Saturday, September 01, 2007

NOTE: This is one I wrote years ago, but after reading over it again recently, I was reminded how much it still holds true for me, so I wanted to share it again.


Why I {STILL} Believe in God

As I type this, I sit in a cramped, coach aisle seat listening to waltzes on Delta radio while flying from Atlanta to Ft. Myers, Florida. In spite of the relaxing music, I can only partly enjoy the three-four rhythms thanks to a faulty pair of headphones. Try as I might, I just can't keep the foam cover in place on the right ear piece. So, instead of gliding through the classics with ease and comfort, I instead am forced to endure sharp, hard plastic in one ear while my other ear remains cozy and comfortable.

My discomfort, however, doesn't steal one iota of beauty from the music. Those classic melodies aren't lessened or made less haunting, lilting, or uplifting by my bad connection or my lack of sensory ingestion. They remain as they always have been. Only my ability to experience them fully is diminished.

A few years ago, this would have been a hard truth for me to digest, but after dealing with doubting questions and spiritual discomfort for years now, I'm learning to become more accustomed to experiencing beauty and good and truth and faith through the perpetual haze of discomfort, almost in spite of it, rather than dismissing the beauty simply because my senses can't completely register it to the degree I wish they could.

My life of faith is never a comfortable one -- nor should it be. If I ever grow comfortable with God or begin to feel I can understand Him and the way He works, then I bring something (or Someone) that should be well beyond my ability to comprehend down to a level I can put in a box, label, and store on a shelf in my mind. But if the God I believe in is big enough to be God indeed (and not some altruistic, self-actualized, cosmic superhero or Santa Claus-esque gift giver dependent on my selfish wish lists), then I must allow for my life and His world to include things I can't understand or wrap my finite mind around in a way that makes me comfortable.

Why do people starve to death if God is love? Why does my wife's grandmother have Alzheimer's? Why are we at war with people who also claim to love and serve God, though under a different name? Why did a godly, honest believer like Steve die from a crippling, body-betraying cancer? Why do I so often feel that God is a zillion miles away? Why do I not get the evidence I need to help me draw a line in the sand and say "Here's that final shred of proof to cast away all my doubts"? Why? Why? Why?

I used to be afraid to deal with questions like these, terrified that the lack of answers would cause my faith to crumble like the walls of Jericho in that Sunday School story I always loved to hear Ms. Betty Fulghum tell me and the rest of my class at Summertown Baptist Church when I was barely young enough to sit still long enough to listen to the abridged version for attention-span-deficient children.

Now, however, I've learned to admit that living a live of faith doesn't do away with difficult questions, but it does prepare me for dealing with the lack of answers. Much like Job, I find my honest, earnest, desperate questions answered with only the silence (often) or the presence (occasionally) of the God I claim to have faith in. And like Job, I've learned that what God desires from me isn't that I know the answers so I can serve Him better, but instead that I know Him so that the answers don't seem as important as my friendship with Him.

However, I have found several reminders (Ebenezers, if you don't mind me using the biblical reference to the symbolic monument or marker) that help me to realize that God is here and that He is always with me, in spite of -- and perhaps thanks to -- my questions.

The first reminder is my daughter, Charis.

While nothing would please me more than to have her believe as I do and begin her own journey of faith, I have to admit that I am mortally afraid of inadvertently coercing her into saying she believes something that she in fact does not. (Granted, she's only six years old, so perhaps my fear is a little justified.)

Still-and the reminder is simply this -- God is faithful. It's almost as if the more I push back to resist hijacking her own journey of faith by imposing my own conclusions, the more she seems to seek God on her own, almost as though God were proving to me that He's big enough to draw her all by Himself, without my help and even in spite of my overcautious fears.

The second reminder is my son, Evan.

I can't tell you how many times he picks up gravel and rocks from parking lots and just about anywhere else to add to his "rock collection." Bear in mind that his rock collection is mostly just a few handfuls of similar-looking pieces of broken rocks and dirty gravel sitting up on top of his dresser in his bedroom. No matter how often I try to tell him, I still can't get him to recognize the difference between unique, interesting, collectible rocks and plain, old pieces of ordinary junk rock.

To his four-year-old mind, all rocks are unique and interesting and collectible and worthy of admiration. To him, the magnificence of creation itself is something to be fascinated by and appreciated-even to the point of collecting what I consider a bunch of dirty rocks. Perhaps I should be more open to learning from him rather than trying to "teach" him how to devalue one part of nature (or creation) in contrast to another.

Evan serves as a reminder to me that God has given me not just the evidence of spiritual urgings (as in my daughter) but also the gift of the physical world, uniquely crafted and created in such a way that even scientists have to admit it was a billion-to-one shot in the dark that it could have happened by sheer chance (give or take a few zeros on those billions -- I don't have the latest study handy).

My youngest son, Jack, is the next reminder.

You don't even have to know Jack to appreciate his constant smiling and laughter. At three years old, Jack sees the world as one huge playground, filled with all kinds of fun things to play with and enjoy. I know it's too early to tell, but I believe (and I certainly pray for and hope so) that Jack will grow up to be the person who sucks the marrow out of each day, who exercises carpe diem in a reckless, holy abandon, resting in the knowledge that yes, the world is indeed a playground, and that God created it that way.

Jack reminds me that God smiles. That God laughs. That God likes nothing better than to surprise us.

In Genesis we read the story of Abraham and Sarah, and how that they, when way past their child-bearing years, received a promise from God for a child. Sarah laughed at the thought, challenging the very idea, incredulous that such a thing was possible even with God. Later, when that child was born, they named him Isaac, meaning "laughter." I think they chose that name not only to remind themselves of Sarah's mocking laughter, but also to remind for the rest of their lives of God laughing as He surprised them by making them gray-headed parents.

