I am pretty fired up about something, and when I’m fired up, sometimes I come across as harsh. I pray that I would not come across as harsh today, but I do have something I’d love to lay out there for thought and discussion.
I have gotten, in my life, to hate oversimplification. When I do it, it is a pretty good indicator that I am judging based on pride and self-righteousness, instead of truth. It will drive me away from a politician, a preacher, a commentator, a professor, and even a friend. I think oversimplification is a tool to divide and destroy other people, and I am over it.
On the other hand, I have grown to LOVE people who have walked through deep pain and get the complexity of life, and are filled with grace because of their experience. There is a woman named Becky at my church and I’m drawn to her every time I am around her because she doesn’t try to figure out the Lord and His ways. She trusts. She prays. She loves her Bible, despite the confusing parts. She radiates peace and grace because she has come to accept the idea that the things that are important, and the things that are true, are incredibly and deeply complicated.
Like spaghetti tangled in and around our lives.
Instead of striving to untangle it, she takes that spaghetti to the foot of the cross and she lays it before the One who made her, and she leaves it there for HIM to untangle. She walks away in peace.
I love it. That is who I want to be. I want to be like Becky – calm and at rest with a God bigger than our understanding.
Because when we pretend that there is one truth or one idea that we can grasp onto that captures all of that spaghetti and straightens it out, we insult the person going through the challenge, and the complicated God who made us. We are not smart enough to figure out most of the ways of God and the trials people around us are going through, so why do we hurt each other when we try?
Pain isn’t simple. It is incredibly complex. When you talk to someone going through a dark difficult trial and you oversimplify it with cliché words and “memory verse” ideas – you can hurt them. When you give the trial a black-and-white reason or a purpose and don’t acknowledge the incredible pain of their circumstance, you alienate them. Why can’t we as people just say we are sorry, just pray, just draw near to God on their behalf, acknowledging we don’t know what they are going through, don’t know their pain, don’t have any words of wisdom, but are waiting on God to speak through us peace and blessings? Pain is complicated! Look at Job, look at Paul, look at Jesus – the reasons for their pain, and the delayed answers to their prayers, weren’t simple. Would we tell Jesus “God won’t give you more than you can handle” (which by the way – isn’t a Bible verse) as he cried and sweated blood in His pain? As the flesh was torn off His body? No! Because that isn’t helpful. It isn’t holy. It isn’t right. So why do we tell each other that?
Conflict isn’t simple. You give me any conflict between brothers or friends or church members, and there will, every time, be people on both sides insisting on their righteousness and insisting on the other person’s guilt. But it’s not that simple. Conflict is spaghetti in itself – full of hurts and gossip and misunderstandings and reactions and ripple effects and there is rarely just one person in the wrong. But then the “advocates” get on the scene, and they take sides and oversimplify and point fingers and blame and suddenly this complicated reality of two sinful people in disagreement becomes this oversimplified and false “cause” one side against another. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t holy. It isn’t right.
Forgiveness isn’t simple. You can come across a friend processing the hurt and betrayal of conflict, and you see them at different points of their process, and you can judge that they aren’t forgiving, but you’d be wrong. Forgiveness takes time, and you daily fight off the replays that play and the emotion that overwhelms. Some days you fight those replays and emotions off all day long. And sometimes it doesn’t feel like forgiveness, but in the Christian life there is no condemnation and Jesus just wants us to take these hurts to Him, every time, as slowly He stops the replay and gives peace in place of the emotion. But for us to walk in the middle of that process and judge it as unforgiveness is insulting to your friend living out their holiness with fear and trembling and an insult to the God who doesn’t wave a magic wand over our hearts to change us, but instead works often in the quiet as we surrender our hurts and pains and needs to Him each day. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t holy. It isn’t right.
This is a small one – but politics isn’t simple. And to oversimplify and vilify one side, while pretending the other side is full of virtue, isn’t helpful. No party is full of demons or of angels, free of selfish influences or filled with them. Each party has great people who want to make the world a better place, just as each party is filled with entities only out for selfish gain. And when we vilify each other, acting like people are the enemy, we ignore the real enemy of our souls, seeking to destroy. It isn’t helpful, and in my opinion it is why an entire generation is over it. God did not send a party to save our country – and no party will do it. And to give a party, or a politician, the power to destroy us is just as harmful as giving them the power to save us. There is no Savior or Antichrist that will show up in American politics (in fact, there is great reason to doubt America will play any role in the end days). So to oversimplify one party as righteous, while vilifying the other, is a meaningless endeavor. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t holy. It isn’t right.
Here’s the deal. God is complex. The Bible is complex. I doubt in history there has ever been a more confusing and sometimes contradictory thing as the revelation of the God who created everything to a people who aren’t even built to understand Him. And I would rather people be in love with a God we cannot understand, forcing our minds to rest in that lack of knowledge, begging Him for moments of understanding when things are so incredibly complicated, than to oversimplify things to bite-sized nuggets perfect for crocheting on our Bible covers while we miss His heart altogether.
God can not be simplified.
We cannot understand Him.
Why do we even try? Outside of His grace, we miss Him altogether. I am studying the human body in school. Do you know that for every heartbeat, there is a series of about 100 chemical and electrical events that have to happen in perfect harmony? For.every.heart.beat. In our mouths, there are over 100 kinds of bacteria, most of which have not been named or identified, each with a purpose and function (gross, right?). Our bodies are astonishingly complex. We are made in His image, and any scientist worth his salt will tell you that the human body, and in fact the entire universe, is full of mysteries and every time we discover something, we uncover more questions than answers.
We are complicated. We are made in His image. God is complicated. Times about a billion.
Can we all just stop with the prideful oversimplification? Can we all just get to a point where we are at peace with the fact that God is hard to figure out, and His ways are confusing? Can we acknowledge that the things we call simple (the Bible’s condemnation of certain sins, for example) are not simple. That in fact, the Bible talks more harshly in places about my lying and gossip than about the sins we put on t-shirts and bumper stickers as unforgivable.
We are all, but for His grace and His revelation, doomed.
But in His mercy, He swoops down. He made Himself small (infant small) and even today, He reveals Himself in small moments and revelations to our tiny little minds, because He is kind. But it is all Him revealing and not me figuring Him out, and at any point He can do anything to me or allow me to go through any struggle He wants for His glory and my good (not my comfort or profit).
So what do we do with the complexity? Do we chuck it all because we can’t wrap our minds around it? I don’t think so – I think we ask Him for more faith, for eyes to see and ears to hear, we grasp at concepts when they float near and give ourselves grace when they float away. We hug people in pain and we pray because we know that it isn’t simple. We give people (and ourselves) grace in conflict. We take our unforgiveness back to the cross over and over and over again and allow the Lord to work in our weakness. We acknowledge that we just don’t know much about what is going on around us most of the time. We fight the prideful urge to oversimplify and try instead to be full of grace for all people.
God is complex, and by His grace, we are able to still believe.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33-36