I didn’t even know who George MacDonald was until recently. I think the first time I heard his name was last summer when my good friend Matt Perkins of Northwest Anglican and my mother-in-law Tiffany Seppala were discussing his books over lunch. They said he was a great influence on C.S. Lewis.
So I started reading, Discovering the Character of God by MacDonald recently and realized his writings aren’t something I can just quickly read through and say, “Oh that was good,” and move on with life. No. I say “I made the mistake of reading George MacDonald” because I can’t do that. I can’t read a chapter, smile and then just go on with life like nothing happened.
For whatever reason, his writing has challenged me at the core of who I am. As he writes about the character of God I begin to think about who God really is.
And I want to share a statement that really rocked me last night. So much so that I had to sit my book down, sit up straight in bed and really consider what I had just read. But before I share that let me give you a little background on George MacDonald in case you aren’t familiar with him.
Here are some quotes from the introduction of Discovering the Character of God.
“In a life of eighty years and a literary career spanning nearly five decades, Scotsman George MacDonald (1824-1905) produced some fifty-three books of tremendous diversity…Though he was said to have considered himself a poet first, a preacher second, and a novelist third, almost three-quarters of his published work was fiction.
As a boy growing up in northeast rural Scotland, from a very early age, George MacDonald began to pose questions to himself about the character of God. Raised in a family of strict Calvinist convictions, he found it difficult to accept within his own heart the “harsh taskmaster” view of the Almighty, which seemed the prevalent notion in the teaching he received. His search to discover what God was really like took him down many unexpected theological and doctrinal roads and often landed him squarely in the middle of controversy. But it was a search born out of an honest and humble desire to know God in intimate and personal friendship and to obey Him in every aspect of life.
[C.S.] Lewis himself credits MacDonald for beginning him on the road out of atheism toward being a Christian, and later expressed frustration that no one seemed to pay any attention to the high regard in which he held MacDonald. Finally Lewis went public, published an anthology of small quotes from MacDonald, and issued the following statement to get people to stand up and take notice of MacDonald: “In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it.”
OK, I’ll stop there. The introduction to this book is riveting enough but it’s the childlike ideas and practical spiritual lessons that MacDonald shares that contain so much raw and unadulterated truth. So here’s what I read last night:
“The greatest obscuration of the words of the Lord comes from those who give themselves to interpret rather than do them. Theologians have done more to hide the Gospel of Christ than any of its adversaries. It was not for our understanding, but our will, that Christ came. He who does that which he sees, shall understand. He who is set upon understanding rather than doing, shall go on stumbling and mistaking and speaking foolishness.”
As someone who places such high value on “understanding” while neglecting the more important trait of “obedience” I stopped in my tracks when I read this. I felt like a little light begun to shine inside me and I could start to see the importance of obedience…as if for the first time.
Like most Christians, I’m not ignorant of the fact that it’s right to obey the Lord. But, as MacDonald reveals, knowing something and doing it are two completely different things. And I have to admit that I don’t live out obedience in my daily life.
While I’ve went through seasons where I was intentionally focusing on hearing God and obeying Him (and now that I think about it those have been some of the best times I’ve had with the Lord) more, I don’t think obeying God is a just reserved for a “season” of life. I want obedience to be a desire just like my desire to read, learn and understand spiritual things.
Nobody has to twist my arm to read, it’s something I want to do. Same goes for writing. But it’s not like that for obedience. And I want that to change. If that father in Mk 9:24 can pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” then I can pray “Lord, I obey; help me to be willing to obey.” And I’m thankful I have the best Helper living inside of me!
As I read MacDonald I feel like I’m learning in an unusual way. Like truth is weaving its way into my heart and imagination. His writings challenges my apathetic ways and stirs up a desire in me to launch out on my own childlike journey of discovering God. I feel blessed to be challenged like this. And I’m hopeful the Holy Spirit will guide me in this great adventure. And I pray you would also be challenged in such an exciting and real way!