The following is a modified portion of a letter which I wrote shortly after Easter. I hadn’t written it with the CS Lewis quote, included at the end, at the forefront of my mind, but perhaps it was back in the recesses of my memory. And oh, it fits so well.
…Ordinarily I would fill the body of a letter such as this with reflections on Easter, the resurrection, and the mysteries therein. But as I thought about what I wanted to say I decided I wouldn’t push myself to wax poetic on theological insights that are true but which I cannot say I presently know or understand as deeply as I’d like. Over the past couple of months, God has brought to crumbling my perceptions of Himself (and, my perceptions of my perception of Him). I’ve realized that while my knowledge about Him might be decent, my knowledge of Him is still missing some pieces. I find myself at a place where a lot of things have been broken down and there is nothing to do but ask and wait for Him to begin reconstruction. And in this liminal space, to talk a lot about theological details with any pretense of confidence would be like picking up the shambles of any former “understanding” and trying to fit them together to look like a presentable house — the appearance might be pleasant, but the structure would lack solid integrity.
In the midst of it all, I’m seeing how simple yet earnest prayers I asked of Him several months ago — which we may have talked about at one point or another — are being answered. Prayers like, “God, let me know you as you are and not as I want you to be or think you are,” or “Lord, let me know your joy and peace.” I’m learning that such requests for more can only be answered if preceded by a lessening. That perhaps growth in knowledge of God cannot truly happen until some of the presently-misaligned and over-simplified conceptions of Him get broken down. New wine cannot and should not be put into old wineskins, and the prayer of “Lord, let me really, deeply know you as you are” begins to be answered when one is brought to crying out, “Lord, I barely know you.” If this present state of wine-skin renovation is where I find myself, then He is up to something good.
There is a strange way in which now, in this time post-demolition, God feels more real. My experiential understanding of the details of that real presence is still developing, but in this place of unfamiliarity, I find that He’s more true than I conceived of Him before. His mystery and reality are inextricably linked. For our notions of God to be true to God, they cannot be comfortable, self-certain and comprehensive; any such conceptions of Him are like a cartoon compared to reality.
I’ve also been comforted by the fact that Jesus prayed three times on the Mount of Olives and got no reply from the Father. In a strange way, our God knows what it is like to meet His own silence. As our experiences (whether now or perhaps later in life) echo Christ’s — as we experience the Father’s silence — we will paradoxically know His life and person more intimately.
These realizations fill me with hope, although I don’t exactly what I’m anticipating in that hope. Something too wonderful to know beforehand, I suppose. Maybe this present time of demolition will continue; maybe there is more of my understanding of God to be razed. Or maybe the building has already begun and will continue, ‘till there stands on my plot a magnificent home built solidly upon rock and not sand. One with fewer missing pieces, a strong foundation, and a great hole in the roof where others have lowered me to Him in prayer and listening.
Yes. In times when God has felt far and Christ seems absent, I’ve been reminded again and again that He is present in the faces of those around me. That in many ways, to grow in giving and receiving love from others is to grow in loving and receiving love from Him. With others I am learning what it means to genuinely know and be known; I’ve come to understand that grace is greater balm to those whose aches have been brought to sight before another. God is the architect and material supplier for the renovation that is underway in me, but he has given fellow Christians the hammers and drills.
And ultimately, in times of tearing down and times of mending, He will be the one to hold us fast. In my worst moments of feeling God’s silence I’ve railed against Him in anger and have teetered on the precipice of rebellion, I’ve always come through to the other side and seen, somehow, that He was still there, that I was never completely let from His grasp. All pretense of my faith being strong because of my own piety has begun to dissolve, and I’m seeing that faith truly is a gift of grace. I’m not saying that you’ll end up in similar volatility, and I hope you don’t descend to the depths. But if you do, allow yourself to exist there and He will rescue you freely, in due time. Remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” There will always be a certain amount of dimness in our knowledge of God and our perception of His presence. Perhaps all of life is this process of demolition and renovation. And yet we are fully known by Him, and that’s what matters in the end.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
— CS Lewis, Mere Christianity