Braddock writes in: “Pastor John, in episode #450 you talked about God’s preordination. In that episode you also mentioned that in your early 20’s you were almost tormented by theological questions and difficulties to the extent to where you would lay your head on your desk and weep for hours. What advice would you give to a 23 year old who is in that EXACT same position now?”
I want to give empathy before I give advice. I have memories. I have memories and I am laughing, but good night. It was hard.
I think the best thing I can do for Braddock from where I stand... I mean I don’t know what he is unsure of. I don’t know what he is wrestling with or how central or how marginal, how total his struggles are. So since I don’t know all that, I think the best thing I can do is to encourage him that the distress of confusion in the mind of God’s child will not last. It is part of a natural process of growth. Sometimes growth from less understanding to more understanding is very incremental and almost indiscernible. And other times it is fast and massively disruptive and, therefore, painful.
I recall when I was 14. This is an analogy. I grew so fast that my shins hurt. Some of you may remember that. I grew past my mother. I grew past my father. It was exciting. It is like growth, you know, is exciting and growth in your mind is exciting. Growth in your body is exciting. And it was painful. There were days I couldn’t walk. We went to the doctor and he said: He has growing pains. It was growing pains. Wow. I don’t like these growing pains. When will they go away? That is an analogy.
Or here is another picture. This, I think, is more helpful. The human mind is designed by God for coherence and order where things fit together and they don’t absolutely contradict each other. God is not a God of confusion. And when I read the Bible I see the apostles, for example, arguing. I see the prophets arguing in ways that show they assume the human mind in the image of God will not tolerate absolute contradiction. Things need to fit together in some sense of order or coherence. Yes is not no. No is not yes.
So the mind is bent on putting things together as best it can like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, or if I knew my puzzles better, I could come up with a better example about this. But I have in my mind that it if one of these pieces, ok, is taken out because you see the Bible teaching now something different than that piece that was put in there. That puzzle piece of knowledge was put in your brain when you were 10 and now you are reading your Bible and you say: That is not a Bible piece. And it comes out.
Then what happens? Well, the other pieces move a little bit. They move a little bit because you might have to jostle 15 pieces to put the new Bible piece back in. And here is what I think makes us frightened and weakened. It feels as though all of those 15 pieces might be wrong. They move. They shifted out of the position that they had. The thing that was giving them coherence just suddenly was gone and now we wonder, good night. Have I got to dismantle my whole mind? I don’t even know if I can handle all the pieces in my mind going out.
That is probably not true. It is that the pieces are moving, trying to find their place again in the coher-ence. And the more true pieces you put in, it may take some time, but when those other pieces settle into their God appointed niche, oh, it is so good. It is not only a peaceful feeling like: Oh, this is right. This is right. This fits my soul. This fits the world. But you have now got — to continue the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle — you have got a picture. This picture is more beautiful than the other picture. That other picture always seemed to have the nose out of place or it wasn’t quite what it ought to be.
God’s will is for our growth. 2 Peter 3:18. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior. Go on. Be about growing in knowledge. Philippians 1:9. My prayer is that your love my abound more and more with knowledge in all discernment. Colossians 1:10. Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work, increasing in the knowledge of God.
But here is the catch. Those all sound, oh, fine. Yeah, let’s just grow. Let’s just add, add, add. Here comes 2 Corinthians 10:5. Paul says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against that knowledge of God and every thought we take captive to obey Christ.” When we read that as Christians we tend to think, “Ok, I have got to get in synch with Paul and do that. I have got to do some knowledge imparting and I have got to destroy some arguments out there in the world.” And we forget that that happens to us.
But I assume that not every opinion in my brain is a perfect opinion and there may be some lofty opin-ions that get in there from time to time or left over from when I was a kid that need to be torn down. And when that happens, I guarantee you that demolition by the apostle hurts. It is just not comfortable to have any of your thoughts, especially if they are old or cherished or from mom and dad torn down by the apostle’s teaching.
So just two encouragements. God does not leave us alone in our thinking. In putting the pieces back together we are not left to ourselves. 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say…” So, yes, you have got to be thinking. And it is painful to be moving these pieces around in your brain. That is what thinking is. And the next phrase says, “for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” In other words, don’t begrudge the season of sorrow and frustration as the pieces are being moved around in your mind. That is an evidence that your mind is not content with confusion and that it is a sign that you are made by God for something more and God will give you understanding. He is not going to leave you alone.
And the last encouragement is: Do what the psalmist did. Psalm 118:5. Out of my distress I called on the Lord. I am sure you are doing that. Out of my distress I called on the Lord. The Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side. I will not fear. What can man do to me? Literally — I just checked it in the Hebrew a few minutes ago. It said when it says the Lord answered me and set me free, literally it is put me in a broad place. I am not trapped any more. I am not pinned down. I am not cornered. I am not frustrated in my confused position anymore. He brought me out of my frustration, gave me a broad place in which to walk. And this new picture of God in my mind is a beautiful place.