That Clever God
In the following article Norman Grubb examines the principle of faith underlying every aspect of life and more importantly, how we operate as Christ by the same principle today.
How can a general fact become a personal experience? The answer is that simplest of ways by which alone all the generalities of life become personal experiences. It is the simple principle of supply and demand. The Bible calls it the way of faith. We might define it as freedom in action. God has so ordered the universe, all being forms of His self-manifestation, and our relation to it, that we are surrounded, almost overwhelmed, by all that is available to us–food, air, every convenience of life. We have a general recognition and acceptance of the fact that such things are beneficial for us and available to us. We call that believing in things.
But before anything, which is not mine already, can become mine in experience, it is obvious that I must come to want it, and then in my freedom, appropriate it. My stomach needs food, it is available and I eat it. My lungs need air and I breathe it. My body needs a chair and I sit on it. But note that the effect of this response of my demand to the supply is that what I take takes me. I take the food and it takes me over for good or ill. I sit in the chair, and the chair holds me, not I it.
So faith, as freedom in action, is only faith when it produces the reflex action. The taker is taken, the grabber grabbed. Faith is not taking, but being taken, not grabbing but being grabbed. And the one and the same principle operates on all levels. There is no secular and spiritual with God. All is basically spiritual for the one Spirit, that One Person, is manifesting Himself through all, and this is the principle of His self-manifestation.
But when it comes to our need of a right relationship to God, we meet a special problem. There is no automatic demand which will appropriate the supply. We humans by no means desire this revolutionary change. We are satisfied with ourselves, or make out to ourselves that we are; we find at least enough attraction in our normal self-interested way of life to be repelled at the thought of any violent change. In fact, we are, as the Bible says, “deceived,” “blinded,” having been born in the delusion–the product of the Fall–that life is just we living it the way we think best. At most, a little religion, a few good works, satisfy any inner demand for some place in our lives for God and the service of others.
Exposure Before Remedy
There has to come an awakening, a disillusionment, a sense of need and lack, to bring us to see that we are off the track. The first approach, therefore, that the God of our being has to make to us, to get us within hearing distance of Him, is exposure before remedy. It must be negative before positive: and this approach is what the Bible calls “law.”
We have already mentioned that we use the word law to define the only way in which something can properly function. It is the law of its being. Thus we are continually busy seeking and discovering all the laws of our universe. If we attempt to make a thing work against the law of its being, we get trouble. This is true of all the laws of the body, of science, of mathematics, or the man-made laws of social or national life. But there is only one ultimate law, as the Bible has revealed it to us–that God is love. This is what God is. This is how God works. The universe is this law in operation. All is love and compounded of love. This is, therefore, the law of our being, for our being is in God. Anything which is not self-giving love, is broken law, and has its adverse consequences.
We humans instinctively know wrong from right, because, though Adam fell, he did not take the final, absolute step that Lucifer took. Lucifer from the centre of his being rejected God and made himself a god in reverse. To him good became evil, and evil good, self-giving bad, self-loving good. Lucifer became as fixed as a god of self-loving as God is fixed as the God of self-giving. There can be no change in either. There is no response in Lucifer to right ways, no discomfort that he is wrong, he is not savable.
But Adam’s sin was not a basic choice of evil for good, not a sin of spirit so much as of flesh. Eve was tricked, and Adam knowingly followed her to keep her, rather than blatantly defied God. When he took of the wrong tree, he chose the way of self-gratification but hoped, as it were, that God was not looking. He hoped for the best of both worlds. Impossible, but it left him with the vivid realization that he had done wrong. He hid himself from God.
Satan does not hide himself. He is in open defiance, he has proclaimed himself as a rival god with a rival kingdom. Adam and we of the human race do not call evil good. We still call good good and evil evil. So we are reachable and savable. Captives of Satan, bound to him, his property, sharing his destiny, but not yet fixed devils. We might be called children of the devil, but not yet sons of the devil. Satan has his being in God but, as a free spirit, has totally rejected even the recognition of that fact. We have our being in God, but, though we are joined to Satan, have not so cut ourselves off by the final choice of our wills and hearts, that we do not recognize or respond to the One in whom we live and have our being.
