Beyond the Word
I was recently listening to a quotation that alerted me to a hidden danger that I had never thought about before. But this is a danger that I now realize has become a cause for much of the arguing and bigotry on the part of many religious people all over the world. It is the idea that the Word of God somehow is to be given greater priority than God Himself.
Now I am also aware of the counterpart danger that has led to the reinforcement of this philosophy and teaching. That is, the danger of depending on emotional whims, feelings or excitement to have more importance in one's spiritual journey without accountability to the Word of God. As I think of it now, this seeming tension between which one should be given precedence is not unlike the struggle that goes on over which side of the brain should be respected or trained the most, the left, logical side or the right more emotional side.
As I have been learning over recent years, the right side of the brain is actually the control center for the whole being whenever a person comes into a crisis that intensifies their emotions, especially fear. Whether we like it or not or even want to admit it or not, the right side of the brain is pre-wired to take over control of our life whenever we find ourselves confronted with intense situations. The real issue is whether we have chosen to invest time and effective effort training our right brain ahead of time in ways that are truly effective for the right brain to learn. Filling the left brain with tons of information, knowledge, strategies and rules is nearly worthless in preparing the right brain for a crisis. It only leaves one more unbalanced and frustrated and liable to discover that most of that information is unavailable when it is needed the most because it is all stored in the other side of the mind.
This quote that was brought to my attention recently reminded me of the importance of how we go about nurturing our spiritual life. If a person believes that simply filling the mind with Scripture is the ultimate defense against temptation, fear or worry, they may find too late that Scripture is simply not enough to deal with the intense emotional overwhelm that is sure to occur during traumas caused by evil powers bent on destroying our faith in God. That is not to say that knowing the Word of God is not important. I am not suggesting that in the slightest. What I am starting to see though, is that a lack of awareness of our even greater need to listen more clearly to the Holy Spirit directly in our heart will set us up for a false sense of security believing that the Bible and the Bible alone can be enough to get us through times of intense spiritual crisis.
The Word of God is certainly vital as part of our training and preparation for facing and surviving the coming crisis's that we are sure to face. But if it is not integrally linked with an ongoing and growing awareness of the messages of the Spirit interpreting, applying and enforcing those words and thoughts from the perspective of heaven, then filling the mind with Scripture can indeed lead a person to a false sense of security and leave one with serious blind spots of which they are totally unaware.
I also suspect that an over-dependence on knowing Bible verses without an accompanying heart connection with God that is vibrant, vulnerable and open to frequent challenges of our paradigms often leads to the sort of strict and rigid thinking that is seen so often among professed religious believers about versions of the Bible. I have met too many people who are so stuck in bigotry and stubbornness in their opinions about which version of the Bible is reliable to know truth that this argumentative mindset actually prevents them to a great extent from being able to even listen to the sweet voice of God deep in their soul. They have not learned the lesson that Elijah had to review on Mount Horeb about listening to the still, small voice instead of the grand and spectacular displays of power and force.
What I have noticed as common among people who particularly are fixated on defending the King James version as the only reliable or inspired version of Scripture, is that many times they are also very locked and rigid in their unique beliefs and opinions that are uniquely dependent on particular phrasing and key words only found in the King James English version of the Bible. Because some of their beliefs cannot be substantiated easily from any other version or even from the more original versions in the Greek and Hebrew, they insist that only the King James version is safe for Christians to read and follow. I have even had one person insist that the King James version was more uniquely inspired than even the original writings as penned by the original authors of the Bible.
What is starting to become more evident to me is that when we fail to have the balance that is needed in the way we allow ourselves to be taught, then we are sure to find ourselves in an imbalanced mode of thinking that can easily lead to extremes in one direction or the other. We may become so enamored with emotionalism, music-induced “fixes” during worship services or preachers that stimulate our excitement that we think we don't need to study the Bible for ourselves. Or on the other hand we may shun all these “cheap” versions of religion in favor of intense intellectual pursuit of minute details and fill our minds with formulas, literary knowledge and superior skills in working out air-tight arguments based on words and proof-texts from the Bible while failing to ever actually experience very much of the presence of the original author of the Bible.
This latter condition was exactly what Jesus met when He confronted the scribes and Pharisee's in His day. And things really have not changed much at all. Many religious people that I know are still intent on believing that if they fill their minds with enough Biblical knowledge or figure out the prophecies and can decipher the deeper meanings of many passages that this can secure their salvation in some way. Most of the time they would never admit to such a claim consciously because it would then be obvious that there was a serious problem with this line of reasoning. But subconsciously they often assume that their superior grasp of Biblical studies must surely somehow give them some advantage with God over others who have not invested as much time in advanced education as they have. I am in just as great a danger of this as anyone.
