Connecting With Reality

Dallas Willard Part 11 of 25

Dallas agreed to teach separate two weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Denver, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with a “committed” group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.

§

Genesis 28:10-17

 

John Ortberg: All right, so the format for the first section of time, Dallas, is I will walk through a few passages of Scripture, read them, and then ask you to comment on how do they connect with reality? Because a lot of times when people read the Bible, we don’t connect it with reality. The first one is just a single verse that I think probably all of us have wondered how you would understand, from 1 Chronicles 26:18, and this is the King James Version: “At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar.”

 

Dallas Willard: Well…

 

JO: It’s in the Bible! …Do you want to move on to another one?

 

DW: Yeah…That is probably a map of something in heaven, don’t you think?

 

JO: I don’t know, honestly. I’ve always wondered. But, “At Parbar westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar.” I’ll bet no one has ever memorized that.

 

Ok, moving right along. This is a story about Jacob in Genesis [28], and we’ll go from Genesis all the way through to Revelation.

 

DW: Wonderful.

 

JO:

 

DW: I think nothing can be said about that. That’s one of my great turnaround passages for me in understanding what the Kingdom of Heaven is and where it is, and in understanding that wherever we are is the gateway. It’s more accessible when we’re in the position of Jacob, because this is not the Hilton he was staying in. This is really the bottom, and it’s so wonderful that the Bible gives you the details of pulling a rock over for your pillow. But–

 

JO: And he’s having to run away; he’s desperate in many ways.

 

DW: Oh yes, he’s running for his life.

 

JO: Yeah.

 

DW: And, but then the other side of it is the great promise. And what we want to think of when we read that passage is the gate of heaven is where you are.

 

JO: I love how it says when he reached “a certain place.” Because the writer doesn’t want to say where the place is, because it’s not a place, but when he reached “a certain place.”

 

DW: Yeah.

 

The other thing is about the extension of the blessing. You see, that’s the renewal of the Abrahamic covenant—“in you and your seed, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” And then the Great Commission restates that and tells us how this is going to happen.

 

[5:02] See, it’s like the Day of Pentecost is the answer to Babel. And we have to watch how this thing develops, and then we have to apply it, and say, well, since that is true, how does that work out, and where are we today? And the Great Commission is precisely taking the Abrahamic Covenant and extending it to the whole earth. And that is what human history is about, and that’s why we’re here in this place with these people. We are the ones in our generation that brings the Kingdom of God to people through discipleship and companionship with Jesus. And the vision is that in your office or your surfboard—I understand you’re bravely looking into this—or wherever you are, that’s where the angels are coming and going.

 

JO: That’s a funny thing, because our son is like an obsessive surfer, and he experiences God probably more on a surfboard. He says that’s the one time where creation itself is actually propelling you.

 

DW: That’s right, and you see that’s fundamentally true, and when we remember that Jesus said seek the Kingdom of God, he meant look for it everywhere.

 

JO: Yeah. And I love—there’s so many parts of it—you can’t make a wave. You know, there are things that you can do to learn how to ride it, but you can’t make the wave. And there’s something about the Kingdom in that, and the part of grace is as soon as you fall off, which is mostly what I do now, there’s always another wave coming along behind that one. The waves just keep coming.

 

DW: That’s really good.

 

JO: But let’s stop for a minute there, because you talk a lot about the “with God” life, and that you can really understand the Bible from a giant perspective as the author and description of the with life God.

 

DW: That’s what it’s all about.

 

JO: I think most of us, when we hear that story, at least part of us aches for that. I think part of what happens for folks when we talk with you is there’s a sense just by being in your presence, seeing what’s going on in your body—and it’s not about you, it’s about a different, deeper reality that here’s somebody who seems to have gone a farther way in. But, I want to represent a difficulty and give it full thoughtful due.

 

DW: Ok.

 

JO: Most people would say, I would really like that, to have the angels of heaven ascending and descending and to have God blessing me, to know for sure that he is there, I would really like that. I ask for it sometimes. It’s not my experience. Occasionally I might get my heart warmed for a moment or a glimpse of something, but mostly, my life does not look like what’s being described in Jacob’s life. And more often it feels like, you ever see those little books, Where’s Waldo? Where, you know, you have to look on the page and he’s there somewhere, but he does not make it easy to find him.

 

Why is it that so often people seem to sincerely want it, including lots of people in churches, lots of good people, but it seems so difficult, and life seems fraught with so much doubt and ambiguity and otherness?

 

DW: Well, I think to give the simple, brutal, answer, it is because it is not exemplified and taught in their presence in a way that they understand that this is a process and that it’s going to mean a lot of things have to drop off. And I prefer to put it that way; that’s the—the word for that, the old word for that is mortification. And that process is one that takes time. You don’t do it yourself, but you open yourself to it and you let it proceed. The process is one where God does not allow us to see all of the things that need to be changed except through a process.

 

Some things need to be changed before we can deal with other things that need to be changed. And it is the nature of human character, which I’ve talked about a bit, because that’s what we’re dealing with here. What is the nature of human character, and it is one where we now live in a world that we are loaded with all sorts of nonsense, and we have to work our way out of that by, among other things, having these thoughts like, “I would really like to be like that.”

 

[10:36] JO: So, just to pause here for a moment, I never thought about it exactly this way, one thing that we could say, or would you say this: that if people are not having these remarkable, kind of “special effects” experiences of God, God has a very good reason why people are not having that more often?

 

DW: Yes, that’s exactly right.

 

JO: And we may not fully understand that; we may be able to understand some parts of it.

 

DW: Some parts of it, indeed. And also we tend to think that if we could just have a certain kind of an experience that would fix everything, and it doesn’t. And one of the real burdens of American religion is the kind of hangover from revivalism as the way forward, religious experiences as the way forward, and they are a part of it, but only a part.

 

JO: Yeah, I think for most of us, there’s that sense of, if God just did something supernatural that I could not explain in any other way, that would really pretty much resolve and settle everything, I wouldn’t have doubts anymore, I’d follow him.

 

DW: That’s exactly right, and you have that marvelous passage in Isaiah where Isaiah’s saying, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” Well, that would be the end of human life.

 

JO: Say that again?

DW: If he did rend the heavens and come down, that would be the end of human life.

 

JO: And why would that be, because I don’t think that’s obvious to most people.

 

DW: There would be no room for human action, and there would be no room for human development then, because it comes through action. Because God is so huge that life would not go on. I mean, Isaiah didn’t live in the temple with that vision, and it’s the movement away from God that provides the space for human growth.

