My son Christian Piatt had a confusing spiritual upbringing. He says he was raised by a Southern Baptist and an atheist, so he split the difference and became a heretic. In fact, his blog is called “Father, Son and Holy Heretic,” and he uses it as an outlet for, among other things, working through his spiritual restlessness. He recently wrote a post titled “Longing for the Unreachable God” in which he talked about wrestling with the focus on personal salvation and specifically on the assurance that some Christians, especially more conservative Christians, feel about their eternal destination. Since then I’ve spent some time reflecting on his post, and I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts. By the way, in case you’re wondering, I’m the Southern Baptist in the equation.
Christian had to deal with another disconnect in his family of origin. I’m what I like to call a lazy intellectual. I tend to take things at face value while weighing them against my own personal experience and digging deeper only when I find something troubling. His father on the other hand is highly intelligent, reading and absorbing everything he can get his hands on and using his endless collection of facts to browbeat life into submission. I knew Christian was more like his dad than like me when he was eight years old and I found him sitting on the bathroom floor while his dad shaved, discussing the theory of relativity. Unfortunately, he has enough of my faith-based approach to life to drive himself crazy.
In his blog, he talks about longing for “the mountaintop experience, after which I would never be the same.” I think we all long for that, and a lot of us have those experiences but discount them because they don’t last. We fail to remember that even Moses had to come down from the mountain and that the glory of being in God’s presence faded from his face. These experiences are often written off because they can’t be explained, and they can’t be repeated at will. That’s where my kind of mindset comes into play. Some things just can’t be explained; some things just have to be accepted.
My dad and I ran into this disconnect when it came to computers. I was first introduced to computers in my late twenties when I was hired by Kraft Foods as a CRT operator. I had no idea how a computer worked, but I knew that if I entered the information from the order forms onto the form on my screen and pressed “Enter,” I got a paycheck every two weeks. When that job ended, I had several other jobs where I was shown an idle computer, handed a user’s manual, and told something to this effect: This is what we want you to do. Make it happen. And I did. I still had no idea how a computer worked, and I often discovered that I was doing things the hard way, but I trusted the machine to do what the manual said it would, and it worked.
My dad, on the other hand, was afraid of computers. After he and Mom retired, I bought them a used system, hoping it would give them some pleasure and would be a way for them to keep in touch with their family who was spread across the country. My husband David set it up for him, showed him how to use it, and wrote out detailed instructions, but Dad didn’t trust it. He didn’t understand how it worked, and he was afraid of punching the wrong button and causing the end of the world as we know it. So the computer became another dust catcher in their small home, and Dad missed out on the joy he could have experienced through the interaction with his kids and grandkids.
For me, understanding spiritual matters is a bit like understanding computers. I established a personal relationship with God as a child, but it didn’t end there. The relationship has grown through the years, there have been mountain-top experiences and deep valley experiences, but mostly there have been day-to-day experiences where most of life is lived. I depend on the memory of the former to give me the assurance I need to get through the latter, and I depend on the “user’s manual” to get me through the day to day. I’ve read the Bible a number of times in different translations, and I’ve listened to countless teachers and preachers explain it. There’s still confusion, but I can live with that. Even the Apostle Paul didn’t understand it all.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. I Corinthians 13:12