Five years ago, consumed with a yearning to better understand the country in which I had been born and raised, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on about the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
One morning I came across a hot-off-the-press article on Congo’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba, who was murdered very unceremoniously in the shadows in 1961 after not cooperating with the West. A masterful academic piece bemoaning the woes of Imperialism, the article’s author was a fellow way over on the other side of the world (not Africa). But the piece seemed lopsided to me: It pegged absolutely all of Congo’s problems on the Evil West, giving no mention to tribal conflict, the sheer size of the country, infrastructure, natural obstructions (rainforest, rivers, mountains, flora, fauna), and so on and so forth and what have you.
Feeling particularly bold (or insane), I sent off what I believed was a neutral response, suggesting that Congo’s complexities could not be pegged merely on Imperialism.
Well. Within seconds, responses to my response lit up my computer screen. This writer obviously had supporters. I got skewered. Not just for my rhetoric mind you; folks lambasted me, personally. Why, they called me a “European” of all things. One even got so bold as to call me “fluffy.”
Their vitriol (Isn’t it interesting that this word used to mean “sulfuric acid”?) burned. While I observed from over here, I could see that they, over there, truly believed they had me all figured out. Within their cozy, comfortable circle, they chuckled, they cheered, they slapped each other on the back. One tried to engage me by questioning me further, but this time I knew better. Obviously nothing I could say would generate any kind of decent conversation. They could not go there, because they would not go there.
I wasn’t accustomed to this “say-whatever-you-want-and-remain-slightly-anonymous” stuff. I slammed my laptop shut and went to find a cookie.
They did not know me. But from the three, maybe four sentences they had read, they created an image of me that was not me.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago. We were driving home from church one Sunday, and I was in a vulnerable state of mind maybe because I needed lunch, or because it was overcast, or because I needed a nap. At any rate, while my mind wandered around as it often does while I’m in the car or in the shower or washing the dishes, a scenario assembled itself in my head of a room full of varying social circles intensely discussing me. (Don’t pull out your tiny violins yet. I’ll get to my point.) In my self-absorbed haze, I watched as they analyzed my character, my person, how I ticked. They used books written by other people to draw their conclusions. The conversations were based on what they “felt” or what they had heard or what they had read. I was so yearning to be known, I was right there in the room, and yet no one approached me or gave me any eye contact.
But a Voice cut through the fog my self-pity, saying, “This is how I’m treated all the time.”
“Stop the car!” I wanted to say but didn’t. I needed to do a Job 42:5.
Now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. My self-absorption had to go. I threw it out the car window where it is now stinking up the road, right next to the Colonie Town Library.
This is how I’m treated all the time. This phrase pops into my head now almost daily, especially in the midst of the conversations that continue to intensify and swirl around Phil Robertson, the Grammys, and who-knows-what-lies-around-the-corner. Recently the Congo article fiasco was called back to mind because to me it’s the perfect analogy of how we tend to assemble our view of God. How is it that we come to choose what to believe about God?
- By what sounds right? By what seems right? (Why on earth would we do that while getting to know anyone?)
- By huddling in our comfort zone with those of similar opinions who will soothe and coddle us?
- By building a foundation of lopsided academic research and calling it smart, and getting our affirmation from fans who will clap and cheer and slap us on the back?
- By focusing only on one or two verses from the Bible (for instance, “archaic laws” in Leviticus about not eating lobster) to draw conclusions about God’s person and his character? Do we build security fences with those few verses, designed to keep God out?
- By burning with self-justified anger when someone challenges our thinking? Do we have ears? Are we willing to go there? If there is that Voice, are we shouting too loud to hear it?
- By reminding everyone that the word on the street is that we’re supposed to be accepting and loving each other? According to Jesus? Do we know this Jesus that we are quoting? Only you can answer that question.
How would we answer if we heard God ask, “Who is loving me?”
The last few weeks have me coming to a new understanding of Jesus as a man of sorrows. Not just the crown-of-thorns-getting-beaten-to-a-pulp kind of sorrow, but the kind of sadness that comes from being misunderstood, misquoted, ostracized, made fun of, despised.
How well do we know God? This begs another question: Have we created an image of god that is not God?
Me? Often in the past, friends of mine would suggest that if Jesus showed up at a party they would run and throw their arms around him. I always felt a pang, because frankly in such a scenario I always saw myself as being the one hiding in a corner behind a potted plant. Not for anything particularly bad, mind you. In fact I’ve been steeped and saturated in all things biblical and even know words like “antinomianism” and “supralapsarianism.” I’ve memorized oodles of Bible verses. But dang it, the person at the very core of me has always been a social periphery kind of girl. Don’t get too close there, Mister Jesus. Right there at arm’s length, thanyouverymush. So it’s not hard to imagine that my god-assembly, depending on my mood, has featured judgment and condemnation or soothing and coddling or whatever I needed to dream up at the moment, so long as it was a god that allowed me to do what I want. In other words, whatever was all about me.
But one day when my ears were ready to hear and my eyes were ready to see, the phrase “You can know about Jesus, but not know Jesus” went through me like a lightning bolt.
Am I there yet? Not at all. Am I learning? Every day — through prayerful conversations with God, through reading his very Word contained in the Bible, through worship. These things keep me from that familiar slide down to self. Condemnation? No. Joy? Yes. I have the full assurance that he is at your party, yearning to know you. There is no need to hide behind the potted plant. But he wants eye contact. As he passes by, look to him. He will say, “Come out from there you silly goose. I’m coming to your house for dinner.”
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (Jesus, speaking in John 15:11)
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12)
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (The Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 1:27)
‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Jesus, in Mark 12:30-31)
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection. (The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 3:10)
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (Jesus, in John 17:3)
And to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3:19)