Theory vs. Reality. How Do You Understand God And The Christian Life?

A few days ago I read a blog post on the subject of stillness in prayer. It was well written with story, illustrations, quotes, and whimsical language. However, it left me unmoved and frustrated. Why? Because the writer wrote out of a theory of prayer not the experience of it. You could tell that he knew about stillness in prayer but was missing the actual ongoing experience of stillness. This is not unusual. I fear that most self-proclaimed Christians live in theory not reality. It’s easy to quote the Bible as if it’s a book of ideas. But really living it is a different matter altogether. 

What is a theory?

Here’s a compilation of definitions: the-o-ry: a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. A set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based. An idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action. 

Can you see how your understanding of the Christian life could actually be theory – ideas and principles? Can you see how your understanding of God and His ways could actually be theory – simply ideas and principles? Holding to certain ideas, even good ones, about God will not transform your life. 

The truth is, you cannot think your way into Christlikeness, holiness, love, or any virtue. Yet that is how many Christians behave. They think that one more book, seminar, conference, video, movie, or sermon will satisfy the desire of their heart for God. 

James K. A. Smith, PhD, professor of philosophy, offers this insight: “We learn to love, then, not primarily by acquiring information about what we should love but rather through practices that form the habits of how we love.”  

Are you tired of drinking the Kool-aid of Christian theory? Do you desire to drink from the inexhaustible cup of God’s righteousness, life, goodness and love? Then, develop real habits that open your heart to the wellspring of God. 

In the next few posts, I’ll be exploring the question posed by a disciple to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus did not give them ideas about prayer. He gave them words to say and a way to say them. That is, He gave them a practice that was to become habitual. Jesus was not a theorist. He was a realist who knew how lives could be transformed. 

How has your life been influenced by a theoretical understanding of God?  How are you challenging those ideas? 

Dr. K 

Christianity: A Life of Knowing The Unknowable

God is Mystery

Today’s post raises to our consciousness the reality that God is Mystery. Not a mystery like we read or watch on TV where the detective team solves a complex problem brought about by murder or some other crime. There is no solving God. He is not a problem to be solved. This Mystery challenges us to enter and live in it without trying to solve anything.  This Mystery is not to be understood. This Mystery is to be experienced. 

“But wait,” you might say, “Hasn’t God revealed Himself in His Son, in creation and in the scriptures?” Yes He has. Yet this does not make Him any less a Mystery. No human can fully comprehend God even in His Son, creation, and scriptures. The Son is True God. Creation accurately proclaims God. The scriptures are a true revealer of God. Yet, the Triune God is still beyond our comprehension. For example, we cannot understand how pure divinity and pure humanity can reside in one body, Jesus Christ. Yet, it is a mystery we’re invited to live into. 

The egoist Christian says: “I know God.” The humble Christian says, “I really don’t know God.” 

Quotes about God as Mystery

Consider these powerful statements from scripture and wise men that rock your understanding of God:

The one way we can know we are meeting the real God is when he acts in a way we do not understand. Dr. Melitios Webber 

Can you discover the deep things of God? Can you discover the limit of the Almighty? Job 11.7

God in His Essence is incomprehensible. Michael Pomazansky

God dwells in unapproachable light; Whom no one has ever seen or can see. 1 Timothy 6.16

It is impossible to know God. But, you must know Him to know that. Thomas Hopko

We explain not what God is, but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning Him. For in what concerns God, to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Great is our Lord, and great is His strength, and of His understanding there is no measure. Psalm 146.5 

The very awareness of the inaccessibility of ‘the unknown God’ cannot, according to [Clement of Alexandria], be acquired except by grace: ‘by this God-given wisdom which is the power of the Father.’ Vladimir Lossky (Eastern Christian theologian) 

Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For how has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11.33-36

For Gregory of Nyssa every concept relative to God is a simulacrum, a false likeness, an idol. The concepts which we form in accordance with the understanding and the judgement which are natural to us, basing ourselves on an intelligible representation, create idols of God instead of revealing to us God Himself. There is only one name by which the divine nature can be expressed: the wonder which seizes the soul when it thinks of God. Vladimir Lossky 

It is difficult to conceive God, but to define Him in words is impossible. St. Gregory Nazianzen 

You are invited to know the Unknowable; to know God Who is Mystery. 

Do these statements challenge your view of God? How do you react to them? 

Dr. K 

Starting Out As a Child Is How We Are To End

The Kingdom Is Available Only To Children

In one of **Bill Cosby’s first recorded comedy routines, he talks about some experiences of his childhood beginning with the line, “I started out as a child.” The audience erupts in laughter. It’s a funny line because it states the obvious, but normally forgotten, truth. We all start out our lives as children. Spiritually speaking, it’s too bad we don’t remain there. We become “adults” in our faith and forget what it’s like to be a child, the very thing Jesus tells us we must be. 