That is why we humans instinctively know wrong from right: we know that what proceeds from selfishness is wrong, whatever is self-giving is right. Paul truly said that we have the law written in our hearts, and John speaks of “the light that lighteth every man,” and the conscience that bears witness to the truth.
But in our freedom, we easily rationalize, we stifle that inner voice and find ways around it. So God, through Moses, defined that law in written terms which we call the Ten Commandments. Jesus defined it in still more absolute and inclusive terms in the two commandments of absolute love towards God and our neighbor.
The normal operation of a law is a perfectly natural functioning of things according to its law–in ease, in spontaneity. So the law by which something works is not normally a burdensome thing or an imposition on it. It is only when it seeks to function against the law of its being, that this law is like an enemy to it. An automobile runs smoothly according to its mechanical laws: pull the wrong lever and it grinds to a halt by being made to oppose its own laws.
So we humans are challenged and opposed by what should be the natural law of our being in God, the life of self-giving love, because we have ground to a halt by the turn of the wrong lever and are seeking to make life work on the unlawful principle of self-loving love. What should be normal, spontaneous, automatic, confronts us in our hearts and by written commandments as a threatening demand: “Do this and you live. Don’t do it and you die.”
Law, then, is not God’s frown on us; it is the first form of His love. The Bible calls law elementary religion. It is the delicate way in which God reaches us on the only level upon which we could be reached, for love always adapts itself to situations. Being self-satisfied and self-reliant, we would see no point in being told that we need God. Very well then, God meets us where we are in our self-centredness. “You know what you ought to be. You say you can be it. Well, be it. Here is the law. Keep it.” How clever and adaptable love is. You aren’t conditioned yet for true religion; well, then have a religion on your own level–the law.
We must have the wrong way exposed to us which in our blindness we try to make out is the right, before we are conditioned to desire or find the right.
The Answer Begun
The effect of this inner and outer law on us is two-fold. On our response hangs our eternal destiny. We can either respond by hypocrisy or honesty. As a fact, we all start by being hypocrites. That is, we pretend to ourselves and others that we keep the law reasonably well, enough to salve our consciences: We have enough religion or a philosophy of some kind to cover our tracks, for a self must always have a foothold for its selfhood–a righteousness (rightness) of some sort. What we really do is to try to keep the eleventh commandment, to hide the truth from ourselves as from others–“Thou shalt not be found out!”
Honesty is when by some means or other (God has a thousand original ways), we are brought up sharp enough in our lives, suddenly or gradually, to be faced with the plain recognition that we are not what we should be. We are law breakers. The moment of truth is when in our freedom we admit that fact. That is honesty, and that is also a total self-humiliation. The supposed foundations to our selfhood have given way. That is why there is a cost in it. The false front of our self-justifying religion or philosophy collapses.
But this admission of merely being a law-breaker in the sense of not living up to the standards of God’s law is not sufficient by itself. The point is that it is the law of God, and, therefore, the law on which our being is founded, so that we are at variance with the Source, the Originator, the Upholder of our being. Therefore, we are at variance with life itself. We are wrong, we are lost, we are in the dimension of what Jesus called “outer darkness.”
Now when that is an admitted reality to me, I am conditioned for the truth. I have a need and I must have it met. I can no longer consciously continue at variance with the God of my being and under His justifiable condemnation, with its necessary ultimate ending in “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.” What then shall I do to make amends? But that is exactly what I cannot do as a self-confessed law-breaker with the usual consequences of law-breaking.