 

JO: It’s a little bit like—I’ve never thought about it this way—if you live in a room or you work in a company and there’s a larger-than-life person, it can be a little harder for you to be yourself around a very dominating personality.

 

DW: That’s a brilliant illustration, John.

 

JO: And if you magnify that a million times more…

 

DW: That’s exactly right, and you do see it in the human setting, and that’s one reason why people in leadership have to be very careful about that, or they will develop a group of sycophants, bowing and scraping and serving, and the whole point of leadership is lost.

 

JO: Because people’s dominion is really a fragile little thing.

 

DW: Indeed it is, very fragile.

 

JO: What about—did you ever think about this—in an account like that, because it can be—I think when a lot of us read the Bible we picture a movie by Cecil B. DeMille or something. Did you ever thing about with Jacob, because I’ll picture it with, you know, visual images and auditory sounds and all that sort of thing, but the writer’s trying to put into words a spiritual experience. What Jacob’s experience or Abraham’s experience was like, do you think it’s like what we see in a movie? Could it have been more interior? How should we think about that and connect that with our own experience of God?

 

DW: Well, actually, Jacob’s experience was a dream, and he woke up and the adders and scorpions were still scurrying around in the ravine. That was a dream. Abraham—God spoke to him. Moses got a little more Technicolor with the burning bush. But do you know, while we’re on the, when you bring that up I think that’s very interesting because one of the effects of so much that we call entertainment is to lead us to suspect that a lot of the stuff in the Bible is just special effects. And not to think about how it fits into reality. And often to compare the approach of God to us in ways that makes us downgrade what is happening in our lives.

 

I know that in a group like this if you talk about it and you give people a chance to express, they will report some pretty amazing things. But they may not see the significance of them. Like in talking about hearing God, one of the things I’ve learned is once you explain to people what it is, then they will say, “Oh, that’s happened to me. Yes!” And then they’ll tell you the stories.

 

[15:23] JO: Well, I was thinking, one more question on this passage and then we’ll move on, how you might respond if somebody were to ask you what should I do if I want to experience the “with God” life? Have you talked with this group about spending an ordinary day with Jesus?

 

DW: I haven’t gone through that, but there’s a DVD that I can recommend to them on that.

 

JO: If you order it today you’ll get a free set of Ginsu steak knives!

 

DW: But wait!

 

JO: But wait! There’s more! Not just the knives and the DVD…Dallas Willard hair blower!

 

…Could you just give a few illustrations?

DW: But do let me say we’re serious. John and Nancy have a DVD.

 

JO: Oh, I thought it was you.

 

DW: Not me.

 

JO: Ok, well, just say a couple of words for you, what is that idea of, and how it begins and ends, spending an ordinary day with Jesus.

 

DW: Well, I can just go through it. I wake up; normally…I make sure I don’t begin my day before I wake up…

 

JO: That could be interpreted a number of different ways!

 

DW: But the thing is, when I wake up, I’m one of those types of people that, I really do wake up. I’m wide-awake and I will normally work through the Lord’s Prayer a couple of times. Perhaps the 23rd Psalm or some other passage, often before I get out of bed. And when I get out of bed, I sit up, I say, “God is here. God be with me.” I often will ask about some particular thing in the day and confess my inadequacy to deal with it. Very regularly I ask the Lord to help me to be sensitive; that is, pay attention to people and not to myself, and to help me to not mislead people about anything. Because those are things I think I really need help with on a regular basis. I don’t do that every morning, but I do that pretty regularly.

 

And then the day divides in two ways—one whether I’m going to commute in and teach and do all the stuff that I do at work, or I’m going to get to stay home. And if I’m going to stay home then I might spend some time reading scripture and praying. On some occasions, I plunge into my work. But see, the main thing in all of this is what I establish when I awake, and that is, God is here, God is with me. And I try to keep that in the horizon of my vision all day.

 

JO: I’ve never asked you this before; you know, Frank Laubach could write a lot about games with minutes and ways of trying to keep my mind before him. Do you have a sense of how often you are consciously aware of God’s presence?

 

DW: Very often, because that’s where I live and that’s what I ask for and that’s what I make a point of renewing.

 

JO: Would your mind go back there, like, once an hour, once a half hour, once every five minutes—can you not estimate it in that way…

 

DW: I couldn’t give you a reliable estimate, but if I had to say, I would say at a minimum, on the average every fifteen minutes, at a minimum. And maybe more often, and it is more often. And you see that’s not a heroic thing, that’s a habit. And that’s what Laubach discovered, was you have to establish the habit. And I’ve tried to make the habit of, like for example, if I’m changing—let’s say I’m seeing students, then between this student and that student, I will turn back to God and say something like, “Hallowed be thy name” or something of that sort.

 

[20:07] A lot of people use the Jesus prayer, and I do that sometimes, but it’s just important. This is what Laubach is so good about is he just suggests ways you can do that, you know? An image on your desk that falls within your vision. And so, when you do that, then God remains in your horizon without you doing anything special, but you need to do some special things to renew that. And that’s really important so that when I meet my next student or person or talk with my colleague or turn to whatever is happening, then I go with God “with” me.

 

JO: And I think that sense of blessing is such a big part of it. I remember reading when David was at the cave, there’s a verse, I think it was, you know, Ziklag and everybody was mad at him, and everything was going awful, but David “encouraged himself in the Lord.”

DW: He encouraged himself in the Lord. That’s a great…

 

JO: And I’ll find for myself, if I write in a journal and go back and read it, very often what I’ve done with God is discouraged myself; I just think about how badly I’m doing things, and I’m not the father I should be or the husband I should be, and it’s no wonder I’m not drawn to the presence of God.

 

DW: That will wipe you out. Yeah, that will wipe you out. And so that’s where we have to put that all in the context of God’s presence, and among other things, be expecting him to work in our lives, with our family and with others that we’re with, to make things come out in ways that are far beyond us, so that even in our deficiencies as speakers, as parents, as whatever, it turns out that what comes out of it is much greater than we could possibly anticipate.

 

Psalm 133

 

JO: I want to go to another passage, which is about not so much just being with God, but being with each other. Psalm 133:

 

 

DW: “As if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.” Two very different atmospheres, the dew of Hermon and down here in Jerusalem that’s falling. And that’s a reference to the fact that dwelling together, brothers and sisters dwelling together, is a gift. Dew is used often in the scripture as an indication of God working, because where does the dew come from? Out of thin air! It just comes out of thin air. And it’s such an appropriate symbol of the effects of the presence of God.

 

And when you—this, by the way, is also a lovely thing to tie in with Trinitarian presence and fellowship. Now, if we come to our church that way and our meetings with that attitude of expectation, not of the preacher nor of the song leader nor of anybody except God, and then we come to love one another. I remember hearing a gasp from a group where we were talking about that, and…

 

JO: And I asked you why do you go to church, why should somebody go to church?

