Lately, I’ve been meditating on a line from Psalm 73: “God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). I’ve known God is my portion for years. But for those same years I have lived with dissatisfaction. The truth I knew didn’t make up for the grief I felt about what I lacked in this world and in myself.
But that has been changing. The Spirit has revealed Christ, my portion, within. It’s different because it isn’t me knowing a truth. It is the substance of truth Himself in my heart. Words are worthless when trying to describe this change.
This got me thinking more generally about doctrine. Doctrines are merely shadows of Doctrine Himself. We connect teachings end to end, point to point, and construct our Christian worldview around Christ. We regard it as something solid but it is more like a scaffolding set up around a building. Without the building, the scaffolding is a rickety outline.
But we love doctrines. We love the form of godliness they provide (2 Tim. 3:5). Jesus says eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He sent (John 17:3); we tell people eternal life is knowing our explanation of God and Jesus. We tell them eternal life is the traditions and practices we’ve built up all around Him.
The other night I was checking out the website of a church and clicked on the “What We Believe” page. It contained all the usual, boiler-plate stuff: triune God, virgin birth, verbal and plenary inspiration of the scriptures, original sin, faith, etc. As I read, my gut reaction surprised me: I thought, “I don’t care what you believe.” And I quit reading.
What was my problem? Creeds and statements of faith are truly important. But I also felt a distaste for the way we’ve compressed the divine into prescribed, dispensable tablets. Amos 5:21 came to mind: “I hate, I despise your feasts! I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies.” God revealed His nature, His divine dynamic in the feasts. But the Lord’s people turned these living depictions of God into prescribed regimens.
Ezekiel chapter one records “visions of God.” Ezekiel saw living, winged creatures glowing like fire in a whirlwind. He saw a crystaline expanse above the creatures, and above that, a figure like a man seated on a throne. There are similarities between what Ezekiel saw and the furniture of the tabernacle. Moses and Ezekiel saw the same scene, which is why the Lord told Moses to make everything in the tabernacle “according to the pattern you have been shown on the mountain” (Ex. 25:40). The Lord meant the tabernacle and its furniture to be a revelatory diorama of Himself. Eventually, the tent and its furnishings became objects revered in themselves and divorced from divine purpose.
Like the tabernacle and its furniture, doctrines and church practices can be revelatory. What they can’t be is the be all, end all truth. Jesus Himself is the truth, as He said (John 14:6). Doctrines ultimately have no power or reality. Their usefulness is in pointing us to the burning whirlwind of the living God who has made His home in us.
To the extent we know doctrine but not Doctrine Himself, Christianity will be mythology, not reality. Atonement will be a story about blood and suffering that does not erase sin and guilt in the heart. Power over darkness will be play-acted mimicry of scenes in scripture not demon-crippling confrontation. And instead of actualizing things not seen, faith will be the fantasizing about things not seen (Heb. 11:1).
Jesus, reveal the substance and reality of Yourself within us. Let Doctrine Himself free us from the illusion of truth our doctrines give us.