And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:7
Visiting my Pops’ workshop was astonishing and sobering. It was so unlike anything else in my experience that, at times, I wondered if it were real and how could know it wasn’t some psychotic episode. My experience was filling me with life, hope, and peace, leading me to think this really was from God, not from misfiring neurons or a mental aberration. As I convinced myself that my experiences were real, they became something I wanted to understand.
I am an analyzer. That description of me barely scratches the surface. A need to know and understand has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I have always been inquisitive, wanting to know the how and why of nearly everything. It is a part of my nature. When I visit a new town, I want to know its history. How did it get its name? What drove its growth? Why is it the way it is? I am rarely satisfied with simply observing something. I dig in, research, and learn all I can. It can become an unhealthy obsession, this need to know. Some people go with their gut, others are led by their heart, and a third group is governed by their heads. I am certainly in that last group. I always want to know. The more that remains unknown and not understood, the more it troubles me. This presents no small difficulty when trying to comprehend God, who transcends time, space, and ultimately understanding (e.g., Philippians 4:7).
It is a paradox of our times. We are often tempted to embrace rumors and unfounded conspiracy theories but reject any mystery when it comes to our faith. When we do that we miss a lot. Faith is essentially an embrace of mystery; if we can fully understand and explain God then we are operating from reason, not faith. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us we cannot fathom God or his ways:
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,Isaiah 55:8-9, ESV
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The closing chapters of Job tell us the same thing, that God is wrapped in mystery beyond our understanding. As Job did not get an “answer” as to why he was suffering, neither should we expect to understand God’s ways. We can understand his nature and his character, but not his ways.
Embracing divine mysteries was not yet even on my radar screen, so after my first visits to the workshop, I thought about and analyzed the experience. I wanted to comprehend it, categorize it, and make sure that it fit within the grid of my understanding and nascent theology. Why this vision? Why now? Why not last year or next year? Why call me to this ministry? Trying to understand the “why” started becoming an obsession. I needed to get back to Pops’ workshop to work out the answers to my questions. Since my two visits to Pops’ workshop came from making a concerted effort to experience the Father’s love, I reasoned that if I wanted to once again experience the workshop, I should repeat the procedure. I should diligently try to experience the Father’s love.
I set myself to that task. I composed myself in the way I had before. I prayed in the same way I had before. I experienced nothing but frustration. No matter how hard I tried, going back to the workshop proved an elusive goal.
I was missing a major point. with my words I was once again praying, saying that I wanted to experience God’s love, but what was in my heart was the desire to get my questions answered. Motives matter.
At that time, my motivation was not to go deeper into the heart of God. It was to master a skill; to understand a process. My inquisitiveness was not always a good thing. Often, I used it to feed a needy sense of superiority. If I knew how to “call up” this intimate experience of God’s love and you didn’t, that meant that I was somehow, in my warped calculus, superior to you. Knowing was also a means to security; it was a means of keeping me, the only person I could fully trust, in control of the situation. My goal had shifted from “knowing God’s love” to “knowing how to know it” so that I could regain control of the experience and feed my need to feel superior and in control. That is our constant challenge: to surrender the throne of our lives to God.
The Lord, fully aware of my motives, even when I was not, would have none of it. He would not be neatly packaged and mold himself to meet my unhealthy need to feel like I was in control. I had not yet learned that experiencing God is not a mechanistic procedure. We can’t call him forth like a genie out of Aladdin’s lamp. Nor can we prescribe how we will encounter him. I had fallen into the trap of thinking that a visit to the workshop was the only “real” way for me to experience God and his Love. He meets us in ways that allow us to grow closer to him, not necessarily in the ways that we want or expect. It would take a change in my attitude, not in the mechanics of my prayer to continue my journey.