Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Transcendent Longing for Goodness and Justice

Perhaps you can picture the scene as it plays out. It can be among the children at the playground, or as we are experiencing as I write this, among the athletes at the Olympic Games. Whatever the level of skill, the participants are engaged in some sort of competitive activity – who’s the fastest, who’s the smartest, who’s … whatever! And suddenly, it’s apparent that some part of the game has gone awry: a rule has been broken, or maybe one competitor is simply so much better than the others, and you hear the exclamation – “That’s not fair!” Something has gone wrong, someone has experienced a development in the exercise that somehow doesn’t seem right, and the key thing is, we know it when we see it or experience it.

In our day and time, the cry “It’s not fair!” is shouted long and loud from so many different situations and voices. The term “microaggressions” (little annoyances about you that offend me) has become a part of our daily vocabulary, athletes and their coaches are accused of cheating to gain a competitive edge, and countless individuals have raised their voices against rampant abuse and misuse of people in a variety of settings. Our political process is mired in real or imagined scandal, and dirty tricks seem to be an element of every day life.

Why are we so up in arms about all of this? It’s because deep down inside, we know that there is a right way, that there should be goodness and justice in human relationships. Healthy and honest competition should be the rule of the day. People in power should not abuse those around them. Children should not be molested, or murdered in their school rooms. We yearn for Utopia, yet an honest look at “reality” strongly draws us toward a pessimistic reaction – “good luck trying to find that!” The cynical religious joke is “if you find a perfect church, don’t go there, because you’ll ruin it.”

In short, we know that something deeply important – goodness, justice – is broken, not only in our culture, but in every culture. Our problem is not that we know it’s broken – it’s that we can’t fix it, no matter how hard we try. Somehow, we humans seem to always return to our own self-serving motivations, and goodness/justice takes a back seat to our personal desire and felt need, regardless of the impact on others. And when an unjust situation is exposed to the light, the immediate reaction in our soul is that somebody, somewhere, has to pay for this! We want justice!

What faces us here is the same dilemma that arises in every one of these “transcendent longings of the soul.” We yearn for truth, for love, for goodness and justice. We know what should be, but we can’t find it or produce it. We long for perfection, we strive for it, we try to legislate for it, and yet the pursuit always, always falls short or breaks down before we can reach the goal.

Will there ever be justice in the earth? Will goodness ever win out, completely? Will evil and brokenness ever be overcome? I believe there is an answer to that question, and we’ll explore it in the next article. Stay tuned!

Gary Wiens

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Transcendent Longing for Love - Part 2

In considering these “transcendent longings” of the human soul, I am driven again and again to this concept that comes out of the mind of CS Lewis. It goes something like this:

“The fact that a man is hungry does not mean that he will be fed; however, it certainly means that there is food available somewhere.”

When we find ourselves yearning for perfect love, we are ultimately brought to the feet of Jesus, who lived out this love to the fullest extent. Perhaps, like me, you have wished that you could have lived when He did, and walked with Him as one of the disciples, or even as one of the crowd that followed Him, heard His words, and witnessed His miraculous works. What wondrous experiences those people must have had!

But we live now, 2000 years removed from Jesus’ physical presence, so the best we can hope for is to meditate on the stories and wait faithfully until He returns, so that we might be with Him, in person, forever.

Or is it?

Actually, the Scripture gives us a different picture. It records Jesus’ words to His followers that it is actually better for them that He goes away, because then the Holy Spirit can be sent from the Father. Jesus maintains that the promise of the Holy Spirit is actually better than His physical presence – for now – because by the Spirit, His love will actually be poured out into our hearts and souls, that we might experientially know the love that surpasses comprehension.

Romans 8 speaks of the coming of the Spirit of sonship, that will release to us the same kind of relationship with the Father that Jesus has. Ephesians 3 tells us of the Spirit of the Father being given to us, to strengthen our inner man so that we might receive and know the incomprehensible love of Christ. Romans 5 reminds us that the love of God – that perfect, unshakeable, all-inclusive love – has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us.

