Of Law and Airplanes
I have always internally struggled with the concept of 'the law'. The way that this idea was embedded into my psyche growing up always had a rather negative connotation to it. 'Keeping the law' seemed to have a dark feeling to it, something that required a great deal of effort, willpower and lots of help from God. Failing to live up to every detail of this performance perfectly carried with it frightening consequences, some of which were imposed on me physically and painfully.
At the same time I heard a great deal of religious talk about the fact that love was somehow supposed to be the 'fulfilling of the law'. Since the law was such a negative subject for me and usually associated with punishment and pain, closely linking love with the law created confusion in my mind about what love must be. Added to this were the mixed messages I received from people who sometimes insisted that 'love is a principle'. The people who usually said this tended to use that phrase as a means of excusing their own fear of real love at an emotional level. In effect, that saying seemed to give them a rationalization to treat others rather coldly while claiming to be moral Christians 'keeping the law'.
As I got older I began to hear something about 'unconditional love'. This actually sounded both very scandalous but at the same time very interesting. I didn't know what to make of it. I came across a book by that name and after reading it felt my heart longing to experience such a thing. But after sending it to my father he sternly informed me that this was nothing more than a dangerous heresy that was creeping into the church and leading people into deception. That reaction created more pain and confusion in my heart.
A few years later I began to sense the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart personally during my times of quiet devotion in the morning as I read about the life of Jesus. What I was reading and sensing seemed radically different than many of the ideas about God that I had always felt. What I saw Jesus saying and doing and how He related to people was quite different than how I had been raised to perceive Him. I felt a growing disparity between the God I was starting to see in the Bible and the religion and beliefs about God I had always been taught to believe growing up. This created tension inside of me that was impossible to ignore since the Bible was supposedly the basis for what I had been taught. I felt a growing conviction that I had to choose one or the other since it was becoming clear that the two ways of viewing God were incompatible.
But any idea of letting go of what was so familiar to me – everything I had ever believed about reality and about God – became very frightening. What I had thought about God all my life was familiar and felt secure – it seemed like my very identity. On the other hand, these new ideas about God sounded almost dangerous but at the same time very attractive. Yet anything that was appealing but seemingly dangerous at the same time had the ring of temptation and I had been trained to avoid all such things. Was it safe to allow myself to believe that maybe I had been deceived by the very people who all my life had claimed to have all the truth?
I struggled for some time between two opposing views about God. In fact, I would have to say that I have been struggling all my life between varying and conflicting opinions about what God is like and how He relates to people. I have never been able to completely escape the dark, fearful concepts of God that were hard-wired into my subconscious feelings from childhood. They still react and bring up strong suggestions of what truth is supposed to look in various situations. But I am thankful that years ago when the Holy Spirit began to strongly impress me that God was different than what I had always thought that I finally agreed to allow Him to introduce Himself to me personally instead of clinging to my past and refusing to consider anything else.
When I chose to let God reveal Himself to me through His Word and internally through His Spirit by consciously giving Him permission to do so, He began to lead me on a path that has taken me further and further away from traditional religious views. Of course this has created increasing tension between my views and the standard teachings of my church; but I feel compelled to align my life and beliefs with the Word of God as revealed by His Spirit in preference to endorsing traditional opinions about Him cherished by most others in the church. This has tended to create a lot of suspicion about me in the minds of many, but as I look back at the history of God's people I notice that this is nothing unusual.
But this issue of the 'law' is still one that does not 'feel' real clear to me even yet after years of having my concepts of God radically challenged. I realize that there are very many things about truth that I have not yet really taken hold of yet, especially at the heart level. God is very patient and faithful to keep bringing up things like this from time to time as He is piecing together what seems to be a giant jigsaw puzzle that is slowly beginning to reveal more and more clearly a picture of what He really looks like. But there are still very large gaps in some areas that keep me in confusion, especially in the areas of my gut-level emotions about Him that are often still rooted firmly in past beliefs about God learned from early experiences.
