Knowing God goes beyond our rational comprehension.
Author’s Note: Novaseeker started drafting this post on 2021 May 22, but left it unfinished. In his absence (due to work), and given the importance of the subject matter, Jack has taken the liberty of finishing this post.
Length: 2,750 words
Reading Time: 9 minutes
The Soul Crisis and Suffering Are Intrinsic to the Gospel
Jack’s post, The Greatest Archetype (2021-05-21) introduced us to a profound truth that is hard to grasp…
“Only when we have come to the end of ourselves, not as we might imagine ourselves to be while in a state of desperation, but in totality, are we are able to receive the Holy Spirit. All our vows and resolutions end in denial because we have no power to carry them out. Only Christ has that power. Because the natural man is not able to reach beyond its own martyrdom, it requires the invasion of the Holy Spirit.”
Following the comparison of Christ’s relationship to the church with a husband’s relationship to his wife (c.f. Ephesians 5:23), Jack went further to describe how the same “dying to self’ must occur in a woman before she can fully submit to her husband and thereby yield a God glorifying relationship.
We naturally recoil at the idea of suffering, and much more towards a death of any sort. We are tempted to reject this idea as wrong, cruel, or even evil. This is a difficult concept for our minds to grasp, yet it is central to the gospel – and to marriage! Even mature Christians find it difficult, even elusive, to comprehend this truth.
This brings us to the age old and long debated concept of suffering. Why is suffering an inherent element of the life of faith? Why must God require a death of sorts?
“I believe the Book of Job is one of the best at explaining how you should continue to have faith in the face of overwhelming suffering. God himself said (if you believe the Book of Job as inspired scripture… which I do) that Job was a man who was blameless and upright. I interpret this to believe that God knew Job could handle such a crucible.”
“…these are the six main points.”
- There are matters going on in heaven with God that believers know nothing about, yet it affects our lives.
- Even the best effort at explaining the issue can be useless without the scriptures.
- God’s People do suffer. Bad things happen all the time to good people, thus, one cannot judge a person’s spirituality by his painful circumstances, or his success.
- Even though God seems far away, perseverance in faith is a most noble virtue since God is good and one can safely leave his life in His hands.
- The believer in the midst of suffering should not abandon God, but draw near to Him so out of fellowship, comfort can come.
- Suffering may be intense, but it will ultimately end for the righteous and God will bless abundantly.
Yes, the answer is that God has the big picture, and Job decides to trust that at the end. But the answer isn’t an easy “because X” — God doesn’t provide that answer. What He says is, “I have the big picture and this is how it has to be”, essentially.
God Makes No Sense!
Of course this makes no sense — which is why many people find Job unsatisfying. But it is God’s answer to the obvious question, regardless of how unsatisfying that answer is. Basically it comes down to trusting God, and that God allows all kinds of nasty things in His creation for a good reason that we will only understand once we have the big picture from A to Z that He has. Again, unsatisfying, and it makes no sense to us.
Christianity in general, though, makes no “sense”. We believe that an eternally existing God incarnated himself through a virgin birth in a stable in Palestine 2000 years ago. That’s hard to believe. We believe that he wasn’t an avatar (like Krishna) or a vision or something like that, but somehow was and is fully human and fully God, and that his full humanity is now eternal. None of that makes a lick of sense. We believe that somehow Jesus was resurrected from the dead, which simply never happens. It makes no sense. We have “witness testimony” that wouldn’t hold up in any court of law as being reliable, and we go with that … which makes no sense. We wouldn’t do that with any other kind of “proof”, so why do it here?
And that’s just the beginning, and the basics, not the more complicated things that Christians believe. Christianity makes no sense, because religion in general “makes no sense”. (That isn’t to say that there aren’t “explanations” which can help people to come to terms with things … there are, but in order for these to help, one has to accept certain premises that can’t be proven, and which contradict “making sense”.)
We have parables and analogies that attempt to make it conceivable, we have thrown words around it in the creed and theology to try to rationalize it, we but ultimately, we are forced to concede that it makes no sense because it is an eternal truth that extends beyond the capabilities of our logical facilities.
