Depths of Understanding

Through translation and the molten nature of meaning in language, I have recaptured in my imagination something pleasantly sober the way even the hardest truths can be. No matter how hot the fire burns or how brutally it breaks down constructed things to irreducibly simple forms, it still brings warm life to the cold and reminds us of deep things intrinsic to human existence.

Consider the earth, with only the surface inhabitable, and yet beneath an entire world un-trodden by man’s body, where only his dreams and musings may go. Understanding goes deep with a person deeper than their body, but it also comes forth from within a person in ways that effect their tangible livelihood. There are lightnesses of understanding which men contemn, and there are depths to which some men go that many who go there seem stuck upside down with their bottom sticking up in the air: completely un-comprehensible to the surface mind. The lightness does the heart good, like the sea air does the deep-sea diver’s lungs good. But the Ordinary alone is not enough to maintain a profitable life. The ordinary life in which we live– that layer of reality in which we move around, make decisions, and react with decisions and chance far greater than our own control– is ruled by other layers of reality. And the deepest layers are the Highest layers. Let me lay out these layers as I see them.

-1. Humor. Humor is the level of understanding to which one person goes, to make another person exert greater understanding than himself. It makes the ordinary feel that he is indeed sane, and this fool who prates on and on makes him who is listening feel that he is sound. It is the humble gift God has given humanity to encourage and comfort the world with its ever-precarious, ever sobering, ever deepening conditions of decay and uncertainty and trouble. Well-crafted humor is the very fragrance of understanding rising up from the vents of that which is deeper than us. But, when used effectively, humor raises us to great heights, then either sets us down again, or plunges us into the deeper understandings into which we must dive. O the thrill of the hammer swung backward through the air, only to rush forward to drive the nail home once more! O the exuberant and silly breath we take to dive once more to the depth of understandings!

0. Ordinary Reality. The realm of the real and clear. Here far is far, and near is near, a spade is a spade, and a cigar is a cigar. Do not read between the lines. Words are sufficient. Listen to what is said. Read what is written. See what is shown. Many find this simple life good. It is. And yet the corruptions beneath the surface have far too often twisted the surface to that which is not simple. Look around you at the dishonesty of man’s hearts. A simple weight well-calibrated is true and good. It is the plethora of dishonest weights that make this level of understanding a dangerous ground. “Don’t believe everything you read” say the wise, and wizened. Solomon also said, “The simple believe every word, but the prudent consider their steps.” ~Prov 14:15.

1. Joy— Ah the pledge of good faith! There is truth beneath the surface! The Promise of a better surface life comes from digging a deep foundation and a roomy storehouse where the temperature is cool year round. Such cools calm the temperamental flares of heat which spring from a lack of reserve. The deep waters of life flow beneath the surface, and cool water is a nourishment to every soul seeking shade and sweetness in this broken desert of life. A man of understanding carries within him an oasis in any desert! He is the happiest of fellows to embrace the streams of truths that water all of the plants up on the surface. Indeed, for many this results in a nerdy withdrawal from all things surface and ordinary, and thereby leaving those without refreshment feeling abandoned, ignored, and deprecated. Nevertheless, these ordinary folk gain the hearty laugh of staring at people up-ended, bottoms in the air seeking some sort of treasures and refreshment that would otherwise be bought with a great cost underneath the hard sun.

2. Weight— The pledge is sweet, and the collection of waters tastes good, but there is too much water to carry around with a person. A man’s canteen, strength, stomach, and mind can only handle so much. Eventually, the immovable and inescapable nature of what is understood leads many to shy away from the responsibility which is thrust upon those who have understood it. Not only are there many who are in need of the life here in encased, but the one who knows of it comes to see the real predicament at the surface. The pressure and weight of all the understanding comes to sober the one once drunk with the pleasure and raucous laughter of understanding, and he comes to see his own face in the water, and in that face recognize his own makeup of water, and his resemblance to the owner and supplier of all the water in the world. These are those who are stuffy and self-absorbed and feel impregnated with the grand self-importance of that which they hold, lest they give way to the deeper levels of understanding which require greater courage.

3. Sorrow–Fingernails grind on a chalkboard, and a bone fallen out of joint is a deep pang of something wrong in the world. Understanding brings grief, that depth of the weight of all the world crashing down on broken supports. Seeing people in reality slip off the edge into oblivion unnecessarily just because the scales are tipped out of favor of real justice. It is heartbreaking to know not only the problems for so many, but the connection of the problems to other problems both cause and effect, and to see this web of impossibility, like the web created by a mirror shattered and fragmented from some point of impact. Understanding in people who face the deep underbelly of the world have one of two directions they can go now. It is too thick to explore here, you cannot go left and right. You can return to the surface with your sorrow you have learned, and boast over your understanding as deep as you went. You laugh at those who revel in new discoveries, because you have forgotten the pledge of good faith, and have seen heartbreak the more understanding you have grown. You can return jaded. Or you can go down deeper.

