Friday, January 29, 2010

To the limit…

On the slopes of the Colorado ski mountains of my youth, there was a code you were expected to follow. Unwritten, of course. But as in many cultures, Colorado ski culture adopted complex, undeclared rules, and you abided by them, or…well, I just did what was expected.

Here’s my simplified version of that code: always go to the extreme. Understand that this wasn’t for everyone, just those who’d reached a certain skill level. But if you could reasonably assert you were a good skier, people expected you to constantly push yourself, to be consistently skiing terrain that was at or near the limit of your ability, at speeds that made you nervous. Sure, first thing in the morning, you could take it easy, but don’t let that be the norm. The skiers I skied with were fascinated by the extreme, drawn to it, and overcoming my limits was the goal each time we buckled.

I stopped following that code (mostly) after two major concussions in two years, but that’s another story. I now always ski with helmet!

I’ve been thinking of this behavior recently because of some interesting, unexpected conversations. With some of you, and with friends outside our church, the topic of “knowing God” has suddenly become fashionable. More specifically, I’ve had multiple discussions about exactly how much anyone can know about God. In other words, what are the limits of our knowledge of God? Can we know God to the extreme?

The skiing metaphor helps me in many respects. For instance, the great joy of skiing the way I once did were those many times I eclipsed my own expectations. Occasionally, I would stand at the top of a steep, narrow run, and get terribly nervous. I had no choice, though, but to ski it. No turning back. After a few slow, hesitant turns, my confidence would build. I’d make another turn at higher speeds, or with greater flare. And soon enough, I’d be at the bottom, looking up, thinking, “Wow, I just skied that! And lived! Awesome!” So the next time I attempted that run, I was less nervous. I believed in myself more. My sense of my own limits had expanded.

I wonder if God works that way, if there are times we think, “There’s no way I can know what God thinks, or wants, or hopes for,” and suddenly, for whatever reason, we’re surprised with something like knowledge. Like have you ever faced a heart-rending, difficult decision? About your direction in life? How to care for an aging parent or friend? How to give up something that’s bad for you? And for a time, you wish God was more clear, that you knew God’s will better?! I have. And there’s no perfect formula for finding that answer. Nevertheless, my experience of faith has been that when I step out in faith, give up expectations for what I believe God should say (or what I want to hear!), and trust, something happens. Maybe it’s sudden internal clarity, or some tough love from a spouse, friend or parent. Maybe it’s a scripture verse or story. But somehow, God’s will or God’s character suddenly becomes more known, or in the words of Psalm 119, God’s Word or even Godself becomes “a lamp unto my feet.” And even though it’s rarely a spotlight to my horizon, often that simple lamp is enough.

Of course, the skiing metaphor works other ways too. Like no matter what you want, there are some runs no one can ski. Like there are limits to knowing God on this side of eternity as well. And then there are times when a person misunderstands their true limits, and skis much too recklessly, out-of-control and hurts others because they weren’t humble enough about to accept their limitations. Religious folk can do that too.

I guess, then, for me, living an active live of faith involves continual negotiation between humility about the limits of our knowledge about God, and confidence that God will reach out to us, guide us, and actually wants to be known. Any thoughts of your own? Wanna go skiing? In all things,

Grace and Peace,


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