Monday, April 6, 2015

God is Big, I am not

That sounds really simple but it took me a very long time to "get it", that I am not big. I think it's part of why I love Psalm 131:
A Song of Ascents, of David.
1 O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me.
2 Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD From this time forth and forever
Jesus says, in Luke 18:16-17 (and elsewhere), “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”

So, if I want to enter the kingdom of God, I must receive it like a child... so... how does a child receive it?

When I remember back to my childhood, there was simplicity: my parents said it, I believed it. I had not yet learned to question what they said or think they might be wrong. My parents were a 'model' of God and I remember the almost-unswerving obedience I had, in early childhood. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom - and we learn to obey and respect authorities over us by an appropriate fear of our first authorities, of parental displeasure. Truly, it was a terrible thing when I learned I could deceive them, that I could often "get away with" forbidden behaviors and make acceptable excuses for my lack of obedience.

I remember being kind of shocked when Mike Flynn, our priest when I first came to St. Jude's in Burbank, shared how he prayed that God wouldn't let his sons (and he had four of 'em) get away with sin. But, as I considered my own life, I realized how destructive it was that I learned to deceive, to sneak out, and that I got away with it for so many years.

When you get away with things, it makes you feel secretly "big"—you are internally enthroned in the center of your own life. “Stolen water is sweet; And bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17, part of the call of 'the woman folly', in contrast with the woman Wisdom) - you are getting away with something and it makes you feel powerful.

But to receive the kingdom of God like a child requires that I repent of the exaltation of myself, that I repent of "getting away with" things in the past and repent of my pride over having gotten away with things. Sin is kind of like baklava (!!): there are many, many layers, all held together, sweet and sticky, and while I can enter into it with one big bite, consuming all those layers at once, repenting of the sin requires a closer self-examination. The Holy Spirit regularly brings to mind new layers and inviting me to come into agreement with God about that which is good and that which falls short of the mark.

My personal shorthand for this is simply that God is big and I am not.

I've focused here on the negative, the appropriate fear of (respect for) authority, but there is also the liberating side of it: because I am small and I am a child, I don't have to know everything—I'm not expected to. I have tremendous freedom to say, "I don't know," in response to all sorts of questions! It becomes much easier to be teachable and restores the joy of learning. I'm not "bad" because I don't know a particular thing already; I'm a child and I simply haven't learned it yet.

Now, here in this life, we're all children of various ages and assorted degrees of maturity and I might compare myself to some other human and, if I choose the right one, I can feel quite puffed up at "the wonderfulness of Lynn" (my mocking self-description) - but it doesn't take long before I bump into a massive wall and come to recognize, "Oh—that's God's toe."

Oh yeah, that's right: He's big, I'm not.

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