In other words, by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we can access transcendent realities. We can know unknowable things. We can touch the reality of Heaven here and now through the cultivation of intimate friendship with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told His disciples that when He went away, He would not leave them comfortless, but would send the Comforter Himself, the Holy Spirit, who would minister to us internally, and feed our souls with the transcendent food of His table – His very life.

My prayer for you, and for my own life as well, is that our passions would be focused on this one thing: getting to know the Holy Spirit intimately. He is the One who will sustain us with real food and real drink until the day that Jesus comes again.

Be blessed.
Gary Wiens

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Transcendent God for the Transcendent Longing of the Soul, Part 3 - The Longing for Love

Of all the longings of the human soul, the desire for perfect love is perhaps the most powerful. To be loved – unconditionally, perfectly, without fail or question – is the yearning that simmers deep in the human heart, and drives virtually everything we do, every choice we make. Somehow, deep inside, we KNOW that we should be the object of perfect love, and so we go on the life-long search for “The One” who will love us in the way we ought to be loved.

There is a short passage in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) that gives the characteristics of this love that we innately know is there:

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."

On top of that, Jesus adds His version of perfect love:

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

If you’ve spent any time at all in the context of Christian community, you’ve probably heard teaching about these passages. Most of the time that teaching is focused on how we should love like this toward other people. For me, that focus has always been discouraging, because I know myself too well. I’m simply not going to love like that with any kind of consistency, period, end of sentence. And what’s more, I have reasons – good ones! – for falling short of that standard. And most of those reasons have to do with short-comings in the people I’m supposed to love. The reasoning goes like this: “If they were more loving toward me, I would ….”

The dilemma is that we all know that we should be loved perfectly, and we all have reasons why we don’t express love perfectly toward others. So we collide with each other, fully loaded with expectations of being loved perfectly, but knowing that we ourselves can’t meet the challenge. The inevitable result is, again, disappointment, hurt, and eventually disillusionment with the other party. Sooner or later the temptation arises to look elsewhere, because I’ve either gotten involved with the wrong person, or the wrong church, or the wrong job, or whatever.

Here’s the core issue: we’ve set our sights too low. These Scripture passages are talking about God’s kind of love, the perfect love that is His fundamental attribute, and that has been expressed toward us in the Person of Jesus. No one else can love like He does, no one else can meet the ultimate longing for love that boils in my deepest soul. No one else was ever intended to fulfill that yearning.

Perfect love. We know it should be there. We know from experience that no human relationship can meet the standard. We can keep looking to the next relationship or the next situation, or we can fix our gaze on Jesus. There is no other choice.

More on this next time.
Gary Wiens

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Transcendent God for the Transcendent Longing of the Soul - Pt 2 The Longing For Truth

Most of us have had the experience of a conversation with a young child in which the question “Why?” comes from their lips. Perhaps you tried to give an answer, and then your answer was met by another “Why?” So, you answered again, only to hear another “Why?” in response. This cycle went on and on, not until the young inquisitor was satisfied, but until you ran out of ideas, and ended the interaction by saying something like “Because I said so!” Or maybe, being somewhat more secure, you honestly admitted that you don’t know the next level of answer demanded by the basic question – “Why?”

This common, simple (but actually profound) dialogue with a child illustrates in a powerful way the fact that we humans have an innate awareness that there is information “out there somewhere” that surpasses our understanding, our grasp of available knowledge. There is information about why the apple is red or green, or why the moon changes shape, or why the rain feels wet to us (but would it feel wet to a fish?) The fact that we can know things, even if we can’t know them exhaustively, points us beyond ourselves, and gives us a hint that somewhere there must be full knowledge, there must be complete understanding, some entity that must know everything about everything. And since we are personal, and there are many questions about that, this entity “out there” must be personal too.

