I first heard of the term when I was comparing notes with a lady who liked to run far. When people asked why she liked to run so far, she said, “You know that runner’s high you get after running a long time…” As she continued her story, I nodded as if I knew what she was talking about, but my mind was stuck on that thought: runner’s high.
Personally, up to that point, I could tell you about runner’s cramps, runner’s sprains, runner’s runs and runner’s desire to quit real bad, but I wasn’t much good with runner’s high.
I did a little research on the subject. It seems the subject of runner’s high is as clouded in mystery as the Shroud of Turin. Some scientific types propose it has to do with endorphins released in the blood stream and attaching to the emotional part of the brain. It’s effects are similar to the process of having sex. This probably explains the running boom in the 1970’s…
Other scientific types deny that particular chemical process and offer varying explanations from a different chemical to no high at all, that it’s a myth. What’s interesting is to watch the discussion between a scientific type who is not a runner and a runner who swears by the “myth”. One knows all kinds of “facts” based on laboratory tests, scientific inquiry and chemical/biological dogma. The other knows only one thing: personal experience. Who do you believe?
There’s an account in the Gospel of John where Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. Nobody in the account had ever seen that done before, not even the religious leaders who had cornered the market on miracles and works of God. After healing the guy, Jesus disappeared, leaving the religious guys to try to make sense of what just happened. They didn’t actually see Jesus heal the guy, they were just presented with the evidence: this guy who was blind from birth and now could see.
So they started asking people. Some said, “Yes, that’s the guy!” Others said, “Nah, it just looks like him.” The religious leaders conclude that this couldn’t be right, because the healing occurred on the Sabbath and that’s not supposed to happen. So they decide the whole thing was fake until the blind guy’s parents show up. His parents say, “yes he’s our son and yes, he was born blind, but how he got healed, we don’t know.”
So they grill the guy again looking for a way to explain away what they could not accept. The religious leaders had become so accustomed to a religion of rules and laws and conformation that there was no longer any room for mystery. Anything that didn’t fit within their little box of “god and how he has to work” was suspect and condemned.
Do a quick history of the Christian church and you’ll cringe. The crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch trials and scores of other examples mirror that “god in a box” thinking. When we strip God of mystery, when we deny that part of Him that He has not revealed and is unknowable to us, then our religion becomes rules and regulations; a means to control ourselves and others under the guise of faith. When we strip God of mystery, we become arrogant enforcers of a dead religious system rather than humble recipients of an unfathomable grace.
Do a quick history of your week and you’ll probably cringe again. How many people have we judged/condemned because they didn’t fit our construct of right and wrong? Who did we favor because they have the same twisted view as we do and who did we ignore or ostracize because their outlook threatened ours?
Suddenly the religious leaders in the story of the blind guy are uncomfortably close.
The problem that confronted them is the same that confronts us: ultimately, the mystery of God exceeds what we can know of Him. I mean, how do you adequately explain a God who is here yesterday, today and tomorrow all at the same time? A God who is immediately present with billions on earth, while reigning on His throne in Heaven? A God who commands his Old Testament people to burn, destroy and kill entire peoples and yet proclaims that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked?
It’s when we’re confronted with mystery, with things that we don’t understand, we get fearful and defensive. We set up doctrine as razor wire and dogma as watch towers. Anyone who trespasses either, now becomes defined as enemy. Our certainty of the facts, what is and what must be becomes our identity which we must defend to the point of death. Living within this defensive compound, we choose to exist as prisoners rather than be confronted by what draws near to set us free.
Why is it, do you think, that the hardest words in our vocabulary seem to have become, “I don’t know”?
Fear maybe? Fear of not being as wise or capable or competent as we present ourselves. Fear of being vulnerable that the truths I have built my life and identity upon might not hold anymore and then what would I be left with?
It’s ironic that the words we can fear the most are also the ones that can set us free.
Taking a note from the ex-blind guy in John’s Gospel, he says “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” The skeptical religious leaders had all kinds of facts to explain away the miracle. The blind man had an encounter with mystery. He couldn’t explain how, only that it happened. Frustrated and refusing to allow for any possibility other than their own reality, the religious leaders toss the guy out with a few nasty words of condemnation.
That’s when Jesus shows up again and has a brief conversation with the now-seeing guy. In bringing a little light to the mystery, Jesus tells the guy, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind.” What Jesus is saying is that He did, in fact, come into the mess of humanity to bring hope and healing and life. Through His words and actions He revealed a God who is near to the downcast and broken hearted; Who is present with the deaf and the blind and Who hears the cries of all who call on Him.
But as surely as Jesus reveals to us His father who is a here and now reality, He also presents a God whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts and whose ways are higher than ours as the “heavens are higher than the earth”. In short, the facts we know of God must be held alongside the mystery of God.
The writer of Hebrews lays it out as a paradox: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”(Heb.11:1) As surely as God’s universe includes things that can be touched and smelled, tasted and heard, it also includes things that can only be received by faith. As much as we live in a world of concrete and steel, of science and engineering, it is also a world of faith and hope and love. As much as our existence lies in history and predictability, we coexist in unfathomable mystery.
Like those religious leaders of Jesus day, sometimes we work so hard to make sense of things with calculators and test tubes when only faith will do. We try to sort everything out based on what we can know, act on and prove and when we’re confronted by a mystery that shows the inadequacy of our real world tools, we deny that mystery exists. We would rather change the reality of the universe than our own world view.
The problem is the no-longer blind guy.
Despite all our rationalizing, denying and pooh poohing, the blind guy still sees
Into our world, into our limited-sight lives Jesus still comes as light to open our eyes and reveal an infinite, eternal God who still dwells among a finite, time bound people. I wish I could say I get it all but I gotta admit, more often than not, this faith journey is still a mystery.
Which brings me back to the whole runner’s high thing—whether it’s real or not, chemical reaction or mental attitude—one thing everybody agrees on: you can only experience it when you are actually running.
And that’s why, friends, we need to stay on the road.
I gotta run…