Thursday, September 24, 2015

Do You Reckon God Is Real?

Recently, David Gregory, former moderator of the NBC News talk show, Meet the Press, was interviewed On the Record, by Greta Van Susteren.  Much of Greta’s interview focused on Gregory’s new book, How’s Your Faith?  An Unlikely Journey.   In the book, Gregory recounts his  personal journey of faith prompted by what he calls a “spiritual longing that [he] felt a decade ago that realized that the bigger journey…was around some really big questions…Who am I? Who am I trying to become?  What is expected of me?  that can only be answered through a search for God…” Gregory’s journey was launched in greater earnest after President George W. Bush asked him, “How’s your faith?”

David Gregory with Greta Van Susteren, On the Record
Greta’s interview with David Gregory included an insightful question, one that I’ve been considering for a couple of months as reflected in my writing (See “Local Churches and Spiritual Awakening”).  Her question* was this:  “Why do you think that some people have faith and some people don’t?”   Gregory’s answer: “I think it’s ultimately a question of where God is.  People have a hard time understanding that God is close.” 

If he could join in Greta’s interview of David Gregory, A.W. Tozer, now with the Lord, might say in reverent awe, “God is very near.”  In fact, if the interview were to shift so that we could listen to this great pastor, preacher, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor, Tozer might share at length about faith in God as he wrote in The Pursuit of God.  As you read carefully and meditatively the following excerpts** from the writing of A.W. Tozer, I hope they will stir you as they have me to realize (real-ize) God’s nearness and His pursuit of us:

“God and the spiritual world are real.  We can reckon upon them with as much assurance as we reckon upon the familiar world around us. Spiritual things are there (or rather we should say, here) inviting our attention and challenging our trust.

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963)
“The sincere plain man knows that the [physical] world is real.  He finds it here when he wakes to consciousness, and he knows that he did not think it into being.  It was here waiting for him when he came, and he knows that when he prepares to leave this earthly scene it will be here still to bid him good-bye as he departs.  By the deep wisdom of life he is wiser than a thousand men who doubt. He stands upon the earth and feels the wind and rain in his face and he knows that they are real.  He sees the sun by day and the stars by night.  He sees the hot lightning play out of the dark thundercloud.  He hears the sounds of nature and the cries of human joy and pain. These he knows are real.  He lies down on the cool earth at night and has no fear that it [will]… fail him while he sleeps.  In the morning the firm ground will be under him, the blue sky above him, and the rocks and trees around him as [they were] when he closed his eyes the night before.  So he lives and rejoices in a world of reality.

“With his five senses he engages this real world.  [In order to live, he] has been equipped [to move about, to reason, and to make decisions for his survival and productivity] by the God Who created him and placed him in such a world as this.  [But what about God and the spiritual world?]

“The Bible assumes as [an obvious] fact that [we] can know God with at least the same degree of [certainty] as [we] can know any other person or thing that comes within the field of [our] experience.  The same terms are used to express the knowledge of God as are used to express knowledge of physical things:

O taste and see that the Lord is good… Psalm 34: 8a
All Thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces.  Psalm 45: 8
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me… John 10: 27
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Matthew 5: 8

“These are but four of the countless such passages from the Word of God.  And more important than any proof text is the fact that the whole…of the Scripture [points] toward this belief.

“What can this mean but that we have in our hearts organs by…which we can know God as certainly as we know material things through our familiar five senses?  We [function in] the physical world by exercising the [abilities] given us for that purpose, and we possess spiritual [abilities] by means of which we can know God and the spiritual world [provided] we will obey the Spirit’s urge and begin to use them.

“Our trouble is that we have established bad thought habits.  We habitually think of the visible world as real and doubt the reality of any other.   We do not deny the existence of the spiritual world but we doubt that it is real in the accepted meaning of the word [real.  That is, something that exists, or IS, regardless of whether we or anyone can see it or think it into existence.  In other words, something real “has being in itself.”]

