“Sometimes I would like to ask God why s/he allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when s/he could do something about it. But I’m afraid God would ask me the same question.” – Author Unknown
This post is part of the January 2011 Synchroblog “The Manifestation Of God”. This month’s synchroblog is inspired by The Season Of Epiphany, which runs from January 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday. You can find a list of all participants at the end of this post.
An “epiphany” is a sudden realization, a breakthrough discovery, a brilliant idea, a light bulb coming on, one of those “AHA!” moments.
For instance … Archimedes, the Greek Philosopher, who discovered the law of buoyancy (known as The Archimedes Principle) had an epiphany one day when he stepped into his bathtub.
The story goes that the king of the day wanted a new crown made entirely of gold. After the goldsmith made it, the king was suspicious that the goldsmith had made it of iron or silver and coated it with gold. The king did not want to destroy the crown in case it was gold, so he asked Archimedes to figure out if it was pure gold or not without destroying the crown. Archimedes thought about this day in and day out until one day while getting into his bath he discovered the principle that bears his name. Supposedly, he was so excited and anxious to share his discovery that he jumped out of the bathtub and ran through the streets naked shouting “Eureka!” (which in Greek meant “I found it!”)
We have all had those types of experiences when a solution or a realization seems to pop into our mind out of nowhere, but in reality the idea has come from within ourselves and has been produced from our own ability to think and reason.
And then … there is another kind of “epiphany” – it shares the idea of realization, discovery and light bulbs coming on – but it is different in that it isn’t produced because of our own thinking and reasoning – this epiphany comes to us through a Manifestation of God. It is a revealing, a shining forth, an appearance. God reveals something to us and “Eureka!” we have an epiphany – about God, ourselves, truth, others, love, suffering, life etc. etc. We could not have arrived where these epiphanies take us by our own ability to think and reason – it is not an experience that we can create from within, it requires “God breaking through”. These kinds of experiences – these “God breaking through” moments – always change us.
As D. H. Lawrence said, “people can do anything they want with an idea, but a truly new experience changes everything. Before you can do anything with it, it does something with you.”
The problem with these epiphanies is that when you describe them to others they often sound rather unimpressive. Of course, there are exceptions – a burning bush, a talking donkey, the transfiguration of Jesus – but for most of us it is something we hear or observe or read and when we go to relay the story and our epiphany to someone else they look at us like “how did you get that out of that???” But we know! We know that God has broken through to us because we have realized or discovered something (and in a way) that only God could have expressed or revealed.
Sometimes I have had a “God breaking through” moment about something that I thought I already knew and, in a way I did know it, but only in my head (as they say) – not in my heart – not in the way I needed to know it – not in the way that it formed me.
For instance, years ago I was preparing to speak to a group of Christian women around Valentines Day. Well, I was preparing to prepare … in other words, I had no idea what I was going to say. I figured that love was a good subject but had no good ideas about what I should say about love. I was becoming pretty anxious about it as the event was only a few days away. I was new in the community and I wanted to be liked and accepted. I wanted to say something worthy, memorable, profound about love – something that would endear me to this new group that I wanted to fit in with. I went to sleep that night asking God to give me “something good” to say and also asking myself why in the world I had accepted the invitation to speak.
At some point during the night I dreamt that I was a student at an elite dancing academy. I loved it there and I loved my instructor. I was a good student, a good dancer and I had a good relationship with my instructor. I was trying out for an upcoming show and I felt confident that I would be accepted for one of the parts, but when the instructor read off the names of those who made it into the show my name was absent. I was shocked and disappointed. How could she not pick me? I was very good and she liked me. Why?
Next thing I know (you know how dreams jump around) I am rehearsing with the dancers who were going to be in the show because one of them got sick, had to drop out and I was chosen to take her place. I was very excited and felt that I was just where I should be. The instructor was giving us direction and correcting us as we were rehearsing and then suddenly the rehearsal was over. As we were all walking out, the instructor asked me to stay behind for a moment. After the other dancers left she told me that I wouldn’t be able to be in the show because I just wasn’t good enough yet. I was crushed and devastated. I began to cry.
All of a sudden I realize I am standing in a humongous industrial kitchen. I really have no idea what I am doing there or why I am wearing a chef’s coat. I look around and find a man preparing some food at one of the nearby steel counters. I walk over to him and ask him what is going on. He tells me the Executive Chef is looking for a new Sous Chef and wants to talk to me. I’m dumbfounded! I am not much of a cook and much less a chef. Why in the world would he want to talk to me? Where did I even get this chef’s coat? How did I get here? What in the world is going on?
Just when I am about to run out of there the Executive Chef walks in. He walks right up to me, hands me a chef’s hat and says, “Liz, I want you to be my new Sous Chef.”
I stare at him in disbelief and can only manage to ask, “Why?”
He just looks at me and says, “Because I love you.”
At that very moment I woke up.
“Eureka!” I knew in a way that I had never known before that God loved me unconditionally – not because I was good at something – not because I performed well – not because of what I knew or had learned or perfected – he loved me and accepted me – period.
I also had an idea (hope?) that being accepted and loved by my new community wasn’t going to be based on my ability to give a good presentation.
And on top of that I had what I needed to give my presentation.
Sure, I would have told you before that dream that God’s love for me was not based on my performance – but after that dream it was real to me. I didn’t just know what someone had taught me or what I had read – I knew it in my heart in a way that would change me and change the way I would prepare to speak before a crowd, the way I would approach a new community, the way I would take care of my family, the way I would help others, the way I would be a friend, the way I would think, the way I would live. I knew it in a way that made me more vulnerable, more transparent, more real, more me.
