I attended grad school in San Francisco in the 90’s. Each week a group of Christian students, faculty, and staff would gather in one of the small classrooms on the top floor for our CMDS meeting. This room had a floor-to-ceiling view of the Golden Gate Bridge where I can still picture the cars driving Northbound towards Sausalito. I adored the cute rainbow-painted tunnel arcs where the bridge merged with Marin County. My beloved friend’s uncle had painted those rainbows there many years prior. Every week I sat at the back of the room next to the window, gazing at the orange bridge stretched over hundreds of boats below. Some days the cloud cover occluded my view of the bridge and bay. I would stare out the window anyway.
By the way, I prefer window seats on airplanes too. I had aspired to fly commercial jets once upon a time. But I went into healthcare instead. #nearsighted. #beforeLASIK. I find a mystique in sitting high above the clouds. It’s one of my happy places. (I define a happy place as any place with a mind-blowing view, usually involving an ocean, mountains, and sunshine. I dig stratospheres too--minus the radiation.)
Speaking of stratospheres—on our honeymoon, my husband and I did the Maui Downhill bicycle ride that commenced at the top of Haleakala—one of the world’s largest dormant volcano craters. I remember we had to wake up at 3am for a bus ride to make it to the mountain top before sunrise. If you’ve never experienced the serenity of standing above the clouds at the top of a volcano to watch the sun rise, you must. Who knows? Jesus could appear.
I had several happy places in San Francisco. Like that classroom. I sought them out when I needed a quick stress relief from the pressures of academia.
A man who worked in the school mailroom attended our weekly meetings. He came across as a very serious and spiritual man. One day, as everyone filed in and grabbed their seats, he interrupted my bridge-gazing with, “Anyone who chooses to sit at the back of the room is trying to avoid God.”
Wait, wha?? As a new Christian, I felt belittled by his words. It even made me wonder if I was not spiritual enough (translation: not good enough) for God, because I preferred to sit by the window than by the chalkboard during those meetings. I don’t equate enjoying the splendor of God’s creation with avoiding God. Soaking in all that God has made is the opposite of avoiding him. Of course, I can acknowledge this now. Now I know better than to allow a Pharisee to condemn me. But at the time when he said it, I felt ashamed.
Do we ever do this though? Make up extra rules that God never made? Deuteronomy 4:2 says not to add or subtract from God’s commandments. When the mail room staff member added to God’s commandments: Though shalt not gaze out classroom windows in beautiful cities—I panicked. Now I see (pathetic) humor when people are stricter than God. What must they think they have to prove? And to whom?
Kind of reminds me of Eve. Sort of. In the Garden of Eden, Eve misquoted God when she said to the serpent regarding the tree in the middle of the orchard, “You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.” But God said nothing about touching the tree. He said not to eat from it. Was Eve more strict than God? Doubtful. Maybe just a bit confused and exasperated. The enemy can have that effect on people.
As Christians we have a duty to love and nurture the spiritual growth of new believers. A seasoned Christian may have a laugh over Eve’s blunder. But a new Christian can experience shame, confusion and inadequacy when Christians misquote God. We must spend regular time in Scripture. Because if we want to avoid misquoting him, then we have to know what he said.