Random Blog Clay Feet: December 05, 2007
Feel free to leave your own comments or questions. If you would like to be in contact with me without having it published let me know in your comment and leave your email address and I will not publish that comment.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Attainment Without Pursuit

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. (Romans 9:30-32)

I know I touched on this once before but I cannot remember how much I explained what I find so meaningful here. I again looked up the words for “pursue”, “attained” and “arrive” to see what the main point was being made here. I find it very significant and something that I need to have more clearly in my mind.

There is something almost seemingly backwards being explained here that is easy to miss. One group gets something that the other group is desperately trying to get but doesn't. The irony is that the ones who get it are not aggressively trying to get it but do anyway while the other group spends a great deal of effort and even agony trying to possess but never achieves. That reveals that there is something unusual going on here that can possibly expose the same problem in myself if I am willing to carefully look at what Paul is trying to tell me here. If I am pursuing being right with God and am found to be doing it with the same methods or spirit that the Jews were I most likely will be just as frustrated at never quite getting there as they were.

What is it really that makes the difference between those who “get it” and those who “miss it”? I think I see a significant point in the description of the results as well as the condition of their hearts implied in the text.

Is it wrong to desire to have a life of righteousness that is in perfect harmony with the Law? I don't think so. The reason the Law was given was to make us aware of how perfect God is in comparison to how messed up we are. Being aware of the difference between my character and God's is a very helpful thing to know, albeit very discouraging many times. When I don't know how good God is I have very little initiative to be dissatisfied with my own condition and want to improve. It is very important to see the truth about God more and more clearly so that my longing to be more perfect, more in line with my original design will be intensified.

But it says here that the Gentiles did not pursue righteousness while Israel pursued the Law of righteousness. Now there is an important difference that must be seen here between the goal of each group. It says that even though the Gentiles were not pursuing it they attained righteousness. What is going on here? Aren't we supposed to set goals for ourselves so that we know what we are going to get or where we are going to arrive? How did this “attainment” come about without it being pursued? If I want to attain righteousness how can I get it without pursuing it? That seems to be the question that is left when this is distilled.

I think an important point is found in the definition of the word “attained”. Here is what I found when I looked up the word that was translated for this.

Katalambano: to take eagerly, i.e. seize, possess, etc. (literally or figuratively): – apprehend, attain, come upon, comprehend, find, obtain, perceive, (over-)take. (Strong's Greek)

What I get from this is a sense of excited discovery, like coming across an extremely valuable diamond in the earth and eagerly seizing it. Note that they were not particularly looking for it – pursuing it – but they came into possession of it anyway. But in this particular verse it does not explicitly state how that came about. I have to put more pieces together to see the picture more clearly.

To do so I compare their experience with those who were actively and aggressively pursuing. Again I note that what is arrived at – or not arrived at – is a little different for a very important reason. It says that what the Gentiles come into possession of is righteousness but what the Jews pursued was a Law of righteousness. Also I want to look at the method the Jews were using verses the method the Gentiles were not using, if that makes any sense.

Here is the meaning for the word translated “arrive” which Israel was seeking to do in their pursuit of the Law of righteousness.

Phthano: to be beforehand, i.e. anticipate or precede; by extension, to have arrived at: – (already) attain, come, prevent. (Strong's Greek)

The most significant difference I see between these two words defined here is the sense of excitement, the condition of the heart. It looks to me upon comparing these two words that they reveal a significant difference in the attitude and mindset of the two groups described here. The Gentiles are eager, excited, aware of something very valuable that has stirred up their intense interest to the point of seizing it even though they were not particularly pursuing it originally. Yet Israel in all their strenuous effort to attain or arrive at compliance with the Law, the external description of what the Gentiles came into possession of, failed to come into possession of its attributes – righteousness.

That makes me think a little bit of what I have heard about quantum physics. I have been told that there are particles that behave differently when they are being observed than when they are not. That sounds almost bizarre, but scientists somehow have figured out that it is true. It also makes me think of how the heart/right brain seems to work as well. It seems that the more you try to consciously focus on something going on in the right brain the more elusive the hearts emotions and feelings become at times. Yet when the conscious mind, the left brain particularly, relaxes and allows the right brain to function with more freedom then I begin to sense things that the left brain is incapable of coming up with on its own.

I believe that this may be an important key to understanding what Paul is trying to get through to us. The Jews were representative of everyone who is trying to achieve righteousness, or harmony with God, through focusing on the external descriptions and trying through every means possible to come into harmony and alignment with that description. While that may appear like a very noble undertaking, to become like God in whose image we were created, it is also using the wrong part of our brain to get there. The left brain tends to deal with the externals of our life by nature and cannot relate very well to the goings-on that the right brain was designed by God to do. This is the point that I think is the heart of this passage. It is a case of attempted symptom management instead of cause repair.

