There are times when we drive a car or walk this earth and feel as though it is all a dream. We pass a great distance and come to see that much of our journeying was done unconsciously. There are other occasions when the flow of time is regular and predictable, and things feel like life is normal. And then there are moments that leave such indelible marks on one's mind that it feels like even those normal moments were actually passed unconsciously. The ardent fervor of the memories from such real moments is breathtaking, and should arouse wonder. It's as though we only truly live when things are as brilliant and crisp as those rare occasions.
Now, I am not writing to denigrate normal existence per se, but to extol those moments when life's beauty was met with an appreciation equal to the grandeur thereof.
I am thinking back to a period of time roughly eight years ago when one of those searing impressions were left upon my mind. In many ways, life during that period of time was very similar to my current locale. Instead of living near the huge machine of the federal government, we were within earshot of the corporate machine of Disneyland. Fireworks would serenade us every night, as we considered the direction of our family on individual and corporate levels. I can recall the utter horror of wondering whether graduate school was a wise decision, especially as the arbitration over that issue is ongoing. I recall what was perhaps still the largest argument in my blossoming marriage to date, namely the prudence of a table that sat eight people (without the insert, mind you!) in a ramshackle apartment in Anaheim.
So much was on the table, in a literal and a metaphorical sense. Bereft of a church to call home, and seemingly disgusted with all of the options before us, I did what was supposed to be the simplest of all things by proposing to study a random book of the Bible. My wife proposed reading the letter of Paul to the Romans-a good choice as we had at one point pondered memorizing it in its entirety. Sitting at that cursed Ikea table, I can still recall my aversion to such an idea.
I knew the grand theological depth of Romans would only underscore my confusion. The church where I was first cognizant of the story of the Gospels had emphasized the individual's initial moment of belief, with little to say about the world apart from prognostications of its decay.
I also knew that this depth in Romans had led to hotly contested interpretations between various traditions of Christian faith. Not ready to decide on a career and a theological school, I hoped to postpone true investigation of this book for a later time. It was clear to me that thinking deeply on this would force my hand. While I wanted to find a church, I did not want to be overwhelmed or hasty. And as time passed, I thought through my options and I can recall being disgusted with my options--to continue in what is known as Arminianism, embrace Calvinism, come up with my own school of theology, and oh yes, there was also the view of salvation that is propounded by Roman Catholics and Orthodox. But if you note, I placed that option last, behind the notion of coming up with my own school of thought. And this is true not only of the order, but the priority. It was unthinkable that that last option could even be a possibility. Never mind the fact that I hadn't read upon it, and that I had spent several years shelving Calvinism in a similar manner.
And that brings me back to the start of this point. There was something so sharp about my folly of those times, when I realize that my heart was so opposed to an established set of views that I would imagine that a biology student would be more likely to have found an undiscovered truth of theology. It would be seven years until I would really place this older view in its appropriate order, and investigate its claims.
It's also tragic because I had an understanding that finding a witness to an idea in history mattered. As I studied Arminianism vs. Calvinism, the mere fact that there were far more scholarly books by Calvinists impressed me. When I studied apologetics, I even proposed writing a treatise on the presppositional school of thought by appealing to Church Fathers' works of apologetics. On an interesting side note, I was dissuaded from doing so, and the more I think about these matters the more I understand why this is the case--the Church Fathers would have taught me to believe that reason is a true guide of man, but I digress.
In all of those instances I approached theological issues in a similar manner as I would approach an adherent of Mormonism or Seventh Day Adventism or some other recent arrival to this world. I challenged the validity of these schools of thought by simply posing the question, how could the people of God have missed such a fundamental truth for so long? In that real moment sitting in my apartment in Anaheim, I proposed that it was possible for me to develop my own systematic theology, rather than consider an ancient tradition. It will never leave my mind that this preference was based on utter folly.