posted by Amy on Feb 11
A lot of my friends are non-religious. Some are deists. Some are atheists. Some are agnostics. They ask me questions I can’t answer, or they say things like “I wish I had your faith.” I wish they did too. I think it would help them. But I don’t know how to help them see God. I can’t even explain how I went from not seeing to being able to see.
It is a huge mystery to me why I wound up in seminary. I’m not all that religious, if by religious you mean sanctimonious, or holier-than-thou, or sure about things. Yet, I know without a doubt that I belong here, and that God wants me to be here. Do not ask me to explain to you how I know that. How do you know the sun will rise tomorrow morning? How do you know your keys will fall on the floor if they drop from your hand? The truth of these things is not contingent on your belief. They just are. To me, everything I see is God at work. To you, if you are not a believer, such is not the case. I wish to hell I knew how to bridge that gap.
Maybe it’s just biological. Some of us have a “God gene” and some don’t. That’s possible, but I don’t think so. Without getting into details, I know, without a doubt, that God has intervened in my life at certain critical moments, and saved me, sometimes from death itself, sometimes from fates worse than death, or just really stupid, destructive ideas. The most critical God-interventions occurred when I was an atheist or agnostic, or too young to have more than a primitive, superstitious kind of faith. It’s not about “tit for tat.” God does not dole out grace and blessings to the “right” people and punish the ones who don’t do the right things. God loves all of her children. I know God loves me and has saved me, more than once. Other people, without a God-perspective, would call it coincidence, or happenstance. If I did that it would knock out the last thing tying me to any kind of rationality or hope. I would lose my mind.
So how come I can tolerate all the doubt and paradox and not-knowing? That’s a good question. To me, it’s the only way to make it work. I am not superstitious. I do not think any particular outcome is contingent on saying the right incantations or believing the right things, or suppressing who I am in order to gain favor or avoid punishment. I do all I can to figure everything out and have it make sense. Part of that, for me, is being grateful to God, and being in an active relationship with God, and submitting to God’s will.
I’ve seen the downside of making gods of other people, or of earthly rewards. A verse from my favorite hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” is, “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise. Thou mine inheritance now and always. Thou and thou only, first in my heart. High King of Heaven my treasure thou art.” I can say this, without equivocation: Before I started actively putting God first in my life, I was miserable and wretched. When I decided to do God’s will, as often as possible, as well as possible, the misery and wretchedness went away.
I hope it doesn’t sound trite, or like a cop-out, but a lot of things come down to the realization that, although we are made in the image and likeness of God, there is only one God, and God is not like us. We are God’s children, God’s beloved ones, but to some extent God is and will always be unknowable. To judge God and describe God by human standards is to commit the most common and eggregious error. God is God, and we are not. If you want a God you can understand and relate to all the time, you’re stuck with Zeus or Odin.
There’s a great line from the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I can’t quote it exactly, because I gave away my copy of the book. But as I recall the author is in an ashram in India having some kind of spiritual or emotional crisis, and she’s meditating, and, all of a sudden, she gets this message blasted at her, “YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW STRONG MY LOVE IS.” I have experienced that same God. I have been in the depths of despair. I have been knocked flat by circumstance. And God has seen me through, every single time, and has transformed me in the process.
God did that because God loves me. But there’s a price. God’s love involves relationship, and responsibility. The Bible says, “We love because God first loved us.” It is our obligation, our duty, our privilege, to express the love of God in our lives, in our interactions with others, in the way we spend our time, our money, and our energy. God wants us to serve him. This is not because God needs us, but because we need God.
The thing is, it’s the best way to live. It isn’t hard. Jesus said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” We were made to love God and to love each other. It is our truest nature. So it isn’t that hard. OK, some if it is hard. Working out in real life the essential message of the Gospel can be challenging. But what’s the alternative? Making it up as you go along? Putting something that’s not eternal, perfect, all-loving at the center of your life? Have you tried that? How did that work out for you?
Don’t think you have to know everything before you jump in. God loves you the way you are. God made you. God is constantly inviting you to come home. I had my first profound religious experience on the basis of a half-assed, hedge-my-bets kind of prayer. I opened the door the tiniest little crack, and it was enough for me to feel the love of God and to permit God to intervene and create a situation of love and healing inside something that, had it been left to me, would have been only conflict and bitterness. This was at a time that I didn’t even believe in God. So when people say “I wish I had your faith,” I think about the mustard seed. It doesn’t take much at all, only the tiniest little bit. That’s all I had. God loved me and rescued me anyway.