The parable of the iron rod struck me in its description of the mists of darkness that afflict the faithful after they have seen the goal and received the word of God. At first it seemed a warning that event the faithful can become lost, but on reflection, it more describes the experiences of both Peter and Paul in the Bible.
Consider Peter’s confusion at the crucifixion of Christ and then his surprise at the resurrection. From the gospels we know that it was not that Peter had not been told what to expect. But, because of his context, he just did not get it. I know, most teenagers I meet can’t believe Peter was that dense, but then there are many things that the same teens just do not get.
Or think about Paul, while he was still using the name Saul. He tried so earnestly to serve God as Saul persecuted the saints. He really did not get the point until the Christ himself appeared to him to discuss the issue. The same thing would happen when Paul prayed for relief from the thorn in his flesh.
As far as I can tell, we just lack the context (the life experience, knowledge, perspective and vocabulary) to really understand God many times. No matter how clearly it seems that God is communicating in hindsight, we lack the ability to fully understand. It is easy to see similar problems when we try to communicate with infants, children and teens. But it is hard for us to appreciate the things we can not understand because we lack the context. We can not see our own lack of vision.
What I am really discussing is understanding our own blind spots. It is realizing that just as infants, children and teens (and other people) have blind spots, so do we. In facing the decision of whether or not to trust God in spite of the confusion our blind spots cause us when He speaks, we encounter life and are surrounded by paradox.
As an aside, one thing that surprised me when I visited my parents in Saudi Arabia was the humidity. I walked off the plane and was covered in water until my surface temperature warmed up from the air conditioned interior of the airplane (it never cools down, so the humidity just stays in the air). I’ve had it described to me how that works when a sand storm kicks up; the combination of sand, dust and moisture creates an almost solid moist mist that blocks out all light and cuts down vision to inches. In a pretty much featureless desert, you can imagine what “mists of darkness” are like to someone caught in a sandstorm without a modern car to hide inside.
But how often do we think of our spiritual vision being down to mere inches in a realm without landmarks? How often when we are faced with spiritual confusion do we think “this must be exactly what God told me to expect?”
I’ve written about examples from my own life. My blithe thoughts when the patriarch giving me a blessing broke down and cried for five minutes, then got himself together and told me that I would have experiences that would be blessings, but hard to appreciate when I received them. I’ve also written of other examples of times I thought I understood (or could at the time understand) more than I did.
But my experiences have led me to conclude it is not a cop-out to ascribe confusion (in my own life or the life of others) to a lack of context. To see the problem of communicating with a God who is much smarter than we are, who sees much further, as being part of a set of problems resulting the limits of our understanding. Nor is there any solution to mists of darkness obscuring our way from time to time that can be reached by just being smart, or really smart.
When God warned us of them, God did not say that “there will be confusion, but the really smart won’t be bothered by it” — instead we were warned that we needed to have faith, hold on to the iron rod of the word of God, and press forward. God knows we will be confused and unable to see. He has done what can be done to warn us and given us a solution, even if there is no way to avoid the problem. All that remains for us is to have the context, the faith, the hope and the love to hold on to the word of God.
It sounds simple, too bad it isn’t easy.