This longing of the soul to know things, to understand and comprehend our world, our friends and family, the galaxy we inhabit – this longing is common to all human beings. Yet we are also aware that no matter how far we proceed in the search for answers to the basic questions of Who, What, Where, When, How, and of course, Why? we will will never find the full answer within the confines of the natural world around us. There must be something beyond, perhaps Someone, who knows, and who perhaps is willing to communicate Truth to us.

If there is complete knowledge, or Truth (and it is reasonable to think there is), then there must be a Source of that Truth. The Source we seek must be beyond the subjective, relativistic and entirely unsatisfying “your truth” that is spoken of by self-appointed authorities like Oprah Winfrey. There must be objective, eternal Truth that is actually universal, that encompasses all of life, the entire created order, and that is sufficient to answer the questions we have. The seeker of Truth demands something beyond ourselves, beyond our puny perspective, the kind of Truth that has the power to explain and to resolve all the issues that confront us.

The questions that arise in our souls are in reality an invitation to seek after, to pursue the One Who is that Source, the One the Bible reveals to us as God. He is necessarily there, for the presence of the questions demands that there be an Answer somewhere. He has spoken to us, and has told us that His secrets are available to us (Psalm 25:14). His Son Jesus tells us that He Himself is the Truth (John 14:6), and that even though there are things beyond human understanding, that He has given us of His Spirit that we might know the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).

We are invited by the Spirit of God to seek after Him, that we might know the Truth about Him, about ourselves, and about our world. We can respond to that invitation, or, in the words of one thinker:

“Yet the presence of the divine essence does not ask the question for me; it does not create for me. It provides the crucial datum of incomplete intelligibility that incites me to ask the question—but I do not have to answer this question, I do not have to seek an answer; I don’t even have to ask the question. I can behold incomplete intelligibility, and instead of pursuing its invitation, eat a bon-bon and watch a rerun on television.”

My choice is to be a seeker of Truth for all my days. You are invited as well to join that journey.

Blessings, Gary Wiens

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Transcendent God for the Transcendent Longing of the Soul

People who think and reflect deeply upon the human condition have articulated five realms of desire that are common to human beings, regardless of their nationality, religion, or any other societal factor. These realms of desire, or longing, exert tremendous influence over every individual, and give rise to a seemingly endless variety of attempts to meet these longings within the framework of natural experience. These attempts invariably fall short of the goal of satisfaction, because the reality is that, no matter what we experience in relation to these realms of desire, we instinctively know that there is yet more to be had. In the inner reaches of our souls, we know that we have not fully met the longing we feel, and so we often give in to the temptation of repeating strategies that have failed us, time and time again.

These five realms of desire, or longing, may be summarized in these concepts, often called “the transcendentals.” They are: the longing for Truth, the longing for Love, the longing for Goodness (sometimes called Justice), the longing for Beauty, and the longing for Home. Even a brief reflection on each of these transcendentals awakens that sense of desire, or longing in the human heart. When one takes the time and effort to reflect more deeply, one begins to realize that our repeated attempts to come to satisfaction and fulfillment invariably fall short, and we come to the end of that attempt with the vague and aching knowledge that there is still more, something beyond what we have touched. The awareness of this failure to realize what we seek either drives us to despair and a crippling disillusionment, or it can propel us to deeper seeking, to a positive disillusionment that may lead to the awakening of vision and hope.

In this series of articles, we will explore this reality of desire, or longing, as well as reflecting on each of the five transcendentals that are common to each of us in our own experience. Then, as we consider the reality of the transcendentals, we will also explore the conclusion that the fullness that we seek is found only in the God of the Bible, the Father of the Lord Jesus, and the Giver of the Holy Spirit. There is a familiar quote from the writings of St. Augustine that expresses this journey so well:

“For Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

I hope you’ll follow along on this little journey from week to week. Blessings on you!
Gary Wiens

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Human Hypocrisy and the Hunger for Righteousness

It is an interesting thing to observe all the partisan proclamations and denials coming from all sides of the political spectrum these days. Who is fit to govern, why or why not should this or that person be in a place of power and influence, who lied when and to whom … the tumult increases in volume daily. Hypocrisy and inconsistency on all sides make up the order of the day.