Why believe in it then? Because religion addresses something else inside of us — not the rational part of our soul that “makes sense of things”, but rather something else that is definitely there, and is beyond reason, but which is a deep human need. You don’t get there by trying to “make sense of things”. You get there by experiencing God. Religion is built around that — the people who founded the great religions, who set them up (the apostles in the case of Christianity) all had that experience, and so they tried to set things up for others to have the same experience — to share with them the experience which they had with Jesus. The religion and its scriptures and its creeds and its liturgies all came later, and were built on this basis.
Why bother with any of that, then? Why not just go off on your own and experience God? You could try doing that, of course, but the problem with that is that it’s hard. It’s easy to get confused. There are other entities in the world that address and appeal to this part of us, and they want to distract us. So generally people have found it more useful to follow a religion’s practices, its scriptures, its creeds, its liturgies, its prescriptions for how to live life so that they can maximize the likelihood that they can have real experiences of God like the people who organized the religion did in the first place, rather than just spinning their wheels alone in the dark, needlessly trying to reinvent wheels that were long ago plumbed and figured out.
Is there corruption? Of course. Because humans are involved in the transmission, and humans are corrupt. It’s a downer, but it is what it is, and the person in the mirror is the biggest part of the problem as well in everyone’s case.
But the bottom line truth is that none of it “makes sense”. You can rationalize things, and people do this all the time as “mental short cuts”, and these are more useful for some people than for others, but at the end of the day it’s not about addressing the part of us that needs things to “make sense”, but another faculty in us that perceives and interacts intuitively on the spiritual level with the noetic/spiritual organ in us.
Growing in Faith Requires us to Use Our Noetic Nose
It’s essentially about focusing on the personal connection with God, rather than the intellectual understanding piece, in terms of where your primary focus is (obviously both play some role). God is an eternal person and He wants a relationship with you. It’s through that relationship that you come to get to know Him and gradually understand Him better, after which the intellectual pieces can start to make more “sense”.
The part of you that does that is your spiritual organ — your “noetic interface”, the part of you that interfaces with spirit, and therefore with God. That organ tends to be very underused today, because we live in a very empirically-oriented culture with an almost exclusively empiricist epistemic framework that almost everyone lives by because it’s the general cultural framework. And that encourages us to overuse our discursive reason and, when we need a break from that, to veer into emotion as an outlet. Neither of those is the spiritual organ, however. The spiritual organ is kind of like the eyes and the mind that interface with the spiritual reality that can’t be seen but exists — it’s how we perceive that unseen yet present reality, sort of like our sensory apparatus that applies to the unseen world. It’s normally rusty in contemporaries, but it can be dusted off and used. But the problem is, how do you do that?
That’s where the religion comes in, and different flavors of Christianity have different emphases in how they approach this, but a spiritual focus on the relationship with God is key. That can come through prayer, it can come through prayerful scripture reading, it can come through worship with others, it can come through contemplative practice, but trying to figure any of that out alone is really dicey, because when you do that you lack guidance. So that’s where the church and the guidance of other Christian men come in to help with things that have worked for many people in the past in terms of using their noetic interface to develop a relationship with God.
Growing in Faith Requires us to be Out of Our Minds
You’ll get much further in your pursuit of God if you stop trying to make sense of things and focus instead on cultivating the experience of God and finding a path by which you can do that, rather than reasoning, rationalizing, debating, and finding things that “make sense”. There is no amount of cognitive understanding that can help “explain” things that are hard to accept, from the perspective of “not making sense”. Thus, we should not allow ourselves to become bewildered and confused when we find that none of this “makes sense” in that vein.
This resonated with Caterpillar345, who wrote,
“I think this gets at the core of the things I struggle with when it comes to God. The idea of “Stop trying to make sense of things”, but rather, “Focus on the experience of God”, sounds so wishy-washy and new-agey to me. And yet I think I’m beginning to understand the gist of your comment here…”
It can sound “new agey” because many people today are used to looking at religion issues with their discursive brains, primarily. Religions themselves are to blame for this, in part, because they often describe themselves as belief systems (using a propositional truth approach) with arguments and apologetics and all kinds of things to appeal to discursive reason, since they know that most people today are operating in discursive reason mode, so it’s a way to reach people. And so people tend to come or go based on the extent to which they are convinced by these truth propositions, and contemporary people, formed as they are by a materialist/empiricist epistemic framework, are often not sufficiently convinced by them. But there isn’t anything “new agey” about a focus on the relationship with God — it’s basically the core of all religion, and especially Christianity because Jesus Christ is the eternal God-man, and he’s primarily how we interface with God as Christians — man-to-God-Man, if you will. It’s about as un-abstract as you can get, since we worship a God who is also a tangible human person, and therefore a person who can be known in his divinized humanity in a way that the “completely transcendent” Gods of other religions can’t. And knowing him is the key to Christianity, really. Knowing him, rather than knowing propositional truths about him or agreeing with a set of propositional truths about him. Not that these things are wrong — they aren’t. But they arose in the first place because the people who were formulating those understandings in the first few centuries of Christian history knew God through Jesus Christ personally, and were making those formulations based on their knowledge of him.