 

DW:…And I think you put it in terms of worship. Or at least I said, “not to worship,” and that’s where the gasp went up. We come together to love one another. And so that would mean that our hearts rejoice at the sight of our brothers and sisters when we first see them at church.

 

JO: And I think that would be different than the instructions that are given at almost every church that I can think of.

 

DW: Unfortunately, I think that’s true, yeah. And, but, you know, Jesus didn’t say, “By this all men shall know you’re my disciples, because you have rip-snortin’ worship services.” He didn’t say that. So we need to refocus that, where Jesus had it. But that was on discipleship. And that is one of the primary ways, in addition to surfing, of finding the kingdom of God. We should find the kingdom, but you won’t find it unless you’re seeking that. You come to church to seek the kingdom of God. That’s one way that you do that.

 

[25:38] And of course we need as teachers and speakers to think often about that verse, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” and ask the question of method—how do you do that? And one way you do that is you find it in your brothers and sisters when you come together in expectation of the presence of God. And then I always feel a little itchy when it talks about that oil running down on my collar, but it’s done in a good spirit. So…but the point is the oil is symbolic of the anointing of God which is spiritual, and when that comes together, then you have the kind of blessedness that that Psalm is talking about.

 

JO: One of the very big-picture statements you made in answer to the question, what is the human enterprise and human history about, is God’s aim in human history of the creation of a community, of an inclusive community of loving persons, with himself included as its primary sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.

 

DW: I’m amazed. That is, I think, I’m amazed that you know that so well. But that’s the way it’s all going.

 

JO: Here’s the question: because I hear those words, and they’re both beautiful and clear and it makes sense that that’s what ought to be going on. And so I can think when I hear those words, “I love community. I get that; I’m a community guy.” And then I actually go to church. And see the people who are really there. And I’ll find within myself, it’s easier to be loving at a distance, but the things that particularly are hard for me is it will be very tempting when somebody is misbehaving to avoid conflict. I find I can often let go fairly easily; it’s the acts of community that require courage. Because I think so often in the Church, we will avoid conflict in the name of love, but the reality is we’re just afraid, we’re afraid to actually speak truth with one another, and so how do you take a statement like that and then help people dealing with real fallen people and with issues of both anger on the one hand and fear on the other that seem to—you know, anger, fear, and greed drive so much of our behavior. How do we actually pursue that dwelling together in unity?

 

DW: Well, a first step is to go into those relationships having surrendered our will to God. And in submission to God, which is really the main part of humility. So you go into them surrendering your will, so if there is an issue, it’s not a matter of you getting your way. And in submission to God, so that the funny looking and acting people that might give us the jitters, we see Christ in them, and we are submitted to Christ and therefore submitted to them.

 

That has to do with things like how we stand, how we look around, how we approach people, how we listen to them, how we think of serving them as an act of love, and so on. And that keeps us, our focus, away from questions like, “How are we doing?” Which is uppermost in the most of—you know—

 

[30:04] JO: I think that’s the question that’s at the surface of almost everybody, “How am I doing?”

 

DW: Isn’t that…You know, maybe we should put up a sign at the door that says, “You’re doing rotten, so let’s go on to something else.”

 

JO: Think about a more interesting question!

 

DW: That’s right. But you see, if you go in and you have surrendered your will and you are in submission to God and therefore in submission to your brothers and sisters, including the poor blokes that have to get up and lead this thing, then you’re in a position for the oil to come down. You really are.

 

JO: How would a church know, if you really wanted to try to promote that kind of community and dwell together in unity, what would the indicators be? How would—

 

DW: Well, you have to start with teaching it. See, I think we often, especially today—used to was different, because used to the sermon was really honored. The pulpit is central; it has to be bounded in teaching. So suppose we take that psalm and we teach on it. And we talk to people about what it means and how it might happen, and we can usually find in our people’s experience some occasion where something like that happened, because God does visit us and gives us wonderful gifts and fellowship. And sometimes those are in what we call the worship service.

 

Now, the worship service is what happens before the guy gets up and talks, or the gal gets up and talks, and then after the racket the worship is over and now we have to put up with the sermon which we hope will be entertaining. You know, you go back and read the sermons of great speakers in the past and you realize no one would have sat still for them! Edwards’ sermon, Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God—they would have been out the door before he got two paragraphs in that. Not because they were offended with what he says, it’s just done in a way, you know, it was done in a way which made no assumption that he had to be entertaining or that he had to keep their attention.

 

And so, the pulpit is central to it. And then trying to cultivate some occasions where it could actually happen. Maybe not—depending on the group, because there are some groups, you know, that could approach this pretty directly in terms of, ok, let’s let the morning service be the occasion. But you do have to teach people to come together in a different way. And then on the side of…..

 

JO: Teach people to come together in a different way.

 

DW: Yeah. Don’t come as spectators; come with the view that I am the person who has to do whatever is to be done here. I am the one. And you know, that thing of Kierkegaard’s about people come to church and they think that the preacher is the performer and God is the prompter and the audience is the critic, right? And he says we’ve got that all wrong. The audience is the performer, the preacher is the prompter, and God is the critic. See? But that’s, the basic attitude is the problem. And so maybe as pastors if we greet people at the door we should say, “How did you do this morning?” You know?

 

So that whole attitude has to change. And again, our preaching and teaching and our example does that. And we can make some changes, like, it’s a very venturesome sort of thing but you can say, now, two weeks from now, so brace yourself, we’re going to have five minutes of silence right in the middle of the worship service. You’re gonna have to do something. What are you going to do in those five minutes? See? That helps people get out of the spectator role. Stop looking around seeing what’s happening and do something. That teaching and little adjustments can help.

 

Revelation 22: 1-6

 

[35:29] JO: Another passage all the way last chapter in the Bible, and it gets us thinking about hope and what do we really hope for, and I think for a lot of us, what we really hope for is more connected to the question, how am I doing? So, Revelation 22:

 

DW: Now, you want to relate that to the Great Commission. Because the healing of the nations and the River of Life is what we bring as we as disciples do what he said.

 

JO: So let’s flesh that out for a moment. Well, go on to the larger picture, but I’d like to come back to those two phrases.

 

DW: Well, I was just saying, that’s where it comes out. The healing of the nation, the fruit of the trees, obviously isn’t apples and oranges. We encounter fruit in many ways earlier on.

