Jack has been a Christian for most of his life. He regularly attends church, likes to volunteer to help others, tries to read his Bible, but feels a strong disconnect with God. Have you ever experienced this?
I am reading a book called Life in the Trinity by David Fairbairn. This book does a good job of addressing this question. It is a textbook for seminary students, so it is not particularly easy or quick to read. I hope I can boil some of these things down that I am reading so I can understand it better but hopefully it will be of benefit to you too. So, it may take a few posts to gather my thoughts but here we go.
Disconnection Between Theology and Christian Action
Jack, mentioned above, is not a specific person per se, but represents anyone who can relate to his situation. I know I can. But how does this disconnect happen? One way to describe it is to think of the disconnect that can occur between theology (what we believe) and Christian life(what we do). We grow up learning and studying scripture and understanding key doctrines of the church like justification, sanctification, and glorification. With this knowledge we then turn to put our faith into action and try to live out our faith as much as we possibly can. So far so good, right? So where is the disconnect? Something gets lost in between doctrine and good works.
This makes sense to me. For example, I love to study and over the years I have read commentaries, bible dictionaries, and even outlined sentences all to gain further knowledge of His word. All great stuff! But then in my own strength I try then to apply what I am learning and get busy doing lots of things to demonstrate I am a good Christian and that is when I can get into trouble. I can wear myself out trying so hard to be good. Living in the land of “oughts” and “shoulds”. Instead of a life filled with joy sometimes feels more like drudgery or a burden.
The Missing Link for Connection
David Fairbairn includes a lot of research into the early church fathers and discusses a central aspect of their writings that can help us understand the disconnect. He describes this as the “heart of the message”. This is not a mystery; we know what this is but sometimes it can get lost in the midst of doctrine and works. The church fathers had a word they called theōsis, which they describe as “becoming divine in the same way God is divine.” This does NOT mean becoming God. We might use words like spiritual formation, sanctification or being conformed to describe what the church fathers intended. Peter puts it this way in 2 Peter 1:3-4:
The Scarlet Thread
What does participate in the divine look like? Many of the early church fathers placed great focus on the life of the Trinity and how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit related together. In particular, they focused on the relationship between Father and Son because Jesus so often talked about it. They felt the Father-Son relationship was the “scarlet thread” running through all of Scripture. Jesus describes this in John 15:9-11:
Notice Jesus talking of the love He has with the Father. He then extends that love to you and me. A love that is so intimate, pure, holy and healing! He tells us to remain in that love. Then notice what springs from this love; obedience (v11) and joy (v12). Ahhh, that’s what’s missing! The “heart of the message” really is the Father’s love for us through Jesus. I’m hard-headed and seem to still want to do it my way, but I am grateful to my loving Father for His reminder of the love He has for me. When you think of it, isn’t it unbelievable that Jesus would want to include us in the kind of love He has with the Father? Sometimes it’s just good to sit and meditate on a truth like that.
Rest and Remain
How about you? Are you weary and heavy-laden? Do you feel like you are just going through the motions? Does God seem far away? Would you join me in focusing more on “being” than just on “doing”? Resting and remaining in the love of the Father will sustain us. Of course, this can be challenging if you had a difficult relationship with your earthly Father, but I pray that the steadfast love of your Father in heaven can heal that wound so you can experience the depth of His love for you.
Take some time over the next several days in quiet reflection and hear Jesus words of invitation into the loving relationship of the Father and the Son. Let the Holy Spirit minister to your heart as you ponder John 15 and participate in the divine nature of the Father and the Son.