How Philosophy Saved My Soul: Part IX

“Many people have evil ideas and wicked intentions and hatch nefarious schemes, but to carry out one of these plans is, under God’s watchful eye, a truly monstrous thing. And it was in such a circumstance as this that one of your {Lady Philosophy} disciples asked how, if there is a God, can there be evil. And if there is not a God, where does good come from?” The Consolation of Philosophy – Boethius, page 15

In part VIII, my narrative ended on a rather discordant tone. I was feeling rather bad about myself and my ministry choices and it seemed like I had been dealt a full helping of despair. Fear not! The light is coming. But first, we must feel the chill of the last shadow.

The apex of my personal grief came in the form of a church business meeting. (Remember that we had been struggling with poor finances and thinning attendance for months.) I stood before the church to answer questions both about the proposed budget and the fiscal year we just finished. We were in the red; we were spending more a month than we were taking in, and we were living on the leftovers of the large gift that got us started.

I had never seen a business meeting that was anything but sweet at this church. Everything changed that day. A member raised their hand to speak and began accusing me of misleading the church. This person said that there was no way they would have ever voted “yes” on the previous budget knowing it would put us in the red. Well, a few things. They did vote on it. We had talked about why it would be necessary to be in the red. I had to have a raise that would allow me to live and provide for my family. It was necessary. Secondly, I had nothing to do with the planning of the previous budget. The other pastors encouraged me to keep my hands off because of the raise. That budget was proposed and voted on while we were in California the year before. Facts.

Many people attending that meeting spoke up and tried to help, but it was quickly spiraling out of control. I was so angry that I could have folded the music stand like a thin sheet of aluminum foil. I had been humiliated in front of my church. The eclipse was now total.

My Experiences Must Be True

I find it interesting that if you begin looking up church websites you will find similar content. I am referring to evangelical, Bible-believing, orthodox Christian churches. Many of them will have a blurb or two about the expected “experience”. They want us to come experience worship in a new way, experience the Bible through fresh eyes, and experience genuine community. All of these are perhaps wonderful things but the thread that binds them together is experience.

We certainly want someone’s experience to be a good one if they visit our churches! The issue at hand is that we generally find truth or falsehood in any given situation based upon how we feel. Everything is great until our theology and life collide, and many of the things we have held sacred are strewn about our feet in thousands of irreparable shards.

An Ancient Blues Song

Asaph begins Psalm 73 in familiar territory.
 Surely God is good to Israel,
 to those who are pure in heart.
It begins to rapidly go downhill after that. In the verses that follow, he writes of envying the wicked who appear to have little struggle in life. Asaph explains his experience with how these wicked people lay claim to heaven and take possession of the earth, and the apparent deafness and silence of God (Psalm 73:9;11).

He doesn’t just stop there! Consider his words.

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

15 If I had spoken out like that,
    I would have betrayed your children.
16 When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply

That doesn’t sound very Psalm-like! It also doesn’t sound very pastoral either, but that is exactly how I felt week after week. Maybe this was all just a fantasy. Perhaps the study of  theology was a fun hobby. Possibly church life really was the opiate of the masses.

I knew I couldn’t really say what was in my heart. I didn’t stop believing in God but I wasn’t so sure it meant all that much. Maybe I was just too scared to speak aloud my questions and doubts. But they were there and they weren’t going away. After all, I recently had some tough experiences and experience equals reality, right?

The observant reader will notice that there is no period at the end of verse 16. This is not the end. There is also verse 17.
till I entered the sanctuary of God,
then I had understanding
Do you see that? Asaph had to renew his understanding about God. He wasn’t looking for a new and better experience to cancel out the unsavory one. He was searching for reality and he found it the sanctuary of God.

I knew many of the answers and I could easily spout off the texts that normally get bandied about by well-meaning Christians in times of woe. I just wasn’t sure they were real. I doubted that they actually spoke to the core of the human condition.

My fist was raw from banging on the door to the sanctuary. “Are you there, God?” “Do you hear me?” “How do I get it in?” “Where is the key?” “Have I wasted my life?”

The Lady Shall Be Your Guide

Consider these words from Proverbs 2.

My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
    and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand what is right and just
    and fair—every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you,
    and understanding will guard you.

The door was indeed opened to me. God surely saw, heard, and knew in absolute totality what my experiences were and what was in my darkened heart. He who gave up his own  Son (Romans 8:32) was also the one who provided me with the guide to understanding. Little did I know that it would take a death-row inmate in an Italian prison to reintroduce me to Lady Philosophy (aka Lady Wisdom – same person)!

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