Enlightenment is Not the Goal

enlightenmentMy buddy Jill made a profound statement on Facebook the other day. It was in response to an article about how wimpy liberal Christianity is because it offers little that can’t be found in liberal secularism. But the point is equally valid for “Bible-based” churches as well:

Unless there is something distinctly profound, ecstatic or unqualifiedly transcendent that happens in the religious space, why bother? Just go to brunch.

I had one of those moments today in church. In fact, it’s a regular part of my Sunday experience. The powerful, palpable presence of God. It warms the air, surrounds you like a comfortable quilt on a chilly morning, brings peace to your restless heart and wrestling mind, and puts all the whirling chaos of life back into proper perspective. And if you don’t have that, why bother?

And it was during one of those moments soaking in the divine presence that I was reminded of a simple truth. We were — I was — having an encounter with a very personal God. A person, not a force. Not some cosmic consciousness or the energy that permeates the universe. A person who speaks my name aloud, whose name I know. God is everywhere, in all things at all times, and no place escapes his presence. God is in all, but that does not mean that all is God. We were created in his image, and we can have his Spirit living in us, but we are not divine. We do not occupy the Throne of Eternity. As the book of Job reminds us, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” We are the creation; he is the Creator. He is immanent in all his creation; he holds our hands in all the stages of our lives; but he remains transcendent, above and beyond creation, distinct from it because he created it and it all exists because of him.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” scripture tells us, and “the whole earth is full of his glory.” But the universe is not God, nor is God the universe.

For the hungry soul searching for truth, dissatisfied with the drivel and hypocrisy of established religious institutions, there is sweet beauty in the simple image of the God who created us walking in Eden in the cool of the day, calling for Adam. Calling for us. God in search of man. Revelation so profound and powerful, yet simple and beautiful.

The purpose of life is not to attain spiritual enlightenment. Neither is it to achieve prosperity or personal success. Inner peace, clarity of mind, even human unity and universal harmony are not the highest pursuits of our existence. The goal is relationship. The Living God and us. The Creator of all is not just “Universal Father” but also “Abba” — a personal, intimate and tender relation — the One who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, calling them by name. The great “I AM”, the Eternal One, is also the personal “God of your fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.” Not only does he call us by name, but he calls himself by OUR names! He has established an irrevocable bond with us that is so much deeper and more personal than just the sharing of energy and essence. The personal intimacy of our relationship is woven into the very fabric of the universe. If we will just listen, our very souls cry out, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

That is the highest truth. That is the greatest revelation and personal achievement: an awareness of the Lover and being the Beloved.

At the end of our days, when our spirits unwind from our failing bodies, we will not just be reabsorbed back into the energy of the universe, or even rejoin the “higher mind”. No such impassive future awaits us. But we will be reunited with the One who loves us with an everlasting love; “I and Thou”, distinct and separate, but in an inseparable union. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And what greater existence could there be? What higher truth could we want than that?

You Might be the Center of the Universe, Afterall

Some days you just feel like crap.

Sometimes you feel like your life is going nowhere, that you’re stuck in some barren wasteland of a place, no one is paying any attention to you, your future looks bleak and hopeless. You may even feel like your life is cursed, that God has abandoned you, forgotten your name, and moved on to someone else. You feel done, finished, wiped out. And all you wanna do is scream.

Most of us have been there — and probably a lot of us are still there. But hey! Snap out of it. The game isn’t over yet, and the universe is about to stop just for you.

Here’s the Story …
I was reading through a familiar story about a guy who had three strikes against him, but who won in the end despite all his disadvantages. He was blind. He was a beggar. And he was stuck in a dump of a town that had a really bad history. And stranded there, all he could do was call out for help. But life didn’t pass him by; he was not forgotten by history, and in fact, his name is now famous, known around the world — well, at least in the church world, anyway.

One day Jesus and his crew were on a trek from the north country down to the big city of Jerusalem, and they had to pass through the town of Jericho. Everyone knew Jericho. It was on a main highway from the fertile Galilee to Jerusalem, and on the East-West route connecting the Transjordan region with the Judean hill country. Joshua and the refugees from Egypt had marched around it a thousand years before, and (as we all know) its “walls came tumbling down.” A curse was placed on anyone who dared rebuild that city (Josh 6:26), but it was situated at the mouth of one of the largest freshwater springs in the area, so curse or no curse, that little bit of real estate was not going to stay abandoned for very long. And Jesus and his team were passing through it on their way to some important business about to become the first Easter holiday.

This poor guy, sitting in his sweat, caked in dirt, probably stinking to high heaven, heard the commotion of Jesus’ entourage, and started raising a ruckus. He wanted some attention. He wanted some help. He was sick of where he was, and he wanted out. The crowd around him, preoccupied with the celebrity coming through town, did not appreciate the disruption. He was told in less than friendly terms to shut up and stop making a nuisance of himself. But the guy persisted. And Jesus stopped. Jesus turned around and told his crew to get him. Now that he had been recognized, the crowd changed its tune. “Cheer up. On your feet! He’s calling you.” The man threw his cloak aside, jumped to his feet, came to Jesus, and told him what he wanted. And Jesus gave it to him. Immediately, the man was healed of blindness and joined Jesus on the road (Mk 10:46-52).

So what?
Here’s the point to that little drama. We all sometimes feel like we’re stuck in a rut, that life and our destiny has passed us by. And we may even feel like we’ve earned it, like we deserve to be there, that we made God angry at us, and this is our punishment, our curse. And now we’re in such a bad place we can’t even see our way out of it. We’re blind, we don’t even have any idea which way to go or what to do next. We feel like we’re rotting right where we stand. Our life is over. It seems hopeless. But Jesus stopped for that man. Even with all the things pressing on his mind, Jesus stopped to pay some attention to that insignificant, washed up, dirty and stinking, little man. And the future changed in that instant. Not only did that man get his sight, but his life was handed back to him. He got a new purpose, a new journey. And to this day, Bartimaeus’ name is recited by kids in Sunday Schools around the world. All because he called out and Jesus stopped.

It Ain’t Over
It ain’t over till it’s over. And it ain’t over. You may feel stuck in your Jericho. You may feel like you’re done, the game’s over, you’ve used up all your chances and you might as well just sit on the ground and scream. But Jesus stopped in that cursed town. He stopped for a single person. He interrupted his urgent schedule to breathe life back into a seemingly worthless individual. And everything changed. The man threw his coat aside, he dropped the baggage from his past, embraced his future, and a new stage of his life began.

You may have to do the same. You may have to call out — even to the point of becoming a nuisance to those around you who think they have their acts together. But you won’t be ignored — not by the guy who has the power to restore your life, your vision of the future, your purpose. You may have to stop being so passive. You may have to exert the energy to throw off that heavy cloak you’ve been carrying around, that old stuff that weighs you down and ties you to your past. There may be something required of you to help take those first steps into your new life. But “cheer up. He’s calling you.” You’ve caught the eye of the King of Creation — and right now, that makes you the center of the universe. And your story is just beginning.