Returning to Greta’s question to David Gregory, about why some people have faith and some do not, Gregory elaborated, “I think there are things that get in the way….”  With this assertion, A.W. Tozer would agree:

“The world of [our five senses] intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime.  It is clamorous, insistent, and self-demonstrating.  It does not appeal to our faith; it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final.  But sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see that other reality, the City of God, shining around us.  The world of sense triumphs.  The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible; the temporal [becomes the enemy] of the eternal.  This is the curse inherited by every member of Adam’s tragic race.

“[What is missing is] the saving work [of God’s grace through Christ which] must first be done in the heart…  The spiritual [abilities] of the unregenerate man lie asleep in his nature, unused and for every purpose dead; that is the stroke which has fallen upon us by sin. They must be [awakened] to active life again by the operation of the Holy Spirit in regeneration; that is one of the immeasurable benefits which come to us through Christ’s atoning work on the cross.

“But [even the] children of God themselves [purchased through faith in the shed blood of Christ]:  Why do they know so little of that habitual conscious communion with God which the Scriptures seem to offer?  The answer is our chronic unbelief.  Faith [erases the clouds from the lenses of our hearts] and allows our spiritual senses to function.  Where faith is defective the result will be inward insensibility and numbness toward spiritual things.  This is the condition of vast numbers of Christians today.

“A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it.  [We don’t have to imagine it any more than we have to imagine a long-lost person or object; we simply recognize the spiritual kingdom because it is real.]  God Himself is here awaiting our response to His Presence.  This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality.

“As we begin to focus upon God, the things of the Spirit will take shape before our inner eyes.  Obedience to the Word of Christ will bring an inward revelation of the Godhead (John 14: 21-23).  It will give acute perception, enabling us to see God even as is promised to the pure in heart (Matthew 5: 8).   A new God consciousness will seize upon us and we shall begin to taste and hear and inwardly feel the God Who is our life and our all. 

“Why do some people come to faith in God while others do not?”  Certainly not because God is far from any… that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being…' (Acts 17: 27-28).

Although I believe God is near to each person, I also realize from experience that the journey to “find Him” is not an easy one.  God desires to have personal relationship with us, but has chosen not to overpower us like automatons.  Instead, God has created us with a free will and also a yearning that can only be satisfied when we establish relationship with Him.  Again, Tozer’s words strike a familiar chord within me, based on my journey of faith:

“Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him…and the secret cause of all desiring as seeking and praying which may follow.  We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit.  No man can come to Me, said our Lord, except the Father which hath sent me draw him, and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming.  The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: Thy right hand upholdeth me (Psalm 63:8b).”

In keeping with a God that pursues us, David Gregory says, “I didn’t really have an experience of God’s presence as a teenager?” then adds, “Without knowing it, there was a certain sense of spiritual longing that was happening for me then that I wasn’t able to access ….”  

We can assume that David Gregory’s pursuit of God continues; as does mine, and I hope yours as well.  We are not left to imagine God, but to reckon and realize (real-ize) God—because He is real.  May we be driven by God’s gift of the hunger to feed upon His Word (Psalm 19: 7-11) as the Bread of Life (John 6: 35).  Bread to nourish us with His wisdom for the daily challenges of this world (e.g. Proverbs 3: 5-6; Isaiah 30: 18-21; Isaiah 40: 28-31); and “living water” (John 4: 10) to quench our spiritual thirst as we rely on His promises of the Eternal Life He offers when by faith we put our trust in Christ (e.g. John 14: 1-6).  How is your faith?

* Actually, I must take issue with the premise of this question.  My longtime friend and colleague, Dr. Allen Monroe was fond of saying, “All men are men of faith.”  In other words, we all exercise faith in certain people and things in order to function—faith in chairs we sit in, the brakes in our cars as we apply them in busy traffic, etc.  The question is not “Are we people of faith?” but rather, “Why do some people come to faith in God while others do not?”

** Excerpts from A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God (Regal, 2013), as modified for brevity and ease of reading.

Acknowledgement:   I thank God for my friend in Christ, Brad Will, who regularly encourages my faith in God, and who is responsible in recent months for leading me to drink from the spiritual well of A.W. Tozer.