What brought this to my attention originally was a quotation from a person who spent years in prison for his faith under communism and suffered torture along with other Christians who refuse to give up their trust and beliefs in God. What he noted as one of the important things that he learned through those traumatic events in his life was that the Word of God was completely useless in effectively bringing him comfort and peace to endure such pain and torture. What he discovered was that while he could quote or recite much of the Scriptures from memory, it was vitally necessary that he felt the presence of the Author of the Scriptures actively with him during those times of intense trauma. Knowing the Word of God was simply not enough when it came to facing intense persecution; the only thing that was really useful during those times was to know the One behind the words, to actively encounter God's reality and comfort and strength that only came to bring life and reality to what the words of Scripture described.
He stated that although each of the Christians under this stress knew Psalm 23, it was completely useless unless they could feel in real time the God that was described in that Psalm. Without an active sense of the presence of God to experience and bring to life an emotional connection with the God behind the Word, all verses of Scriptures would prove to be completely useless and worthless.
When I heard this I realized even more the importance my own need to cultivate a sense of feeling God's presence and learning to listen more clearly to the voice of His Spirit on an ongoing basis. I have been brought up in a culture that puts great emphasis on filling the mind with Scriptures and memorizing verses. And while that is not completely useless or wasted investments of time and effort, it is not nearly enough if I expect the truths of those verses to materialize in my own experience when I need them the most. And the times I need them the most is not when I find myself engaged in an argument with someone who has a different opinion or interpretation than I do about some point of doctrine but is when my emotions become overwhelmed and I find my left brain shutting down during that intensity.
It is when my right brain takes control – as it was designed by God to do in the first place – that it becomes more evident what the real beliefs are that have been buried in that side of my life. And by what I have been learning for the past few years, it is the deep, gut-level beliefs that are primarily buried in the right brain, the area that I believe is often called the heart, that really determine how I am going to react or respond under pressure and crisis. These are often the times when surprises take place. These are the times when the unexpected outbursts or meltdowns occur. These are the times that can very easily expose us and bring us great shame and humiliation and regrets or cause us to reflect God's character in ways we never expected.
Over the past few years I have become increasingly aware of the urgent need for me to do much more heart training and cultivation. I am not very conscious of how to do that effectively yet, but I am aware that I have a great lack in this area still. My left brain is absorbing a great deal of new information all the time, but my heart still feels far to undernourished and uneducated to keep pace with the truths my left brain is learning so much.
What I feel that I need much more of is the kind of mentoring and close bonding that is necessary for effective right brain education. The right brain learns primarily by imitation, not by instruction. The right brain needs to absorb identity and reactions by observation through such things as body language, tone of voice, music and even sensing the spirit atmosphere around one who is more mature. We learn how to act like ourself under pressure by watching how “our people” act under similar circumstances. Since this is greatly lacking in the human interactions available to many of us I believe that we must learn to receive much of this training directly from God. He may choose to convey that to us through various people in sometimes very unexpected ways, but we must be willing to be led in this heart-oriented training just as eagerly as we sometimes pursue the more intellectual aspects of truth.
I am starting to see that God intends for me to become strengthened through the balanced use of both sides of my brain. It is much easier to work on learning things on the left side than on the right. The left is where most religious people typically spend much of their time. But what is far more elusive much of the time is learning how to receive right brain instruction that does not come in the same format or delivery systems as information for the left brain. This training is far more vital to preparing our lives for the times of testing that are coming to expose what is on the inside.
These times of testing are what the Bible often refers to as judgment. Judgment happens when the things of the heart are exposed out into the open, not just the beliefs or professions of the head. It is seen in those times what is really believed in at the much deeper levels of the soul that supersedes the professions of religion. And it is in those times of testing and crisis that it is crucial to have a living, vibrant, solid connection at the heart level with the heart of God and to have a deep belief in the goodness of His heart that will draw us closer to Him instead of causing us to fear that He has abandoned us.
This is another reason why I am believing more and more that our picture of God, our inner perceptions of how He feels about us needs to be at the very center of all of our spiritual training and attention. For it is our picture of God that lies at the very root of everything else that our heart will feel and believe when the times of testing come and that will largely shape our reactions in those times. We experience little tests on a daily basis to alert us to the true beliefs of our hearts and address them or correct them as needed. What we choose to do now about our heart beliefs and feelings about God will determine ultimately how we respond when times of crisis sweep us far past our religious professions and expose the real feelings that betray our true beliefs about God and about ourselves.
It is then that it will be seen whether my faith in God is based on a personal and real relationship with Him and an ongoing connection with His Spirit, or is only based on an intellectual belief system that has failed to reach far deeper into the subconscious regions of my brain. If my intimate attachment to God has been cultivated to include and draw out my emotions and affections for Him as much as my intellect believes in Him, then I will be better prepared to trust in His care for me even when everything around me screams that He has abandoned me or doesn't even exist. And it is also my heart beliefs that really prepare me to enjoy the atmosphere of heaven or to be frightened by that level of total exposure.