 

JO: So the acts of kindness, acts of generosity…

 

DW: Or, “Keep my words and you will bear much fruit” in John 15—“And then you will be my disciples.” Fruit-bearing.  The fruit of the Spirit, the tree of life, the River of Life; those are symbols of the life of God that should flow among the disciples, and they learn how to do that, and then the fruit begins to appear and the healing of the nations begins right around us where we are.

 

JO: And what would the healing of the nations look like? I mean, you work at USC—in the neighborhoods around there, what would the healing of the nations look like as it’s happening in that setting, in your setting?

 

DW: Well, the healing of the nations would result in people being abundantly provided for in righteousness. It would look like the relationships that enter the family and produce the people like we get them, that would be changed. Government as we know it would disappear because there wouldn’t be a need for it. Government would still exist but it would be truth and grace administered personally at various levels of understanding from the family on up to the city and whatever is beyond, but the problems would be totally different, because now the law of God would be written in the hearts and they would, to use C.S. Lewis’ figure, they would do what was right and good with a regularity that is now only seen in nature, where rocks just fall. They just fall. And people would just do what was right and good, loving, caring for one another.

 

And basically the Old Testament picture of judges is meant to reflect this also as the kingdom of God is moving forward in history. The Book of Judges is one of the great places to see how the “with God” life is working itself out in history. So the healing of the nations, basically you’re living from the abundance of God and you’re not fighting and contesting because you are provided for, and you know that, and God is taking care of you and so you can pay attention to taking care of the things that need to be taken care of including the other people around you.

 

[40:19] So that would be a community of love, and God would be a dweller, and we don’t need electricity, because we’ve got the power flowing through us from God, and particular we won’t need light. And the only thing that bothers me about that is you need to take a nap now and then. I’m hoping there will be naps in heaven. Maybe eyeshades.

 

JO: It could be eyeshades will be provided. Yeah, you said one time we won’t need any lamp because we will be in glory, and that’s what they used to say, “glow-ry.”

 

DW: “Glow-ry,” that’s right. And of course God is the big glower, but everyone else is glowing because they’re tied into him. And that’s what Matthew 13 says, quoting Daniel 12—“Then shall the righteous shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.”

 

JO: Well, that gets us into the notion of righteous—what does it mean to be righteous? And so another passage is from Matthew, where Jesus is talking about goodness and false accounts of it, and he says, “By their fruit you will recognize them.” And then he says,

 

Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

And you’ve talked some about, I suppose what we’d call the moral theory of Jesus, and the big disagreement between him and other religious leaders about how do you think about sin and how do you think about righteousness?

 

DW: And it’s really, it is the moral theory of Jesus, and it answers the question that moral theorists try to struggle with and try to say something about in very disappointing ways, especially since they no longer think of morality in a context of a greater world of God, and since the early 1800s that has been increasingly impossible. So over moralists we’re able to take advantage of what they had learned from Jesus and his people to present a picture of life where the reality is on the side of the right and the good. So reality backs it up, from Plato to Kant, that’s always the way that’s presented. And Jesus of course presents it that way, so he presents the kingdom of God as the place to live, and as a real, interactive presence in human life, so you can count on it.

 

JO: And you talked about his use of the tree gets at the distinction, the difference between him and many of the Pharisees in his day about who counts as good, that they would actually think about it in a different way, and that led to a different way of doing life. And I think a lot of folks in churches actually line up on that side, so say a little bit about the disagreement between Jesus and many of the scribes and Pharisees.

 

DW: Well, what he identifies as the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees was something that everyone identified. They understood what that was, and it consisted in what the scribes—and today, to get the sense, you know, you should say professors when you see the word scribe. Read “professors.” So the difference is that they thought that rightness was in terms of what you did, not who you were. So—

 

JO: They thought of rightness in terms of—

 

DW: Actually they thought of rightness in terms of social conformity. That’s where it comes out the end of the pipe. But they do it in terms of things like, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery. When you divorce your wife, give her a pink slip. Don’t let your yes be a no and your no be a yes. The older thing said, well, if you swear, do what you swear.

 

But of course, all of those things, you could do what they say and be wrong in your heart. And so what Jesus basically does is to switch the issue from what you do to what you might do, would do, could do, because of who you are.

 

JO: Remember there was, it sounds made up but it’s not, a group of rabbis who were wanting to avoid sexual sin. And so they made a covenant that not only would they not touch or talk to a woman, they wouldn’t look at a woman. And if they saw one in their peripheral vision, they would actually close their eyes until she would be out of sight, and they were forever running into buildings or falling off things, and they were called the Bruised and Bleeding Rabbis, because they were committed to avoiding the sin of lust.

 

[45:25] DW: Knotheads would be a better name. But now, you see, actually Jesus is addressing exactly that. Because he says, “Look, guys, just punch out your eyes. That’ll take care of it.” And later, then, Christians in some quarters solved the problem by arranging to live in a circumstance where you never saw a woman.

 

JO: Come out and be separate.

 

DW: There you go. That kind of stuff is what gave separation such a bad name. See, when I was young, separation was a big thing—separation from the world was a big thing. And that meant things like you didn’t go to movies, and you had this general category of what was worldly and what was not. And to be branded as worldly was like having the big “A” branded on you, you know. So this is a huge shift, and the keystone here is grace, because now we have a shift in what makes you righteous.

 

JO: You know, Plantinga had a wonderful observation about, you know, the word “holiness” has the idea of being separated—separate—close to its root, and it actually goes back to creation language, where in creation God separates light from darkness, and that separateness isn’t the avoidance/withdrawal kind of separation, it’s actually entering into the goodness of creation as God intended it to be, and one of the ways of thinking about sin, God joins together in creation, joins the man and the woman, and God separates light from darkness. One of the ways to think about sin, it’s separating what God has joined together or joining together what God has separated. But it’s really going back to the goodness that was there in creation, so it’s not—holiness is not un-earthy, it’s actually in that sense a very earthy thing.

 

DW: That’s right, and so in the New Testament you have a constant emphasis on the contrast of what is of heaven and what is of man. So when they want to say, “Where’d you go to school?” to Jesus, he says, “Well, tell me this, was the baptism of John of heaven or of earth?” Of heaven or of earth? Now, the genuine separation from the world is union with God. And if you try to do separation without the union, then you’ll just generate some form of human conformity. And because your life will not run on that, you will wind up a hypocrite, because you think it’s very important to do what is right, but you can’t do it.

 

JO: Well, let’s talk for a minute about union with God, because I grew up in the Baptist church. We didn’t talk a lot—that phrase, union with God, sounded kind of mystical.

 

DW: Pretty scary, yes.

