The opinions expressed on this blog are the personal views of Andreas Kjernald and do not reflect the positions of either the UMC congregations in Skien or Hvittingfoss or the UMC Norway.

lördag 20 maj 2017

Spiritual lessons from Nepal - #1

Lots of people come to Nepal for spiritual insight and as my time here is winding down I want to take some time to reflect on what spiritual insights I have learned/gleaned while living here in Pokhara.

First of all, I doubt that most people who come here seek spiritual depth within the riches of classic Christianity. There is ample proof that the so-called Eastern religions are much more alluring to my fellow pilgrims. It seems reasonable to me that there is some wisdom in those religions (after all, people here are not stupid) but I have to confess that they seem to offer a very "random success" faith, by which I mean that it is a religion that is a posterioi (after the fact). It seems to be based on random chance and trying many different things to appease very needy and fickly gods who seem very distant and moody. Why would their supreme god, Shiva, need to meditate, for example?
I did have a conversation today with a hindu guy, trying to learn about this oh-so-prevelant religion in Nepal. All I basically learned was that a) if it makes you happy, it is good karma so do it, and b) what is real is whatever I believe. Interesting discussion for sure, but it sounded like the modern western values of individualism, relativism and subjectivism with a bunch of weird myths thrown in for traditional value.

However, my time here has included many instances and lots of time seeking the Triune God of Christianity. No surprise there. The first "thing" that comes to mind when I reflect on my search for a deeper communion with God is that Jesus is elusive.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Christianity offers a tremendous deal to the world. The deal is that the almighty creator God of the universe not only cares about us and loves us but that we can also have a personal relationship with Him through His Spirit and the life/death/resurrection of his only begotten son Jesus...through faith, by grace.

In essence, Christianity argues that the most amazing thing imaginable (and that every religion seeks) is readily available to anyone. For free. Without doing anything but simply believing/trusting Jesus. That should sound suspicious to you because it is the only exception ever to the popular truism that "there is no such thing as a free lunch." I think Christians could do well pausing for a minute and ponder the utter "weirdness" of the offer Christianity proclaims because if it doesn't sound crazy to us we're doing something wrong.

Although there isn't a catch there is something that Christianity (us pastors) often don't talk about and that is that all this, while true, is hard to grasp, or find, or live. Why? Because this Jesus guy who is at the center of it all is elusive. It seems that way to me, at least.
As I have spent time in the Bible or doing devotions or praying or reflected on God or simply lived here I have found that Jesus is rather hard to find, or connect with or "go deeper" with. True, it could be that my spiritual state is not right or where it should be and that is why I find him elusive. Or it could be that I have some sin in my life that blocks my spiritual vision/communion (there is no fellowship between light and darkness) and he hides from me not so much because of Him but because of what I have put in the way. Or it could be that I haven't tried hard enough and that since all good relationships involve effort and time I should just try harder...and by that I mean I should have prayed more, or read my Bible more or gone to church more, etc..

To be honest, I think there is probably some truth in all of the above. I am not as spiritually mature and holy and Christ-like as I should be by now. I do have some sins in my life that needlessly are allowed to dwell within my heart and hinder Jesus' and my communion. I surely could have tried harder at reading my Bible or praying or whatever.

This is where it is very common to see the  "Grace flag" hoisted and saluted.Grace covers my spiritual immaturity. Grace covers my sins. Grace covers my shortcomings. But that is not Biblical grace.
Grace is not spiritual affirmative action, giving me extra spiritual points because I am immature, sinful or lazy. Grace, God's unilateral action towards me because of his love and holiness, is more like Him raising me up and enabling me to stand and take action. Making someone lame walk; not patting a lame on the back. I believe that Grace doesn't leave me a person full of immaturity, sin and/or laziness but enables me to become someone who is spiritually mature, free from sin and diligent. A real and full human being.

But this is only part of the question of Jesus's elusiveness. Because while I believe it is true that I am partly to blame I also believe that his elusiveness is intended on his part.
It stands to reason that an almighty, all-knowing and good God who wants to be with us would make it obvious and easy for us to find him. It makes sense because he would have to power to do it, would know how to do it and would love to do it. So what do I mean when I say that his elusiveness, or hiddenness, is part of who he is?

I have realized that Jesus is elusive because he wants to be found by people who want to truly find him. Sounds normal, right?
But think about it. If what Jesus wants is a relationship with us AND he is God almighty AND if he didn't hide himself...would anybody have a true choice in the matter or would it just be an overwhelming and overpowering "have to" instead of a free choice on our part? A poor analogy would be if a love sick but immature and silly 16-year old boy, pining for a relationship, was approched by a swimsuit clad Heidi Klum on a beach, gesturing for him to come over and join her on her blanket. Would he truly have a free choice? No.

To find Jesus we have to be willing to search for him and desire to find him for who he is. Not what he can do for us. Not for a ticket to Heaven. Not because it is what our parents want or because of anything else but Jesus himself. Any other way and we would not end up with a relationship but more like those people in the Bible who kept following Jesus so they could see more miracles but completely missed who he was (God) and walked away. This happened a lot in Scripture. Lots of people found Jesus geographically, but very few found him "relationally" or personally. Why? Because they didn't really have an interest in finding the man/God Jesus but only the exterior "trimmings".
So, knowing that he is over-powering and overwhelming, He hides from us, out of love, so that when grace enables us to escape our corrupt inclinations and limitations and temptations, we will be able to truly search for the real and living Jesus...and then we will find him.
In my experience here, this is hard, mainly because there are so many things that influence us, derail us, tempt us and mold us into beings that will do lots of things but that.

So the lesson is this. If I am honest with myself and I truly want to develop a true and real and deep relationship with Jesus I have to a) train myself to think and feel that this pursuit is better/worth more than all those things that get in my way, and b) that I have to depend on his grace to enable me to get up, focus on things above and get on with my pursuit.

An elusive Jesus is hiding in plain sight for those who truly want to find him.

Did you see the leopard?

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