Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that people tend to pit the Bible against spiritual experience, as if one of the two were necessarily more reflective of reality than the other. This tendency is what the literary deconstructionists called “binary opposition.” The human tendency is to pit one against the other as intrinsically better. It’s sort of inevitable, a knee-jerk reaction: even if opposition doesn’t necessarily require one to be better, we instinctively raise one up above the other.
I’ll admit up front that my tendency, despite the fact that I actually *like* systematic theology, is to make the mystical experience more important than the letter of the book. Which is why I’m kind of hard on the “Theology people.” I just usually **get it** first through some mystical experience. **Then** I can find support from the scriptures. This means that I need to be especially critical of my “experiences” because if I’m going to screw up, it’s going to be on that side of the road. Conversely, I know a lot of “Theology people” who could stand to be a little more critical of their doctrine, to ensure that it actually plays out in the real world, because if they’re going to screw up, it’s going to be on *that* side of the road.
That said, I had this experience…
Last Friday night, our plans (whatever they may have been) were a little bit subverted by a friend who had a bit of a spiritual emergency. So we talked, and we prayed, and we decided at the last minute to go to church. I happened to know of a church nearby that had services on Friday night. It’s a great church: sound teaching, mindblowing worship… In fact, I’d probably still be a member there if I hadn’t had such a problem with their government structure. Too episcopal. Basically I had a series of problems blow up in my face because there was an insufficient system for feedback from the congregation.
At this point, my friend needing ministry is kind of incidental to my experience that I had. But my wonderful experience at this church is key. I’ve already gone over all that stuff a million times, so I don’t want to dredge it up again, so I’ll just say this: It was unpleasant. I mean, bad situations happened, and I got over them, but what kept nagging at me was the sense of powerlessness and uselessness that I had there. What do you do with a church that is constantly *already* at a state of high-pitched revival? There were tons of areas where I could contribute and sort of become a part of the “machine,” but none where I felt I could really *contribute.* The church was already crawling with leadership, and it was just redundant for me to try to shout my own contribution loud enough. It was enough that for a good period of time, I basically gave up the idea of a calling to ministry on the grounds that there just wasn’t a need. (Talk about myopia!)
This is important. I spent years whining to God about *why* did I have to go through all that mess. I got glimpses: Remembering my stupid (stupid!) prayer that he would truly break me down to powder and mold me entirely according to His purposes. The story I wrote, about six months in (now lost) about waking up in a house that looked like it had been hit by a tornado, only to see it immediately swallowed into the earth, and finding myself in a throne room asking “Am I dead?” only to hear a voice saying , “No, but you will be.” The oft repeated (experiential) reminders that God was in fact in control, that He did in fact have a plan, and that He was determined to follow through with answering my stupid prayer… All well and good, but though I got the what and the how quite frequently, the why was always elusive.
I did get a piece of the why once, in a general sense, before I ever moved here. It seems appropriate to the story, so I’ll go ahead and quote myself here with a journal entry that’s about seven and a half years old. Please pardon the quirky language…
I am the foundation, you are the walls. Will you then sacrifice yourself to be a building to house my presence?
I saw the inside of a house–a large mansion, and I knew that this was the house that God was building out of the living stones of us.
“But,” I thought, “If we are the stones that comprise the building, who will live in the house?” Then I saw many visitors enter the house, who were not part of the work of God. They were truly in awe of the glory and the splendor of the house.
“Surely this house is not for sinners and people who refuse to partake of the vision!” [I thought *-ed.*] Then I saw that as these people laid down their lives, they became part of the house.”
“No, the house is not for them.”
Then I remembered that we are the temple of God, fashioned with living stones. And we are the body of Christ. We are earthen vessels to house the presence of God!
Then I noticed that the glowing air in this place, which is the glory of God, was not merely resting, but flowing regularly. And I noticed that the whole house was oddly shaped and not rectangular, and each room was constantly changing. Some were expanding and collapsing, causing the air to flow regularly throughout the entire house, expanding the life. Some were growing and dividing, causing the house to increase in size and change shape. And some were moving from place to place around the house. And I saw from the outside that the house was in the shape of *”one new man”*
Heb 12:26-29 –
But now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.
