AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
Let’s have six people take six different close up pictures of a horse. One person will zoom in on the horse’s ear. The next will zoom in on the horse’s nose. Another will take a close up picture of the horse’s lips, another of his mane, another of his leg, and another of his eye. When we later examine all of these pictures together, do we see a horse? Yes and no. We’re definitely seeing parts and pieces of a horse, but there is still a lot of horse that never got photographed. If we were to show these six pictures to someone who had never seen a horse before, would that person get an accurate idea of what a horse looks like? No. That person would stare at our six close-ups and think, “Wow, these are some very strange features. I can’t imagine how all of these things could fit together on one animal.”
This is how it works in the world of spiritual illumination. No Christian has a complete understanding of God. Instead, we each have a collection of close-ups and each close-up gives us insight into a single characteristic of God. When you talk to another Christian about God, what you’re really doing is comparing photographs. Maybe you’ve got a picture of God’s love that looks similar to someone else’s picture of His love. When you two compare photographs, you say “Yep, that’s the real God.” But then maybe you come across a Christian who has a photograph of God’s wrath and you don’t yet have any understanding about God’s wrath. When that other Christian tries to share his wrath photo with you, you push it away and say, “No, that doesn’t look like the real God at all! You’re confused!” Have you ever had someone respond to you this negatively when you tried to share some new insight that the Holy Spirit had given you about God? It’s never fun to be rejected, but it helps to understand what’s going on. Other Christians are quick to feel threatened and upset when you start talking about certain characteristics of God, such as His wrath and unpredictability. Each Christian has built a certain image of God in his mind and he doesn’t want you messing that image up.
Now because we each only have glimpses of God, we naturally fill in the blanks with our own assumptions to complete the picture. The Christian who thinks God is only love has taken that single concept and constructed a very nice God who is all sweetness and light. When you come along talking about God’s wrath or the fact that He loves Hell, you are not just presenting them with a new insight which they feel upset by, you’re also messing up their whole picture. Your dark wrath picture doesn’t fit into the happy God they’ve constructed. It’s like you’re trying to add a black splotch of paint onto a bright pastel picture of a sunny day. Christians get very hostile and aggressive towards those who are threatening their current God images. Once someone has built their faith around the concept of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, they’re going to be very upset by you trying to suggest that Jesus was a sharp tongued Antagonist who deliberately went around stirring up trouble. The problem is that when we reject new insights about God, we never gain a more complete understanding of who He is. As God’s creatures, we want to pursue intimate communion with Him, and that means we want to know Him as well as we can. Of course we can only know as much about God as He is willing to share with us, but God delights in sharing new insights about Himself with those who are sincerely seeking Him. The key is for us to be receptive when God offers us a new close-up to add to our collection of photos.
If you are standing on the ground watching an ant crawl along near your feet, you’re just going to see a dark speck moving around. If you squat down, you’ll see the ant more clearly, but not as clearly as if you lie down on the ground and move your face just a few inches away from the thing. If you were to then get out a magnifying glass, you’d see details about the ant that you couldn’t see as well with your natural eyes. If you were to then put the ant under a microscope, you’d get a whole new perspective of him. How much detail you see depends on how closely you zoom in on the subject. In the same way, for any single characteristic about God, there are infinite levels of understanding possible. You might think you have a good grasp of God’s love, but you’re really just seeing His love from a million miles away. The closer the Holy Spirit zooms you in, the deeper your understanding will become. This is what’s so fascinating about God: He’s endlessly complex. What appears at first to be simple about Him gets increasingly complicated as you get deeper in. But what’s most fascinating of all is the mystery of how so many opposing characteristics can exist within the same Being.
God is love, but He’s also wrath. He’s justice, but He’s also grace. How does that work? How can God love human beings so intensely and at the same time not be bothered by throwing so many of us into Hell? How can He be so invested and indifferent at the same time? Because none of us have ever seen the entire picture of God, we often struggle to comprehend how all of our glimpses of Him can fit together. God teaches us all in a different order. When He gives you a glimpse of His love, then He follows that with a glimpse of His mercy and grace, these three things seem to fit together nicely. But then when He gives you a glimpse of His wrath or His fierce jealousy or His delight in revenge, the positive pattern you were getting used to is suddenly proven to be invalid and you feel like you’re starting back at square one with a bunch of confusion. Suddenly feeling like they don’t know God at all is a common response when Christians get exposed to some new, shocking insight about Him. Yet if we are willing to be patient and trust our Teacher, we will experience Him neatly weaving all of our insights about Him together into some new, tantalizing shape.
Getting to know God is a very addictive experience. The more He teaches us about Himself, the more we want to know. We never come to the end of Him surprising us with some fascinating new twist about who He is and how He operates. God loves to make and break patterns. Every time we think we’ve got Him figured out, He finds some new way to astound us. Whether it’s His zeal for glory, His raging ego, or His unfathomable patience, we are always finding reasons to say, “What an amazing God!”
Think about what God has shown you about Himself so far. Every insight about God is a gift that He gives us, but we need to realize that we’ve mixed true insights in with a lot of our own false assumptions about Him. This means that if we’re going to get an ever more accurate picture of God, we have to be willing to have Him discard some of the insights we thought we had about Him because He knows they are wrong. We’re all working with a mixed bag, and some of our wrong assumptions are extremely important to us.
God knows all about how you personally view Him right now, and He knows when you’re not ready to have Him wrestle some particular concept away from you. God is very strategic in how He works with each soul. We’re all on our own unique journeys with Him. The order in which God introduces Himself to you will be different than the order in which He works with someone else. We all have different kinds of insights and different levels of understanding about the unique characteristics of God. The more mature you become, the more insights you’ll receive, which means your view of God will be more accurate than that of someone with less insights, but you’ll still be nowhere close to seeing the whole picture. No one has a complete understanding of God.
Our three glorious Creators are vastly complex Beings and we’re going to be collecting new insights about Them for all of eternity. The most heavenly aspect of Heaven is going to be the ongoing thrill of getting to know our Makers better and better. But before we get to Heaven, we want to learn as much we can and that means staying totally receptive to the Holy Spirit. No matter how distressing some new insight about God might seem to us at first, we want to ask God to help us grasp everything that He wants to teach us and not try to shove any of His wisdom away. No matter how faith destroying some new concept might seem, if it is really coming to us from God, it is only going to end up drawing us closer to Him. We can trust the Holy Spirit to reveal truths about our Creators to us at the pace and order that is best for each one of us. It doesn’t matter how many other Christians can agree with or understand your current picture of God. What matters is that you’re listening to Him and being receptive to everything that He wants to teach you.