“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I have been reflecting on the contrast between these two passages of scripture. They’re not necessarily a traditional juxtaposition, but the weariness of our lockdown situation in South Africa is starting to take it’s toll. Because of this I have been drawn (or perhaps pushed?) into a contemplative space around what my life is ‘supposed’ to look like, and whether I am still processing the global grieving of the ‘old normal’.
Our experience is difficult to decode, which is perhaps why the more conservative elements of religions insist on some exterior ‘truth plumb line’. This does not mean that our experience isn’t either helpful or true (for a given value of true). It means that human beings are adept at hiding from themselves, others and happenings. We interpret experience in many different ways, often from the perspective of our own psychological survival.
So, what on earth am I on about? Summarising all of my musings above is this thought:
What do I mean? Well, our ideas about God are so incredibly powerful and formative. In so many ways they shape our view of reality, ourselves and others. We must be careful to distinguish between our ideas of God and God-self; because they are not always synonymous. One might even say hardly ever. These ideas of God are built upon the shaky foundations of past experiences, upon which we’ve not reflected (hang in with me mystics, I am not preparing to say that experiences are unreliable) – especially hurts and disappointments; and equally on the uninvestigated instruction and teaching of authority figures of our past. With these lenses in place we continue to engage in the personal and collective social constructivism that permeates all of our lives. We do, in effect, ‘create’ god and seat him/her/it in a place of reverence, which in turn informs our lives. So our lives become a mixture of a projection of our own desires, ideas, hurts, dreams and past learning.
Does the lockdown provide an inescapable opportunity for me to think deeper about who/what God really is?
In this lockdown I am confronted with realities that I hadn’t previously entertained. I must face a reality in which I am far less in control than I formerly believed myself to be; in which my life’s future trajectory may be far different to what I’ve planned. Some of these changes could literally happen overnight, and arrive without my invitation. I am aware that my conscious choice of anchor-hold on God has often been governed by the John 10:10 verse – a life of abundance. This current life does not feel much like the abundance I projected. It feels more typified by the question in Luke 12:51 – “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?” In the face of this I must begin to question whether I have rightly understood abundance.
It is as if circumstances prepare me for God to break through my persistent projections and introduce something from outside of my prioritised worldview of blessing, happiness and success. It is potentially the case that not everything I have claimed in the name of sacredly sanctioned abundance is good for me. Do I perhaps need to accept the gift of sitting in the tension between abundance and division (Luke 12:51) and there listen for the voice of God?
This is no comfort at all! But then I wonder whether comfort is sometimes something I create so as to hold on tightly to the reins of my own life. It is perhaps the discomfort that leads me forward and out of the apathy and blinkered living, which I have built to maintain my comfort.
It is the in-rushing of this External Presence that ushers in these wonderings. As such I must celebrate this discomfort, welcome it as a friend and ask it what it has come to teach me.