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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Profound Simplicity, Simple Profundity

There is something that is so precious about familiarity with something treasured.  Whether it be sheer fondness, memories that warm your heart, a sense of comfort or possibly even safety, there are many positive affections that can blossom from familiarity.  I believe that these reactions can also be witnessed in the doctrines of our holy religion.  I started to see how much I take for granted with our faith when I began to study and learn about the history of the church.  I began to see just how much struggling there was over doctrines like the trinity, the doctrines of Christ being fully God, fully man.  In the 21st century, we tend not to think much about these doctrines beyond the assent that they are true and they are of great importance, though both are great mysteries.  Reading up on the Ecumenical Councils impressed on me the intricacies and the fine detail that the fathers of the church put into defining and defending these truths.  There were many a great deal of heresies revolving around twists regarding the person of Christ that, while seeming to have little significance in our context, had profoundly terrible implications.  There was a great deal of effort into giving very intentional, very particular, definitions to the docrtines of Christ.  It was eye opening to see  how much in my "enlightened" and "educated" state I miss the very fact these truths are profound.  It dawned on me that many things which ought to cause us to leap for joy and sing praises to God become so common to many of us.

Tonight I was reading On The Incarnation by St Athanasius, and as I got into the main part of Athanasius arguments specifically dealing with Christ becoming man, more and more truths started to jump out at me.  Finally I came to this, and reread it a couple different times:
His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that He was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone,  At one and the same time-this is the wonder-as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father.  Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body.  Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it.  For His being in everything does not mean that He shares the nature of everything, only that He gives all things their being and sustains them in it.
Every time I read it, it got more and more profound to me.  The surprising part was that I didn't learn anything, but many of the "simple" or "obvious" truths started to hit me in the eyes as if from the sling of the man after God's own heart, not to wound or to damage, but to excite and stir me up from a deep slumber to rejoice in the mystery of the incarnation as if I were a newborn babe in the faith!  It is no surprise to anyone that one of the great motivating factors in me is theology, but tonight like no night I can remember for years, the joy of my salvation was rekindled by this simple profundity!  Christ was FULLY the greatest extent of the word.  He hungered and thirst, he cried and celebrated, he loved and hated, he died after being mocked, beaten, humiliated, rejected, and crucified.  He sympathizes as our true High Priest!  Christ was FULLY the greatest extent of the word.  He created all, sustains all, knows all, lives in perfect harmony with the Father and the Spirit as one God.  He is the great mediator between God and man!  There was never not a time on this earth that he lacked in anyway part of either nature.  When God took condescended to earth to become man, he met us exactly where we are, and yet he maintained as God exactly what he was!  I know this was not the first moment of great amazement and joy from having something revealed to me and I know it will not be the last, but I hope that I can start to practice what I am about to suggest.

One of the few things I wanted to suggest is that people try and read through some of the books that have stood the test of time and made a lasting impact for good with the bride of our Lord.  There is a whole host of them to choose from, some more lofty than others, but I suggest that there are very few people who, given the right motivation, cannot understand even the loftiest of books.  I know from personal experience that its is very easy to take my drive for theology and my passion to learn and hoist it up as some type of intellectual superiority on many of the people around me.  The sobering reality is that there is nothing but ego with an outlook like that.  I do believe that there is much less intellectual difference, in grasping a deeper truth of some cherished doctrine, and much more just a lack motivation or drive to wrestle through the concepts.  There have been many "simple" minds that have understood very lofty theological ideas (including almost all of the apostles save Paul mind you!).  On the first pages of the introduction of Athanasius' book, C.S. Lewis points out a very helpful insight:
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books.  Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read Symposium...if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator...It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire...We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.  And that means the old books...People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we.  But not the same mistakes.
There are many good books written from modern day people, and there are many incredibly edifying books that are devotional as opposed to doctrinal.  I will not tell everyone that they should read all doctrine (nor that they should read all ancient books) but I do think that Lewis is also right when he said "I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others."  There is something very precious about finding out some nuance or fresh insight to a doctrine of Christ, a doctrine of God, or some other Christian doctrine, and then having your heart join your mind in unison praising Christ for some freshly revealed and deeply cherished truth.  I would suggest that you never discount yourself as being not smart enough to tackle doctrine.  I do firmly believe with a little effort, if the desire is there, that most people can understand many "loftier" doctrines,  I also believe that such knowledge attained can add and enhance worship and thanksgiving for God.  Don't be afraid to stretch yourself.

Then lastly there is one other thing that I mean to suggest.  Intentionally approach all devotions to God with the intent of seeing something familiar with new eyes.  Take that truth and meditate on it until it unravels before you into something less commonplace and becomes much more profound and impacting to you.  Whether it be the law of God, the grace of God, the gospel of God, the nature of God...there's countless doctrines that we know in our mind and that we take for granted.  Let us learn to join the Psalmist when he says:
I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. - Ps 77.12
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. - Ps 119.27
I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. - Ps 119.48
My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise. - Ps 119.148
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. - Ps 143.5
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. - Ps 145.5
Those are but a sampling of the scriptures dealing with meditation on God.  We could spend (and we ought to spend) our entire lives wrapped up in holy devotion for our God.  Take every thought captive.  Make every moment meaningful.  Be intentional.  Strive to meet God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) fresh every morning.  I could write more and more, but for now I hope the point is made.  Let us learn from one another.  Let us learn from those who have passed on, and from those who are growing up.  Let us also teach those whom we encounter.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, brother.

    And that C. S. Lewis piece has been one of my favorites for a while. In fact, it's possible it was one of my motivating factors in picking up Athanasius to read in the first place.

    I wonder when C. S. Lewis' books will come to count as "old books."