The answer to this modern question was settled in the minds of the religious establishment in the 1st Century. They had come to a few seemingly certain conclusions on what it meant to “be close to God”. Many of their answers parallel many of today’s most popular Evangelical answers explained in my previous post. But true to His rebel ways Jesus messes with the accepted formula for relating with God.
In Luke 15:1-31 we have profound sermon delivered by the Master Teacher Jesus. We have two stories “The Seeking of the Lost Items” (sheep, coins) and then the classic story of “The Prodigal Son.” It’s a shame but often the story of The Prodigal Son is preached and understood separately from The Story of the Lost Items. These two illustrations are intricately attached to each other; they are one story. When you read The Prodigal Son story separately you are left with a picture of God sitting at home like a grandpa waiting for his son to come home; sweet, heart-warming but not Jesus’ point. The context to the story is what First Century listeners already assumed they knew of “how to be close to God” and “what God was up to.” You see this in the emotional interchange between the father and older son:
- vs 29 “I’ve been slaving for you all these years” modern paraphrase “I’m close to you because I bring you glory.”
- vs 30 “I’ve not disobeyed a single commandment” modern paraphrase “I’m close to you because of my pursuit of personal holiness”
- vs 31 “everything I have is yours” modern paraphrase “I’m close to you because I’m saved and have the spirit”
There is this kind of dualism that seems prevalent: that knowing God is separate from being where God would be. To divide presence from mission is to feed into the pattern of perceived personal holiness, individualism and being defensive about our Christian reputation in America. Our Christian imaginations have intimacy with God as more of a direct pipeline from God to me; if that’s true then the yoke is to work diligently on that connection. Because of this picture in our heads, many of the prescriptions for knowing God have a greater impact on increasing spiritual narcissism then they do closeness with Jesus. They create a spiritual trajectory of individualism. In some sense they funnel us toward a corner of spiritual self-actualization and going deeper into ourselves. Many of our antidotes for spiritual dryness are static and me-centered. I do believe these antidotes have a place, not as the answer but simply as an overflow of an active missional-life.
The new and uncomfortable formula for intimacy with God is entering into what God enters into. God in Jesus came into this world to hand deliver His love by renewing lost things. Closeness with God is birthed in the trench of connecting with brokenness. From the book Sometimes God has a Kids Face Bruce Ritter shares,“You collide with God, see God, know God, feel God, hear from God while you're beholding agony, loneliness, foolishness, annoying personalities, abuse, anger, and humiliation in the face of other people.” I know it seems counter-intuitive to connect with Jesus by incarnating with others brokenness but this is the upside-down way of God.
In Luke 15 Jesus is alarming the whole world to a new way, a new kingdom culture, a new arrangement breaking in. A missional-life is much, much more than online advocacy and it's much bigger than telling someone your a Christian; it is a pathway for a community of people to experience God as they orient their collective life around extending renewal to brokenness. There is a pseudo closeness we think we apprehend in a dynamic worship night, or a moment were you think you heard the Holy Spirit, or in finally having a quiet time 7 days a week, or even in a short-term missions trip. But proximity with God is found in tethering to a community of people who are together seeking out lost things in the spaces of their village. It's simple but it is the narrow way.