I saw a giant earthquake come to the house, and I thought the house might be broken in two. Many places fell off of the house, but the house was not broken. When the dust had cleared and the fires had stopped, I saw that the house had changed. Instead of pristine, chiseled blocks, they were smoke blackened and scarred. Not one block was left untouched. Chips had broken off, cracks up and down. Dark ravine-like lines traveled the course of every block. At a close glance, it was meaningless. Why would God do this to the living stones of His own dwelling place? It was hideous! But as my view expanded, I saw the purpose. Huge statues covered the entire house. Ever wall was bas-relief, every pillar was a pose. Floors and ceilings were mosaics.
Shammah! Awesome beauty brought by destruction. Such are the working and purposes of God.
*(for clarification for those who care, I did not have some kind of out of body experience. This was written from a picture in my head.)*
Anyway, after I left, visiting my old church was always a huge pain for me. I remember several times when I would sneak in to a service and have to leave in the middle because something would happen, or somebody would do or say something, and I would think of what *I* could have said or done, had I been able to get in there and function at my prime. Over time I got over it. (I’d like to think I also got over myself, but that’s debatable.)
This time, it was different. The service starts, and like usual, I start seeing all the areas where I could have made a difference. I’m seeing things being done in a particular way that I had first thought of doing them, but had been prevented from even telling anybody.
The overheads were the clincher for me. For two years or so, I had been “vice-president-in-charge-of-the-overheads.” Somebody else was in charge, made all the decisions while I did a huge chunk of the work. Eventually I quit and ran away, but somewhere in there, I had a really great idea about including a full video/multimedia display that went along with the music, in addition to just putting the words up. It was so grandiose it would never happen. I didn’t even mention it to anybody. Today, this church has something like that. It’s actually pretty cool. Sometimes, it’s even powerful, the way the video feed, clips, etc. interact with the words.
Earlier things like that had merely rankled. It was frustrating seeing somebody else come along and accomplish my ideas. This time, it clicked. God doesn’t need me to accomplish his purposes. That line in Esther about if God doesn’t use you, he’ll find somebody else? It’s quite literally true. Everything I’d wanted to accomplish at that church was being done, right then, just as if it had been my hand in the process. Everything. I shouldn’t feel irritated that I wasn’t the one who actually *did* it, I should be honored that God felt like enlightening me about cool stuff *regardless* of who actually got to do it. It should be enough for me that God is glorified.
It should be enough for me that God is glorified. That’s the key. Call it the gospel of brokenness. God in his glory and his wisdom has seen fit to exalt some and grind others into powder. Who can say whether, in God’s eyes, the greater honor goes to him who is exalted, or to him who has been ground to powder? The issue for both should be that God is glorified. Perhaps, in the greater perspective of things, my brokenness is used as a part of those huge statues to display Christ’s body, torn from scourging, in bas-relief. Perhaps, my exalted brother has the honorable position of portraying Herod’s flawless nose. Who is to say? It should be enough for me that God is glorified.
Perhaps The Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux was writing a lie, trying to build a legacy, before she died, but I doubt it. If the story she described was true, then it is possible that all she really wanted was to share the gospel of brokenness, that God can be delighted in my brokenness, and that it is truly enough to know that you have given joy to God. More than that, it seems to me that humility and brokenness have intrinsic value, that there is a hidden kind of glory to a limp like Israel’s, and to know that it is only a few who can see it for what it is, and say, “Who is this who comes up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?”
Now, that was an experience, a revelation compiled and compressed from a history of experiences. The trick is, at this point, to reflect and see how clearly this kind of thing matches up with the testimony of experience. The experience I had was real enough, though it could be said to be subtle until it was amplified by writing it down. Now it must be tempered by scripture. I’ll go ahead and point out that tempering is usually done by taking the thing and dumping it in cold water. Any takers?
EDIT: Excuse me. The test is to see how clearly it matches up with the testimony of scripture. The experience is already out in the open.