4. Surrender— The point of impact, where the real world we live in was shattered like that mirror is the brokenness of humanity which must be acknowledged and dealt with at the source of the problem: me. G.K. Chesterton understood this when asked in a Newspaper, what is the problem with the world.” He responded with these two words, “I am.” This is the moment to which Understanding leads a person: will you seek to preserve your life, or will you lose it? Here again, the man who has understood– who has “stood under” the reality of life and seen it’s fractured-ness and fractals and fractions–has two choices. He can lose self in annihilation or an inglorious manner that utterly rejects the goodness of understanding he learned at the beginning. Or He can entrust himself to the wise One who led him down this far on his journey of understanding, and commit the unpardonable sin against self: surrender to someone greater than yourself who requires your all with no caveats, no reservations, and no exit strategy. This is the “Lose yourself” that Jesus spoke of when he said, “He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel will find it.” It is a risk. It is very much like death. It’s like giving up, except it’s more like “Okay God, you win. I won’t keep fighting you anymore. I will actually submit to you, and accept that You are the Savior and not me.” This is the decision to which your journey deeper into understanding has been leading. There is Reality, Joy, Responsibility, Sorrow, and ultimately Surrender of self to the One who has proved how worthy He is through his impeccable track record.

This is the end.
Of the old life.
Of the New life
This is the beginning.

5. Peace

“There are depths of love that I cannot know, til I cross the narrow sea. There are heights of love that I may not reach, til I rest in peace with Thee.” ~Fanny Crosby

Understanding brings a person to the core of all that is, and he discovers the need to surrender, and once there is surrender, suddenly, from the very core of a person’s existence to which Understanding has led, a life is born anew. A life that is never-ending because it is begun by the One who is Never-ending. A life that is not your own, but belongs to the One who truly owns all things. A life that is set not on a broken platform, but the deepest possible foundation: to the core of reality itself: The Maker, the Word, and the Resurrection. This is where Understanding can bring a person, but only with humility, love, grace, and courage–honesty with self and God. He is there at the center of the layers of reality. And in His presence is the FULLNESS of the joy the understanding of which one found hints at the beginning of his journey. He is there, eagerly awaiting those who will take up their cross, and lay down their lives for His World-saving cause.

The Depths of Understanding
Illus. by Aner327

These are the Depths of Understanding as I have seen it. And I hope that God gives you the heart to go to this depth with Him. Remember: “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” ~Hebrews 11:6.” If you find yourself at any point of this journey and you have stopped short of the Self-Loss Surrender that leads to life, go back to the last point you found yourself, and seek God. After all, “He who seeks God understands all things.” (Prov 28:5)

My Spiritual Journey

This, in Christian terms, is my “testimony” I’ve translated it into more common speech, which I hope will be of help to people who are seeking a place to start.

My personhood is where I’ll start. My family was a father and a mother and two older sisters, with extended family still largely intact. At home, I was scheduled, given quiet time to be on my own, and given limited time in front of a screen. I had fairly consistent parents who disciplined not just actions I did, but also called me out on attitudes I held.When I reflect on my childhood, I felt safe, loved, and full of respect for my parents. They took me to church, where my discipline as a child proved useful in making me very well liked in the Homeschool Co-op and Baptist Bible Belt communities I found myself a part.

The selfishness was in me from the beginning. I can retrace places in my heart where I acted out of selfishness and was punished, and my pride caused me to make un-punishable error after self-destructive decision. I wouldn’t check my work, I would find ways to twist things to my own advantage, I would use the good behavior and things I did right to make me more prestigious in the eyes of people so that I would be praised. Silly boy. My Mother I’ve long understood has been much more caring than I, and my Dad knew what it was to be led by something greater than him.

Now that I have started with the setting and the problem, when I was 5, I prayed to ask Jesus to become my Savior, which basically means I knew I had done bad things, and I wanted to go to Heaven one day. But this hasn’t felt like the biggest part of my spiritual journey.

One of the big moments was around 7 or 8 years old: a moment when I made a promise to God, and refused in my heart of hearts to break that promise. I had lied to my parents about cleaning up my room, and lay awake that night unable to get past the promise I had made to God that I would tell them, so I told them. That was a pivotal moment when my heart decided that God, or at least my integrity before Him was the most important thing.