 

JO: We didn’t talk about it a lot. When I would hear it, I had the idea of kind of being lost, or losing a sense of individual identity and being this kind of jellyfish, spiritual jellyfish, where there’s not much left to me. What does it mean? How should we think about union with God—what does it look like as somebody approaches that?

 

DW: Yeah. The general description is drawing your life from God. And Jesus’ choice of the branches and the vine is about as perfect an illustration as you can get. And he explains it just in terms of well, you know, the life that is in the branch that comes from the vine. On the other hand, the vine doesn’t bear fruit. Only the branches bear fruit. But they can’t do it from themselves; if you cut them off, there’s no life in it, and no fruit. It’s union with God in action constitutes our union with Christ. That’s why Christ explains this in John 14; he uses the language to Philip, he’s talking, and he says, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” Well, what’s that “in”? And the “in” is drawing life.

 

[50:11] So he continues that verse in John 14 by saying, “The words that I speak to you I do not speak of my”—this is very interesting how that language changes, he says, “The words that I speak to you I do not speak of myself. The Father, who is in me, doeth the work.” See, now, you had words, now you got work. And that’s because the words have a power in them that works. And that’s fruit. And that’s—

 

JO: So when he says the Father’s doing the work, part of what he’s saying is it’s the Father that’s actually behind those words.

 

DW: And that’s what the “in” is. The “in” is the union of action. And so then, later on in 15 of John, he says, “if you abide in my word and my words abide in you, you will ask what you will and it will be done.” Of course, the assumption is what you will is going to be greatly changed by that point. But when you ask that way, these kinds of things about prayer that is included in the last discourse there in John, they just kind of make you want to hide under the couch or something, because they’re so powerful that they seem to just open this tremendous door that he uses when he says, “The one who believes in me, the things that I do, he shall do and greater things than these, because I go unto my Father” and then he launches into “Ask anything in my name.”

 

JO: When I hear the phrase—I don’t know why, when I hear that, historically it would make me think of—it feels quiet. Union with God just feels quiet. And sometimes I want to be quiet, you know, sometimes I need to be quiet; sometimes I want to jump, I want to act, I want to shout. I don’t want to be quiet. There’s an exuberance to life and an adventure to life.

 

DW: Just don’t jump and shout all the time, you see.

 

JO: No, but the question is—

 

DW: There’s a time to jump and shout, because of what goes on in the quiet.

 

JO: But is union with God more associated with quiet than it is with the right kind of jumping and shouting? Is somebody who is by nature an activist at a disadvantage to experiencing union with God compared to somebody who by nature, temperament, genetic predisposition is more introspective?

 

DW: I don’t think either of them has an advantage. And so, in another respect now, I’m sort of odd man out on the discussions about temperament and spirituality, I don’t think either of them has an advantage. They have different temptations, but not different advantages. What you want to understand is that the inner and the outer are attached as source and expression, and the expression needs to be an expression of the source, and the source needs to be a source for the expression. They go together. The quiet part is the river of life flowing in and through us, even when we’re jumping and shouting that doesn’t make any noise. It’s very quiet. And sometimes we need to not make noise so we can focus on the river of life that is flowing through us.

 

What is best of all is when the jumping and the shouting is an expression of the inner river of life, and the inner river of life is allowed to flow through and express itself, not only in the jumping and shouting—of course I know you don’t mean that, but work, action. So you need both of those, and the temptation now, however, are different. The person who’s disposed to jump and shout needs to shut up and be quiet, and the person who’s disposed to be introspective needs to take special care to jump and shout. You shouldn’t practice a lot of disciplines unless you can practice the disciplines of celebration.

 

Let me illustrate from last night. Some of the people here got a whiff of some cigars that were being smoked by certain elevated personalities.

 

[55:09] JO: I think Gary Moon was one of them! And there was some guy named Johnston out there…

 

DW: Now you see, what those unnamed people were doing, they were celebrating. That’s wonderful.

 

JO: Yeah, and see, in the church where I grew up, if the pastor was doing that, he’d be fired.

 

DW: Yes, that’s true. Well, that’s, you know, that’s how it goes, because suppose your pastor had spent his time in the study daydreaming about smoking a cigar but he never smoked one. Well, that would be ok.

 

JO: Right.

 

DW: They might have made a hero out of him. It’s so wonderful that you withstood that terrible temptation!

 

JO: Well actually, brings us to another fabulous passage—

 

DW: So you see I’m taking advantage of this little display here last night to loosen up our legalistic tendencies and help us say, well, there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

JO: Let’s pause there for a second there. I’ll read these words, but then let’s continue.

 

DW: I didn’t mention any names, ok?

 

JO: I know it, and Gary is sad that he did it, so…and I don’t think anybody’s bothered that you were one of those people, so I don’t think it’s really a problem.

 

DW: Well, actually, I was busy and I didn’t get to, but I would’ve if I had!

 

JO: You were in your study thinking about smoking a cigar!

 

DW: No, I was engaged in ministry.

 

Gary Moon: And all of this is why God invented editing.

 

JO: You can take the boy out of the Baptist church, but you can’t take the Baptist church out of the boy.

 

Philippians 4:4-9

 

This is what Paul says, and then I’ll actually ask a question related to what we were just talking about.

And I think that life everybody is so hungry for.

 

DW: That’s the one at the end of the stairway. And now here you have Paul; he’s like in the ditch when he’s writing this. You think about his circumstances. Sorry, you were going to say something.

 

JO: Well, and we’re starting to learn enough to know we can’t do those things just by trying to do them, and that’s—you know, the huge problem in a church is people will read something like that and think, I have to try harder to rejoice, I have to try harder to be gentle, I have to try harder not to worry. And, you know, so recovering the wisdom of the way the disciplines work in life generally, including the spiritual life, is to recognize that distinction that there are many things I can do by training that I can never do by trying. Talk about what’s the role of freedom and experimentation when it comes to the wise, effective practice of the disciplines.

 

And I was thinking about that because, again, I did not grow up thinking that smoking a cigar could be a good spiritual practice. I was in a prayer group one time when we were doing the Ignatian exercises over a year, and one of the guys, he was a judge, came in one day, he was very excited and he said, “I just prayed 33 days in a row.” And Sister Jean, who was leading us, said, “Ok—tomorrow don’t pray.”

 

DW: Good for her. Good for her.

 

JO: Because she recognized that it was actually producing self-righteousness in him that would have driven him farther away from God. But it’s a different way of understanding spiritual life. In the tradition where I grew up, it would be like, “Don’t stop now—you could set a new record…”

 

DW: Yeah, that’s true.

