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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Abba Father

Over the past year, one of the things that has changed about my spirituality is that I feel I have moved from a pursuit of perfection, arrival, and answers; I have moved into a place of facing my own brokenness and darkness....The interesting thing is that it has almost nothing to do with my actions; at least, as far as I can see.....I used to evaluate my spiritual success on the basis of what I have done or not done: did I look at porn? Did I snap at someone? Did I honor God w/ my finances? etc, ect. But the brokeness of which I speak is different.....it sometimes feels like a chasm in my soul....an unexplained void.....i sometimes just feel like weeping....sometimes I do.....and it all feels God related....the psalmist's cry comes to mind, "Where can I go to meet with God?"....this Pilgram has definitely regressed....it seems as though the more I have drifted away from outward, religious expressions and formalities (and the more I have drifted from institutionalized Christianity), the more I have turned inward......and the more inward I have turned, the more I have discovered emptiness and vacuums.....i used to have no time for this kind of thing; i could evaluate my soul based on more objective criteria: what did i do? what did i not do? did i have a "pure heart"? did i have "impure motivations"?....but the whole religious thing kind of went supernova for me and the resulting gravitational collapse formed a black hole.....I'm no scientist, but as I understand it, light exists in a black hole it's just that its trapped within the darkness.

Special thanks to the Owl for sending me a copy of Peter Rollins's book, How (Not) to Speak of God. I recommend it; it's a very thoughtful exploration of how faith might look like if things like struggle, exploration, silence, the importance of doubt, and God's transcendence and unknowability are privileged. The official description is, "explore the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the emerging church." The prose can be a bit dense if you are not used to reading philosophy and theology, but it is not an academic book, so it is definitely doable. It's not a long read, but a bit provocative in spots.

We will discuss Rollins again, but for now there is a quote that ties in with some of my general feelings and spiritual experiences over the past year or so. Rollins talks about the "God-shaped hole," but not in the sense of a hole that is filled by God. Instead, "the God-shaped hole can be understood as precisely that which is left in the aftermath of God."

"The believer, far from once having a God-shaped hole in his or her being that is now filled, is one who has a God-shaped hole formed in the aftermath of God, a hole that compels them to seek after that which they already have. The Christian religion arises as a space that testifies to God by testifying to a God who created, but who cannot be contained, within the space. The void left by God is not unlike a type of black hole, full of something that cannot be seen and which draws our gaze into the unseen.....Faith, in this rendering, can thus be described as a wound that heals." (p. 52)

Rollins goes on to quote Pascal: "Finally, let them recognize that there are two kinds of people one can call reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because they know Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not know Him." (p. 53)

I just came across Romans 8:15-16 as translated by the NRS,

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God

Most translations end the sentence after "Abba! Father!" and then a begin a new sentence with "It is that very Spirit..." So, the NIV for example: For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

Why might that be significant? Well, if the NRS translation is correct, then it is in the act of crying "Abba! Father!" that we have the most intimate assurance that God's Spirit is with us. In other words, we are most assured of the presence of God through pain, doubt, and confusing.

Regardless of whether the NRS is correct, these verses certainly refer us to Jesus in the Garden, struggling with the ramifications of the cross that he was going to bear.

Rollins also makes a connection with the cross:

"Doubt provides the context out of which real decision occurs and real love is tested....It is precisely in the midst of a Holy Saturday [the 24 hours between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ] experience that the decision to follow Christ becomes truly authentic. A faith that can only exist in the light of victory and certainty is one which really affirms the self while pretending to affirm Christ, for it only follows Jesus in the belief that Jesus has conquered death. Yet a faith that can look at the horror of the cross and still say 'yes' is one that says 'no' to the self in saying 'yes' to Christ....The believer ought to acknowledge and even celebrate this dark night of the soul, understanding that this is not a threatening darkness which conceals an enemy but rather is the intimate darkness within which we embrace faith." (p. 34-35)


hoosier reborn said...

God can speak in the most profound way in our place of desperation...and it is as you've said, we cry out to him during that time and can feel the greatest assurance of his love for us. It was in being utterly broken, angry, and frustrated with God a short time ago that I saw His greatest work in my life and knew then "this is what it feels like to have a FATHER in heaven." And now so much of my thoughts are less about what I've done wrong, but that he finds pleasure in me.

Great post.


Melody said...

I like the NRS version...I don't really think NIV is saying something different, but I think the NRS says it stronger.

In other words, we are most assured of the presence of God through pain, doubt, and confusing.

Sort of weird...so many people use suffering as a reason to doubt God's existance, but it seems like that's when we know God best.

[Rabbit Trail] This weekend I was hanging out quite a bit with a friend who is having to deal with some stuff that 1. no one should have to deal with and 2. doesn't seem to have any answers at all, much less easy ones - and I hate that. I hate when things don't have answers and I hate when all I can do is pray - I'm better with the tangible world, to be honest - but it just floored me how very there God was just then. I don't think I'm very often convinced of God's presence...but I'm starting to think that, that's because I don't live a life that very often requires it...[/Rabbit Trail]

Emily said...

I think I do feel nearest God when I feel the most broken, the most lost, the most "What the heck...?" Too often I miss those moments, though, b/c I end up overanalyzing things in my head instead of just going straight to Him.

samlcarr said...

I wonder whether I might even go farther and say that the reality of the void, the emptiness, the horror, would be the most necessary sense.

It may not make me a 'better person' but knowing that I am an empty, broken, thing may just be the best foundation for beginning to know God.

Gives a whole new meaning to HOL(E)iness.

ktismatics said...

"I have moved into a place of facing my own brokenness"

"Brokenness" is one of those evangelical code words. I grew up Catholic, the branch of Christianity that has historically fetishized suffering, but I never heard anybody talk about brokenness. But when I started hanging around with evangelicals it seemed like part of routine discourse. My sense was that people envied those who were undergoing brokenness, because it was recognized as the preliminary step to a greater indwelling of the Holy Spirit, more discernment of God's mind, greater power in witness, improved personality (no longer I but Christ), etc.

There are Scriptural precedents of course, but in the circles I used to run in the main champion of brokenness was Watchman Nee. The first chapter of The Release of the Spirit is entitled "The Importance of Brokenness" (yes, I still have a copy). Have you read this book Erdman? Do you think its impact on evangelicalism is direct or indirect; i.e., is he widely read in evangelical circles, or have his ideas spread beyond his books?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I was recently loaned The Normal Christian Life by Nee, but I have not yet read it. Prior to that, I had never heard of Nee.

And, yes, it is unfortunate that "brokenness" is cliche.

tamie said...

hey comrade. will you send me your e-mail address? mine is tamiemarieharkins at yahoo.com

daniel said...

Great post and great comments.

The scriptural precedents are in literally every book of the Bible. The most profound of course being Jesus in Gethsemane.

A place of brokenness and darkness is always a place of change, a place of repentance, a place of new life.

Like the other cliche - "its always darkest just before the dawn.

Embrace the change.

You may appreciate this scripture Jon.

"They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace.

Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time that I punish them, They shall be cast down," says the LORD.

Thus says the LORD, "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'

Jeremiah 6:14-16