Saturday, December 29, 2012

Descriptive not Prescriptive

Some believe that the Bible is basically an owner's manual for life.  They see it as a collection of rules, or, in our self-help-oriented culture, as a list of principles to make life better and more fulfilling.  Certainly, the Bible does contain "rules", rules which reflect God's character and how God built us as His creatures, and certainly it does contain principles which can improve quality of life.

But Jesus answered the question about what the Bible is all about once and for all in chapter 5 of John's Gospel.  He sternly rebuked the Pharisees and all their strict religiosity and moralism.  He said that they missed the point of the Bible.  The Bible was really about Him.  It is one giant arrow pointing to Jesus, from Genesis through Revelation.

To broaden the lens on this a bit, this means that the Bible is really not about me and you at all.  It is not about how we can apply principles to make life better.  It is not about how we can make those changes here and those changes there to climb the ladder to spiritual greatness and to the gates of heaven.  It is the story of God's doing, the story of what God has done in relation to mankind.  It is the story of the dance between mankind, with all our rebellion, weakness, stubbornness, blindness, and flaws, and the Living God, Holy and Set Apart from us, yet who works in and among and for us by His grace for our good by His love.

I've had a lot of personal problems, and I've struggled and suffered.  Who hasn't?  I've run to article after article written by Christian authors over the past fourteen years.  I've perused and poured over book after book written by Christian leaders, pastors, counselors, and authors, looking for answers, looking for solutions, looking for something that would make it better.  As such, I know lots of "answers," lot's of information.  I know that if I just "feared God" more, if I just had more faith, if I found God to be more beautiful and if I found Him truly to be all I need, for example, then certain things in life would roll off my back with more ease and less agony.  And it is true.  If A then B.

But here is what I have learned.  All of those books and stories of other people's victory they found in Christ -they are really descriptive, not prescriptive.  They are, in a sense, like a mini version of the Bible.  They are stories of what God did in those people's lives, by His grace and mercy.  To take that story, with all of its wonder, and turn it into a to-do list is completely wrong-headed.  Yet, isn't that what we try to do?  We try to turn something that took another person decades of trials and experiences to get to, by God's grace, into a self-help book or teaching session, a nugget, a principle, that we can just go ahead and apply to our lives, like taking a pill.

Good luck with that.  After all, isn't that our entire problem?  Sure, sometimes we can find help in applying some principles.  But for the big things, do those really help?  Not that I have seen.  Ultimately, isn't our problem much deeper?  We are dull and blind, and we want other things more than God.  We want control, and our faith is small.  Hmm...  And applying a few principles or hearing someone tell us "well , the answer is to fear the Lord more" is going to help with that?  We can all refrain in unison, "Yes, you are right, but that doesn't make it happen."  And the more I try to make it, the more I try to "apply" it, if I am honest, the more frustrated and hopeless I feel.

This, in some sense, gets back to something the Protestant Reformers were so adamant about.  The "Law" (ie. anything that tells you what God expects of you in order to fulfill your humanity) is good, but it is incapable of granting you the power to do what it commands.  In the end, it (by itself) just leaves you in despair because it reminds you -if you truly listen to it- of the fact that you are spiritually still-born and cannot save yourself.  Your problem is much deeper than mere actions.  And that is exactly what it is designed to do -to show you that the only Answer must come from Someone outside of you, from a Savior.  "Law" is not meant to make you feel better.  It is ultimately meant to leave you silenced and stripped of all your hope in your own resources so that you will give up your incredulity toward God and self-sufficiency and look to His grace over and over.

Truly, God can and does use the stories, wisdom, failures and victories of others, even written in articles and books, to inspire, encourage, and give us hope, to show us what the truth looks like with feet on it, helping to illuminate the guide-posts on the journey He is bringing us on, but it is still a journey between us and God -a personal, individual journey.  It is still a Shepherd leading His sheep, not a mere man with his information.  We make poor captains of our own souls -more like prisoners, drunk and tied to the mast watching it all sink.

The reason this is important, I believe, is because it changes our expectations and our perspective.  If we have the expectation that if we just found the "right" formula to apply, the right truths and principles, and then applied it in the "right" way we would be "fixed", then we are in store for a world of hurt, disappointment, and impatience (and perhaps anger) toward God.  Or, we are in store for something worse: a temporary delusion that we are pulling it off followed by a cataclysmic collapse at some point in our future.  But if we take the perspective that the goal is not the solution or "fixing" ourselves but the journey itself and Who that journey is it with, then maybe we will actually enjoy the ride a bit more and (who knows) maybe even get to the destinations God's wants us to get to a bit sooner.

If God wanted us to have a list of rules or principles to self-apply so that we can just "fix" ourselves, then well the Bible would be different than what it is.  But the Bible is about God's actions toward and with and for us. It is His story, His story intertwined into ours.  It is ultimately how God came down into our world, close to us, with us, and gave Himself to us and for us to save us -something we cannot do.  In other words, "fixing" ourselves is a mirage, a farce.  But drawing close to the One who drew close to us, who bore our sins, faults, sorrow, and shame, and who still walks with us, is not.  It is real.  It is life, and it gives life. 

With every change I have gone through, I look back and realize this very thing.  It took a long time.  I made many decisions along the way.  I acted, I sought, I prayed.  I read, I sought counsel and counseled others.  I was certainly not passive.  Yet when I look back, it was not me.  It was God working through those things.  It was the Lord as my Shepherd.  It was not me operating on myself.  It was Him operating on me, using anything He so pleased, even terrible things, to accomplish what He wanted.

If there is a "prescription" in all of this that I have written, that is it.  Stop looking for a formula or a prescription to pop and look to the Person who is there.  Walk with Him, listen to Him, drink in what He has for you, and patiently trust Him to get you there.

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