Learning to recognize God
While at the Desert House of Prayer, I am proof-reading and editing a manuscript I hope to get published, and I am preparing the pitch I will make to some literary agents, hoping one will take on my manuscript. I am also taking time to pray and read and reflect (and do some hiking in the beauty of the desert).
One of the books I am reading is an old children’s book by George MacDonald: The Princess and Curdie. As C.S. Lewis did, I always find George MacDonald’s writings stimulating my faith.
In this book, Curdie meets a wise old woman who represents God. (As C.S. Lewis used a lion in several of his books to represent Jesus, George MacDonald uses a wise old woman in several of his books to represent God.)
Curdie is surprised by her ever-changing appearance, so he asks her, “But how can I tell what you may look like next?”
She replies, “Those who know me well, know me whatever new dress or shape…I may be in; and by and by you will have learned to do so too.”
This answer is not entirely satisfying to Curdie, so he persists, “But if you want me to know you again, ma’am, for certain sure…could you not give me some sign, or tell me something about you that never changes—or some other way to know you, or thing to know you by?” (Doesn’t he sound like Moses in Exodus 3, when Moses keeps trying to peg God down and finally asks, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”)
The wise old woman replies wisely, “No, Curdie, that would be to keep you from knowing me. You must know me in quite another way from that. It would not be the least use to you or me either if I were to make you know me in that way. It would be but to know the sign of Me—not to know me myself. It would be no better than if I were to take this emerald out of my crown and give it to you to take home with you, and you were to call it me, and talk to it as if it heard and saw and loved you. Much good that would do you, Curdie! No; you must do what you can to know me, and if you do, you will.”
As I read her response to Curdie’s question, I understood how easily ancient peoples fell into the trap of idol worship. They wanted to know how to recognize God, so they took one aspect by which they had recognized a particular manifestation of God and made that one aspect their representation of God.
Then it struck me how easily we do something similar today. We recognize a certain aspect of God—either one we feel especially good about like His mercy or one we particularly fear like His holiness—and the only time we recognize God working is when God acts in a way that is in keeping with that one particular aspect of His being. We don’t really know God in God’s fullness; we merely know one aspect of God.
There have been so many times in my life when God has been at work around me, but I have not recognized Him because I was only looking for the way I assumed God would show up rather than in the way He did show up. I want to learn to recognize God in whatever “new dress or shape” God may show up in. To do so, I will need to heed the wise old woman’s advice to Curdie: “You must do what you can to know Me, and if you do, you will.”
The high point of their conversation comes with these four lines:
“‘Now, Curdie, are you ready?’ she said.
“‘Yes, ma’am,’ answered Curdie.
“‘You do not know what for.’
“‘You do, ma’am. That is enough.’”
That’s what I most deeply hope. I hope that I can say that to God when I do not know what is ahead of me or when I do not know what is going on around me. I hope that I can say, “You know, Lord. That is enough.”