The Scripture Isn’t Everything

This is a topic I return to again and again. Just because something isn’t written in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s false. The Bible is a history of the people of Israel, and it is a guidebook for Jews and Christians alike. It is not all-encompassing.

There are a great many mysteries in the Bible, stories where we have little insight such as those that recount giants or the curse of Ham. We have heard of a leviathan and a dragon, but we haven’t really seen these things. We have likewise heard of airplanes and penicillin, neither of which are contained within those hallowed pages.

I came across a Christian blog last night that expressed frustration with Richard Foster’s warning in regards to Christian mysticism and prayer. In it, she quotes Foster as writing:

“I also want to give a word of precaution. In the silent contemplation of God we are entering deeply into the spiritual realm, and there is such a thing as a supernatural guidance. While the Bible does not give us a lot of information on that, there are various orders of spiritual beings, and some of them are definitely not in cooperation with God and his way! … But for now I want to encourage you to learn and practice prayers of protection.” (Prayer: FindingThe Heart’s True Home, 155, 156, 157)

She goes on to quote John Calvin and imply that Foster is outright rejecting scripture. He is not–he is merely observing that there are things in this world and the next that the Bible doesn’t relate much about. We know there are demons–we can at least say with certainty that there are stories of Jesus confronting and casting out demons–yet these are not mentioned in the canonical Hebrew Bible. Do we then declare that they do not exist? Or that Jesus was a false Jew? I do not think so.

I think Foster is right, or at least my own experience aligns with his words in this matter. We need to admit that we don’t know everything, and we need to stop clinging to our holy book as the end-all, be-all of answers and guidance. It is unique, sacred, and brilliant; helpful in ways impossible for an unbeliever to understand or a believer to fully fathom. But there is more betwixt heaven and earth than that book contains.

God is bigger than the Bible.

Fear in America

Fear is pretty common in our society, so there’s no need to talk about it as something distant or difficult to comprehend. We all deal with it, whether the anxiety flows from talking with the people we stand next to in the checkout line or smiling at the person one table over at a coffee shop. When we see a stranger break down in tears, we freeze. If we ask someone how their day is going and they respond immediately that their child just died and they’re considering suicide, we are at a loss for a proper response. How should we react?

I haven’t read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis yet, but I was told recently of a passage in it that gives a vision of what hell is like. In hell, Lewis writes, there are millions of houses, but everyone lives very far from one another. They can’t stand to see or be near their neighbours, so they continually build more houses and move further away. Like our universe, it is ever-expanding as people build, settle, and then realize they are still too near one another and begin the cycle again. Their loneliness is self-imposed, fueled perhaps by their bitterness.

There seems to be something in humanity, perhaps sin itself, that encourages this isolationist trend. It is not good for man to be alone, and for this reason woman was made, but I cannot count how many people sabotage their relationships so that they end up alone. As the author of Bowling Alone observed, we get in our own car when we leave work, we drive to our homes and open the garage door without stepping from the car, we close it behind us before we exit the vehicle, and then we enter our homes, having never been exposed to our neighbours or the outside world. We don’t make eye contact with strangers on the streets, and rationally we have to recognize that it’s not because they might all stab us if we did. We’re all equally afraid of intimate contact–of someone seeing us.

It goes without saying, though, that something in us does drive us to relationships, else we wouldn’t live in cities at all, nor would we seek out partners with whom we can form relationships that we eventually sabotage. But from where does this fear come? I believe it comes from our regrets and self-loathing, where we have taken a sin and made it (in our minds) a huge facet of our lives, and we don’t want others to see that sin. We are afraid that if they see it, they will leave and our worst fear will be confirmed: that we are sinful. We might think it, but it’s not quite as real if no one else knows, so if we hide it away then everything will be fine.

I dated a girl briefly my sophomore year of college who attempted to hide herself. She was afraid that people wouldn’t like her if she was herself; if people realized how truly intelligent she was. In high school, the smart kids were outsiders, discriminated against and mocked, and she wanted to be an insider. She didn’t want to be alone, so she pretended to be someone else. When I saw through her facade, it made her extremely uncomfortable, and she left me. It was better to her to not be seen, to have her soul unexposed.

As is so often the case with this sort of fear, though, the terrible thing we are attempting to hide is no terrible thing at all. For years I hid my past life from others, afraid of how they would judge me. Before I was Christian, I didn’t want people to know I was involved in witchcraft, despite my pride in it. Visions of hate crimes, burning stakes, and eternal loneliness floated through my mind. I had been beaten and stigmatized sufficiently just for being different and smart–adding a different religion to the mix seemed extremely unwise. Even after I became Christian, I was afraid that if people learned of my past actions, of what I had done, and of the crimes I had committed that they would leave me. I would be kicked out of the Church. I had found a family, and I did not want to be pushed from it.

This fear weighed on me, kept me up at night, and prevented me from forming vulnerable, intimate, life-affirming relationships. That same sophomore year of college, though, I met a very inquisitive young woman who also wanted to know my life story, but she wanted to know the parts that I had left out when I told it to Brooke. She wanted to know those things that I was afraid to share, and she exhorted me to take strength in Christ and be honest.