I got baptized around 12 years old, and for some reason it was around this time that I felt an acceleration in my spiritual journey. I started journalling, after the pattern of MYST and Riven, complete with the number system. Dad, who claims to have been led by God for many years (not that he has ever claimed it. He hasn’t really needed to claim anything to me), told me that God uses men who journal, so I journaled. He also told me two things that have greatly shaped my life. He encouraged me to pray two prayers:

  1. Give me a heart completely and utterly devoted to You.
  2. Speak to me in a way I can understand you.

To a reader, it may seem like the deck was stacked pretty heftily in God’s favor as far as shaping who I was going to believe in. Granted, I was steeped in Bible verses from the AWANA program, and my Dad almost always had a Proverb for anything he was doing, but I started pursuing it for my own sake. I dabbled in systematic theology, listened to the Bible on tape, Christian artists. When it came to sealing the deal for the direction of this spiritual journey, I had one main thing I can point to.

As I journaled, I became fascinated with the idea of what true manhood means: what it means to be a real man. I read John Eldredge’s “Wild at Heart” and it really got me excited about the battles to fight, adventures to live, and beauties to rescue. It gave my heart room to fly. I wanted to be mature as a real man so badly, and I knew I would have to leave my childishness behind.

A climax to this initial stage of my spiritual journey where I think I was completely convinced was thanks to Norm Wakefield, of Spirit of Elijah Ministries. His tape series of Equipping Men, had one particular lesson that brought me to my knees.

In his lesson “In Search of Happiness,” Norm explains that a person will try everything he can to be happy, except just Jesus, and Jesus only is the only answer. In a moment I saw my idolatry, and my fleshly pride. I saw my sin utterly, and I confessed to the God who I believed was real how I had been trying everything to make myself happy, instead of looking to Jesus alone to meet all my needs. Basically, I turned over full control of my life to God at that point. From that point forward, I wouldn’t want to do anything, make any decision unless it was what He wanted me to do. In Christian terms, Jesus became, “Lord of my life.”

I believed God wanted me to do vocational ministry in some way, though I’m not entirely sure what kind. My Dad continued to call me out to manhood, especially to being like Jesus. He gave me some books which continued to shape me into College: Refiner’s Fire Volumes I and II, and The Existence and attributes of God Volumes I and II. After those two books, Christianity had taken on a very interesting characteristic. I would compare it to colors: the Christianity that glows amber. It’s Christianity with a smell to it. It reverberates with the heart, mind, and soul in ways that only melted and broken hearts can. This vein of Christian tradition has taught me to prioritize God as a person, rather than prioritizing doctrine, tradition, or expressionism. (Blue, Purple, and Yellow respectively). These are subjective terms, but the point is that through my journalling, my listening for His voice, and the writings of those who had been with God, I had a pretty steady grasp in my heart of the God whom the Bible attested to.

Speaking of His voice, I don’t actually remember the first time I heard Him “speak” to me. This is one of those mystical experiences that many of the ancient Christians attested to, and many of today in various branches of Christianity also experience. I know what it is to hear His voice because, this voice miraculously sounds like the Bible, and he says things that I do not yet know or understand. I’ve recently learned that there is more for God to say to people who are willing to take the time to listen, but it seems so few truly are interested in listening to Him. I’ve found precious few.

From there, College met a lot of trial and error as I tried to walk out this very personal faith on a campus of very doctrinally solidified individuals (PCA Covenant College) My heart’s fire was not dimmed though. However, I had a continual source of personal revelation of God: the Scriptures. This has been the most fundamentally important pieces of my spiritual journey. The more I studied the Bible, the more I got a clear picture of God, humanity, me, and Jesus. This religious text is far more than that to me, because of who I have felt breathing in it page after page, word after word. Like thrusting my heart back into the fires from whence it was forged over and over again until I am shaped more like my maker.

Anyway, as you can tell, I start to get passionately excited about this journey. It has grown sweeter. He keeps showing me how there is so much more to Him even in the Bible for people who truly want to know Him. He is real, and does ever so desire a relationship of close intimacy with those who are honest of heart.

This is probably one of the main points my testimony asserts: God is real, and really interested in intimacy with the honest of heart. I’ve genuinely wanted to know Him, and my spiritual journey has led me to conclude that He is real, and He has matched my desire with the purest responses of genuine love that keeps me changing to be more like Jesus.

Now that I’m married, a lot of things about God that the Bible said have made a lot more sense as I get to experience them in relationship with another human being. The Torah has given me a greater appreciation for the depth of human (my own) depravity and the depth of God’s goodness in response, and the power and importance of the Cross. This is where I find myself currently on my spiritual journey: married, teaching Bible to children, and growing in my faith by following God’s leading, studying the Scriptures, and journaling what I’ve learned. I also do a lot with music, but maybe that’s another story.

I hope this has been helpful to you, dear reader. It’s not a testimony of which I am ashamed. I am nothing, an insignificant proud guy who has learned to lay his life down for the pursuit of God’s pleasure in all my life.

Thanks be to God. He is absolutely amazing!

Happy Thanksgiving!