A recent study of the beatitudes in Scripture (Matthew 5:3-12) have stirred up a fresh conflict in my heart. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t like conflict, and tend to do my best to avoid it. However, I have been confronted and challenged by this study, and humbled enough to admit that conflict is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it is necessary, and can provoke our hearts to consider the things that we are often just too busy to acknowledge and think through.
Contrary to what many believe, faith in Christ does not require us to check our mental capacities at the door of conversion. Many a deep thinker has left a wake of sanctified thoughts for us to surf through, if we are but willing and courageous enough to make the time for such an adventure.
Scripture nowhere tells us not to think about this life and the things of God. In fact, we are invited often to consider and to think, with God. The danger, as warned in the Bible, is not when we form an understanding about something, but rather when we fail to recognize any difference between our understanding and God’s, or when we lean on our own understanding instead of being willing to submit and, if necessary, surrender it to the lens of God’s truth.
Where there is a difference between my thoughts and God’s thoughts (which, admittedly, happens more often than not!), it is never my ability and willingness to think which comes under divine scrutiny. This is a gift from God, and thinking with Him is a great invitation and privilege, even when it invites the reality and recognition of differing thoughts. He does not fear nor avoid the reality of differing opinions, the way most Christians do.
What He does do is invite us to bring our thoughts and opinions to the table of His presence, and what comes into clear view there is the position of our hearts as we face the reality of our differences in those thoughts and opinions. Are we humble enough to believe and submit to the higher thoughts of God, or do we pridefully cling to our own understanding, even when it directly opposes what God has defined as true?
Here lies the opportunity to have our faith purified and our hearts freed from deceptive strongholds and ideals which render our lives in Christ powerless and unfruitful.
So the conflict I’ve been confronted with in the beatitudes has become an invitation to think through some experiences I have faced in recent months. These experiences have seemed to pit the truths of Scripture against the reality I am experiencing in my world, and have challenged me to consider what exactly God meant when He said the things He said in His Word.
This conflict is not exactly new, but one that has repeatedly surfaced, and one which I have repeatedly put on hold, because life is demanding and thinking through such deep things requires time I have not really made room for (I started to write “time I do not have,” but I was recently reminded that God will never give me a schedule that does not have room for Him!).
The danger in this pushing-through-without-taking-the-time-to-think-things-through-with-God mindset and lifestyle is that my faith stays shallow. And when a difference occurs between what God says and what I see, I will have to settle with a hole in my theoretical understanding of Him. This is part of life sometimes, as not every spiritual conflict can be worked out immediately – thus requiring us to walk by a faith that does not require us to see everything clearly. However, if left untended to long enough, those holes in my understanding can weaken, rather than strengthen my faith.
As a recent example, I have faced deep losses with brothers and sisters in my community this past year – more than the previous ten years combined. There has seemed to be an acceleration in our trials and sufferings which has left us reeling. In moments where I can stand back and catch my breath, I can see God working beautiful, unexplainable things through these losses. But up close, when I am in the fire with my friends and family, it doesn’t make sense, and I am tempted to walk away with deep questions which will eventually become embedded in my heart.
How can we lose so many to death and devastation, when ours is the God Who raises people from the dead and delivers us from every trial? Left alone, that thought, that hole in my theories about God becomes a tear in the fabric of my faith which the enemy will most certainly take full advantage of. I will face future trials and losses with less confidence in the God Who has promised to deliver me. And that lack of confidence, that weakened faith, will diminish my hope and expectation, until I become good at professing to believe in God, even while my heart isn’t really sure what to believe about Him.
But if I take the time to think through these kinds of questions, if I accept the invitation, through Scripture, to wrestle through my human and often incomplete understanding – with God – I am ushered into a place where my questions lead to encounter. And when I encounter God – as He is, not as I want Him to be – I emerge with stronger faith, whether or not my questions have been answered.
The reality behind the reality we see is that we live in two dimensions, and those dimensions necessarily produce a tension we are going to experience daily. The Kingdom of Heaven has come, and yet will not be completely consummated until the return of Christ. We possess all that Jesus possesses, and yet we still wrestle with the pressures and problems of our weak humanity. The same God Who promises to heal and deliver us says that we are blessed when we are persecuted, and so calls us to submit to and rejoice in a reality we would much rather be spared from.
The apostle Paul performed great miracles, so that even his handkerchief, carried to the sick, could release the healing power of God (Acts 19:12). Yet his son in the faith had stomach issues for which he had to take earthly remedies (1 Timothy 5:23), and his friends and co-missionaries faced severe illnesses and death which his faith and gifts could not cure (Philippians 2:27 & 2 Timothy 4:20).
Jesus, Who Himself is the Resurrection and the Life, Who came as the King of Heaven, lived His life on earth as a poor man and surrendered to the suffering and persecution of the cross, which led Him into the grave He came proclaiming He would conquer. Human understanding could not fathom the apparent contradictions between these realities, and so the preservation of a faith which would endure necessitated a journey with Jesus that included deep and continual conversations. These conversations, initiated by conflicting realities, became the place where intimate thoughts were routinely examined in the light of eternal truths we sometimes cannot fully comprehend.
There are so many moments when we find ourselves facing a faith dilemma. Scripture says we are to believe and expect one thing, but we are experiencing something completely different. God heals, but cancer takes our friend. God is for marriage, but ours is unraveling. Not only us, but our households are saved by the blood of Jesus, yet our children are wandering astray. God protects His children, yet we lose a beloved friend in a tragic accident. We struggle to make sense of these dual realities, and if we are not careful, we will settle for a one-dimensional faith that leads us to subtly doubt God and hide behind religious platitudes that only mask our deep confusion.
So what is the solution to this danger? I believe it is two-fold, and progressive. First, I believe we must take the time to think through the conflicts God allows us to experience, with Him. This is part of prayer, part of growing and maturing, part of knowing God, and learning to know ourselves in Him.
Second, I think we have to remember that we live in two dimensions. What is always true in Heaven is not yet always true on earth, though we are always believing and contending for it to be.
This is progressive in relationship to making time to think through the tensions of these dimensions because thinking with God will naturally lead us back to the reality of this revelation.
Ultimately, the landing place for this conflict comes through relationship with God. As we accept His invitation to draw nearer and deeper, to process through the conflicting realities we walk through in our lives, we will realize that we must face every situation with a determination to understand His heart and His will for that circumstance. We must believe that He is able to do all He says He will, but we must trust Him when He chooses to do something else. His ways are ultimately much higher than our own.
The wisdom for this journey is not found in a formula, but in dependence upon His leading, and in relationship with His heart.
John sat in prison while Jesus drew near and delivered everyone around Him. This was the will of God. The same disciples who healed the sick and raised people from the dead eventually suffered and died themselves. The same God Who comforts us is also the same God Who allows afflictions to touch our lives and invite us into deep conversations with Him about the dual dimensions we live in, and about the reality of His glory in the middle of it all. It won’t always look like we think it will, and yet He is still the God He says He is. Our conflicts are an invitation to know that, to know Him, when things don’t make sense to our understanding.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, may you see all of your conflicting thoughts and experiences in a new light today – one that leads you closer to the heart of Jesus, where you will find your peace. May every lie be overturned, every wound to your faith be healed, and every question surrendered to His manifold wisdom as you grow in Him. May you be undaunted as you face the tragedies of this world, seeking continually to dwell with God in the Heavenly realm, and bridge the two dimensions with a faith that will not falter because it is rooted in the One Who is Truth…everywhere, and in everything.