Patricia Hofer

A “map” that offers more than an isolated glimpse of God

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. (KJ Psalms 95:6)

In Mere Christianity, Lewis quoted an old army officer who said to him, “… I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal” (119). Lewis answered the old officer by saying that religious doctrines are like maps, and they are indeed like “turning from something real to something less real” (119). And yet, explained Lewis, a map is “based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found” rather than being based on a “single isolated glimpse” (119-120).

Because everyone’s spiritual journey is, in some ways, “single” and “isolated,” many people today might identify with the thinking of the old man. They believe in God and readily embrace their spirituality, but institutional religion, and sometimes the Bible itself, appears to be unnecessary for them. Even regular church goers might at times ask, what does all of this out-of-date stuff have to do with how I feel about God?

The reality, though, is that spontaneous and inspiring moments alone with God don’t happen all that often. So, if we hope to mature spiritually, to move beyond just a fleeting assurance that God exists, we’re going to need a map, as Lewis said. And that’s what the Bible offers. Rather than just chronicling past events, the inspired writers and prophets of scripture are giving voice to a timeless and continuing path of spiritual experience. And the doctrines and tenets of religious believing have their roots in this biblical conversation. Their form and focus help to nourish faith when the way is rugged or unclear. (Living Large 2013, chapter 33)

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