Chapter 1

The Need for Wisdom

If I could write an open letter to reflect some of my own spiritual journey, it might read like this:

“Dear Aaron, I hope you are doing well. I regret that we haven’t kept in touch after your move. I miss our conversations about life, religion, and the Detroit Tigers.

“I’m writing now because I am beginning to see my need for wisdom. Wisdom you didn’t see in me.

“You used to say, ‘As a group, church people aren’t better than anyone else; they just think they are. The best people I know never darken the door of a church.’

“Even though I argued with you at the time, you helped me see that people who build hospitals, orphanages, and rescue missions in the name of Christ aren’t the only ones working for the benefit of humanity.

“I remember your letters to the editor, and the streets you walked protesting the wrongs of racism, the evils of war, or the pollution of the environment.

“Since the last time we talked, I’ve seen the hospitality and goodwill of people from all lifestyles and faiths. I’ve seen that a person doesn’t have to believe in Christ to be loving, gracious, and even heroic in the face of human need.

“Such experiences remind me of the disbelief I saw in your eyes whenever I talked to you about becoming a new person in Christ. I remember the questions you asked when I quoted the words of the apostle Paul, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’ You didn’t believe it because you had grown up in church and knew firsthand that not all things had become new.

“Aaron, I wish I had been quicker to listen and slower to speak. I’ve seen enough, especially in myself, to give me second thoughts about what I said. Somewhere along the line I started to ask: Why does conversion produce changes that are more like emotional reactions than a lasting change in life?

“At this point, my spiritual journey has run parallel to what I’ve learned in marriage. The greatest similarity is the emotional baggage we bring into both. My inclinations before and after marriage were also a part of me before and after I put my faith in Christ. The self-centeredness that makes it difficult for me to hear the concerns of my wife also makes it hard for me to hear the voice of Christ living in me.

“It took time for me to discover that in faith and in marriage, growth and maturity do not come automatically or easily. And I wasn’t prepared for what turned out to be the greatest challenges of my life. I didn’t realize that the biggest enemy I would ever face would be my own natural self-centeredness.

“I don’t mean to downplay all the wonderful parts of marriage or conversion. But I see how wrong my expectations had been. I thought salvation would make me good, and I expected marriage to make me happy. I didn’t see that in both cases my own faults stacked the deck against me if I didn’t learn and live the wisdom of Christ.

“As I look back on some of our conversations, I was wrong to assume that my whole life had already changed through faith in Christ; faith didn’t automatically make me good or wise.

“Yes, my thinking has changed since the last time we talked. Life has been harder than I expected and I now see more clearly the parallel between being married and entering a relationship with Christ. Upon a couple’s public confession, a minister declares a man and woman married, but not mature in their love. And when we put our faith in Christ, God declares us legally blameless, but not good or wise. In both cases, there is a difference between the legal declaration and the resulting quality of life.

“I now believe that church people, in our best moments, have a lot in common with support groups. We follow the program, not because we are better than others but because we know we need God and one another to overcome the problems that are consuming us. I wish I had understood sooner that believing in Christ is not the same as sharing His wisdom.

“Thanks for reading. If you’re ever inclined, I’d love to hear where life has taken you.”