When I was a first-year seminary student, two of my professors were in their eighties, and two others in their late sixties or early seventies. Each of them stated at one time or another that they were still learning and growing in their relationship with the Lord. I remember, as a 23-year-old, thinking that was remarkable. One of the dangers of youth or early adulthood is acting as if one pretty much knows everything. For me to hear people nearly four times my age saying they still had much to learn was humbling and enlightening.
Since that time long ago, I have more and more understood that maturing spiritually is a matter of layers. There is the foundational layer of salvation, repentance, and baptism. The Hebrew writer calls these, “elementary teachings.” Many of us get stuck there and that is the writer’s criticism. It is a crucial layer without a doubt, but not one on which we should remain. We need to move on and dig deeper through additional layers. A geologist would not truly be a geologist if he remained studying only the surface layer of the earth. Nor would an astronomer be much of an astronomer if she gazed into the heavens with only her naked eye. And these are professions focused on finite entities. What should we make of One who is infinite?
Like all of us when we are young, I thought I knew much about a lot of things. After having been a Christian for a few years, I equally thought I knew more than I really did. My professors enlightened my thinking about myself and about God. I began to realize there was so much more to him than I knew. And now, more than 40 years later, I continue to realize it. He is infinite and I am finite. His ways are so much higher than my ways; his thoughts so much loftier than mine.
Over my life as a follower of Jesus, I have discovered layer upon layer of grace, mercy, and love. I have found layer upon layer of knowledge and wisdom. I have encountered layer upon layer of righteousness, justice, and patience. And, yet, discovery is only the first step. From there, we have to dig deeper into these layers to experience and understand their essence. That is, I think, what this life with God is meant to be. Yes, the basics are to be continually reinforced. I need to remember I am a sinner, that repentance is the norm for a follower of Jesus, that he loves us and the rest of humanity. But we are also meant to dig deeper, and, when we discover a new layer, to pause and study, to contemplate, and then respond.
It is so interesting that in our culture, the things we may have thought or done years earlier, perhaps even decades ago, are treated as if they are permanent. This is the underlying belief of the so-called “cancel culture.” No accommodation is made for the prospect of growth and maturity. We are what we did or thought at a much earlier time. My point is not to discuss this particular phenomenon of our present day, but to accentuate our tendency for fixed thinking, particularly among believers. We so easily get stuck.
I find my digging into deeper layers and the contemplation of them come mostly during the hard times of life. The past several years have been one of those times. Major heart surgery, turmoil among our ministry staff, recognition that my decades-long ministry to students is rapidly winding down, and, of course, the current pandemic, have led me to see more layers of God. While they are not new layers per se, I am seeing more layers within the layers. I have discovered even more about the depth of my sin, have comprehended even more the mercy and grace of the Lord, not only for me, but for others. I have been discovering new ways of trusting him for my life, and trusting him with the lives of others. And that has led me to experience new layers of patience.
What I am discovering is the reality of what my elderly seminary professors were saying so many years ago. I have continued to learn and grow over the course of my life, but the more I learn and grow in the Lord, the more I realize how much I still lack that is waiting to be encountered. So, the digging continues for the discoveries waiting to be found.
© Jim Musser 2020