When one of our sons was a pre-teen, he began waking up at night with severe leg pain. After examination and x-rays revealed no major problem, doctors determined he was experiencing actual “growing pains”! Wrapping his leg with cloths soaked in warm water reduced the discomfort and soon the problem disappeared. (But the growing continued!)
British clergyman John Henry Newton once wrote, “Growth is the only evidence of life.“ Our son’s growing pains were a physical manifestation of growth. And growth means change. For our son, that meant new sizes for clothes, new ways of looking at life, expanding experiences.
But change also occurs in thinking processes. Opinions we once held firmly—opinions based in facts we were taught or discovered for ourselves—change as we get new information or even as our culture causes us to look more closely at what once we felt to be true.
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “flip flop politics.” It’s almost always used to negatively describe a politician (although not limited to that profession) who changes his or her mind on a subject. One person defines the term as a sudden real or apparent change of policy or opinion by a public official.
The quote by Newton made me think of how often we misconstrue change as flip flopping. And that made me think of the people I know, or those I know of, who could be accused of the latter when in reality, they simply profoundly changed their views and thus their actions.
In the religious sense, the Apostle Paul heads the list. As a faithful, educated Jew, Paul was ruled by justice and law. By his own admission he was the best of the best: “a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews…as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” Can you imagine how horrified Paul’s childhood compatriots, his family members, his theological tutors were at his “flip flopping”?
Newton himself experienced profound change. From one involved in and benefitting from the slave trade in the 1800’s, Newton eventually came to understand and denounce its evils as his understanding of God grew. But even this change happened over the course of many years.
Literature produces a graphic description of how change can affect the core of a person. In Les Miserables, the character Javert, who is ruled by the law, cannot live in a world that is ruled by something other than law, and when confronted by grace, decides to end his life. Profound change is impossible for Javert.
While all Christians subscribe to the necessity of spiritual growth, change can be uncomfortable, unsettling, even world shattering for many like Javert. I—along with many others of my generation—was not encouraged to ask questions about my faith or about what I read in the Bible. I heard “God said it; Jesus did it; that settles it”—a statement I understood to mean “no questions” or “questions mean doubt and good Christians don’t doubt.”
Fortunately, wise people in my adult years have taught me that questions—when considerately, thoughtfully, honestly approached with wisdom from the Holy Spirit—lead to a depth of growth I would never have thought possible.
David—a man after God’s own heart—asked questions: Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10)
Christian philosopher, Dallas Willard, writes: The most important thing we can do for young people is to help them learn how to ask questions.
An African proverb helps us see a discipleship truth about questions: The one who asks questions doesn’t lose his way.
To think about:
What have you changed your mind about? Did the change bring growth? How were God, circumstances, people involved in the change? What pain did the growth produce?