Saturday, October 15, 2005
Wary of Names
"Jesus, man, you just don't get it. You need a name. You gotta do something, call yourself something that tells people you've arrived!"
A Christian. A follower of Jesus. A Believer. A Republican, a Surfer. Names to infinity. You are what you wear, or what you eat, and belief just goes on like a suit of clothes.
What does it take to be something deeper than the name? Christians, especially, seem to be very concerned with this. They want to make sure their names are in God's book, so they make sure they act accordingly.
A friend of mine was here a couple of weeks ago. His timing was really unfortunate; the mood I was in, I was just barely able to keep from snarling at him. One day I was in a halfway friendly--well, more like slightly friendly--mood. He'd come by to bring my car back and was sitting in the living room. I gave him the copy of Brennan Manning's "Ruthless Trust" that I'd bought to replace all the other copies I'd given away, and he was looking through that.
"How do you know this is true?" he asked.
It's actually a good question, and one I'd thought about a lot, especially about this book. Its ideas are radical, starting with the simple fact that God can't love us any more than he already does, no matter what we do.
I pushed open a little door in my clamshell and said, as a summary of my thoughts, "My experience corroborates what he writes there."
His response was immediate. Flames scoured my clamshell and I let the little door slam shut. "That's the Charismatic fallacy. You can't go by experience."
I didn't say a word, although I thought quite a few. Some of them being along the lines of "If what you're doing doesn't work, it's time to try something new," but that's something I've said to him before.
Of course, he's right. Partially. To navigate the Christian life purely by experience is a mistake. If I'd had more time I'd have tried the more complex answer, which is that I balance the Bible, teaches from others, my experience, what the Holy Spirit says to me directly, logic, and a subtle feeling of rightness all against each other. If there's general agreement then I'll move, and feel fairly confident, but it's always subject to being redirected in the future.
You'd think that life depended on these decisions. It doesn't, really. God loves me no more now than he did before I even acknowledged him. God loves the murderer as much as he loves anyone. My actions don't limit or control God. I have no way of making him love me because he cannot be manipulated. His love is complete and nothing I do can change that. There is no magic formula to make him love me more, nor the just right mix of devotionals and words to pry blessings out of him.
He names me... something. I don't really know yet. Living is the process of learning that name, instead of all the names I've been given or the names I've given myself. Do you want to follow rules to a definable name, or allow God to teach you a real name that no PR machine can make up? A real Name, that contains everything you are. Only God knows it.
All the rest of the Christian practice is there to help support us in learning God's name. Reading the Bible, praying, going to church are seen as necessary acts to obtain God's blessing. Those acts may aid in finding a name, but they're not the Name itself. The name is in the heart someplace, and God knows hearts completely. Reading the Bible while keeping the mind-gates locked against any whisper of God's voice isn't going to help much, although God will still use the words that manage to stick. No time with God is wasted.
Each person's path is individual. God didn't make us so that we could follow trends and end up looking alike. You'll never find a way to your unique name by following the herd. Perhaps there is some benefit from being in a crowd--less likely to be picked off by predators, I suppose, unless it's a predator that everyone is following--but I don't know what it is. I've had to act like a herd animal all of my life, but the act is wearing thin. Very thin.
God still loves me. He still whispers in my ear "Keep going." I don't follow any of the rules. Maybe it's a semi-conscious effort to drive him away: "You can't love me any more. I don't do any of these things."
"Before the world was, I am. Before you had any idea of my Name, I loved you. Nothing you do will change that."