The Two “what ifs”

(all apologies to Seth Godin, King David, and Kevin)

I’m scared of the dark.  There.  Now you know.  Every Saturday when I lock up our church building, I honestly wonder if the Phantom of the Opera is suddenly going to appear.  I’m an authentic sissy.

There are two kinds of “what if.”

The first kind of “what if” is the kind that we admire – albeit from a safe distance most of the time.  It says things like “what if we could be…,” “what if we were the kind of church that could…,” “what if we found a unique way to…”  I’ve seen it show up in pastors, leaders, artists (real ones), and creative thinkers.  It’s the “what if” that moves forward based on that belief that if we were to give that up, we’d probably die from heartache.  This “what if” takes risk.  I heard a radio interview with Rocca Deluca once where explained why he entitled his debut album “I Trust You to Kill Me.”  When asked about the strange title, he cited the feeling of profound risk that comes with releasing 60 minutes of your art to a world that might reject you.  Led by the single “Colorful,” the album reached no. 5 in the Top Heatseekers of 2006.  Not bad for a debut indie-rock album.

But there’s another what if: the “what if” that’s motivated by something darker – and ultimately more subversive.  At first, it sounds a lot like its twin brother.  It sounds like: “what if we end up…” “what if ____ happens,” “what if it doesn’t work out?”  Honestly, that’s the one that characterizes me on most days.  This “what if” is forward thinking, but is sheepishly frozen by fear of the unknown.  It’s interested in risk management and crisis prevention.  It’s Seth Godin’s lizard brain.  Glancing over our shoulder to Psalm 23, this kind of “what if” would nervously stand at the entrance the valley of the shadow of death until his baby-sitter comes along, scoops him up, and takes him home to enjoy a pleasant lunch watching Andy Griffith rid Mayberry of its evil band of ruffian jaywalkers.

But we’re probably not meant for Mayberry anymore.

Probably one of the most foundational books I’ve ever read was during my first year of college – Lewis’ “Til We Have Faces.”  Through a retelling of the Psyche-Cupid myth, Lewis explores the question: “Why must holy places be dark places?”  Great question.

“Have done with it, Psyche,” I said sharply.  “Where is this god?  Where the palace is?  Nowhere – in your fancy.  Where is he?  Show him to me?  What is he like?”  She looked a little aside and spoke, lower than ever but very clear, and as if all that had yet passed betwen us were of no account beside the gravity of what she was now saying.

“Oh, Oural,” she said, “not even I have see him – yet.  He comes to me only in the holy darkness.  He says I mustn’t – not yet – see his face or know his name.  I’m forbidden to bring any light into his – our – chamber (page 123).

Psyche’s husband only comes to her at night?!  And even then, he is veiled?!  What’s the deal with that?!

Folding back into Psalm 23, it could be because we’re meant to lose ourselves in the darkness.  There’s a powerful parallel between Psyche’s nightly encounters with her unseen husband and kind of faith that says “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil – for you are with me” (sanctified-imaginative implication: “...and that really ought to be enough.”).

It could be that the only difference between the two “what if’s” is faith.

What would it look like if our lives were characterized by the first kind of “what if?”  What if we simply acted in faith?  Not faith in our strategy, brilliance, ability, or cleverness.  That would be too frail – and likely lead to our internal collapse – I’m 29 and I’m already sick of myself.  Faith ought to rest in the One who meets us in the shadows. He doesn’t like to come out too often – but not because He’s shy.  Moses saw him.  So did Paul.  But as for King David and the rest of us – when we find ourselves entering the shadows, faith demands that we do one thing: wait to feel His grip.


4 thoughts on “The Two “what ifs”

  1. Any blog that references Til We Have Faces is automatically a winner in my book. Even without that, though, these are still good thoughts. Scripture seems to speak fairly often about the dangers of looking too far ahead and with too heavy a squint – we run the risk of squeezing out the immediate and bright to focus on the far and dark. I wonder, though, if even “what if”-ing in the positive sense is preferable to the consider-the-lilies brand of presentism that is advocated in the Sermon on the Mount, James, and elsewhere. Then again, you’ve got Paul making plans, “what-if”-ing about his desires to see the church in Rome – so maybe dreaming and doing are twin necessities for beautiful living.

  2. “…too far ahead and with too heavy a squint.” I should have called you before I write this. Those are great words, man.

    I think the positive “what-if” really practically finally surfaces as prayer accompanied by action. God re-forming our ambitions, hopes, aspirations a la Rom. 12:1-2. I should have developed that better.

    Thanks for your thoughts, brother. You’re a gift.

  3. Wow this is deep stuff by that I mean deep thinking and complex. For a guy who thinks and loves fundamental logic thinking, this is why we need to have lunch, i.e. I’m impressed!
    Love ya man

  4. You are not a sissy. A sissy would send his wife downstairs if there were noises in the house. You would certainly not do that.

    I think I would fall in the category of the faithless “what if…” a lot, but in the last year, several months especially I have been trying to change that mistrust into faith in God’s hand. I should know better after looking back and seeing how God has brought us (my hubby Brannon and me) through a lot and kept us safe and kept us together. Even in my childhood years God provided over and over again in situations that seemed impossible.
    Shame on me for still asking “what if…” when I should be saying I trust that the Lord will be with me.

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