At the root of all of it, burning in the deep places of the human soul, is a hunger for righteousness, the innate sense that we ought to be governed by someone who is righteous, fair, without prejudice, perfectly wise, and yes, even loving in their dealings with the people who look to them for leadership. There ought to be prosperity and equity in material matters, freedom to pursue fulfillment in life within reasonable boundaries, protection from enemies, yet grace toward those in need, and even toward those who disagree with our points of view.

All of these things – and many more – are legitimate desires within the souls of normal folks, and yet, we as followers of Jesus continue to make a fundamental mistake in our search for worthy leaders. We continue to set our sights far too low, hoping that some elected individual or group with the right platform is going to provide the solutions needed in our society for the general well-being of all.

The foment, confusion, and even hatred that is vented in the press, on social networks, and in the media all too often draws us into the fray at an entirely ineffective level, and as we get caught up in the swirl of opinions, we lose our perspective on the real issue: what we are looking for is the rule and reign of Jesus as the only one worthy to be trusted with all authority, power, and might.

Instead of arguing with one another over which party or which individual has what it takes, we must get settled in this reality: there is only One found worthy. Our energies must be re-focused on the real battle, the one waged in worship and intercession for the return of the King.

If we continue to give first priority to the political and social issues facing our nation and world, and continue to take sides in the partisan struggle of who is right and who is wrong and who is crazy and who is sane, we will miss the main point. The reality of the struggle is before us in order to draw our gaze to a higher and better Kingdom, and to draw our hearts to long for a greater King.

There is only One King worthy of our attention and affection. He is Jesus, and He is waiting to hear the voice of His people inviting Him to return home and release His righteous Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. This is not fairy tale – it is our only real hope.

Gary Wiens

Friday, December 15, 2017

The God Of No Pleasure

Psalm 16:11 declares that at the right hand of the LORD there are pleasures forevermore. I’m often refreshed by considering that verse, because deep down inside, we all know that we were created to enjoy God and to drink deeply and eternally from the river of His pleasures.

However, there is one thing (at least) that God takes no pleasure in, and that particular thing is articulated in Ezekiel 33:11 (ESV) -

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

We are living in a tremendously volatile season in America right now, in which the Spirit of God is exposing evil and sin in all its ugliness at many levels. National leaders in government, media, sports, entertainment – all through the seven spheres of influence – are in the spotlight as things that have been hidden are brought out into the open.

In such a time as this, there is a temptation, even as godly people, to rejoice over the downfall of people who have acted wickedly, especially when they have presumed to stand in judgment of others who fell short of God’s perfection. We must beware of this temptation to rejoice or gloat, because that attitude is contrary to the heart of our Father, God. His purpose in bringing such matters to light is not destruction, but repentance, and His heart is grieved over the brokenness of humanity, and of the individuals whose lives are crumbling before the glare of the spotlight.

We Christians are not to gloat or rejoice over such things. We are to weep and intercede, to be agents of mercy even as we speak the truth in love. We are to be without compromise, even as we hold out arms of compassion to those whose failure is being exposed.

None of us is without sin – I certainly have no room to cast stones of judgment or celebration at the demise of another, even if I vehemently disagree with their politics, their worldview, or their orientation on a number of issues. When I speak, I must speak truthfully but kindly. When I criticize, I must do it with a gentle spirit, lest the same thing come my way – see Galatians 6:1 about that.

The assignment given to us as God’s representatives in this world is the same as it was in Moses’ time, as he recalled God’s instruction to the Levitical priests: they were to be carriers of God’s presence, they were to minister to the Lord in worship, and they were to speak blessings in His Name (Deuteronomy 10:8). If we are faithful in those three things, the power of God will indeed be released in our time, and we will see His Kingdom come like never before.

Gary Wiens