This is the moment, the first moment when He who is love, the ground of my being, can get over to me what love is and what He is, and what I am to be. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is the answer. What He did for me and as me was what I could not do for myself. This is the eternal love. Now in my total need I am conditioned simply to see with thankfulness that what I could not do to remove guilt, condemnation, ever-lasting separation, He did for me; and they are no more. Seeing is recognizing and receiving and release.
In my freedom of choice, which hardly was conscious choice, when my need was so desperate and the supply so complete, I suddenly realize that God is now my God and Father, and Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord; and not only have I a conscious peace and release, but I have a love for Him. What I probably do not realize is that this is the beginning of my living the eternal quality of life for which I was originally created. The restoration to God of His stolen property has taken place. A revolutionary change has taken place. For the first time in my human history, I love someone else more than myself. A new love, greater than my love for myself, has taken possession of me: love for God and Jesus.
The Love of God
I do not yet realize that this is not my human affections. I probably think this is my love for Him, but what has really happened is that in receiving Christ I have received into myself the One who is love, and what I regard as my love for Him is really the first expression of God’s self-giving love in me, loving another more than myself, “The love of God (not love for God) shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” This new love, greater than love for myself, has taken possession of me, causing me to start being an other-lover: for I very soon find that if I have love for Jesus, I also have love for all men, for He and His world are identified. I find in myself, not only the love for Him, but also the desire that my friends, my neighbors, and all men should share the secret of life that I have found and that they equally need, and that I should take my share in the ministry to mankind in all ways available to me.
This is eternal life which is eternal self-giving love begun in me. I have “come home,” and begun to be the light and the love I was destined to be. What we call Christianity, therefore, is not belief in a doctrine, not membership in a church, not allegiance to a Bible or a Jesus of history, but a new love; for again we say, we live where we love, and this new love is for the first time in my human history the love of someone more than myself: and this is and means a new quality of life of which the potential and implications are way out of sight beyond space and time, just as an Amazon river starts by a trickle at its source, or a prairie fire begins with a spark.
The Answer Continued
However, this has not completed the exposure to us of our mistaken concepts of life, as though it is we living it. We are so used to this illusory outlook that, though we have now recognized and admitted that we did not live our lives on God’s standards, and in our lost condition needed and found a Savior, we now think that, as Christians, we can set to work and live on a new level. We will seek to keep the commandments, to love God and others, to maintain communion with Him by prayer and Bible reading, to conquer the habits that defeat us, our hates and fears and lusts and jealousies, to have God at the center of our domestic, business and social life, to attract others to our new-found faith.
Instead, what happens? We begin to find this new life wearisome. We have not what it takes to live it, neither sufficient love for God and our neighbor, nor sustained interest in prayer or the Bible, nor victory over our weaknesses.
We even lose the consciousness of God’s presence. We cannot handle our depressions, our failures, our relationship problems, the strains and stresses of modern life, the difficulties of even attempting to be honest and pure and not self-seeking in the jungle warfare of modern industrial, political, and even social and domestic life. To say that we approach a conformity to the absolute demands of loving God with all our heart and mind and our neighbor as ourselves, is ridiculous, and frankly we often do not want to. Maybe we had better give up. Maybe life was easier and more enjoyable without trying to be a Christian in a serious sense. We seem nearer to a breakdown and the need of psychiatric help than to the peace and rest and adequacy we thought the Christian life had for us.
Good; all these are excellent signs. In our former unredeemed life, we had to be so disturbed that we came to a final crack-up and admitted our failure before God, a total failure. Despair is the best word, for despair means that we are finished and there is nothing more we can do about it. We have to come there, having given up completely, before we can have eyes to see that when we could not climb up to Him, He had climbed down to us; what we could not do for ourselves, He had done for us.
The Second Despair
Now, again we have to come to a second despair. Before, our recognition was that we had not done what we should have done in keeping God’s law. This time, as redeemed Christians, we come to the discovery that we cannot do what we should do. Before, we learned our guilt. This time, we learn our helplessness. Before we did not, now we cannot.