In any case, truly “new agey” people don’t follow a religion and tend to try to do it themselves by patchworking bits and pieces of spiritual practice from different spiritual traditions and religions. It’s pretty hard to do, because pasting these practices together into a personalized collage, where the components are all dislodged from their own setting and placed together apart from the tradition that created them creates beliefs and the use of practices that aren’t “tested” by people earlier in time who found approaches and methods that “worked” in terms of cultivating a relationship with God in the context of the specific tradition in which that practice arose. But the key in checking out the approaches of different churches is figuring out where, if anywhere, you can get to know God better personally, through your spiritual/noetic organ, and not, at least not in the first place, which one has truth propositions that resonate with you.
Sniffing out the Application
RichardP pointed out a passage in scripture that gives us a great example of how the noetic nose is used [lightly edited for clarity].
“The New Testament says that the natural man (spiritually dead man) cannot perceive the things of God. The New Testament says that God is the One who brings us to spiritual life. The New Testament says that no man can say that “Jesus is Lord” without the help of the Holy Spirit. (1st Corinthians 12:3).
If those scriptures are true, our ability to know the things of God and make Him Lord of our life is entirely dependent upon the actions of God and the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is not a pitch for Calvinism, but it is the point at which Calvinism starts to build its argument.”
“Paul talks about folks eating meat offered to idols. (1st Corinthians 8) Some thought it was a sin to do that. Others thought it was not. Paul’s basic message was, “If you think it is a sin, and you eat it anyway, you are displaying a willingness to disobey God. On the other hand, if you don’t think it is a sin, and you eat it, you are not displaying a willingness to disobey God. Act on the faith you have.” Without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) And, as the eating meat offered to idols example sets out, we have two different sets of behavior that contradict each other (eat / don’t eat), but Paul and God accept both. It is not the behaviors that are important to God and to Paul. It is the faith. Don’t behave in a way that demonstrates that you are willing to disobey God.
The Bible is full of stuff like that. It is not a one-size-fits-all world, and God does not hold everybody accountable to the same standard. As we are all members of the body of Christ, the nose is not going to be held to the same standard as the feet or the ears. God’s expectations for each are different and unique.
What sense does it make for me, as the nose part of the body of Christ, to throw brickbats at those who are the ears part of the body of Christ for not behaving how I behave? Why should ears behave the same as the nose? God will hold the ears accountable for how well they performed the job he gave them, not for how well they performed the job he gave me, the nose.
That is part of the story. But probably the most important part. You do you. You do what God has called you to be, and created you for. That is all you will be asked to give account for at the Judgement Seat. Fretting about what God actually thought of King David and his adultery ain’t gonna get you anything but heartburn and heartache.”
- How did you come to discover and use your Noetic Nose?
- Σ Frame (Jack): On the discernment and wisdom of true morality (2019-02-02)
- Σ Frame (Jack): Three Kinds of Discernment (2020-09-25)
- Σ Frame (Novaseeker): What is the Authority of the Bible, and why is this Important? (2020-11-12)
- Σ Frame (Novaseeker): Anti-Progressive (2020-11-16)
- Σ Frame (Novaseeker): Protestant vs. Cathodox (2020-11-20)
- Σ Frame (Richard P): A Mystical Approach to Meta Reality (2021-03-19)
- Σ Frame (Novaseeker): Viewpoints on Man’s Confusion about How God Works in the Life of a Believer (2021-03-29)
- Σ Frame (Novaseeker): Juxtaposing the Temporal and the Eternal (2021-04-26)