16 September, 2006

Engaging God: Smelling the Answer to Guilt

Ecc 4:8
yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches;

Wealth is a bottomless pit. You cannot make so much money that you cannot use it, whether well or poorly. Bill Gates wishes he had more money, so that he could give it away, and he has more money in real terms than anyone has in the last several centuries.

If I had twice as much money as I have now, I would need a little more. If I had half as much money as I have now, I would have to change a number of things, but I would, and in the end I would need a little more.

Want another bottomless pit?

How about Christian guilt? Workaholism is a problem for me (but I'm in remission. ;-P ) There are plenty of sayings of our Lord that give me fits as a workaholic.

Matt 25:28 & 29
Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

Mt 13:23
But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Mt 5:48
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

For some of us, of the pleasing of God, there is no end.

I am not against pleasing God, but I am against this feeling that wells up in my heart that "I have not done enough." This fear that nags me around the clock, often as I am doing one thing for God, that the needful thing remains undone. That, "if only" I could do the right little bit more, or a little bit more sincerely I would be able to stand before God and hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

Imagine that your spouse's adoration of you grew with your service to her. Imagine that by doing more, he or she would love you more.

That thought makes the guilt-driven, workaholic types among us drool with envy. We would be the most loved people on earth. Only, we wouldn't. We would work so hard and so long that we would forget to be loved. Our misery would be shameful as we filled a bank vault with love, and never stopped to make a withdrawal.

And remind yourself that God is invisible, untouchable, unreadable. Because we cannot read Him, we project onto Him our fears, and in our minds He becomes One who fears those same things. We put on Him our needs, and our pleasures, and our diseases. Our God becomes a monstrous, silent idealization of our selves. Are we perfectionists? He requires something more than perfection. Are we emotional? He requires perfect joy.

It is the silence of God that kills us.

Into silence, something must be read. Silence is never just silent. Silence is echoes with our fears or our hopes, however our moods dictate. When you have not heard from your sister in too long a time, you don't just call her. You ask yourself what happened. You wonder whether it's you, and you fear. Then you call her, but you only get voice mail. And she doesn't call you back for one day, then two, and then a week. And your fears grow. Eventually reality comes to the rescue, and you find out she was just happily busy all along.

That last part doesn't happen with God.

He is always silent.

Even more. We never smell God.

[Smell is the most concrete of our senses. When you smell someone, you really, really know they're there. Do you doubt that? Remember the sight or the touch of your spouse 10 years ago. Now remember the smell. It's not easy to remember a smell; we even fear doing it sometimes, but when we do, the memory overwhelms us. Your memories of his or her sight and touch are disembodied. When I remember a vision, I bring the memory forward to me, here and now. There's nothing to fear in that. Smell drags me back to the memory, though - there and then. Smell impacts.]

I bet Thomas remembered the smell of Jesus for the rest of his Life, as he moved his fingers toward those wounds.

We build our vision of God without ever having seen Him, touched Him, heard Him, or smelled Him. We build our expectations of His expectations of us without reality to check us, to redirect us, to save us from embodying our worst fears onto our vision of God.

We build our vision of God from the bedrock of scripture, but even that is not sound. We too often build our vision of Him from our projections onto the scripture. And somewhere in that process, our God becomes a gaping maw, needing most what we fear most we cannot give.

For the record, none of this applies to our good days. I am writing about our bad days. I'm writing about the days that we wake up wondering what will happen when we stand before His throne, and when we know that we lived for ourselves and not for the One Who did everything for us.

On those days, workaholics forget the verse:
Matt 11:29 & 30
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The scripture can be the cruelest scientific experiment I have ever seen. It often seems nothing but a huge rorschach inkblot test, and we say far more about ourselves when we interpret it than we say about God. And yet it is the fundamental, foundational truth on which the entire universe is built. The answers to all my fears about God lie within the covers of that book, but on my bad days I cannot find them there. The monsters in my head impose themselves on every promise, and incarnate themselves in every warning.

At the start of this post, I called that feeling, "christian guilt," and I called it a bottomless pit. I can try to fill it all day with my works, and I will never hear the first stone splash at the bottom of the well. Or I can trust God blindly. I can trust Him Whom I have never smelled to have filled that pit for me.

