I’ve been looking for this folder for weeks. When I came to stay with my parents while recovering from surgery, I didn’t bring much, and my room is pretty uncluttered. And yet this rather large folder has seemingly vanished.
As I took another stab at looking for it again this morning, it occurred to me that there were some spots where I had never looked yet, even though I had looked in other places several times. Why had I neglected certain spots and fruitlessly repeated searching others? It was simply because the neglected places did not fit my expectations for where the folder may have ended up, either because they seemed too small or because I could not imagine a reason I would have put the folder there. But I know from past experience that thoroughness is key in finding lost items, and that they often show up in places that initially do not seem to make sense.
A spiritual parallel quickly sprang to mind. Throughout the Bible, God calls on people to seek Him, stating that they will find Him if they do so earnestly, wholeheartedly (for example, Deuteronomy 4:29, 1 Chronicles 28:9, Hosea 5:15, Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 7:7-8, Hebrews 11:6). Why then does it seem that some sincere spiritual seekers do not find Him? Frankly, I don’t know. But it struck me that perhaps this is because, even in seeking an all-powerful God, there is a human tendency to want to limit Him and the ways in which He reveals Himself. We do not find Him because, despite the earnestness of our seeking, we are only receptive to His self-revelation if it conforms to our own expectations.
Certainly the prime example of this is the reception of Jesus of Nazareth by many of the religious elite, in particular the Pharisees. It seems likely that many of these who rejected God-in-the-flesh were truly seeking God, but only as long as He met their expectations of what He would look and act like. So when Jesus, the perfect God-man, ate with tax collectors and sinners, they immediately wrote Him off. God wouldn’t fit in those spaces; there would be no good reason for Him to be there. So they kept looking for Him in the same worn-out spots, and ended up missing Him entirely. As Jesus Himself told them, “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40 NET).
I am currently revisiting Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy, which I last read in high school. It has been a refreshing, lighter read (or listen, since I am cheating and listening to the audiobooks), and I have thoroughly enjoyed its allegorical exploration of the biblical story. [Spoiler Alert] Though I’ve not yet reached this part, I can remember the brilliant way Dekker sets up the reader to view the one of the characters with deep mistrust. Ten or so years ago when I realized that this “bad guy” was the allegorical Jesus figure, I was somewhat shocked by the way I had viewed him just as the first-century Pharisees had viewed Jesus. I was sure the character was up to no good, and when he ended up giving his life to save others, I was caught off guard. He didn’t fit my expectations for who the heroic rescuer would be — he was a troublemaker. And then all of a sudden he was the savior.
I am by no means suggesting that we abandon the Bible or the core beliefs the Church everywhere has always held. No, we must cling tightly to these. But as I read the Bible, I see an infinitely creative God who delights in doing new things (Isaiah 43:19, Revelation 21:5) and who consistently defies the expectations of the people caught up in His story. So let us earnestly seek Him, holding firmly to what we already know to be true of Him, while expecting Him not to fully fit our expectations.
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