I have black spots and stripes all over my hands and arms. My day’s project is to get a set of shelves I finished building a week or two ago painted, and since I have a couple more coats of paint to add, it seems a bit silly to invest much effort into scrubbing away the current set of marks. In about three hours, I’ll be collecting another set of them.

I like chores such as painting. The work itself isn’t highly entertaining, but covering wood and catching drips doesn’t require much thought, either. That leaves my mind free to consider other things without the distraction of my body’s boredom and restlessness. Up, down, add more paint, whoops – too much, and my mind leaves enough attention to do a good job before wandering off to ponder, remember, pray, and dream. It seems to air out and somehow renew my soul. It did this morning. My thoughts turned to faith.

Recently, I picked up A.W. Tozer’s The Divine Conquest and began reading it. I’ve only read the preface and into the second chapter, and thus hesitate to say that I know what the book is all about. However, in the first chapter, Tozer is arguing that Christianity is more than an “intellectual assent” to a set of truths and requires experience with a Person, with God Himself. One section was interesting enough to me that I read it to Carey this morning as she was drying her hair. Tozer said:

Is it not true that for most who call ourselves Christians there is no real experience? We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions, but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.

Whatever else it embraces, true Christian experience must always include a genuine encounter with God. Without this, religion is but a shadow, a reflection of reality, a cheap copy of an original once enjoyed by someone else of whom we have heard. It cannot but be a major tragedy in the life of any man to live in a church from childhood to old age and know nothing more real than some synthetic god compounded of theology and logic, but having no eyes to see, no ears to hear, and no heart to love (11-12).

To the best of my knowledge, what Tozer says is true. Certainly my own life has shown it to be truth. I grew up in church, started out in conservative Baptist churches, and those churches together with private school and Awana did a good job of making me familiar with the Bible. Those three institutions preached the Bible, taught the Bible, studied the Bible, read the Bible, memorized the Bible… By the time I finished high school, I’d read through the entire Bible more than once and could quote more than a thousand of its verses. I am so grateful for that exposure. I’d not have the faith, the relationship with God that I do today without it. All that knowledge has been immensely helpful to me.

But, but… during high school, I had an experience that jarringly demonstrated of how little worth all that knowledge was on its own. My father rushed to the front door, paused with his hand on the doorknob, looked across the room into my terrified, confused eyes, and said, “I’m going to kill your grandfather.” He did leave and attack my grandfather. After that, my mom packed us up, and we left home for a couple, three months. I am sure that for any one, this would have been a horrible shock. It was for us, for me. I didn’t know what to think, and I suddenly wasn’t sure I had any idea about what was true.

You see, it wasn’t just the people at church, school, and Awana who offered Christian knowledge. My dad had been the most influential purveyor of it in my life. He insisted that the family be Christian. We had home Bible studies, had the, um, privilege of listening to whatever sermons or teachings my dad was currently finding interesting (maybe that’s why I just do not like audio teachings), and were sometimes tasked with copying scripture as punishment for misdoings. Thanks to all that, I had a pretty good idea of what sort of behavior God (and therefore my dad) expected, and I tried to measure up to it.

But you see, thanks to all that, I had a pretty good idea of what sort of behavior God expected, and attempted murder was definitely a no-no. My dad was massively failing at meeting God’s demands. The more I looked at what I knew from the Bible and how my dad behaved, the greater my conflict became, because I knew from reading the Bible that certain types of behavior were supposed to become more evident and not less as time went by. There was supposed to be this change. The fruits of the Spirit and love were supposed to be growing and obvious, but that is not what my dad was demonstrating. His behavior was wrong – it was evil.

I started to get angry with him, and then this horrible, horrible, revealing question floored me. “What makes you any different?” While I was still cross-eyed from that blow, another one hit. “How do you that you are saved?” I was jumping through the same sorts of hoops that my dad was. I was doing the same kinds of good things. I couldn’t see anything that made me different from Dad, and I was not at all sure that all I knew was enough for me be certain of my own salvation. My religion was exactly as described by Tozer, “a copy” full of “theological ideas” and “religious notions,” but I didn’t know God as a Person.

At this point in my development, I didn’t know that I needed to know God as a Person. What I knew was that what I was doing was not enough. In fact, I knew that no matter how I tried, it was NEVER going to be enough. There was no safety in it, no certainty but a future full of attempts and failures with no real change, progress, or power. I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted more. I wanted to be somebody who grew, whose religion was real, and that desperate desire shoved me away from my own behavior and knowledge of God to seeking to know God Himself.

Hm, looks like my paint is drying well! I’ll chat with you later.