Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

My Woke Moment with God

My Woke Moment with God

Walking can be treacherous. This is how Mark Buchanan puts it in his book, God Walk. You never know what you might encounter. Up here in the wilderness, it could be a cougar or a bear, a deer—even a fawn. Or the neighbor’s penned up cows. This is why I take my Lakeland Terrier, Brea, with me. She instills fear in every potential predator. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating. In reality, I take her because, as Buchanan notes, walking a dog is at the sacred core of having a dog. (Sidenote-I have no idea what is at the sacred core of having a cat unless it is to celebrate the gifts they bring to your door).

The danger—the real threat in walking—is in what one might hear. I tend to walk and meditate in Proverbs. I like to think of it as peditation—which in the kayak becomes paditation. In either context, I slow to “God-speed” to wake up, listen, work things out, sort out my feelings, or reflect on where my current writing is taking me. Walking, as Buchanan notes, has a way of rousing one’s senses. It is just the right balance of stimulation and stillness.  God draws near, heaven comes closer, and the possibility of being pierced by divine truth expands. This happened last Wednesday.

I can point on a map to different places in my years of walking where I have had a God encounter. Usually it is a proverb that penetrates and–to use Kafka’s words—shakes me awake like a blow to the skull.

I have journeyed with God some fifty-five years, formally studying theology for seven of them, preaching theological truths for nearly forty, and teaching biblical doctrine for over twenty. I should have a pretty good handle on who God is. By now, I should have gained some comprehension, some mastery of his ways. Sadly, I continue to grope in the dark. God and his plans seem even more mystifying. Is this a reflection of my intellect? (Don’t answer–I’m sure this has some bearing). But God has his answer, one he spoke last week.

Trudging up a hill, reading, pondering, and praying, I came to 20:24—“Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord. How then can man understand his way?” Though I have read this many times, I can’t remember a time such a sudden and unspeakable wave of relief came over me. Perplexities loosened their grip. This was a divine woke moment—not in the sense that God suddenly alerted me to injustice or racism. He was speaking to my egoism—my need to understand. There are things past my finding out…and this is okay. More than okay. Sorting everything through is not part of our job description. Recognizing my limitation of reasoning might be the most rational thing I can do.

If you are not aware, then it’s time to face life’s reality. Time to wake up. God is a revelatory mystery. There is an incomprehensibility to God that, in seeking to explain, takes language to the breaking point. It’s not merely that his thoughts are greater than ours—his thoughts are not even our thoughts (Isa 55:8). Theologians run out of words when they approach the subject (read Hall and Boyer’s The Mystery of God). God is ungraspable, unsearchable, untraceable, and unfathomable. Try as we might, we cannot fit him into our categories. “He is so other that even his otherness is not like other othernesses.” He is not only beyond this world but beyond the Beyond. Got that?

This is what happens when you allow theologians to bring in their technological terminology. They want to be precise. God is ontologically other. His dimensional mystery goes beyond extensive mystery. His transcendence transcends transcendence. I’m glad we have this cleared up.

Still, we do everything to domesticate him. It’s in our nature to reduce God to our categories (e.g. “the man upstairs”). We lay claim to his presence and power, insisting that he explain himself when things turn sideways in our lives (think Job). When his silence becomes deafening, we might even attempt to sit God down and enlighten him. “Perhaps you have overlooked this.” Correct him. “Are you too overwhelmed to see what is happening?” “Hello??”

To all of this, God responds with his searing questions for us: “To whom does the Lord consult…who has taught him knowledge?” (40:13-14). “Are you unaware that I know every truth you have yet to discover?” Woke moments.

Walking last Wednesday, the hill flattened. I could hear God underscoring that my direction and destiny are subservient to his purposes, which are often far beyond me. He encourages me to keep searching things out, but it is his glory to conceal a matter (Prov 25:2). Make your plans but understand that God determines the realization of whatever goals we have. I don’t have to understand. He doesn’t have to explain (for it would be beyond me). I only need to trust an incomprehensible God—one whose greatest mystery is that he became a man, rescued me from my fallenness, joins me in my walks, and occasionally reveals something of himself and his love.

Leave a Reply