Friday, February 03, 2006

Spirit and Truth

John 4:23-24
"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (ESV)

I've been quiet lately, at least on the blog, but I've been thinking. Over the last few months, I've come to wonder more and more about the the tension between reason and faith, the contrast of our American self-sufficiency with total reliance on God, the balance of the mystical with the rational. And it seems that I'm not the only one. I've been reading a lot of things lately that address these issues. But two things in particular lately have helped me clarify my thoughts.

I re-read Chaim Potok's books The Chosen and The Promise last week. If you've never read these two novels, set during the period at the end of WWII through the early 1950s in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn, I recommend them. The novels follow two boys, who grow to manhood -- Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders. Reuven is an Orthodox Jew and the son of a scholar in textual criticism. Reuven and his father are devout, obedient, observant Jews. Danny Saunders, however, is the son of a Hasidic rebbe and meant to follow in his father's footsteps as the leader of their community. They are more orthodox than the Orthodox and suspicious of anyone who doesn't subscribe to their version of Jewish fundamentalism. But Danny is also a genius and his intense curiosity and intellect lead him to the writings of Freud and others his father would not approve of.

I first read these books when I was in college, but in re-reading them something new really jumped out at me. One of the themes of these novels revolves around the contrast between scholarship and mysticism, between science and faith. For many of the characters, those are concepts not easily reconciled, and Potok doesn't give the reader any easy answers. I think he leans toward the faith end, but he also doesn't shrink from showing the narrow-mindedness of both sides. When I finished, though, I came away with a sense that we've left something behind in our embrace of all things rational. There are mysteries of God that cannot be explained by our modern scientific method.

I've been reading some things by Donald Miller, too: Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What. He makes some good points about a a relational approach to understanding the Gospel. I'm not suggesting one build one's theology around the writings of Donald Miller, but he looks at faith in a different way and it can quite illuminating. Here's something from Searching for God Knows What that jumped out at me:
"When the church began to doubt its own integrity after the Darwinian attack on Genesis 1 and 2, we began to answer science, not by appealing to something greater, the realm of beauty and art and spirituality, but by attempting to translate spiritual realities through scientific equations, thus justifying ourselves to culture, as if culture had some kind of authority to redeem us in the first place."
He goes on to talk about how relationships -- with each other and with God -- can't be translated into bullet points or formulas. He suggests we have become too results-oriented. We ask "How can God help me get what I want?" instead of "Who is God and how can I know Him?"

Before I go on, let me make it clear that I'm not suggesting some sort of relativistic, mushy, it-doesn't-matter-what-you-believe-as-long-as-you-believe-something approach to faith. I'm pretty orthodox in my doctrine and I believe we are called to apply our minds as well as our hearts to understanding what God wants of us. But we're missing an important aspect of understanding God when we try to boil the Gospel down to a few steps to be followed by rote.

The scripture I quote above I think addresses this balance between mystery and reason. We are to worship in spirit -- with our hearts -- and in truth -- with our minds. I don't think it's an impossible balance.

And what does this have to do with writing? I think it has a lot. Dave Long has been discussing the conversion stories at Faith in Fiction this week and his posts and the comments are well worth your time. The discussion board is interesting too.

I'm still chewing over these ideas and what they might look like in my writing, but it's exciting to know I'm not the only one.

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