A few weeks ago, I went on a weekend trip to a small NZ town called ‘Mangakino’ located on the North Island.
Living in Auckland, with all its light pollution, means I often don’t pay attention to the evening sky. The reason: it just isn’t that spectacular. Most of the stars aren’t visible so it doesn’t make for great viewing.
But, Mangakino, well that’s a different story. The town is hours away from any major developments and is quite remote – meaning light pollution is minimal. This results in a spectacular night sky. I sat outside, braving the cold, for hours on end, overawed with its beauty and its magnificence.
It’s not hard to find pictures of the evening sky on Instagram or online, and these pictures look incredible. However, nothing compares to seeing it in person. A wonder is evoked which simply cannot be replicated by its digital version.
What’s more is the longer I sat there, and as my eyes began to the adjust to the light, the more stars I started to see. It was as if the sky was unravelling before me. Crazy to think that same sky is above me right now, hidden beneath the veil of light pollution cast by the city.
Funnily, it made me think: isn’t this how it is with God and His Spirit?
He is always present
Just like those stars, God’s Spirit is always present, and He is continuously active in lives (1 John chapter 3, verse 24). Yet, often, He is drowned out by hustle and bustle, the busyness of life; the city lights.
All it takes is for us to step back to get rid of those distractions and things which drown out God and, suddenly, we will see the world like we’ve never seen before.
Taste and see
My night of star gazing also got me thinking about a point raised by a popular NZ musician: Strahan Coleman. He argues that, in our contemporary Christian culture, a ‘knowledge-based’ faith is promoted over a ‘spiritual-based’ faith.
Today, information is so rapidly disseminated and easily accessible that we have associated knowledge with the quantity of information an individual knows.
We have made the assumption that the amount we know about God and about the Bible, is directly proportional to our closeness with Him. Reading the Bible, Christian books and listening to podcasts are promoted over silent meditation and prayer.
Now, I’m certainly not trying to denounce intellectualism. I, myself, love uncovering the Bible’s nuance’s and symbolism, and find it brings me closer to God. Having an intimate knowledge of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians chapter 6, verse 17b) guides me in times of uncertainty.
Rather than undermining intellectualism, what I am trying to say is: there is more to knowing God than merely knowing about God.
Lessons from Job
Something that confounded me upon realisation was that Job is the first book of the Bible ever written. He was described as someone “blameless and upright” (Job chapter 1, verse 1) before God.
Job knew God and was close to Him as evident in his faith through the trials and tribulations he faced. Astoundingly, he achieved all this without any literature about God, without a Bible.
He had no choice but to find God spiritually. Yes, there would have been countless oral stories passed down through generations, and this would have helped. But all you need to do is play a game of ‘broken telephone’ to realise that oral stories are largely prone to distortion and corruption.
He wouldn’t have been able to take each story he heard about God at face value, like we can with the Bible. He would have had to discern the truth of a story using what he already knew about God, through spiritual communion, as a reference.
Unlike Job, we have a Bible that is just a few clicks away. Unfortunately, we can often settle for complacency. It’s easy to just settle for the Bible and not seek genuine communion with God. It’s easy to make the knowledge about God the end, instead of God Himself.
Just like that Mangakino night sky, we could see countless pictures of the stars, and have numerous people describe these stars in detail to us. But until we truly see them and experience them for ourselves, there will always be so much beauty and wonder that we are missing out on.
How can we know the “peace that passeth all understanding” (Philippians chapter 4, verse 7) if we merely restrict our faith to an intellectual experience of Him?
I, like Strahan, would like to challenge us to seek real communion with God. Let’s put the Bible down for a few nights and really seek His Spirit. Ridding ourselves of the distractions, let’s fix our gaze towards the heavens, and strive to get to know God, not simply about God.
When we allow God’s Spirit to shine, to illuminate our lives, the world will unravel before us in a beauty and wonder that we cannot yet comprehend, nor yet know.
Matthew Thornton is studying at the University of Auckland, Matthew finds that writing is one of the prime ways he connects with and grows closer to God. He loves seeing the way in which God has wired everyone uniquely and finds immense fulfilment in seeing others discover who God is to them. He would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org