The apostle Paul has a profound and subtle explanation of this stage in our experience. He has already shown how the law (God is love) should have been naturally operative in us, so that we are love; but owing to our fall into self-centredness, that same law then confronted us with its demands which self-love cannot fulfill, and thus at last led us to honest admission of our lawlessness.
He goes on to show, mainly in his Romans and Galatians letters, that because we are still not yet free from an innate self-reliance, from the idea that somehow as new men in Christ we can do what we didn’t do before, once again the law confronts us with its “You ought,” “You must”; and in our illusory self-confidence we jump at the bait. “All right, we will,” we say. “We’ll do the best we can.” And down we fall on our faces. We don’t fulfill it, and usually we don’t even want to fulfill it. We prefer to please ourselves.
Often the preachers from the pulpits are themselves to blame in their constant exhortations to us to get up and get doing what we can’t, and don’t honestly want to–for the simple reason that independent self, self-relying self, can only by its very nature be self-pleasing self. So we come to an impasse. The law, according to Paul, is now completing its job on us. It forces us to face, first our guilt, but now our helplessness.
The Bible is full of illustrations of sincere men, earnestly dedicated lives, who went through the period of their disillusionment, when they had to discover that they could not be or do what they wanted to do. Outstanding are the disciples of Jesus, who were completely sincere in saying they would die for Him, but they ran when the heat was on, Peter to the point of denying Him with curses; and that was just where they learned this second and final lesson–their inability.
I learned it, to give a word of personal experience, when I was as dedicated as I knew how to be. I had responded to the call of God to take Christ to the Congo. That cost me nothing, because I could conceive of no higher honor than to introduce Africans to Him to whom I had had a personal introduction through an Englishman. When out there, my aim was single and concentration total on my calling. But I carried with me this illusory concept we are all born with–that I was a servant of Christ and wanted to be the best I could be; and yet I was terribly conscious that I was not what I should be. Particularly, I had not the kind of love which would identify me with those to whom I had gone, or the faith that the things would happen I had come out to see, or the power to see them happen: and when I am dissatisfied with my standards of ministry, I take it out on my wife by irritability, and my fellow-workers by criticism which must not admit that they have what I have not.
So, though active without, tramping the villages to speak of Jesus, up in the early morning for a couple of hours with God and the Scriptures, within I was unhappy. I began to think that I had been happier before I gave my life to Christ than after. I was bound by self-consciousness, inner strain, disturbed relation-ships.
I was passing through what I since learned is a stage we all have to pass through when we are miserable Christians and, as I did, think we were happier in the old life than in the new! Sometimes it has been called “the dark night of the soul,” “the wilderness experience,” “the dry and thirsty land where no water is,” with much more self-consciousness than God-consciousness, more self-concern than concern for the needs of those for whom I had come to Congo.
But, unknown to me, my real trouble lay in another direction. I had the illusory idea that I needed to become something better than I was: I must be a better representative of Jesus Christ, and so forth. I was looking for personal improvement and some further spiritual equipment which would set me on my feet. God and the Spirit were then to be my helpers.
I sought God and searched the Scriptures, as any earnest Christian would do. Surely there in the Bible the answer was to be found, for it talked of love and faith and power and freedom. But the answer I got was in very different terms. It was a confrontation, not this time with the law saying to me, “You ought,” but with God turning my attention from myself to Himself by saying to me, “I am.” The way it came to me was in that statement I have so often quoted, “God is love.” But the emphasis was on the little word “is.” It struck me that I had been seeking a God who would say to me, “I have and will give to you.” But instead, He was merely saying, “I am,” and not “I have.” It was as if He were saying to me, “You’ve got it wrong. You thought love was something I had and could therefore share with you. But love is not a thing at all. I am love.”
Then I saw that the only self-giving love in the universe is a Person, not a thing. Therefore, it is not something He could share with me, but it is Himself, and He can’t take parts of Himself and give to me. He can only be Himself. It was my first sight of an exclusive God, the One Person in the universe, who gives nothing but is everything, and, therefore, His only giving is to give Himself and just be Himself wherever He does give Himself.