Jesus’ Teaching 

Truly I say to you, unless you turn (repent) and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18.3-4

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven/God. Matthew 19.14; Mark 10.15; Luke 18.16

Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great. Luke 9.48

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. Luke 18.17

Humility is at the Core

There may be many characteristics of a child that Jesus is inviting us to be. However, humility is certainly at the core. You’ve seen humility in a child – a willingness to ask, eagerness to please, sensitivity to others, and innocence about life. Much of this changes as children grow older, cynical, critical, proud, and self-determined. 

Now, add to this “growth” a layer of Bible knowledge and/or theological enlightenment and you’ve got a path leading around the Kingdom of God not into it. To the theologically sophisticated, the spiritually mature, the ministry experienced, or the ecclesiastically educated a call to childlikeness seems impossible. No. It actually sounds foolish. 

Maybe Jesus was wrong? You might hope so. Is he teaching us that a mature faith is a child’s faith? That would be just like him.   

From what Jesus says, there is more hope for the ignorant layperson than for the degreed church leader. I’m not advocating ignorance. I’m just saying none of us have an excuse for not living a kingdom life. The most childlike have the best chance not the astute theologian. You can have all your Bible ducks in a row. But if you’re proud, defensive, and arrogant about your Bible knowledge, you’re going to miss out on the Kingdom. Count on it. 

Repent!

The solution, according to Jesus, is to repent. Turn from your arrogant ways. Admit your pride. Turn towards Jesus and learn humility from him who lived it, suffered in it, knew himself in it though quite knowledgable of scripture and humanity. 

Repent. Become a child again. Go back to where you started. Crawl on your hands and knees through the door of the Kingdom of God. It’s only open for children. 

How do you struggle in being like a child spiritually? Share your experience below. 

Dr. K 

**I know Cosby’s reputation has been tarnished by recent revelations. At the time we heard these recordings (in the 60’s) he was the funniest person we’d ever heard. 

To People Who Want To Know God Better But Can’t Get Started

Here is a scripture phrase that will help jump-start your relationship with God. It challenges you to be more than you are. It invites you to reflect on your current practices and make some changes. Here it is:

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. (James 4.8)

Why is this message from St. James so challenging? 

  • It places the initiative for intimacy with God on you. God is already close to you. You are the one who needs to make the first move so that intimacy happens.
  • The closeness is with God. Isn’t God far away? Distant? Uninvolved? Clueless? Do you think He can’t relate to you? God becoming human (Jesus) proves all that wrong.
  • Nearness with God is something that’s uncomfortable. Since God is so different from you, how can there be a close relationship? How can you feel close to a God you don’t trust? You’re not sure He loves you enough for a close relationship. What will He do to you if you get close? Come close. God is not who you think He is.
  • There are confusingly different ways to do this. Do you come near in prayer? By reading scripture? By going to church? Through meditation? By journaling? By taking retreats? By taking walks in the woods? By listening to praise music? By memorizing scripture? By reading books? By attending a Bible study group? By doing all, or some, of the above? Please. Keep it simple.
  • The reality of change frightens you. To get close to God you’ll have to change some things. When you get closer to God you know a whole lot will need to change. And you don’t want to change. Yet, down deep, you know you need to change.
  • You don’t want to do this alone. If you make it a goal to live life near to God, you sense that not many will journey with you. Perhaps no one. Where will help and companionship come from?

We, at the UnCommon Journey, are doing all we can to help you draw close to God so that you will experience His loving nearness. We are companions with you on your journey. You are not alone. We can help. Engage our posts. Put into practice the ancient-modern ideas we present. Contact Keith for personal help.

I want this invitation God offers through St. James to become a reality for you.

  • Desire it for yourself.
  • Repent (change direction for yourself) and begin to discover how to draw close to God.
  • Meet with God in solitude with the only agenda item to be with Him.
  • Read my ebook, Journey to Stillness, for help.
  • For personal help and/or with questions, email me: [email protected]

What keeps you from drawing close to God? Share your struggles and successes below.

Dr. K

2 Simple Realities That Make All The Difference On Your Faith Journey

Keep Your Faith Simple

Could it be that faith in God has gotten complicated for you?  Many believe you must understand a certain theological system or interpret scripture using a hard-to-grasp paradigm before your relationship with God makes sense. I don’t think so! 

For decades I studied God and his ways. Sometimes, I’d back myself into an intellectual corner and sit there paralyzed. I couldn’t make sense of God. I have a friend who did this kind of thing and now calls himself an atheist. Is this a life of faith? 

Hebrews 11 presents many descriptions of people who had the right kind of faith. One example is found in Hebrews 11.5-6. It tells of Enoch’s simple faith.

