JulieLeung.com: a life told in tidepools

pictures and stories from the water’s edge

JulieLeung.com: a life told in tidepools header image 2

Writing Life and God

January 23rd, 2004 · No Comments

Last week Lisa Williams discussed what Clive Thompson at Collison Detections posted in My So-Called Blog. I liked what he wrote about writing, in describing the effect the Internet will have on society, as one mass therapy experiment….

The mere process of writing — even if you don’t write about yourself — is inherently exploratory, because it involves constructing a new version of yourself and your voice in words. You’re taking part of yourself and making it external, on a page, and as any philosopher or poet can tell you, that’s a surprisingly weird existential experience. Even if you’re writing about synthetic motor oil, writing forces you to meditate on who the heck you are.

A day or two later, I remembered this blog as I was finishing Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. I read his perspective on the power of writing.

Although he didn’t use the word “therapy”, he did say that writing brings spiritual clarity and that each person should keep a journal, as part of life’s purpose:

Writing helps clarify what God is doing in your life. Dawson Trotman used to say “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through your fingertips.” The Bible has several examples of God telling people to keep a spiritual journal. It says, “At the Lord’s direction, Moses kept a written record of their progress.”…

While it’s unlikely that your spiritual journal will be as widely read as Moses’ was, yours is still important…Your life is a journey and a journey deserves a journal…You owe it to future generations to preserve the testimony of how God helped you fulfill your purposes on earth… (pages 308-309)

“Everybody’s doing it” is not usually why I do what I do. However, I had seen The Purpose Driven Life discussed in the press, on both a national and local level. And I’d heard from friends and family who were reading the book. A bestseller, available “at Costco” (the phrase brings to mind a vast vat of Book, like any another paper product for sale there in mass quantities). When a friend recommended it, loaning me her copy, I figured I should discover what this purpose driven book was.

I read it, doing my best to go through it in 40 days, as designed. The book had six sections, beginning with the question on the cover “What on earth am I here for?” and followed by five answers: planned for God’s pleasure, formed for God’s family, created to become like Christ, shaped for serving God and made for a mission.

My intuitive and immediate ranking was to give this book a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s got a lot of solid principles. Many truths were written out in simple ways, sounding a little like sermons, illustrated and easy to comprehend, even somewhat mnemonic. Rick Warren used various translations so that Bible verses sounded more contemporary – I didn’t even recognize many of them.

One point I appreciated was his discussion how “David served God’s purpose in his generation” I had not noticed this verse from Acts before and Warren used it to emphasize the eternal aspect of serving God plus the “contemporary and timely way” here and now, that no other generation will have. What does it mean for me to serve God’s purpose in my generation?

Yet I have some concerns, reasons why this book is only a 5 and not a 10 or close to it. Writing about God is dangerous in itself, for words will always fail to fully describe this living Being. What I fear most, about this Purpose Driven Life is that it ultimately seemed to make God and life into some sort of science, easily understood. The method Rick Warren described for finding one’s purpose involved examining facts about one’s life, and then experimenting, trying to determine one’s precise purpose through trial and error. It seemed simple and straightforward. But too tidy for me.

Warren quoted many verses and I do agree that the Bible does teach us about God and that He has plans and purposes.

But the Bible also says that God is “living and active sharper than any two-edged sword”. God is a “consuming fire”. He is wind that “blows wherever it pleases…you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going”. God is “living water”. “God is spirit”.

Neither wind nor water nor fire can be held in your hands and contained. You can’t capture or keep them. They have power beyond you. They are intense and mysterious. None of them fit in a box or in a book.

I’ve struggled recently with my own faith, looking at my life and wondering why it is the way it is. It’s hard to see any purpose or plan in it. Or what kind of mission I’m accomplishing here. Even if I try to apply what Rick Warren wrote, it still looks like a mess to me.

Why, if I’ve prayed for so many things, with childlike foolishness and belief, why haven’t they happened? I’ve gotten disillusioned with God. What’s the point of serving Him if He doesn’t operate according to His principles, what I think He said about Himself? I’m asking and knocking and seeking but not finding. I’m praying but nothing is happening here.

And I realized that it comes down to letting God be God. The mystery He is. Beyond my own understanding. Beyond any book.

A few days after finishing The Purpose Driven Life, while wrestling with my feelings and faith, I read what Jay McCarthy at makeoutcity.com wrote :

Suppose that you believed in a Supreme Being that created the universe and, by extension, humans (either directly or through evolution) and gave them free will and loved them (like a father/mother.) If your God is infinite and being human understanding in its entirety, then you would not believe that a Bible or preacher could tell you what was right and what was wrong. To do so would be to completely understand God, which you have defined as impossible. God would then act by inspiration: by the conscience that helps you decide what is it right and wrong for you; by the beauty of the world that makes you want to live; etc.

It is my opinion that this belief system encourages reason (listening to your conscience and attempting to understand the Universe, and God) as well as encouraging Liberty and freedom from coercion (no one can know everything like God does, so there is no greater authority than the one that interacts with you.) It is also my opinion that this was the original kind of faith prescribed by Jesus and at the heart of Christianity, but it was corrupted through the years by the power structure aspirations of Churches.

(Also a note: Such a belief would not encourage people to think THEY are right, or more right, than others because inherent to it is the inability to understand God completely. So, there is no worry about having every person think they are God’s voice and the actor of God’s will.)

From where I was that day, floundering around, afraid and frustrated, I found hope here. What I appreciated in this post was the sense from Jay that we human beings cannot completely understand God. In these three paragraphs I got a glimpse of something I felt was missing from Rick Warren’s book.

Completely understanding God is impossible for any one of us. Simplifying God and life, focussing on missions, purposes and plans, what we can comprehend, makes Him less than Who He is, and makes our lives less than all He has for us. This book is a little like giving people baby food rather than allowing people to struggle while cutting up meat. While it has many good principles, or nutritious ingredients, it’s a bit easy and a bit bland, missing the spice and intensity of flavor that comes with more difficult digestion. It over-emphasizes mission while missing mystery.

We each need to wrestle with God as individuals in our own lives. We each need to listen and to let go. And we need to step back in awe of such a Being.

I believe in a God who is living. A God like liquid. A God who, in some sense, defies definition, a God beyond borders or boundaries. I believe that God sometimes doesn’t make sense to us. Our lives won’t ever make complete sense to us either. Sometimes we might be able to see a bit of a purpose or plan, but sometimes we won’t. And if we listen to Him, as we get to know Him, He may sometimes ask us to do things that we can’t comprehend or understand. God makes our lives mysterious too. After all, Love is illogical.

I read again the newspaper articles, which only confirmed my fears:

Overlake pastors decided to use the book because “we found it consistent with what we were trying to teach and we wanted to maximize the popularity of the best-seller book,” Kingham said….

“It’s like you’re getting a road map for how you should go through things,”…

“This course really brings it down to earth, makes it a one-on-one relationship. God’s a buddy.”…

Sure God’s a buddy and a book can be like a map to life. But where is the sense of mystery, the sense that relating to God is an awesome constant interaction with living water and consuming fire, dynamic and dangerous?

If all God wanted was mission, if what mattered to His mind was accomplishing specific purposes and plans in life, He’d do it Himself rather than trust us inefficient humans.

God wants us. More than mission. More than we can see with our eyes and make sense of in our lives. And He wants us to want Him. Not a map or a plan but He as He is, both buddy and mystery. That’s how lovers are.

Tags: books