I went away for a few days to be alone with God. I had some decisions to make about the future and I wanted to hear from God. I believe that he can and will guide me. I believe that I am to be open to his guidance in my life; but, it is hard to tune in God's frequency when much of my time is spent not listening for Him. I live a lot of my life going about my business and getting by on my own quite well. I tune into God once in a while and get an answer to a big question in life and then go about my business convinced that I can now do things on my own. Annie Dillard says,
It is difficult to undo our own damage and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it. We are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind used to cry and the hills shout forth praise? Now speech has perished from among the lifeless things of the earth, and living things say very little to very few.1How do I once again tune into the appropriate voice. I hear my thoughts all the time. God, are you in there somewhere? How will I discern which voice is yours?
I went for a walk and started tuning in. I see evidence of God in everything around me. His voice cries out that he is here and that he has created a good world for us. I see him in the muskrat that swims across the pond using his slender tail as a rudder. He is expert in swimming and finding his way in the world. He is a mammal which must breathe air; yet he dives under water never to come up again. The pond is small enough that I would see him if he broke the surface of the water. I stand patiently watching to see where he will come up. I wait longer than his tiny lungs could ever stand to go without breath. Then I realize, he is not coming up to the surface of the pond. He has an underwater entrance to a safe, dry, air-filled burrow somewhere in the bank of that pond. I go and look in the water close to where I last saw him go underwater but he is too intelligent to dive close to the entrance. He dove under while he was still far from the hole so that a predator would be fooled. He swam invisibly underwater for several yards before safely entering his subterranean world. He does not know it but his whole life is an elaborate song of praise to God. The God who teaches small burrowing mammals how to build homes away from predators. How long did it take him to build his home? How did he decide where to build? How did he start his home? Did he simply dive underwater and start digging? How does he ensure that enough air filters into this quiet little chamber? Does he have a family tucked away in the burrow that he comes home to at night? These are questions he never needs to ask. He is born with a knowledge of how to live and how to survive and how to do all of these things.
I found myself envious of the muskrat. He is not troubled about the future like I am. He does not have to choose a career. He does not have to find a new job when it is obvious that the employer can no longer pay the salary and the lay-off comes. There is a hint of this envy in the words of Robert Burns' poem, "To a Mouse: On turning her up in her nest with the plough, November 1785." He speaks to the mouse whom he has disturbed and tells her that he will not chase after her and kill her. He does not mind that the mouse steals a bit of his grain for he will never miss it. Then he tells the mouse how blessed she is with these words.
Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi me!Burns looked at the mouse and I looked at the muskrat and we both had a similar sense of envy. For mouse and muskrat do not think about past or future. They live only in the present and deal with what comes their way at that moment. We humans are much more self aware and are capable of worrying both about what we have seen in the past and what might happen in the future.
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
An forward, tho I canna see,
I guess an fear.2
God could have made us like that muskrat. The muskrat simply avoids the predators and trusts that his tiny home is safe; and it likely is safe unless some human happens to dig up that area or a coyote happens to sniff out the air hole of a small muskrat den. But God has something more in mind for humans. He has decided to give us a special relationship and special responsibilities. He has made us in his own image with the ability to think and speak and make choices. He has not hard-wired us like a muskrat. He has given us free-will. The other animals of the planet are locked in time; they are temporal and temporary. God has made humans eternal beings. We live on this earth for a time and then we live in eternity. C.S. Lewis calls us spiritual amphibians3, part of our life is lived in the physical world and part of our life is lived in the spiritual realms. That is an apt description. Like an amphibian, this life we live on earth is an early stage of development. Frogs, the classic example of an amphibian, start their lives as tadpoles that hatch out of eggs and live the first part of their life totally underwater. They require oxygen but they scoop this out of the water through their oxygen permeable skin and tiny gills. They live out this first part of their existence in a form very different from their fully developed form. The pond is just the place where they slowly develop into the final creature.
As spiritual amphibians, we humans spend 60 to 80 or more years on this earth in a form very different from the one we shall one day take in the eternal realms. This physical world is the place in which we develop. We are just a tadpole compared to the elegant frog we will one day become. This is the place in which God prepares us for our place in his heavenly kingdom; therefore, he is most concerned with developing our souls. The challenges of pain and suffering in this world are definitely a concern to God; but they are not his chief concern. He is more interested in watching us develop our spiritual capacity. He wants to train us up to be sons and daughters of God who are ready to take our place in heaven. What we manage to become here on this earth will have an impact on what we become in God's spiritual kingdom.
To employ a different but similar metaphor, consider 1 Corinthians 15:37-40 which says,
When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.We have one type of body here on earth and it is just a seed of what it will become in the spiritual realm. At the end of our earthly journey a seed is formed based on all that we have done during our time on this earth. Then comes the judgement before the judgement seat of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:10) where it is determined what kind of seed we have become. Some will be found to be wheat seeds, perhaps one will be a seed that dies and germinates into a giant oak tree. Some may be mustard seeds that generate a mustard bush; while others became fern seeds in their journey in this life and will grow into ferns in the heavenly body. Some of the seeds may look very similar. A radish seed looks a lot like a poppy seed but each grows up into its appropriate structure. So too, two lives on earth may look very similar but each will develop into their appropriate heavenly body.
So, I return to my initial thoughts: how do I hear from God? I drew away from the world for a few days. I listened hard to see if I sensed his voice. It is important that I become the person he wants me to become. I want the oxygen of heaven. I do not yet have the lungs that will let me breathe the pure rarified air of heaven. I have only this porous skin and these tiny gills that allow me to suck a bit of oxygen out of this physical world. I must develop the lungs of heaven. I start by meditating upon the words he has already given me in the Bible. I will listen for his voice and I will listen for confirmation or correction from God's people, the Body of Christ.
1 (Dillard 1992, 88)
2 (Burns 2007, 27)
3 (Lewis 1980, 36)
Burns, Robert. Burns, Poems: Everyman's Library Pocket Poets. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
Dillard, Annie. Teaching A Stone To Talk :Expeditions and Encounters. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.
Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Ltd., 1980.