The Paradigm Shift
How then do I have my needs supplied, if God has nothing to give me, but in each instance I find that He is (not has) the power, He is (not has) the life; until finally I read that “Christ is (not has) all, and in all”? That last phrase gave me my key. I saw that my mistake was the idea that He would give me things, and that I would thus become something. Now I saw that we humans do not exist to become something, but to contain Someone. This was a totally different concept, and was the end of my great human illusion that I must be this or become that, centering my attention on what I am or ought to be, and equally depressing me with the recognition of my failing to be all this.
Now I saw that I am to cease to look for improve-ments in myself, or to center my attention around what I feel or don’t feel, whether I am this or have that, why I fail in this or am defeated by that–the whole outlook on life which fixes my attention on myself and my reactions or my adequacies or inadequacies.
The most illuminating illustration I found in the Bible was the several times we are called vessels, because a vessel, a cup, a vase, a can, is strictly limited to one function only. It only exists to be a container. It can be nothing else: and here was this simple though humbling illustration of my relation as a human to God. I only exist to contain Him. A vessel does not become the liquid it holds; they are separate, unmixable entities: so I as a human do not become the power or love or wisdom of God; I merely contain Him who is all these, and everything. How clearly I saw that: we humans are not created to become something, but to contain Someone–but that someone is the living God, and, therefore, the All.
This transferred my attention from worrying about myself as the vessel not being this, or being that. Leave myself alone. I am just the container. In place of this, I had it clearly that I was containing a totally exclusive Person who gives nothing, but is all; and I don’t contain Him in a relationship in which He imparts various gifts and graces to me, but I am just a means by which He can be Himself in a human container. This means that my main function in life changes from activity to receptivity. Activity centers round how I can be this or do that, around my human self. Receptivity is occupied with receiving or recognizing what I contain–the only function of a vessel.
We Just Receive
I saw how all life is in this same relationship to God. Vegetation exists by what it receives–sunlight and rain. What it receives it utilizes, but it must receive first, then activity is a by-product of receptivity. All science is application, not creation. Scientists discover what is, and then apply it. We humans have lost our way because we are blinded to the fact of being containers of God, and have substituted our self activity. We have to return to the roots: and it is not even really receptivity, but recognition, for having already received Him, we form the continuous habit of recognizing that we do contain Him. Life at its base becomes a repetition of recognition. What more amazing realization can there be than that we humans contain God?
This is why Jesus stated that rest is the evidence of a life in gear. He said to us His followers, “Take my yoke upon you . . . and you will find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” An obvious contradiction in terms. Life is activity–the yoke is pulling the plow: but how can a plow be easy to pull or a burden light to carry? The answer is the difference between activity from inadequacy which is strain, and activity from adequacy which is rest. If we are pulling the plow of our life’s problems, relying on our own resources, that is strain, for we haven’t got what it takes to meet them. If, in our pressures, we turn inwardly as containers to Him who is the all within, and boldly reckon on Him to handle things, then it is rest in the midst of the activities–the habit of recognition.
The Answer Completed–Replacement
We have now found that the key to life is, not assistance or partnership, but replacement. Redemption from our sins was not something half and half. It was not we being able to do something for ourselves in getting right with God, and then He helping us out. It was only when we saw we were lost and done for that we found, not assistance, but replacement. His blood for our sins. Now we find that there is no half-way house for ourselves. It is not He helping us to live, and we in partnership with Him: it is He replacing us. His blood in place of our sins, His self in place of ourselves.
We can never stress this too much, because all the burdens, distresses and problems of us Christians have their source in our old, old habit of looking for some ability or enablement in ourselves, and often the exhortations from the pulpit give the same misleading emphasis–you ought to love more, pray more, be better, etc., then feeling desperate because it isn’t there: whereas the truth is that, as old tin cans, we don’t look for change or resources in ourselves. This is the point–humanity does not change, but we move over in our inner consciousness to Him whom we contain, who doesn’t change us but is the Changeless All within, and Him we affirm as all we need.
