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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Abandoning Ourselves to God

Faith comes when we are finally able to move away from what other people have to say about God and start relying more on what we know through direct experience about Him.

Sure, some may say that faith is more about believing what we don't have any evidence for, but that is not the sum total of faith.  If you read the Scriptures with care, you notice that God asks man to trust Him based on what He has already done.  The whole record is presented to us in order that we would believe based on the evidence presented.  We are supposed to use what other people say in order to start the path, but then we are supposed to experience God for ourselves.  There is no such thing as 'blind faith.'

We cannot yield ourselves to an unknown God, nor can we really be expected to throw ourselves into the arms of a God that we only know in a theoretical way.  We make our small beginnings based on what evidence we have been given by others, and then God responds.  He makes Himself known to us.

Once we have come into contact with Him, then our understanding of God changes.  Theology and dogma become less about what other people think about God and more about what we know to be true.  If theology and dogma remain 'academic,' then they are of no real use to us.  Theology must be personal because God Himself is a Person and therefore the relationship with Him is by definition 'personal.'

He deals with us in a direct manner, rather than through a veil of impersonal academics and theories.

And in this inter-personal context, we can finally release from our fears and self-will to abandon ourselves to God.  To be sure, we are talking about a process that happens incrementally and over time.  Like a child learning to ride a bike, the training wheels of theology and the experiences of others help us in the beginning, but eventually need to come off.

We must practice living with God.  The training wheels then come off, and we are riding based on our own experience.  It is that inner experience of God that allows us to come to trust Him more and more, until we are able to utterly abandon ourselves to His care.

This does not happen all at once.  Nowhere does a saint appear out of thin air.  Saints are made, and they are tried by circumstances over and over again.  God tests them over and over again, so that they gradually come to the level that they rise to.

The same is true for us.  We must be tried again and again.  Sometimes, it seems like the lessons get repeated over and over, but that's usually because we need the practice.  Eventually, we will pass and move to the next one.  Then, that one gets repeated.  All of life becomes 'homework drills' just like the ones in math class.  We hated those, and so we will probably hate these.  That's because our self-confidence often outpaces our actual competence.

Over time, we learn more about God and ourselves, and this is where real faith comes into play.  This self-knowledge helps us to understand our limitations and abilities.  We learn what God expects of us and also what we cannot do on our own.  Beginners often want to abandon their responsibilities to God, but that's not how it works.  We must learn that God expects us to do our part: for example, we can't expect to know God if we don't spend time with Him.  If we don't stop and pray, we will never know Him.

In the beginning, we want other people to tell us what God wants or thinks.  We seek gurus and 'spiritual fathers' to act as our replacements for this relationship with God.  Sure, getting a nudge in the right direction is helpful.  However, if we come to rely on other people to ask as our connection to God, we will never grow.  We will never be able to yield ourselves to God if we keep Him behind other people.  We must step out and engage Him face-to-face.

There comes a point where we are pushed to trust God in a new way.  It happens in some small way, perhaps hardly noticeable or embarrassingly petty, yet it is important for us because it represents incremental progress.  Do not under-estimate these small experiences of faith, because they can can add up over time and move us towards ever-increasing faith.

In our day-to-day lives, we should aspire to these small 'abandonments' to God, where we trust Him to take care of those things that we are used to handling through self-will (usually without success, or at great cost).  It is through years of these small steps that we can cover a quite a bit of ground in our spiritual journey.

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