Tag Archives: God’s Sovereignty

Change the category, change everything!

5 Aug

He might have missed his greatest retirement project!

This professor learned first hand how hidden treasures can come to light by changing what you focus on and what you don’t include.

Catacombs art

Gregory Athnos (in what turned out to be a major theme of his retirement after a career teaching music at the college level) has written about the wall paintings in the Roman Catacombs.  Link to his book

When he researched and examined the frescos himself, he intended to write a 20-page paper.  His original focus pinpointed the quality of the art.  However, when he actually visited the underground graves of early Christians and studied the paintings, he was taken with the symbols. Not one cross was depicted on these burial sites, but God’s many-faceted deliverances were.

So he shifted his research question away from the quality of the art (which was probably not worth more than the 20-page paper he planned to write) onto the theology of the art.   And that shift made all the difference.  His casual study turned into a multiple-year project that birthed a book, a lecture series and DVD on the theological worldview of early Christians in the first 3 centuries.

When I listened to the interview, I was struck by this fact:

The content/subject matter of the paintings was the same – whether the context was art or theology.

But when one re-categorized the content away from art onto theology, EVERYTHING shifted.   That’s it – a change in categories changed the research goal which led to entirely different results.

That should come as no surprise.  Hasn’t that happened to you before?  When you reframe something, you react differently to it?  I recall the anecdote of a distracted father on a big city subway riding with his 2 high-energy small children whose antics were bothering the other passengers.  One irate lady apparently said something curtly to the dad about controlling his kids.  He wearily and humbly apologized and explained that they had just come from the hospital where the children’s mom and his wife had died.  Instantly a different mood and mindset descended on those around this small family.

Changing the context from: “things that annoy me” to “things that I find tragic” completely altered the sentiments of the others. The content or circumstances didn’t change, though.

I often reframe other drivers’ possible circumstances when they drive in a manner I find rude.  If I imagine that their spouse has just left them or that they are habitual drug users, I treat them differently.  The first scenario elicits a ‘let it go’ response in me and the latter a ‘let me stay out their way!‘ behavior.

Along the same line, I’ve been helped most on a daily basis through category shifting by the conviction that God is sovereign over every single event that occurs.  So when I’m delayed or when a door shuts I’m LEARNING (a work in progress!) to drop my complaining and instead wonder about what God might be up to in my life.  Helps with the stress!

Question:  What happens when YOU change the context or category around some content in your life? 

Logical Gal – distinctions lead to tension

14 Jul


definition (Google) :  a noun indicating a difference or contrast between similar people or things

Distinction - pencils

To think through a concept in order to arrive at a more clear understanding requires grappling with distinctions.   I am VERY fond of distinctions because they tell me THIS and not THAT.  Knowing what something is not can lead to a more complete idea of what something is.

Today in Sunday School we were studying James, chapter 3.  Jesus’ half-brother warns against selfish ambition.  That caused me to wonder what OTHER kinds of ambition there might be!  I am beginning to ask more questions as I grow my logic and clear thinking skills.  This new habit encourages me!

We all know how concrete children seem to be, how they default to labeling the world either Black or White.  This tendency is forgivable in children, often the source of amused smiles in parents.  But for grownups to continue this view of life brings on smug criticism in others.  Moderns pride themselves in being ‘nuanced’.  Even entire nations criticize others for NOT living with ‘gray’.  The French accuse some American administrations of having been ‘Manichaean’ , that is dividing the world into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.

Ronald Reagan

Criticized or not, I truly believe that for some issues, there is TRUTH and non-truth.  But as I continue to read, study, think and grow, I realize that some concepts just defy being pinned down and categorized separately because it is WE who are finite and cannot get beyond our God-given limitations.

Hence, my fascination with DISTINCTIONS!  Here are the top 4 in Christianity, as I see them:

  • the Trinity – God is ONE essence but THREE persons.  So although God the Father, and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit each enjoys different roles – they are one and the same.  God is both/and and very real!   We see God the Father clearly as the ‘person’ in charge.  God the Son submits to the Father.  The Spirit works with them both – they are all one God.  Enough to keep us thinking forever!
  • Jesus – fully human and fully man!  How can that be?  We don’t know HOW, but we do know it is TRUE.
  • Christians – we live in the flesh here in this present world, and we live in the spirit in the Kingdom of God where we actually are seated at the same time that we are walking on earth.
  • Free Will and God’s Sovereign Control – Yes!  They both exist and we can see the differences, but one doesn’t exclude the other.  Yet even though we can KNOW this, we can also not understand it.

Only someone who is still immature will fight this tension and want to come down on one side or the other. They will feel the need to go PAST making a distinction and to actually cause a separation. And they will try to force YOU to do so, too!

Fish or cut bait

But you don’t have to.  Just remember that it does take a lot of patience and humility and a degree of wonder to live with the fact that we won’t sort it all out.  No matter HOW smart we become!

Who knows – maybe being willing to live with that tension of the both/and might lead to a higher plane of insight?

Question – What do YOU distinguish but can’t separate?