Another thing that Jack reminds me is that not only does God laugh, but that He desires our laughter too. All of my kids are incredibly ticklish -- it's a personality trait I've worked hard at instilling in them from birth. And none of our games is as much fun for either of us as this tickle game. He squeals and giggles as I pin him down on the floor and tickle his ribs, the backs of his knees, his underarms, his neck, until he begs me to stop. But just for a moment. Then, almost always, he says, "Do it again, daddy." And I do.

As much as he enjoys the game, I think I enjoy it more. Sure, he gets to laugh and be as loud as he can in the house (which is normally not allowed), but I get to hear him laugh and see him genuinely enjoy his time with me.

And I think God sees us the same way. He surprises us because our laughter and our enjoyment delights Him.

My wife, Lisa, is the final reminder in my life of God's presence. In our relationship, I see an imperfect model of how God loves me. There's a reason the biblical writers often write of God's love for us as a romantic relationship and compare it to a marriage -- perhaps because it's the best model we have for understanding, even a little bit, how our relationship with Him can be.

When Lisa and I married, we were extremely clear on one key issue -- our love wasn't based on feelings (that could change from day to day or as the result of a bad day or too much pepperoni on a pizza the night before). Our love was based solely on a promise to stay together. Till death do us part, as the vows typically go.

And we meant it. We still do.

Sure, there are times when another woman may catch my eye. There are times when I may venture into thoughts of "I wonder what it would have been like if…" There are times when I catch myself contemplating what it would be like to be married to someone else or to be free to date indiscriminately.

And there are times when Lisa doesn't seem as loveable to me as she did on our wedding day. There are times when we fight that I try not to think of just chucking it all and taking the easy way out and not having to deal with working things out with her. (And I'm honest enough to know that at times I drive her to similar thoughts.)

Those are the times I remind myself that when she's hardest to love, I need to love her the hardest. Those are the times I remind myself that I made a promise, and that I intend to keep my word and find a way through the problem, the disagreement, the fight, the battle, the selfishness, the whatever, to dig in and pursue her with all that I am.

That sounds noble and admirable, but I'm sad to say that I don't always pull it off. Many times when I need to love her more, I let myself love her less. Many times when I need to remember the promise, I want to disregard it instead.

I'm imperfect. I'm only human. I fall. I fail. I screw up.

But God never does. What I can do only imperfectly, he does perfectly. When I make myself unloveable to Him, He digs in and pursues me all the harder. When I put myself at odds with Him and disregard or ignore Him, he remembers His promise to never leave me and begins to woo me back to Him with complete forgiveness for my rejection and inattention.

I look at my wife, and I see me. I see a recipient of love undeserved. She doesn't deserve my love any more than I deserve hers. I give it to her as a gift just as she gives it to me as a gift -- in spite of my unworthiness. She gives it because she wants to give it, because she has chosen me. And not just a gift, but a gift attached to a promise that the gift will never be stripped away, even if I don't keep trying harder to earn it.

There are lots of words used nowadays to describe followers of Christ -- supportive words like Christians and saints, painful words like hypocrites and racists and hatemongers. But the word I like best to describe the whole lot of us is this one: screw-ups. I've recently come to the conclusion that followers of Christ are just a bunch of screw-ups God loves anyway.

Just like I love Lisa. Just like she loves me.

Looking back over my list of "Ebenezers," I don't see any partings of the Red Sea, nobody raised from the dead, no manna from heaven, no miraculous meal of loaves and fishes -- just a bunch of plain, ordinary things. Children. A wife. Rocks. Laughter. Marriage.

But surely everyone has one or perhaps all of these things. Aren't these things too plain, too ordinary, too common to help someone support an esoteric, spiritual belief system, a philosophical/ religious worldview that needs quantifiable data to back it up and make it trustworthy and dependable?

You're right. These are very ordinary things for me to consider them spiritual landmarks or reminders that merit such importance. But I do.

I have never been able to read ultrasound pictures. I can't tell you how many times family members and friends would whip out these horrid, little, black-and-white, grainy pictures and try to point out elbows and heads and legs and whatever else their "precious little one" decided to show off for the camera. I tried, but I just couldn't get it. I had better luck seeing the birds or wolves or jet fighters in those 3-D, magic-eye pictures in mall specialty stores (and it took me two years and a new pair of glasses to figure out how to see those brain-killers).

So imagine my surprise when Lisa was pregnant with Charis and we had our first ultrasound. As the technician pointed to little smudge marks on the screen, the most bizarre thing happened. They suddenly began to look like elbows and heads and legs and whatevers. It was as if the fact that it was my kid on that screen and in that picture somehow improved my vision.

And imagine my further surprise when (after Charis was born) I wanted to show off my newfound ability to decipher the hieroglyphs of modern ultrasound technology to friends and family members (after bragging about it, no less), only to find ultrasound pictures of other peoples' kids just as incomprehensible as they had been before.

I think faith operates the same way. We see the smudge marks more clearly as elbows and legs when it's our kid in the picture. We see the ordinary as the reminders they really are when it's our faith up on the chopping block. Call it desperation. Call it perception. Call it hopeful blindness. Call it spiritual tunnel vision. Call it faith. They're no way to escape it. I can't give you your evidences or reminders, just as I can't be sure that the grainy blur on your kid's ultrasound picture is really a kid at all.

But I can see mine.

And that's all I need ultimately.

It's really between you and God to see your own.

© 2002 Sean Taylor

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