NO human paradigm is without problems, imperfections and most literary analogies fail. Having said that, for all of my personal, theological and authoring flaws (plenty!) I offer the following:
1)Monorail 2)common two track, and 3) Chicago Transit Authority train tracks as symbols of our pathways to the Person of God Himself- Father, Son, Spirit. I do *not* mean the three track layout relates to God the Trinity but will offer some ideas of tracks as 3 sorts of pathways to intimacy with Him.
Some focus largely on direct mind (prayers however offered) and personal revelation in terms of presence (“manifest presence”) experiences with God, “God feelings”, moving from thoughts to the emotional or physical sense of His nearness. This may happen as they think, speak, sing or while near a body of water, in the woods and so on.
Some focus at least near solely on The Bible (His Word).
Some focus on spoken human prophecy in the immediate moment, year or even age as being truly “in touch” with Him.
There are more, but I would also mention the study of history (personal and beyond) re. practical boots-on-ground experience apart from metaphysical/feelings-of-His-nearness.
For many, our focus changes, shifts from time to time and includes all (and/or other/more?) lines of communication between ourselves and the Lord.
Note- this post is not specifically about a salvation experience, such as: “Ohhhh… I am now born-again spiritually and trust the crucified and risen Jesus for eternal life!”. Nor is this about authority, rather my concern here is on-going and deeper relationship between a Christ-follower and her/his/ God.
Monorails have their place and often are truly the BEST way to get from where you are to where you want or need to go! Sometimes… but not always and forever.
Common, balanced two-track lines are often best, certainly more readily available in our world and likely spiritual experience for our journey. For example, the Word and Prayer. But those two only?
Then there is the “third rail” of the CTA here in Chicago.
I’ll save that for last as it is one place my analogies may well take some “off the rails” 🙂
If God IS, and if He desires to get intimate, “up close and personal” with us, regardless of science, higher-textual criticism, archaeology, psychology, sociology and etc., what way or ways might we connect with Him toward achieving genuine contact -in any case according to millions of professing Christ-followers through human history?
There are so many stumbling blocks to our thinking, feelings, group thought and chat, social norms regardless of who you hang out with, whether in or outside this or that particular church or Christian gathering!
Poetry, a right/sane use of icons, pilgrimage to sites in Israel, spiritual retreats of all sorts, on it goes, there are vast numbers of true Christians who do or do not gain deeper intimacy with Jesus in such ways.
I have friends who are so entirely focused on one or other of the means I’ve listed above that they truly mis-judge -yes… in quite critical fashion- those who think and practice relationship with Jesus in a way other than their personal choice. Many believe ONLY the Scripture or ONLY prayer or ONLY by experience or ONLY if science and/or other areas I mentioned approve and agree do they have a sense of real and true contact with God. In my view, that’s a monorail.
It is a far too simplistic, even lazy “quick-fix” that perhaps provides them a sense of safety and/or acceptance from others… but I believe it to be a flawed approach.
Carefully study Jesus’ Own connection to the Father in the four Gospels and you’ll find more than one or two areas of intimacy!
Some of us will focus on both The Bible and prayer but at times ignore or forget history, personal experience (or that of huge numbers of their fellow Christians) as though they have by these “two rails” all they need and therefore the rest of the body of Christ may have nothing much to offer in terms of connecting with the Lord.
If one goes too far, even communion (the Lord’s Supper) might be considered either THE link or like icons, may be nearly discarded.
Some may exchange any of the means for the one, double or even three-rail track.
If you’re hip to the 3rd rail, it’s THE power source for the CTA. Without it the cars cannot move at all.
I can hear some of my friends saying “YES! God the Holy Spirit!” fits this analogy perfectly!!!” -full stop. To a great extent I would agree.
But even the sense of linking with the Holy Spirit, like with Scripture that He breathed, is a double-edged sword, so to speak. We sometimes don’t exegete it perfectly and the same is true in terms of truly hearing the voice of the Spirit. Humility, a double-check (or triple or more…) is often the best way to go.
