Go East, Young Woman!

That’s right, people: in about a month and half I’m moving to the Boston area to attend seminary!  In case you’d like a little more information on how I arrived at this decision, here’s a (relatively) concise version of events.

I have never been satisfied with my depth of knowledge of God, and the more I read the Bible the more I am frustrated with my limited understanding.  Over and over people have told me that there is so much about God that I will never understand, and I just need to be content with daily devotions and prayer.  I get where these people are coming from; an infinite God is certainly beyond my complete comprehension.  But at the same time, God himself has gifted me with a curious and contemplative mind, and it would not honor him to simply plod through the Bible, silencing my myriad of questions about why the authors included some seemingly meaningless details but excluded others, how someone in ancient Israel would have understood certain commandments, the symbolism of special sacrifices, the full meanings of Hebrew words, and so on.  These things are are not part of God’s mysterious, infinite character; they are historical realities that can be studied and understood.

Despite all these frustrations, I had never considered seminary before this summer.  My plan was to apply for internships with non-profits that advocate for human rights like the International Justice Mission or the A21 Campaign, and through that experience get my foot in the door for an actual job with one of those organizations.  But every time I would apply, I felt a check in my spirit, like God was saying ‘Not yet.’

So I waited and waited, twiddling my thumbs at a job that barely paid the bills gave me a mild case of carpel-tunnel.  As I waited, my frustrations with my ignorance intensified, particularly in regards to the relationship between God’s sovereignty, his love, and suffering.  The Bible doesn’t seem to give a consistent description of this relationship, and I can’t help but think that quite a lot is lost in translation, or missed because we don’t understand cultural contexts of the scenarios some Arminians and Cavlinists love to use and abuse as proof texts.

All of this struggling and frustration led me to two conclusions: first, C.S. Lewis’ brilliantly simple logic is not only outside the proverbial box, but defies the existence of the box itself (read The Problem of Pain); second, I cannot spend my life serving people who have suffered more profoundly than anyone I’ve ever known if I cannot honestly believe that God hates the evil done against them and is actively working to end it.

Within a week of coming to this realization, three people suggested I consider applying for seminary completely out of the blue.  At first, I brushed them off; seminary wouldn’t get me any closer to achieving my goals.  Law school was what I really ought to be considering.

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense on a logical and emotional level.  I applied to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and waited for weeks, certain I was going to be rejected and resigning myself to spending another year in Antarti–I mean, Montana.  And then I got the phone call, and all I could do was stammer excitedly to the admissions rep that I would email him with my questions when I could think coherently.

I am convinced that God is leading me into this, and I’m so grateful that despite all my doubting he has never left me hanging.  He knows what I need long before I do, and I am thrilled beyond words to devote the next two and a half years, full-time, to knowing him.

What Freakonomics And Jane Austen Taught Me About Love

If you’ve known me for very long, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of the mega-nerd I keep locked up inside myself.  She sits in her cell, in a state of quiet desperation, awaiting the chance to be paroled so she can talk about politics, Dickens, philosophy, history, etc. with unsuspecting victims. She’s a little socially awkward and has a lot of unanswerable questions, so as a good warden, I try to protect the public from her presence. You’re welcome.

But as of late, she’s been a little less well-behaved.  A friend recommended she check out Freakonomics Radio podcast, and it has been like crack to her.  Suddenly she’s rattling the bars of her cell and using up entire pads of sticky-notes at work to jot down thoughts and questions about the Cobra Effect and Herd Mentality and the relation between a culture’s language and its views of death.  Yeah, she’s out of control.  But one of the topics she’s been chattering on about is actually pretty interesting and applicable to everyday life.  It came from a podcast she listened to called “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” which discusses how Game Theory works in social settings, among other things.  At the core of the whole podcast is the idea that manipulation can be used positively on an emotional and behavioral level.

Everyone knows this to be true, but it was how wise old Jane had her characters use strategic manipulation to win love that really grabbed my attention.  And frequently, the characters (typically the women) use manipulation to attract prospective suitors to an illusion of who these fair ladies are, rather than gaining the gentlemen’s respect and admiration through authenticity.

Along with my status as a closeted mega-nerd, another thing that you’ve probably realized about me if you’ve known me for more than a few days is that I can be downright inconsiderate and selfish at times.  This week, those times have been especially frequent.  The morning following one of my many moments of idiocy, I was praying on my way to work that a friend I had offended would feel loved, that she would know that I care for her despite my grade A jerk behavior.  And then God said something that cut deep: “What if you spent less time worrying about whether she feels like you love her, and instead spend more time actually loving her?”

In that moment, I realized that I am just as manipulative as the selfish Emma Woodhouse or even someone as pathetic as Lydia Bennet.  I had been trying to make my friend feel like I love her as a substitute for actually loving her.  In my heart of hearts, I am not especially concerned with the quality of love my friend is receiving, as long as she is under the impression that she is well-loved, and specifically that she is well-loved by me. This is such an incredibly self-serving way to “love” someone, and it’s what I try to pass off for love to so many.  I want people to love me for making them feel loved.  I want the credit, the ego strokes for being “such a loving person,” and to some degree, even my friends’ dependence, because it ensures endless opportunities for me to make them feel loved so that they will love me back.

Real love is not about feeling loved; it cannot be about stroking my ego or anyone else’s.  Instead, I think real love is actively desiring that a person become everything God made them to be, and honoring and accepting them in the process.  Real love does this sacrificially, and without thought of getting credit.  And if I am humble enough to do it, the best way I can really, truly love someone is through prayer.  I receive no credit, I do nothing for which I can get recognition, I can’t manipulate the person’s emotions, and I put whomever I pray for into God’s capable, transformative hands.

So all told, this week has been a difficult chock-full of growing experiences, but it has given me three wonderful gifts.  First, it’s given me a new-found humility that will hopefully teach me how to love people more selflessly.  Second, I have a renewed appreciation for prayer.  And third, I have hours of intellectually stimulating entertainment to look forward to in the form of Freakonomics Radio.