I let it all out, told her everything, and she hugged me and told me it was OK. There was no blame in her eyes, no disillusion or anger, nor was there pity. There was just acceptance and love, and it was the first time since I had accepted Jesus into my life that I was able to experience that. When someone knows your darkest sins and accepts you anyways, there is no room for fear. The light has shown everywhere and nothing has been found wanting. There is only love.

She urged me to share my testimony more often, so I tried it once more. The man with whom I shared likewise did not reject me. Before long, I was speaking in front of a church, telling them my story, and they did not cast me out. They did not throw stones. I was hugged and brought in deeper. Over the years, I have found that vulnerability builds relationships, where fear leads to weakness and stagnation at best, and isolation at worst.

When the random person on the street smiles at me, and I smile back, it makes my day. It is uplifting for me, and I hope it is the same for them. I’m still afraid to talk with people in the checkout line or at the store, and especially at the next table in the coffee shop, but sometimes I try, and I really try to reciprocate when someone talks to me. If someone shares that they’re having a particularly bad day, I offer to sit down and talk with them. Maybe pray, if they seem comfortable with that. I force myself to reach out a bit more and touch their lives. For all I know, no one else ever has, and they are dying for someone to reach for them and pull them out of the darkness just a bit, just enough to find their way.

Maybe church has become too inviting

Bear with me, I’m just thinking out loud here.

Though I am generally a rational person, there are many instances in which I rely on my experience and feelings/intuition. If you were to classify my personality, it would fall into the stylized category of INTJ, or Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judging, and the description(s) is fairly accurate: I think things through a great deal, but I also trust myself and am pretty self-confident. Part of this intuition, particularly in the realm of theology, comes from the spiritual gift of discernment that God has given me, by which I can discern both the correctness of a teaching and the difference between spirits. In very brief laymen’s terms, I can tell the difference between something from God, something from humanity, and something from Satan.

I can likewise see and interact with angels and devils, though occurrences are rare. And whether it’s due to my past experience or my ineptness, I tend to meet devils with far more regularity than I encounter angels. ((As an interesting sidenote, I generally find devils to be alone and angels to be in crowds, though there are always exceptions. Not sure why this is, though I could hazard some guesses.)) I recently encountered a devil in a rather unexpected place, however: a traditional, Sunday morning church service.

The sermon that morning happened to be on spiritual warfare, a subject not often preached, and I was surprised to sense the devil in the congregation. They aren’t, as you might imagine, visible to the naked eye, but this one was quite bold. It was clearly present in the sanctuary with no fear of remonstration or attack, subtly working its ways among the attendants. As the minister stated that many people in the congregation probably didn’t even believe in devils despite the stories of them in the Bible, I heard it whispering to people, strengthening their disbelief. “Devils, pah… we don’t hold with that nonsense. I’ve never seen one, and neither has anyone else. If there’s a Devil, it’s Man and War, etc. It’s all just metaphor. We don’t have to deal with that anymore.”

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that the greatest victory of Satan was convincing people that he doesn’t exist.

The worst part was when I confronted the devil, asking what it was doing there.

“I was invited,” it replied with a sardonic grin. The truly frustrating part is that this is the second time I’ve received this response in a church setting from a devil.

At any rate, it made me wonder if our Protestant churches haven’t become too inviting. In our bid to be seeker sensitive, to welcome everyone regardless of creed, and to ask relatively few questions or make any demands of parishioners, we often invite in those we would do better to keep outside. I’m not saying we should bar our doors from unbelievers, the poor, or most any individual–since this sort of argument has been used to rationalize blocking all sorts of people from church in the past, I want to make it clear that I advocate no such policy–but I wonder if we aren’t harming ourselves with our open-door policies.

I don’t have a clear solution, but my thoughts as inspired by this experience are as follows: maybe the Catholic Church had some decent reasons for requiring everyone to subscribe to the same core beliefs, to go through classes and professions of faith, and to undergo some testing before being admitted to the church; for excluding people from certain practices at the church before undertaking the sarcraments and such; and maybe our (by which I mean mainstream Protestants) disbelief and avoidance of all things spiritual, including the giftings of God and spiritual warfare, are leaving us vulnerable to Satan. If I had gone to the senior pastor of that church and shared my concern about devils being present in the sanctuary, I am fairly confident he would have been very kind, accepting, and patronizing. He might have let me consecrate the building. I doubt he would have really believed or done anything himself about the matter.

It is the flock that is hurt by this, so I feel like we should be doing a better job to protect them. We, by which I mean mainstream Protestantism as I have encountered it, are not doing a good job training our parishioners for spiritual warfare, and I certainly haven’t seen the leadership of the Protestant churches training themselves to protect the parishioners on their behalf. I don’t know where the Catholic Church stands on this sort of thing anymore, but I operate under the assumption that they’re more active about it than Protestant churches as a general rule.

I’m not about to become Catholic, but I again find myself thinking: they’ve been around for many centuries longer than Protestant churches, so maybe we should be taking some lessons from them on some matters? ((In addition, I’ve been learning some things about Judaism and their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible that answer a lot of questions Protestants ask, yet for some reasons these teachings haven’t made their way into Sunday morning sermons.)) I don’t know where the line should be drawn, or how, but I think we should at least be more aware that there’s a friggin’ war going on. If you duck your head in the sand, all you do is provide an easy, non-moving target.