Over the past few years some of my feelings about God have been seriously altered as He has led me through various subjects in the Bible to see them in different light. My growing understanding of what is really true keeps shifting further away from what I was raised to believe. I am not talking here as much about surface doctrines as I am about underlying assumptions about what they really mean. What I have been discovering time and again is that nearly every word that has been used in religious terminology seems to have been hijacked and morphed into a parallel system of religion that all sounds very logical but is actually quite different than it originally meant when it was written in the Bible.
As God has pressed me to explore deeper into what these words really mean, both from opening my mind to see how the Bible uses them in context and looking them up in the original languages, I have been perceiving that the real picture of God that the Bible conveys is quite different than the pictures I have typically had and that align more with religious opinions around me. But it still seems that though I have been thrilled with many insights in this area, this idea of 'the law' is still a very strong holdout for me, at least at the deeper emotional level. I still cannot get excited about the idea of 'the law' to the extent that David seemed to have when he said he loved it. God is likely leading me in that direction, but my heart has not gotten to that point yet.
This morning an analogy came to my mind as I was reading something that brought all of this to my attention. As I pondered what is generally most associated with the idea law – the ten commandments – it again seemed rather obvious that these commandments simply reflect what a person's life would look like if they simply had genuine love in their heart. Now I already know that intellectually, but what I have been seeking to do over the past few years is to deal more with what my heart really believes even more than what my head has endorsed to this point. I know what Jesus said about love and the law, but if my heart still struggles to believe that then I still have a serious liability that needs to be addressed in some way other than compulsive convincing. I need to enter into deeper belief.
The analogy that came to me has something to do with the ability to fly. The law says in effect that to be right or righteous requires that I must fly. But I find myself as a human in the body I have, unable to fulfill this requirement that the law demands. But since I feel a need to be righteous because it describes the only way I can have eternal life and escape the torments of hell, then I set about trying to figure out some way to get myself up into the air and flying in any way possible. I am enrolled in classes that purport to teach people how to fly with a lot of help from God. But all the techniques I have learned are very difficult to carry out.
Of course given the laws of physics and aerodynamics, I continually find myself being wounded from my various attempts to keep the demands of the law. In fact, it seems that the law itself is against me since laws are laws when it comes to God's laws and they are all really part of the same thing. The laws of physics and moral laws is all part of one seamless description of what constitutes the principles of reality and I can't exempt myself from any part of them without finding myself in some sort of difficulty.
But I am continually and increasingly confronted with the urgency of my need to keep the law perfectly. In fact, I am warned that we are all traveling rapidly toward a cliff soon and if we are not flying by then that disaster is sure to follow. But try as I may, I have never figured out how to keep myself up in the air for over a few seconds.
But then there is this flimsy-looking container nearby that is called an airplane. It seems designed for people to get inside of it and sit down and relax. That seems appealing enough but relaxing is just not something that fits into what I have been taught about what is needed to fly. Obviously, anyone in their right mind would know that it must take a great deal of effort and skill to be able to fly through the air. So the idea of sitting down and relaxing while flying in the air seems not just absurd but outright dangerous theology.
People are regularly warned from believing in such heresies. Keep away from this new-fangled contraption and stick with working on jumping off higher and higher things while practicing various methods of trying to stay in the air as long as possible. Everyone knows that is the right way to learn to fly. If you get poisoned with the idea of fooling around in that airplane you will likely get lazy and think that someone else can do all the work for you. Stick to what we have always believed for generations and don't get sucked into this 'new theology' contaminating the church.
Well, you can see where this analogy might be headed. I haven't followed it much further than that at this point, but I suspect that somehow Jesus is probably the airplane and He wants me to rest in Him as He lifts me off the ground and takes me places I never dreamed were possible to go before. I will see sights that I never was able to see from my limited perspective and will feel the thrill of soaring and swooping through the air with the greatest of ease as long as I stay securely fastened into His love and care for me.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. (John 15:4)