 

JO: “…and be the Cal Ripkin of prayer.” So how do we think about, on the one hand, the challenge, the challenge to live that life of union with God and have rivers of water flowing through you is the greatest—and given the reality of sin and the need for mortification most difficult, stern challenge that any human being could take. On the other hand, there is, there needs to be a level of freedom, lightness, experimentation, openness, non-legalism to it that is hugely different than the way that most of us experience the spiritual life as we think about it.

 

[1:00:15] So, how would you think about what that goal is, how hard we should work at, you know, doing disciplines, how to find out what’s being helpful and what isn’t, and when to change them?

 

DW: That’s a great question. Let me just enter here, according to my information, they did not inhale.

 

GM: We were just trying to find out what we were missing in the emergent church!

 

DW: To quote the words of one of the great American legalists…

 

JO: “I tried it, but I didn’t inhale!”

 

DW: “I didn’t inhale!”

 

Now, there’s a lot to be said on this, and yet it can be boiled down very simply. You’ll notice that Paul does not come to whatsoever is true, and so forth. He doesn’t start there. He starts with “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” See, he has stepped into the great outdoors of the kingdom of God.

 

JO: Oh, I love that! Have you ever said that before? He has stepped into the great outdoors of the kingdom of God.

 

DW: Right. People come here and they step out—wow! That’s where Paul lived. And yet he was in that prison, that stinking place, but that’s—you see, he was living in a place, and we’ve talked some about that verse, and thank you for bringing it back up. It’s so important, because people often think the thought, “Well, now what am I going to do if I’m not fulfilling my lust? What will my life be like? It will be so empty!” And that’s where you say, no, everything good is right there.

 

So, you know, he says follow my example. That’s what Paul did. He sat around the prison talking about things that are true, honorable, lovely. But that’s because of his living in not just, you know, when he says what he does about be anxious for nothing but by prayer and supplication and so forth, he’s not just talking about happy hour, he’s referring to how he deals with reality. He prays, and he has a lot to be thankful for because of his answers to prayer. And see, that is a life he’s talking about, and you don’t need to be anxious for anything, because you’ve worked that out with how you’re provided for, and you’ve seen the provision for what you’re provided for. And you say, well, Paul, what are you doing here in prison? Oh, I’m just laying the foundations for Western civilization. Sending out these emails. It’s a wonderful thing to think about.

 

And Paul actually did think about everything that was true and honorable. Now, what you realize—oh! That’s what Plato and Aristotle were talking about. The highest reach of blessedness for the human being in Aristotle is in Book 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics, it’s contemplation of truth. Now, they did not have an active version of righteousness. It’s very interesting to see how the understanding of bliss as contemplation and meditation comes back in to the Christian teaching in Augustine, but there it’s fellowship with God, not contemplation of truth. And these things are just so rich to think about, but see, Paul is giving us the picture of a life flooded with goodness. That’s what he’s depicting here.

 

JO: What do you say—I know anytime worry—

 

DW: I’ve forgotten what the question was.

 

JO: So have I. Anytime—oh, it was around what’s the role of freedom and experimentation in spiritual method.

 

[1:05:08] DW: Right. Let’s don’t lose that. Ok. I’ll hang onto it if you want to go ahead and ask another one.

 

JO: No, I forgot what I was going to ask.

 

DW: Ok. The role of freedom and experimentation is precisely what you would think of if you’re looking at a free, creative being who is in the process of forming their own character by interacting with God and the world God has made. And that means that you must experiment. You must. And the disciplines are a primary area of experience and experimentation. So you want to be creative, and one of the things that will kill you, if you think you’re going to do it like St. Thomas Aquinas did it, or like William of the Woods, or whoever.

 

JO: But I think a lot of people who are serious about spiritual growth in the Church, that’s what they want. They want to say, “Ok church, I want you to tell me what I do I do, how often do I have to do it, what’s the formula for discipleship?”

 

DW: And John, that’s why I come back with my words that spiritual formation is not about spiritual formation. Because that’s the idea that people get; they say, well, the big deal is these practices. The big deal is getting where you don’t need them, because you’re so engaged with doing the things that are loving and creative in your world. And that always starts with your closest neighbors; usually that’s your family. And so you’re thinking about how you interact there, and you’re doing the things that create space, redirect your mind, change your bodily/automatic responses in the social setting, and so you’re finding out what actually does that.

 

And now then, as pastors we’re leading our people, we talk to them about that, and we encourage them; for example, if they decide they want to enter into fasting, we encourage them to be experimental. We encourage them to think what fasting is about and to approach the process of changes that go deeper than our conscious intentions, like if you start fasting you learn your body is already used to a bunch of stuff, and if you start changing that, it will holler at you. And your neighbors, your loved ones, if you start changing they’re going to need time to adjust.

 

So you’re gentle, you’re persistent, but you don’t get pushy. And your experiment will bring you in touch with reality, the reality will bring changes, and that will start things shifting around you. And you will begin to experience your world differently, and that’s the process.

 

JO: How about—this actually does bring us back to what I was going to ask about before. Expectations around change—you know, transformation has become one of those words that just gets thrown around a lot. And one difficulty about it is, I’m not necessarily the best judge about how much I actually have been transformed. And a lot of times, you know, we part our hair on the other side and think we look radically different; everybody else thinks there’s no change, nobody else notices.

 

In the church, I was just talking with some folks last week, one of the kind of dirty secrets in the church is how often small groups will be talked about as these wonderful experiences and, you know, communities of acceptance, but then people’s actual experience of them, they’re very hard to do quality control with. And then when we come to people experimenting with spiritual practices and disciplines, let’s assume that there’s good teaching on the vision and that there’s wise teaching about the method. I think, for example, in talking about worry—you know, the human genome project they actually found a chromosome where if you have the long version you’re much more genetically predisposed to worry than if you have the short version of it. And anytime you talk about that, the worriers get worried that they’ve got the long version of that chromosome.

 

But the reality is, they’re going to wrestle with worry a whole lot more than people that have the short version, not because their faith is smaller or because they’re less committed to God, it’s part of the body that they were born with. How do we help people gain a vision for the spiritual life and enter into practices, but also be appropriately realistic, whatever appropriately realistic is, about the fact that I’m in a body and that to pursue transformation is worth more than anything else, but realistically, you know, if great acceleration comes, wonderful—but it seems that often it does not.

 

[1:10:38] DW: Well, a couple of things here. One is, you really want to start with the understanding that worry is not a sin. Not everything that is to be avoided is a sin. And so Hebrews 12 very usefully talks about laying aside the sins and the weights. Some of these things are weights.

 

JO: That’s true, because I could be tempted to be lustful or greedy but nobody sits around thinking, oh, I really love to worry, I shouldn’t, but I really want to do it.