Jesus is the Answer to everything.

I need that. I need to know that. But I need something more than that. "I" am too involved in my trusting of God, and when I wrap myself around an axle, I need help.

I need brothers and sisters who are strong where I am weak, and who love Him the same way I do. I need the verses they understand, and that I never really will because I'm crippled toward them. And when I cannot smell God, when I cannot believe He's really, really there, I need to smell them. I need to know that a brother who knows me believes that I should rest. If he knows me well enough, and if I trust him, I just might actually try not feeling guilty some day.

We were made to need each other.


Milly said...

We were made to need each other.

Yes we were. :-}

Most of us find ourselves looking at our ministry and forgetting God at times. I'm going to copy this for my husband. He needs to read this one.

Kansas Bob said...

Workaholism is a pit that only God, in His mercy, can get you out of.

About six months after I lost my dream job with EDS my wife made this observation as we were chatting one day:

"You know, you worked every weekend last year."

Her loving words cut me ... she was kindly and lovingly telling me that my priorities had been all jacked up. Her words changed me even though hey weren't meant to.

I don't know what it is in men that defines success with such perverted thinking ... maybe it is just pride. I think that ths stuff squeaks its way into our spiritual life and faith becomes all about doing - believing God "for" (this or that) instead of believing "in" God.

You know, we can NEVER do enough because Jesus did it all - real faith really believes that.

Blessings to you Kevin. Thanks for reminding us that we need each other.

Karen said...

Thanks for the word, Kevin...very timely for me. I needed it!

Maeghan said...

For starters, it took some pushing of myself to get myself into your 30-page long post, LOL. And was blessed that I did :)

For some of us, of the pleasing of God, there is no end.

So true. I have a friend, when he was attending our church, who without fail would ask "what have we done and not done for God" every Watchnight Service. Whether I am right or wrong, I decided not to do that but to be thankful and move on but still mindful of what I need to do.

Imagine that your spouse's adoration of you grew with your service to her. Imagine that by doing more, he or she would love you more.

Good observation. It is very human of us to do that. While it is maybe okay to do it with one another, you make me realise it makes no difference to God. His love for us never change. But it is our duty and responsibility to do what he wants us to do because we love him.

I hear you on your need to feel God. And you are right, we are definitely made to need each other.

He is always silent.

I am not sure if I agree with that, though I am with you that most of the time, He does seem to be silent. Maybe it is me, who do not want to believe that He is silent. You have covered it - He speaks through His word and through His people. But I agree with you, we read into His word what we should not. It is not easy but that is what He has given us. How else can He speak to us?

I dunno what I just wrote! My thoughts are quite jumbled up on this one.

God bless,

Milly said...

kansas bob,
My sis works for EDS the workload is difficult. God bless her she spends so much time taking care of us and trying to work lately. It doesn't leave time for her. Even without taking care of us she has very little down time. I’ve been with her when she was on two phones at once. It stinks. Sorry about you job I know they’ve let so many good folks go. It's not just men women fall in it also.

Danny Kaye said...

Good stuff, CP!

I am writing a series now about similar things. (I actually forgot to tell everyone it was a series, but since I only posted one thing abou....oh nevermind...this is so irrelevant to your post it's just me rambling...)

Anyway, I am one of those who struggles with a guilt over grace personality. I need to know I am doing the right things or "being" the right way in order to "feel" like I am doing well with the Lord.

For me, though, I have the opposite of workaholism. I happen to be the laziest person you could ever hope to meet. I don't claim to understand workaholism even in the slightest...but I imagine the side effects are the same as with laziness: BAD. (It has taken me YEARS to get where I am in being motivated to do something.)

Tell you what, you give me a portion of your ambition, and I'll give you a portion of my lazies. We might come out a pretty decent human being, eh?

DugALug said...


Have you been gazing into my life? This post sure seems to say you are. I need respit. I've been working the equivalent of double-shifts for the last 4 months. It is getting really tiring.

I teeter between the lines of feeding my family, being with my family, and providing excelent product in the work.

Borrowing from Kansas Bob, 'I pray for God, in His mercy, to get me out' of my workaholic ways.

God Bless