I often go back through the archives of this site, reading essays written by our founder, Michael Spencer. His words continue to challenge and encourage me as I walk in this evangelical minefield/post-evangelical wilderness. I got to know Michael by reading his older essays. Even as we then were author/agent, and then friends, the way I knew Michael best was through his writings.
We walk with Michael through his Calvinist days, then his flirtation with the Catholic Church, then with his prophetic proclamation that evangelicalism was on the verge of collapse. He wandered around, trying to find a place where he would fit in American Christianity, and finally realizing that not fitting was right where he needed to be.
One thing I would be very cautious in saying is that Michael grew in all of his wanderings. My caution is because of our use of the term “grow.” It implies, in our current culture, that where we are today is not good enough, and we need to keep working to achieve some new level. And if we don’t, then we are not doing our duty. It is the American education version of Christianity. Listen to the presentation of knowledge, pass a test to show you have grasped the knowledge, and graduate to the next level. We keep doing this until we “graduate” to Heaven and then we no longer have to learn.
I hear so often, “What do you think God is trying to teach you through this or that trial?” It’s as if God’s main role in our lives is to teach us things. And our role is to learn. Teacher-student. Yet I don’t see this picture painted in Scripture. When I read of God’s interaction with his creation, it is as of a lover. Often as a jealous lover, yes. That’s because we drift off after lesser loves, and he has to come find us and bring us back.
Or as a shepherd, who has to deal with sheep who constantly want to wander away from green pastures. And in case you think you are part of the 99 who stay put instead of the one who strays. guess what? There are no 99 “good sheep.” We are all the one who has strayed. We’re not learning anything. We’re selfish creatures who think we know what is best rather than trusting our shepherd. And once he has brought us back safely into the sheepfold, we’ll once again look for a hole in the fence so we can run away.
Or as the father who is waiting and waiting and waiting for us to return, knowing we will when we are hungry and tired and scared enough. And when he sees us tramping up the lane, our father will run—run, mind you—to embrace us.
There are other metaphors in Scripture that show us God, but I don’t see any as him as our professor. I do, however, see one picture over and over and over.
If there was one thing Michael and I could talk about for hours (other than the Cincinnati Reds) it was grace. God as our lover, freely receiving us back even though we have been unfaithful, and will be unfaithful to our dying day. God as our shepherd seeking us out to feed us and care for us and keep us safe in spite of all of our efforts to run away. God as our father, running to welcome us back as his sons and daughters.
Grace. We constantly go our own ways, and God the lover/shepherd/father gives grace upon grace upon grace. Just like in the miracles we read in the gospels, grace is given without the recipient doing anything to earn it or keep it. And that is what makes it so scary to us. We would prefer God as a schoolmarm who gives us lessons and we work to earn a good grade. But that is not the God of Scripture. And it was never the God of Michael.