 

DW: That’s a good thing. So what we need to understanding is there’s not a law in many of these things; there’s wisdom, not righteousness that we’re talking about. Now, you see, if you’re a worrier, then there are a lot of other things that are more likely to go wrong in your life. And so there are causes and effects as well as sins, and we need to pay attention to causes, especially when we’re concerned with spiritual growth. What are the causes? Now, so someone has longer neuron or something or whatever—chromosome, you have a longer chromosome, well that doesn’t mean you’re fated, but it does mean that your trip out of worry will be substantially different from someone who has the short chromosome.

 

And of course, I don’t know yet where we’re testing for this, but most of us wouldn’t know one way or the other. So for example, a person who is not given to worry might need only illumination of the mind about where they stand, and God’s care for them, and they might be able to just rest in that and stop worrying. Another person might need to work through specific worries to see, for example, how much benefit is achieved from worrying—which is none, for the most part. It’s hard to come up with the benefits of worrying. An amusing sermon could be made on that.

 

But, and then think about the causes of worry, and deal with those causes, and think about worrying in terms of the drawbacks, and then apply to particular cases. What are you worrying about? Ok, let’s work on that worry, and see how it develops, what it does, what it doesn’t do. And that would be the work of a spiritual counselor, and they would suggest activities in relationship to one’s worrying, maybe someone worries about accidents in traffic or something of that sort. So you work on the specific cases. And that’s what lifts the burden.

 

Same way with sins and temptations to sin; you take the idea of sexual ogling, we might say, which is what Jesus is talking about, and you think about the meaning of it, the effects of it, what it does to the people involved, what it does to you, and then you perhaps suggest different ways of relating to people that could be experimentally tried, and how you would think differently to stop that. Because it’s basically a mental thing, you have to train your mind differently. So basically, you just get into the details on any of these points, and that’s how you work change. That is experimental, and you have to use what works, what helps you.

 

Exodus 20:18-20

 

JO: Well, let’s go to the book of Exodus for a moment and talk about God, and how should we think about God.

 

[1:15:02] And there’s an extended passage when Moses and the people are at Mount Sinai, and it talks about

Interesting paradox—“Don’t be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you.”

 

DW: But it’s very instructive about what the fear of God is.

 

JO: Well, so hang on to that, and then a little bit later, Moses is talking with God and asking for God’s presence to go with his people, and God says yes, and then the final thing Moses says is, “Now, show me your glory.” And, you know, then you pause to wonder what is the glory of God? What will he show Moses? They’ve already seen the thunder and lighting. “Now, show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you and will proclaim my name, The Lord, in your presence.” So—

 

DW: We know elsewhere he wouldn’t let him see his face.

 

JO: No. How should we think about God? How should we think about being in the presence of God? What does it mean to fear God? What does it mean to be delivered from fear?

 

DW: Gee, is there anything else?

 

JO: If you want, I could ask somebody else, if you’ve never thought about this.

 

DW: I’d like that; I would like that. Ask Keith! …Well, I’m trying to draw all that together into one kind of issue.

 

JO: Actually, I’ll put it this way: there’s a psychologist named Jonathan Hate, read a lot of philosophy, wrote a book called The Happiness Hypothesis, I think. Very interesting guy. One of the dimensions of human perception that he talks about is, he says, “everybody has a “like-o-meter.” The simplest category in which we respond to perceptions is I like that, don’t like that. You see it in a little baby, you put something in his mouth, either it comes flying out or it goes down and he wants more. And there are a variety of ways, now some very creative, where we’re able to test for that sense of evaluation, like/don’t like. Sometimes in ways that are faster and deeper than people would be able even to articulate. If somebody is thinking rightly, where does God fall on their “like-o-meter?”

 

DW: I don’t think it’s “like.” That might come later, but I think that’s where the alternative “like” and “not like” may not be adequate. I do think that everyone has a certain ambiguity. They want a God, because they feel their insufficiency and their limitations, but they want to be able to run the show. And they would like to be God, but they would like to be God in a way that has God to help them. And that’s the fundamental ambiguity, and I’m not sure “like” or “not like” can get that one. I think how people think about God is like this. They think about God as a power that is available to them and that has a mind of its own.

 

JO: Have you seen Christian Smith’s stuff on moral therapeutic deism?

 

DW: No, I haven’t.

 

JO: He’s a sociologist at Notre Dame, and he says the fastest-growing religion in America, particularly among young people, is what he calls “moralistic, therapeutic deism.”

DW: Sounds right.

 

JO: And that whether or not somebody would put themself in the Christian or “other” category, that is the kind of prevailing idea about God, and the notion is there is a God; God does exist. He wants everybody to be nice; that’s the moralism part. He wants me to feel good about myself; that’s the therapeutic part. And he’s available if I need him in a crisis, but other than that, I really don’t have to think about him much, and he doesn’t want to and will not interfere with my life. Moralistic therapeutic deism. And Smith says that is the fastest-growing religion in America.

 

[1:20:17] DW: I think that’s right. But I think it’s an expression of the basic attitude that comes out in all the religions, all the religions except the idea that there is an invisible power and that it is somehow accessible, and it can both hurt you and harm you. The particular American version is withdrawing the harm part.

 

JO: The particular American version is—

 

DW: Withdrawing the harm part.

 

JO: So it can help you and harm you, and the American version is withdrawing the harm part.

 

DW: Yeah, the harm part is going away. I like to put that part as “God in the hands of angry sinners.” They pull the stinger.

 

JO: Where do you come up with this stuff? Do you just stay up at night?

 

DW: No, I listen to people like you! …So, but now, I think the biblical view, the one that fits in with Moses and all of that, is, basically, is God is an invisible power. And invisibility is really big in the Old Testament. And I think we get this idea from our experience of ourselves because we too are invisible. We’re not accessible to the senses, and so we feel a kinship. And I think that we tend to recognize that—

 

JO: Can I stop you there for a second? Cause, when you say we too are invisible…

 

DW: Right.

 

JO: That’s not the kind of statement I think that everybody immediately understands, so say what you mean by that.

 

DW: Well, I mean, you cannot by sense perception know what’s going on in another person. And you can know without sense perception what’s going on in yourself, by and large. And that Paul takes that up in 1 Cor. 2, where he’s talking about “No one knows the things of the spirit of a man but the spirit of the man that is in him.”

