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December 23rd, 2014

Musing Three: ‘You can’t make sense of this… It’s nonsense!’

Nonsense

 

Do you ever find yourself trying to work God out? My advice after 17 years of knowing the Lord is simple – don’t bother! Knowledge was never meant to rule our lives. If we just look around us we see that knowledge seems to rule our world. So much is geared around knowing more, so that we can achieve more. But remember Adam and Eve? Two trees. One of life, of union, of living out of relationship, of love… of knowing. This is what we were made for. And of course, there was the other tree, the one they ate from – the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:9, 17). Not just the tree of good and evil, but ‘of the knowledgeof good and evil’.

Now your mind is an amazing tool, but that’s what it is – a tool – it’s not YOU. Your heart is you… your mind is yours. It’s not you and it’s certainly not God – an awful lot of our problems in and outside the church come from having made the mind god (what I mean by this is that we have exalted the mind above the role God created it to play, so that what we can trust and believe is often determined by whether it is reasonable or not). By ‘heart’, I don’t mean your emotions. I mean the core of your personality, who you truly are. Now of course it’s not just that our philosophies have exalted the mind’s role. It’s also that we have lived in a painful world, and for a lot of God’s children it has been safer to live from the mind rather than from the heart. Many people have done everything they can to close themselves off from their hearts.

I think for much of the earlier part of my life, knowledge was a safer place to be – God has had to undo this in me over a period of time. A year and a bit into Bible college I was trying to work out everything about God through human reasoning. The first thing, I remember, that began to undo this tendency in me was going to a conference where an Argentinean revivalist was speaking. As he was speaking, I found myself arguing with my mind, with everything he was saying, until suddenly it was as if my eyes were opened, and beyond any process of reasoning with my brain, I could tell for certain that most of what he was saying was correct. I started to see that there is a deeper knowing than knowledge.

All the deepest spiritual experiences are like this, you know. They actually bypass our minds.[1] With our minds we may reflect on them or ‘explain’ them to others, but we do not get closer to God through our minds… through knowledge. Why? Because it was never meant to be the way. The only reason people struggle to see this is that the effects of the Fall have turned the world inside out. Most people think that to experience God, you need to put a thought in your mind and think about it and then try and get this truth down into your heart, but we were created to relate to God with our heart directly touching His, and our mind, will and emotions experiencing the effects of that, and our bodies also. Think of a romantic relationship: to get closer to the one you love, you don’t read their autobiography and study it (if they are lucky enough to have one). No. You move your heart towards theirs!

The Lord had to do this in layers with me – so six years after the experience I described, I was away on a Father-heart retreat in the Yorkshire Dales, which was all about receiving God’s love. We were praying to hand the keys of our lives over to Father and give Him control. When they came to pray for me, a guy called Jim piped up and said, ‘You need to let go of your mind, Simon. You can’t make sense of this… It’s NONSENSE!’ The moment he said ‘nonsense’, the joy of the Lord filled me and I laughed a deep belly laugh. All my life I had tried to make sense of God, and here on a weekend about receiving His love, somewhere deep down I thought that if I could just make sense of it, then I would be able to receive it… and here was the Lord clearly saying to me that it’s nonsense. NON SENSE – in other words, you cannot fit the things of God through the filter of your mind. I realised at that point why that unknown medieval Mystic wrote The Cloud of Unknowing. We come close to God not through what we can know, but in our hearts.

In recent years, as I have seen the value of silence – just sitting with God, many times where I am not saying any words and He is not saying any either – I have seen this even more, that the love of God is beyond what the mind can grasp. In the silence, He has taken this revelation deeper. At times I’ve battled with the silence and it has often made little sense to my mind. About a year ago I was battling with it, sitting alone in the prayer hut that we have in the Urban Retreat garden, when something struck me from deep down: ‘you can’t fit God into your head’. He is too big and our heads are too small to fit him! That’s the point. I came and shared this with my friend Solveig, who was sitting inside in the Retreat, and I think it amused her. Shortly after, I went on a week’s retreat in beautiful Wales. As God met me in the silence, His silence, the verse that was so strong to me at that time was ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5). And I saw that trust is something we can only do with our hearts! To the extent we trust, we will feel safe to live out of our hearts; to the extent we don’t, we will most likely try to work God out with our minds… But let me save you the effort: don’t bother – it will only exhaust you!

Instead, come close to Him in your heart, to that place of deep communion with Father, Son and Spirit, that you were created to live out of – there He is; there He dwells. Experiencing the love of God is not something you have the ability to process! To receive it, somehow you need to open your heart and let it be poured in. Love is not some philosophy, or choice – a mere act of the will. Love is reality… love is ‘stuff’, and it can only be experienced in your heart. He is loving you right now. Your Daddy, your Papa, who loves you with everything He has. He is jumping for joy over you (Zephaniah 3:17). Perhaps, like me, the only way to open your heart more to this reality could be to hear the words, ‘You can’t make sense of this – it’s nonsense.’ Just receive. Let yourself be loved!

 


[1] This may sound like a strong thing to say, but what I am saying is that God created us to live heart to heart with Him from the inside out, but the result of the Fall is that the world is living from the outside in! I am saying here that love bypasses our minds, that it’s not reasonable… if we can let go of the belief that love has to go through the filter of our minds first, we may start to be able to experience it.

The Musings of an Urban Monk is available online and from bookshops.

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