It was one of those “God Breaking Through” moments and I was forever changed.
I will post the list of participants here as they become available:
Being a big, huge, humongous, gigantic, colossal, enormous, monumental, epic fan of the tv show LOST, I have to mention that the final episode of the series aired this week. I personally thought the finale was fantastic, but some long- time fans don’t feel the same way. Some feel there were too many questions left unanswered – others feel the finale revealed that they had been duped for six years because they were under the impression that the show was about the mystery of the island and the finale was all about the characters, their lifes and their relationships with each other.
Now don’t get me wrong – I loved all of the mysterious stuff, all the theories and how when one question was answered I was left with 6 new ones … but I’ve known all along that this was a character driven show and that in the end it would be about the characters. IMO enough questions were answered and the ones that have not been answered are a gift – in that we can still have many great and passionate conversations about our theories.
In the end LOST was about people, their struggles, their flaws, their fears, their guilt, their failures, their hopes, their successes, their dreams, their progress, their relationships, their redemption and the part that community or the lack of community plays in the life of people.
I feel that the writers, the actors and the producers have been true to that idea from the beginning to the end of this series and I think they created one heck of a backdrop that kept me coming back week after week as they told the story of some very dark, personal journeys.
I will definitely miss the show and all the community that was created around the show. Thanks for the good times, the good lessons and the good memories.
Jonathan Brink has just announced that his book “Discovering The God Imagination, Reframing Suffering, Justice, and Reconciliation in the Gospel Story” is now available for pre-order. The book offers a new conversation about how we understand the gospel, the problem that God is solving and how we can participate in the solution to the problem. I’m really looking forward to reading this book and have already placed my order. Go here today and pre-order one for yourself. (I also recommend that you take a look at Jonathan’s blog which always has interesting content)
I have no idea how many statements Tony will share with us but several interesting things came out of this one post. One thing that I found interesting was that people were showing up to argue against the statement – I don’t really know what to say about that because even in my most conservative “the bible says it and so it is true” days I never thought the Bible said anything at all about God having a particular gender or even that God was both female and male. I have always understood scripture to indicate that God was beyond gender.
Another interesting thing that developed out of my interaction with the statement “God Is Not Male” was that I was reminded that I naturally and unconsciously put God in a box all the time and that I must be very intentional to struggle against limiting God to my own imagination in hopes that I will recognize any divine revelation if God sees fit to lay one on me.
What do you think about the statement “God Is Not Male”? What apophatic statement would you make about God?
There has been a lively discussion going on over at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, about Brian McLaren’s view of the Soul-Sort Narrative in his new book, A New Kind Of Christianity. Unfortunately, some of the theological talk went over my head but the last comment (at least it was the last one as of today) shared one of those real life illustrations that leaves a lot of the theological banter sounding cold and shallow. Comment #107 by Lindsey, asked the question: “Whose soul will be condemned to torment?” Here’s part of what Lindsey had to say:
I attended a funeral of a man that I worked with. He was in his mid-forties and died of a rare form of cancer. He and his family were devoutly Jewish. The service was moving, spiritual, and had the raw feeling of the God of Abraham in Holy Spirit in the room. This man, Brooke, was an ophthalmologist, and had left his successful and lucrative practice to teach high school science to inner city kids. I taught with him. The kids were heartbreaking, helpless, and hopeless, and he built them up in every way. As he went through painful treatment, he refused to quit teaching, and taught up until a week before he died. The synagogue at his funeral was filled with his students: poor kids, minority kids, kids that had never set foot in a house of worship before. Through Brooke, these kids, and all who worked with him, saw God. Brooke, though he didn’t know it, was a true servant of Christ. Meanwhile, my very Christian neighbors across the street sport a confederate flag bumper sticker right next to their cross. Through this simple gesture, they have turned away many people in my neighborhood from even being willing to hear the name of Jesus. These people, have condemned countless people to eternity without Christ through their ignorance and selfishness.
So tell me, who’s soul will be condemned to torment?
In many ways this question is not relavant for me these days as I don’t embrace the theology that revolves around “who is going to heaven? who is going to hell?” but I believe the story that Lindsey surrounds the question with is important as it demonstrates the problem with the type of theology that I grew up with.
What do you think?
We have our divine explanations,
To explain our personal revelations,
Which reveal our very spiritual foundations,
That can get us out of all kinds of situations.
We simply love our theological musings,
That provide us with the perfect solutions,
In order that we may tie everything up nice and neat,
With our final resolutions.
We adore our idolatrous clarifications,
And really enjoy pondering our philosophical representations,
While we bow down before our conceptual creations,
And worship what we conjure up in our holy imaginations.
We don’t really want to think about all the inconsistencies,
And most certainly not about the baffling mysteries,
Of all his mind blowing conflicting identities,
Because we like to believe we understand all the intracies.
We reduce him to a reflection of human rationality,
Never owning up to our finitude or inability,
Refusing to face the obvious inaccessibility,
Because we don’t want to admit the utter impossibility.
We feel better if we believe our doubts and uncertainty,
Are just a stop on the way to spiritual maturity,
We like to babble on and on assuredly,
About comprehending atonement and heavenly eternity.
Our religion has become a science that places God within a realm of reason,
As if we could predict his coming and going the way we do a season,
We know and our knowledge just keeps increasing,
After all, being right is just so damn pleasing.
Now I’m not saying we should abandon our exploration,
Remaining silent doesn’t equal ending the conversation,
Transformative silence is a sacred and subversive vocation,
I mean, think about it – if it’s about God, should it be a 3 point presentation???