That CTA 3rd rail can also full-on kill anyone who makes contact with it. Life and death, indeed eternal life or exclusion comes from and by God as He alone is God.
Sooner or later one must wrestle with the whole of The Bible, Genesis to Revelation. I am currently concluding that either we bring definition to Scripture or God through His Word defines us. I am convinced it’s the latter.
So you see, hearing the true voice of the Lord is not dependent on only one means of His speaking to us because Scripture itself tells us He is not limited in only one or two modes of contact with us!
But wait, there’s more…
A personal, worship relationship with God (according to Jesus) involves “spirit and truth” not merely truth itself (that is, God’s Word), including the Gospel of Christ.
You can read my words forever (God deliver you!!) but that, as per the devil himself who quotes Scripture to Jesus as did the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes -and not know me in a true, personal, intimate sense just as those fallen angels and people did not really know Jesus Christ. Scripture knowledge is not in itself relationship to the Author.
You can listen to/read my lyrics, blogs and other posts, scan interviews and hear podcasts I’ve done and still not be aware of what I deeply think on any number of issues. For that you must eventually spend a great deal more time with me in the day-to-day and truly study my writings and all the rest I just named in this paragraph. Intimate knowledge means a depth of relationship and it’s insufficient to think we have it with the Lord if we skim the surface and look at our relationship to Him as a mere one-time, one-off “transaction” of faith, then keep plenty of distance from Him in terms of prayer, confession of sin and study of (gasp!) His WORD which too often gets a back seat to “feelings of God”.
In this brief post I cannot sufficiently discuss reason, tradition, nature (forests, oceans, etc.), others (people in local/larger churches, etc. through whom God can and often does indeed speak to us), out-and-out miracles and more.
Certainly three rails aren’t even enough. Jesus spoke of loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and might/strength. Our intellect, deepest passions/desire and life must focus on HIM, not merely what we do or do not experience.
I’m suggesting that the 3rd rail might be Scripture, Presence, Experience, Intellectual Knowledge/Wisdom or any number of things. In fact I suggest that 3rd rail in our spiritual life is most active and best in promoting deep relationship to Father, Son, Spirit as it changes and is largely in flux throughout our journey. No CTA train functions without all 3 rails- it is not only nor merely the 3rd that keeps us moving and on track!!!
Without defining the following I expect some who’ve read this to be thinking about the Protestant (not all but many) Sola Scriptura, while many Anglicans lean to the Hooker-ascribed Three Legged Stool or the Catholic view of what is authoritative for Christ followers. My concern here is not authority but rather relational intimacy with God.
Perhaps the other of all 3rd rail issues is “the church”. Can, does, has, will He ever speak to us via other flawed Christ followers… like we are? This is at times crucial because prophets exist in the everyday without fanfare or classic, say, pentecostal/charismatic prophesying tones and public utterance. Of course God speaks to you and I through others.
Whether we are talking The Bible, Tradition, Church Teaching or otherwise, one may be either empowered or killed without or with these and more. If intimate connection between a seeker or actual believer and God is what He seeks and what we seek with Him, He is not narrowly restricted by any one of these means of communication with us in the sense that He speaks and connects with us though all of them.
When preachers and others talk of us “limiting God” I think there are better ways to say what they for the most part, really mean. They usually do not mean by such a phrase that humans have the ability to limit Him re. His being sovereign and all-powerful, rather they mean we should take care to not doubt Him, His character, power and faithfulness towards us in being able to do what He desires for and in us. In keeping with my pedestrian, flawed analogy, if He were a train He’d be named God UNLIMITED.
Without consideration any of us can indeed affect intimacy or lack of it by only focusing on one aspect of His means of communication with us. We then limit ourselves in terms of this most important of all relationships!
Heart, soul, mind, strength. In a marriage it’s not just intellectually, only physically, exclusively emotionally whereby we experience intimacy with our partner -true?
Paul’s analogy of Christ and The Church (all followers of Jesus Christ in love, faith, obedience) comes to mind.
May we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
And as always, thanks for stopping by:) -Glenn