 

JO: Now there’s a large body of thought in our culture, I just say this because I think it’s an important part of our culture, that is that actually theoretically and perhaps realistically one day, we will be able to do enough brain scans and electrode implants that we will be able to tell by looking at someone’s—physiologically at their stuff, what it is that they’re thinking and feeling. There is nothing else other than the stuff…

 

DW: See, that’s the modern contemporary version of the Tower of Babel. We will get control, we will build, we will we will we will we will! And that’s what Lewis foresees in the Abolition of Man, “men without chest.” And these men without chest are the conditioners, and what is back of this is the drive of humanity to take control, and the last bastion of taking control is humanity. And the ambition to control is what was defeated at the Tower of Babel for a while, but then it comes back together, and now we have some universal languages, the most important of which, for most people, is mathematics. And mathematics is the instrument of technological control.

 

So here’s the person, and you say, well, how are we going to apply that? Well, the person’s just the brain, right? So good and bad intentions, thoughts of popcorn and Popeye, all these sorts of things, they’re just in the brain, right? And this is a terrible illusion that we are up against today when we think about spirituality. In many respects, culture rebels against it. So Oprah again has these—long time she always closed her program by saying, “Remember your spirit.” Because the spirit is where we live: that’s who we are.

 

And the brain actually is a different sort of thing; it’s essential to personality. We have one because of the special way that we are designed by God and his special purposes for us. And so the whole drive is to get rid of the person as spiritual and of God as spiritual. And the academic world is the modern Tower of Babel because that’s where we try to do that. And that’s what we’re up against.

 

[1:25:17] JO: So coming back to God, then, there was this kind of analogical understanding that just says the most important part of me is not visible, that there is an invisible power out there.

 

DW: That’s right, and that leaves us then with the question, how do you deal with it? There are lots of invisible powers; gravity is invisible, and electricity by and large. It announces itself in certain ways, but it is invisible, and we learned how to work with it. So for a long while we had no knowledge of how to work with it, and now we can do that, and then there’s atomic power, and we learned how to work with that, and benefit from it in ways other than blowing cities off the map. And that advances the human power, but at the end of all those kinds of powers, we feel the need to reach out to a personal power that we can interact with.

 

And the danger there is can we control it or not? And the human enterprise in religion is to control God. Now you see a lot of that in Christianity. But the realization of the people that came up to Mt. Sinai was this is too big for us. Right? So don’t let him talk to us anymore; you talk to him. Now then—

 

JO: And it may be that that’s not all a bad thing that that’s part of what they needed to go through.

 

DW: Oh, I think it was not a bad thing.

 

JO: And it may be that in some ways if we talk too soon about the goodness of God in isolation from other aspects of who God is and who we are—

 

DW: Well, see, that’s very helpful in approaching this idea of fearing God. How to fear God without being afraid of God is a major part of what we deal with in religion today. And a kind of approach to changing his nature is one way of doing that. And, but there’s always the thought that maybe he’s not changed, that maybe he’s like that. And so we need to fear God in the way we fear gravity. Everyone fears gravity. Now it doesn’t mean that they’re afraid of it, though in some circumstances they’re afraid of what it might do. It means that they respect it for what it is. And that’s the sense in which the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You respect him for what he is, and you begin to recognize that he has something in mind for you, and it’s better if you know that.

 

JO: And like with gravity, I recognize the danger involved if I relate to it in wrong ways.

 

DW: That’s right. But then, would I like for there not to be gravity? Well, not really! Would I like for it to be different than what it is? Well, not really, maybe I’d like to be able to control it a bit. And so you have people who work on that. Jesus had already figured that out, but we haven’t. And maybe we will. I mean, there are people actively engaged in trying to learn how to work with gravity so you can levitate, but you know, only levitate how you want to. You don’t want to turn it loose and shoot you over to Jupiter!

 

So, that’s the issue. So then, that becomes how do you solve that problem, and the Christian and Jewish answer is, God solves it. He reveals himself, and he does it in a way that will not destroy people. That’s why when Moses wanted to see his face; God said you can’t see my face. You can see—I like, it’s like when you watch these airplanes where you can see the jet trail, but you can’t see the plane. That’s kind of like what God did for Moses. He said, you can see my jet trail but you can’t see me.

 

And so God solves the problem by finding ways of—and one is talking to Moses instead of those. So he talks to Moses, and Moses responds and says now here’s what God says, and here’s how you’re to live, and we’re going to build this little shanty out here that we can move down the line called the Tabernacle, and that’s so God can come down here and be among you without wiping you out. And God says, good, so I can be among my people. He wants to be among his people, and that’s where that long sentence about what he’s aiming at comes from, is looking in the scriptures and seeing how God over and over is doing things to be with his people, and the last significant move to this point is the incarnation and the Church.

 

[1:30:37] So you came through Israel; Israel was the street address of God. If you wanted God, go to Israel. Jesus comes within that context; he’s the street address. You want God, go to Jesus. And now then Jesus starts his worldwide people and gives a book, and say, well, that’s the street address. You want to go there, you’ll find him. And that leaves people the opportunity to say, I’m not going there! That’s just a stupid old book!

 

Well, who was Jesus? Well, Jesus was just a cynical philosopher. A gentle, a gentle cynic. I love that word, you know; those aren’t mine, by the way. But that’s what the Jesus Seminar says, well, he’s a gentle cynic, you know. You don’t need him; let’s do America instead, or let’s do whatever instead.

 

So, in so many ways, he comes, and the Bible is one of the main ways that he’s accessible, and you start thinking about the Bible and what it is and how it gets to us, and you realize that the thing isn’t going to run over you, that you’re going to have to seek God there. And not stop at the Bible. And so that’s the progression. Now, I think the primary revelation is Christ and his people on earth. That’s sort of the last historical moment.

 

JO: So is the fear of God something that somebody would experience when they’re aware that he exists but they don’t yet know him, or does it remain—

 

DW: Well, no, I think actually people fear God who don’t know that he exists. It’s like people who love money but don’t have any. So a lot of people they don’t know he exists, but they’re afraid of him. Because of what they’ve heard, and he might exist. And so that’s kind of the superstitious condition of man, and that’s where we get our idols of various kinds, is we find something and we worship it thinking that it can bring us more than we can do. But we don’t want it to get out of hand, and maybe we think it doesn’t exist, but it might exist.

 

JO: You say, I think it’s in Knowing Christ Today, “idolatry is a mistake about reality.”

 

DW: That’s exactly right. That’s why we as preachers and teachers have to put it, because we are now culturally pushed into a position where people will say and are likely to assume that we don’t deal with reality, we do something else. And many people think it’s intellectual babysitting or something of that sort. And so we need to say, no no, we’re telling you about reality. If you worship this, this and this and this is going to happen. That’s knowledge of reality.

Listen to all parts in this Renovaré Institute: Denver Cohort series