However why couldn’t God simply bless people? Afterall if we are inside God’s mind, why can’t He simply change things? Well there is the problem of the fallen state. And to define the fallen state, we have to contrast it to the unfallen state:
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up…” -John 15:5-6
According to Jesus, fallenness is defined in terms of disconnection from Him, a state of separation. And when one takes this literally, one sees the problem: God does not bless us if we are in separation from Him, because the connections through which He would bless us are literally severed. Not by God’s choice, but by ours.
This is where ego comes in. One’s ego is defined by a desire to be separate and independent, by pride. Thus when one does not want to submit to God, it is actually a desire not to be connected to God, and thereby a desire to not receive God’s blessings. God being only good, only seeks to bless. If one kills ones ego, in other words gets rid of ones separation, one receives blessing. Maybe not at first, but eventually.
But how does one connect to God? Rules are good, but “following rules,” was never the point. One has a relationship with God through the heart, not the head. Although, I couldn’t mentally make out the difference between the two before. This of course is because it wasn’t a mind thing to begin with. I was trying to see colors with a black and white camera.
I had figured this out mentally, though it no longer meant anything to me. It was too late, not because of God, but because I had a problem:
”If I… know all mysteries and all knowledge… but do not have love, I am nothing.” -1 Cor 13:2
I could no longer feel anything but bitterness. I “knew” God was good, but I didn’t really believe it. God’s goodness was some abstract thing with no connection to anything I could call good. And when I wasn’t bitter, I was numb and despondent. Eventually my sense of bitterness was replaced with numbness. I simply didn’t know what “good” felt like anymore. The younger me, the “weak little boy” who could love was a dead echo. I had killed him, and he meant nothing to me anymore. I became a hollow man. Years passed by.
Part 4: God’s Providence
Then out of the blue something happened by a quirk of fate or providence. I saw someone acting out of God’s love and be treated terribly for it. This shook me hard and then something clicked: Firstly, the god I had been serving before was a two-dimensional god of blind rules, that I had happened to slap the label “Yahweh” on top of. Now I could sense the God of love, not His 2-d caricature. Secondly, I felt ashamed that I had been worrying about my own problems rather than wanting to help others. This inspired me to die to myself -to kill my ego.
Of course I thought God had hurt me! It wasn’t the real God, the God of love. But I couldn’t tell the difference before. I had been seeing God in 2-d. In their fallen state, humanity has had a hard time feeling God’s presence, and so this all seems quite natural.
But now that I could suddenly feel God, I knew what I had to do. Once I began to pursue a relationship with God, rather than a set of rules, strange things began to happen.
Within months, a chain of “coincidences” landed me in a conference in Nebraska where I was able to present some of my ideas to JP Moreland, one of the world’s leading apologists. He liked my ideas and immediately recommended me to the philosophy chair at Biola University
I felt God wanted me to go to Biola, but I was worried about funds. I went anyway though. Now this next part will need a little explaining:
A while back the mother of a friend of mine was on the board of directors of an upstart movie company. They had Hollywood connections and wanted to develop the novels I had written! I was astonished. This provided something of a respite from my bitterness.
However just as soon as this door opened, it seemed to close again. The company had some infrastructure, but needed to build a studio to get off the ground, and funds were lacking. God had seemingly stabbed me in the back again.
Now fast forward again. I arrive at the airport and there is a delay. My plane needs repairs and I will miss my second flight. I worried and thought about grumbling, but I felt God ask: “Do you trust Me?” So I gave in and stopped worrying.
Then I arrived at Chicago and went to an internet cafe across from my gate to pass time during the layover. I got to talking with the guy next to me, and we started to talk about where we were going:
I mentioned I was going to Biola and showed him some of my apologetics stuff. In turn, he mentioned he was a science fiction buff and that he was going to a comicon in Nebraska.
I replied that this was interesting and told him I liked science fiction also. I proceeded to show him some of my writing. He liked it. But there’s more.
Then I asked where he lived. He said LA. I said this was a neat little coincidence, because that’s where I was going. But there’s more.
I asked what he does. He turned out to be a script writer for Hollywood! He then said he was interested in turning my novels into scripts to sell to investors, and we exchanged info! All because of an “unfortunate” delay in Milwaukee. But there’s even more!
A while back in my idealism group, before I ever knew I was going to California, two of my subscribers contacted me over the possibility of making short films with the help of people in the movie industry. One of them lives in Beverly Hills and knows people directly. Much to my surprise I discovered that these were not exactly “small” names either!
I’m not sure where all of this is headed, but I can see the gears moving now. All of those unfortunate disappointments in the past now seem to have been working together for some purpose. I trust God has a plan.
But this is not the only story like this recently. For the last half a year I had been working with a few friends on a side project to “back-derive” theology from metaphysical idealism and Neoplatonism, in particular in regards to Christian sexual morality. About a week before going to school I completed this.
Before this though, while signing up for classes, I felt God telling me to sign up for the evening session of my Spiritual Formation class rather than the morning session. I wanted to do the morning session since I thought it would be more convenient, but picked the later section anyway.
Then I arrive at the Talbot masters banquet, and the professors were introduced that evening. One of the professors announced that night that he was planning to write on same-sex marriage and same-sex attraction because of the issues with the culture. He then said what he was teaching. It was my evening Spiritual Formation class, and to my knowledge he is the only professor in the school writing on this! Later that night, I told him about my project, and he said he is eager to see it!
This is of course not to say that I don’t sometimes worry about things still. I have no debt from undergrad, but sometimes worry about my finances -even with the movie stuff. I turned thirty a few months ago, but am still single. I feel called to Biola, but worry about grades. I feel… well you get the picture.
Faith is like a muscle that can atrophy without use, and mine had atrophied to nothing. Now that I have it back, I find it is necessary to flex that muscle continuously by giving everything to God. But for the first time in a long time I can finally feel something again: God is good!