Irreligious Thought: George MacDonald said it is the unseen which has the most influence on us.
A few weeks ago I was in a book either written by C.S. Lewis or about him and he said that MacDonald thought what influences us the most is unseen. The context is unknown. And I’ve no idea what the implications or occasion for him saying is. But it immediately rang true.
I’ve always labored under the idea that what influences me the most is easily seen and delineated. Our spiritual lives are like mathematics or machines definable. I look at my life and add up the things I do plus the things I see God do for me and mine and I get the sum total of our spirituality. Then I point to it and say, “Here is God working (or not).” Worse yet, I do it to others.
I’ve been in ministry too long to think I am all alone in this. There are others, believers in the gospel of grace, who assume that if they cannot see God moving, he cannot be. But if we were to stop and think about our lives – all its parts and all the variables – we might think differently. We see so little.
Just as we cannot see the depths of our sin, mercifully, we cannot always see all the work of The Spirit in us. What makes us think we can? We cannot see The Spirit, himself. We cannot see our sinfulness in full measure. We cannot see our soul in all its glory. Why are we so quick to think the Spirit is not moving and changing, working and rearranging our self, just because we cannot always see it happening?
Maybe the very longing to see is the sign we need to know he is working.
Sure, we know there are outward manifestations of his work in works of holiness and the keeping of commands. Yes, there are affections bubbling up from thankful hearts. But all of that can be made counterfeit. Every man, chaste by a work of the Spirit has seen other men driven to the same by pride or tradition. Every gossip can be silenced by love for Christ or by simply being above it all. Either results in the eye seeing the same result.
In Romans 8:28 we are clearly told all things are working for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. OK, so far so good. Everyone loves this verse. But what about when you are cold towards God and his word for a season? Like Winter. The whole winter. Is he still working for your good? Is he still working for your good when your prayers fail to leave your lips? What about when anger is welling up inside you towards the one who i supposed to be working for you? What about when you can see nothing of his work in your life? Is he still working for your good when you cannot see it?
I would argue that even in the midst of committing sins, for which Christ had to die, the Spirt of Christ is rejoicing over us with songs of joy and influencing us for good. Sound like a stretch? Do you not think that God was working so as to influence for good those who were in the midst of killing Jesus? We see so little.
The good news here is not that we no longer need to manifest the works of light in a world of darkness. The good news is that God is working in us even when we cannot see it. Even in our dark nights with no dawn in sight. Even when we cannot feel the Spirit working…as if we always would know what the contours and curves and angles of his work would feel and look like.
The plumb line is not what we can see but what we know of God. And he has promised to work. He has promised to work through the preached word. He has promised to work through the sacraments and he has promised to work for our good even when we cannot see the good.