The Gentiles apparently, according to the implications of the following few verses, had their hearts stirred up with excitement by their exposure to the truth as it is in Jesus – real righteousness, the true gospel. They saw a beauty and an attraction that they realized would fill the emptiness in their heart and soul and would bring real satisfaction and peace. And while they had not been actively pursuing this goal, they realized when they saw it that it was exactly what their deepest hunger had been craving all along and they seized it with gusto. They embraced the gospel, the good news, the real truth about how God felt about them and what He had provided for them, and they opened their hearts as well as their minds to the living presence of Jesus Christ. They believed in Him with their hearts, embraced Him with their emotions and began to learn more and more about Him with their minds and they were not disappointed, according to this passage.

What was the difference between them and the other group who had long been actively pursuing the Law of righteousness without ever arriving there? I think one of the most important differences is that the Gentiles were willing to let their heart lead them without a left-brain pursuit of achievement getting in their way. This is not to say that their left brain went offline while they simply followed their emotions willy-nilly. But I think it does mean that they, unlike the religious addicts of that day, and ours as well, were willing to live from their heart and respond to the beauty they saw in the presentation of Jesus that most religious people have no understanding of because it cannot be appreciated by the left brain. That kind of reasoning becomes a stumbling stone and a rock of offense to everyone who insists on left-brain dominant religion.

As it is written, "See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." (Romans 9:33 NRSV)

Why does it seem that I keep coming back over and over to the issue of living from the heart, allowing the emotions to have a proper place in my experience, finding the proper balance between the functions of the right and left brain? I do so because of my own personal pursuit, not of the Law of righteousness which I did for far too many years, but my pursuit of discovering the real meaning of what I am learning about how we are designed to live. I have grown up and lived in the environment of religion filled with religious addicts as I call them, for all of my life. My own brain is deeply influenced and molded around that kind of thinking and reasoning and has kept me dissatisfied for most of my life. My own heart and emotions have been suppressed, underused and even abused and as a result I have caused a lot of similar pain in the hearts of many others around me.

In my growing awareness of my own dysfunction I long to allow my own heart to begin to come alive, to thrive in a nurturing atmosphere of real love, to have my spiritual receiver repaired so that my spirit can be more alert to the constant incoming messages from the Spirit of God. That is often blocked or crowded out by the noise of the clamorings from my left brain logic trying to figure things out or compose new formulas to explain how things work.

Anyone who is more advanced in the arena of living from the heart than I am will probably find this very amusing. Much of what I write probably has a strong left-brain slant to it compared to what I need to be. And I still believe there is value in allowing the left brain to condense and try to explain what it is observing about reality and what is going on in the other side of the brain. I also think that the left brain at some level has to give its permission before the right brain is free to do its proper part in our life, so the left brain has to have enough information to do that. But for all of my life the left brain has been far too much in control without allowing the creativity and emotional growth to thrive that God designed for me to experience. I have felt like I have been under a dictatorship instead of a theocracy like God designed me to live. I have been robbed of the intimacy and peace that my heart was designed to thrive in and enjoy.

I am very much in growing pains and suspect it will become even more intense. Even as I write many of these things I find myself in a tension between wanting to write and explain and figure out (left brain eagerness) and occasional twinges of impulse to just stop abruptly and allow my heart and deeper soul to absorb more from what I am sensing in the Word or directly from the Spirit. There are times when I sense that my brain and fingers are so eager to figure things out that they run too far ahead of my heart. Whenever that happens it becomes evident by some things that are said or done that I am no longer living from my heart guided by the Spirit and that is when most of the damage is done that I later regret.

Yes, my own emotions can cause me to do many things that I regret as well, that could be prevented if my left brain was allowed to give warning and my will accepted those warnings. I am still a dysfunctional person on both sides of my brain. That is the reality of the presence of what Paul calls my flesh. My flesh will exploit both my logical reasoning and my emotional impulses. But by far I think the biggest problem I have, along with most other religiously flavored sinners on this planet, is the over-dominance of my left brain that thinks it can do the job of both sides without the inherent capability to do so. I see the terrible results of this problem both in others (where it is much easier to observe) and in myself.

The good news is that my heart really is waking up little by little as I focus more and more on the emerging truth and beauty about the character of God that is being revealed to me. I am beginning to sense what caused the Gentiles to seize “righteousness” as my own heart begins to ignite with the passion of God's heart. I am trying to cooperate with God's work in me to get my own brain into proper balance and exercise my severely underused heart capabilities by receiving healing and truth into those areas of my life that have remain hidden and malnourished for so many years.

The past few days I have been watching the newest video series from the Theophostic ministry by Ed Smith. I cannot recommend these enough to anyone who wishes to enter into this journey into the healing of the heart. This is a highly effective means of dealing with pain and baggage from the past that has crippled our life and stunted our growth. If you are interested in knowing more I will be happy to share with you directly my own experience or you can go to their website and check it out for yourself.

As I am going through each training session I become aware of the Spirit bringing things to my attention that God wants to heal in my own heart and memory that is hindering me from living freely from my heart. I am sensing a healing taking place, some of which is even beyond what my left brain can explain or identify. But the presence of Jesus is one that promises to bring true freedom and I want to seize it with eagerness just like the Gentiles that Paul refers to in Romans 9.

Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

(next in series)