What we have to learn and experience about ourselves and the relationship of humanity to Deity is now completed. They were absolute lessons–the lessons of replacement. They could not be learned without exposure before remedy, and it had to be absolute exposure. There could be no shred of recognition of His blood in place of our sins, or His self in place of ourselves until we had come to the total end of our self-justification, and our own self-reliance; usually these two lessons are learned in succession, the one before we are redeemed, and the other after; and each entails a total brokenness, conditioning us to recognize and accept the total replacement.
With this relationship in clear focus, it is safe for us now to turn around and pay attention to our humanity, and give it back its rightful place. It has been a case of the disappearance of the human self as a background for its reappearance where it really belongs. We never were, of course, pots but persons. But we had first to know, and know for ever our pot relationship–that it is the exclusive He and never we, and we not becoming something but containing Someone. When we have so learned this that we shall never depart from it, but know we are vessels for ever, we the creature, He the Creator, neither one ever becoming the other, nor mixing in that sense, then we are free for the right form of self-affirmation and the total uninhibited activities of the liberated self.
Our discovery, then, is that our actual relationship with God is not that of vessels containing Him, but of a unity, Person with person, which could not be possible between two inanimate entities, such as a vessel and what it contains. Indeed, in this sense, the vessel analogy, if regarded as a complete illustration, is misleading, because it can leave us with the mistaken impression that our relationship with God is variable, just as a cup may contain liquid at one moment and be emptied at another; whereas the real truth is an indivisible union, in which there can be no such thing as sometimes a fullness, sometimes emptiness, or a partial filling. When we feel like that or believe it, we are accepting an illusion.
The point is that the actual fact of the relationship of the union cannot be safely realized, or lived by, until once and for all it has sunk into and become fixed in our consciousness that He is always the all, and we nothing but the container, the vessel. That is why the vessel relationship is a necessity as a permanency in our consciousness, before the union relationship can safely be to us what it really is.
The analogies of the union given by Jesus and Paul are likening our relationship to Vine and branch, Head and body. In each case they form a unity. When we look at a tree, we do not divide in our minds between trunk and branches, we see one tree–a unity. Equally a head and body form a unity, and we regard them as such. When we see people, we do not see so many heads and bodies: We see just persons–a unity. We do not even speak of a union, which directs the attention to two coming together to make one. We speak of a unity where the two have become one. So it is with the Trinity and us.
Not I, but Christ
Now we come to what we have already seen to be God’s sole purpose in Christ dying and rising, and we with Him: the destruction in death of the old union with “the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience,” and the union in resurrection with “the Spirit that raised up Jesus from the dead”–God Himself: and the union has produced the unity. This has been the fact in all of us since in our need and in our freedom, we saw, believed, and received the Christ of God. From that moment (whether specific or dateless) the unity was a fact. He had joined Himself to me and I was joined to Him. As Paul said, “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” In that unity, He has become the real I, again as Paul wrote, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
In other words Paul did not say that he and Christ lived side by side within him, as if it was, “I live and Christ lives in me”: but that though he was a living human, as much after conversion as before, yet the real Paul was no longer himself, but another Self in his place: “I live yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” The real Paul was Christ walking about and talking, just as Paul wrote in another place, “Ye are the temples of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them.”
That is why Jesus had said, “Ye are the light of the world,” not “You have the light.” If we have a thing, it is not we, but just something we hold in our hands, as it were. But Jesus did not say, “You are darkness, but you have me who am light.” He said, “You are light.” But how could that be when we are darkness and he is the light? Unity. Because he and we are one, therefore, he says, “You are the light.” That is why John wrote, “If we love one another, it is God dwelling in us and his love perfected in us.” Our l