As an example of faith, Enoch knew two simple realities:

1. God exists.

This was not just a head knowledge or an intellectual idea he had about God. There was no way to know God like that in his time. There were no philosophical or scientific arguments for the existence of God for him to study. He did not attend lectures on God’s existence and become convinced. He knew God existed because he was experiencing the reality of God in his everyday life. God’s existence was not a theory or concept. He knew God as he experienced the birth of his children, as he lived in nature, as he saw the sun rise and set, as he ate food provided for him, as he endured suffering, worked hard and interacted with people (especially his children) or sat in silence. 

Truth is, this is how you and I know God exists, as well. Conventionally, modern Christianity wants you to only find God through books and arguments that appeal to your intellect. But, classical Christianity teaches that God is known experientially in everyday life. It’s always been this way.

Saint Maximos the Confessor (580-662) sheds light on “existence:” 

The final goal of the movement of the things that move is to reach the eternal and good existence, just as their beginning lies in the existence which is God. For he is both the giver of existence and the One who gives the gift of that good existence as its beginning and its goal. 

God exists here in everything that exists – seen and unseen. You can experience Him if you will. 

2. God rewards those who seek Him.

What is this “reward?” It seems Enoch’s reward was that he had the pleasure of God’s company 24/7. Is there any greater reward? What would it be like to actually experience God all the time? Was Enoch also rewarded by not dying? We are not sure where he was “taken” but we know he did not die. Was his experience of seeking God so intimate that, being in God, he simply entered eternity with Him? Fascinating.

Enoch’s example is motivation to seek God with simple faith. Believe that God exists and believe that he rewards you as you seek him. Seeking God is a journey of faith. Faith is not instantly developed. Faith means journeying with God whom you cannot see physically (though Jesus showed us God in his person) though you experience His existence. 

You’re on that journey. Keep it simple like Enoch. Enjoy the reward of God as you seek Him in everything.

How has your pursuit of God left you? How would a simple-faith pursuit change you? Share below. 

Dr. K 

WARNING: This Post Could Change Your Life

Pulling the Plug on Cable

A few months ago Rhonda and I cancelled our cable subscription with Comcast. The timing could not have been worse since the Stanley Cup Playoffs were in full swing. But there would always be some kind of sporting event that could have prevented our decision (and often did). But not this time. We finally pulled the plug.

From this graphic, “cutting the cord” is a growing trend.

This action caps a long struggle lasting (I hate to admit it) over 5 years!?! We didn’t cancel due to poor service or bad programming (though the cost was ridiculous). We actually took time to evaluate the place of TV in our lives. We took the plunge. We’ve made some positive changes as a result.

Three Main Reasons For Cancelling

  1. Practically, there are internet/wi-fi options available like Netflix and Amazon that were not available only a few years ago. So many shows, movies, and specials are available so that network TV is not necessary. We are free to watch these shows when we want to. We don’t have to endure one commercial after another. Not as much time is involved. We are watching good programming much of which we had not previously known about.
  2. Spiritually, we faced the reality that TV is not ordinarily a friend of one’s inner life. It takes up too much time. The content, with few exceptions, contradicts the efforts we are making to bring more peace and wisdom to our hearts. We gave up on sitcoms a long while ago due to their moral vacuum. We discovered we didn’t need TV news of any kind with elite talking heads telling us how to think and what to think about. I had to face the reality that even watching sports takes up so much time with little if any spiritual value. Reality TV is not real but staged. News and sports channels with their incessant talk and repeating the same tripe over and over contribute nothing to a good and beautiful life.
  3. Morally, we did not like the values projected on us by those who have a different moral compass. The messages are one thing. The visuals are another. Men, in particular, you need to be honest with what you are really watching in such programming as “Dancing With the Stars” or “Empire” or any show with hot women strutting their stuff. You can’t control how people act or what they look like when you see them out in public. But you can control what you invite into and watch in your home.

So, here are a few questions to ask about your TV watching to discern whether to pull the plug or ditch the dish:

  • Is this the best use of my time? When I say “yes” to TV I say “no” to other activities that may be better for me. Is there a project that is being neglected? Would I profit more by reading a book that will challenge my imagination or nurture something good in me? Is there someone I need to spend time with?
  • Is what I want to watch worth it? What difference will this TV show make in my life? Will the content enrich my mind? Will it benefit my relationship with God? The real cost of bringing this content into your life needs to be evaluated.
  • What is my motivation? Will this show actually help me relax or will it create more tension in me? Am I trying to escape something I need to deal with internally or externally? It is difficult to ask “Why am I doing this?” since you may not like the answer.
  • Has TV watching become a habit – an activity I do without thinking because it is convenient and easy? There are very few things good for us that are easy. The best things usually include some degree of struggle. Do I want the best for myself?

Take some time to evaluate the place television has in your life. Be honest with yourself. You will find much good comes out of it when you do.

What do you struggle with when it comes to watching TV? What keeps you from making some changes in your viewing habits? Share below. 

Dr. K