The Nature of God – Part 2
[If you are just now stumbling onto this post without having read the first part in this series, I urge you to go back to the start and continue on from there through each successive post. None of these individual entries stand on their own, and you may wind up with little but confusion and unanswered questions by starting here. That is easily done by entering “The Nature of God” in the search box on the home page, which will list links to all available parts.]
Ask any honest witness to an event what he or she saw, and it’s unlikely to perfectly match the actual event in every detail. He or she may miss things, read into actions, inject their own emotions and biases, and basically twist it a bit. And it gets worse as time passes. Without microphones and cameras, it can be hard to know what actually happened. And even with those, there’s creative editing.
I’m aware of this whenever I consider the several weird occurrences in my life, of becoming convinced that there actually is a God, and of discovering what He is like. I don’t doubt these occurrences myself, because I easily recall my mindset and expectations of the time, and their failure to match what resulted. These events aren’t exactly something that a camera can capture. But you’ll have to make up your own mind, and perhaps recall strange or unexpected occurrences in your own life. You can review and accept them, or play Scrooge and assign it to “perhaps a bit of bad beef”. I’ve never been much of a fan of the metaphysical, which is pretty peculiar, considering my spiritual faith. But, there you go.
I figure that if I first present some of the events that have influenced my faith, then you’ll be better equipped to mull over any other statements that I make, or at least have a handle on why I present what I might in any someday future posts. You can decide to either let them on through, or to engage your shit filters. That’s up to you. My difficulty has always been that when Christians meet together in a small group for the first time, it’s a common thing to go around the circle and summarize “how you came to Christ”. Most often, these are single-issue things that people are able to gather up into a few sentences, and they have a ring of authenticity that is unmistakable. Unfortunately, I’ve never found a way to succinctly summarize how God steered me to Himself, since the process was a bit of a marathon. Or like a pinball game, actually. That was because of me. When my turn comes in such a group, my response tends to be, “Uh…uh…how much time do you have?” So it is here that I at last have the time and space to cover what actually happened, and can avoid giving short-shrift to meaningful events. So it begins:
When I was a kid, my parents both attended a local Methodist church, and dragged me along. I initially sat in the hard wooden pews with them, and after awhile they dropped me into Sunday School. I felt very uncomfortable attending Sunday School with all these kids I didn’t know, and who somehow popped up answers and names I hadn’t ever heard of. They all knew Bible stories, and coughed up ancient events as if they were relevant to anything today. It made me very uneasy, I complained, and so my mother once again allowed me to sit beside her in the pew during each service.
Still, that in itself was excruciating enough, because all they did was to go through a preset routine of the minister praying generically, and responsive readings, and having to sing hymn #153 or #78 from the book, which I also didn’t like to do. They sang all the verses. That was the price to be able to stay out of Sunday School, however. I quietly stood and mumbled through each hymn, and pretended that I was devotedly reading the words in deference to my mother, who made a point of holding the thing so I could read it. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down. And the long and boring sermons, oh my. I quickly learned to fall sound asleep during these, leaning against my mother’s arm. Even for all that’s happened since, 95% of the time, I still to this day involuntarily yawn whenever I sing a hymn, willing or otherwise. Like Pavlov’s dogs, it’s a conditioned response.
At any rate, I used to get tonsillitis on a regular basis. It would get pretty bad, and not just to a kid’s way of thinking. I’d miss school and drop behind, and the fever, throat pain and swelling was always there while it raged on. Swallowing, with or without food or drink, felt like swallowing razor blades, and would make me shudder, groan, and at the peak bring tears to my eyes. Then it would slowly get better, to where it just hurt all the time. Once the worst was over, my mother would drag me back to church with them, because it wasn’t like I was going to give anyone else tonsillitis. But the pain was weathering, and I slept well there.
On one occasion, after the sermon was over, the sudden silence and rustling of hymnals woke me. That was the signal that they were going to stand up again. Man, I was tired of this. As you can imagine, I had no real interest in any deity who seriously enjoyed things that were as excruciatingly boring as this, or memorizing the names of people who’d been dead for centuries. It was a common-ground issue. Who were they praying to, anyway? It wasn’t like you could see anything, or hear a voice. It seemed like Santa Claus for adults, but without the presents. It was something you just had to go along with as a kid, to keep the peace. However, my throat hurt, and I was tired of it. What the heck? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I groggily thought the words, “If you exist, if you’ll heal my throat, then I’ll sing this hymn for you real loud.” I was serious about it, mind you, but come on – I was throwing it out there into a black void. I stood up with everyone else, planning to keep my head down and lip-sync the words. No voice today, folks, not with this. I just want to finish up this thing and go home, bored and worn. Let’s just get through this.
We all stood up, me included. As the organ wailed up and my mother held the hymnal open for me and began singing along with the rest, something odd got my attention, and fast. I froze. This was weird – I could definitely feel the constrictive swelling under and around my throat rapidly going down. It wasn’t, “Hmm, I wonder if it’s getting a little better, maybe.” It was more the sudden whack of a velvet sledge, with a startling realization that this thing was suddenly and inexplicably going normal in the span of a few seconds. Not just sort of okay, but wide open and, in a second more, pain-free. Truth to tell, I was astonished. What just happened? It wasn’t “better”. It was situation normal in perhaps ten seconds instead of half a week or more. It took awhile for the realization to sink in. What are you supposed to do with that? These things can’t happen. I had no frame of reference for this. I had expected nothing, in perfect continuity with all I’d seen before.
While the hymn was ongoing, it took me several long moments to register what had just completed. I engaged my vocal chords, clearing my throat as a test. A-okay. No hint of pain or that choking swelling. More wondering. This thing was really…normal. Then I realized that I had apparently discovered three things for sure: there really is a God of some kind or other, he apparently hears us – even our thoughts, and he can clearly do things that cannot be done.
What did I do with this healing? I didn’t understand it. How was it even possible? But I was thankful for it. I did the only thing I could do: I held up my end. I sang, and I sang loud. I sang so loudly that I could see my mother looking down at me, obviously wondering, “What is going on with you?” Hey, I was astonished and happy to have the wearing pain gone. A deal is a deal. I’m pretty sure that she’d never heard me singing before. Oh, it may not have been pretty, but it was loud.
Afterward, with something special like that, I’d like to say that I was changed forever, and went on to an enduring, intimate faith that transformed my life. Ummm, not really. I walked away with what I had learned: there is a mysterious, imperceptible being who apparently has an unexplainable tolerance for boring things. This invisible being at least occasionally listens to us, and it can do things that can’t possibly occur. That was my take at the time. In adult-speak: It exists as a conscious, selectively responsive and powerful being, unseen and undetectable – often frustratingly so. After that episode, I went on to kick my way through life as best I could, knowing the above but not doing anything about it. After all, I didn’t like being bored in the kinds of places I associated this unseen being with hanging out in.
Did I psyche myself out? If I did, it was one very good mind trick. I was honest in my request, but had expected nothing. I had no preconditioning/training, other than having the drone of adult sermons cure insomnia. There was no secret, sparkly little hope that something was there, other than simply hoping to employ whatever the point of these weekend adult ceremonies were about. There was little hope that something would happen, or even that all of this church ceremony stuff meant anything at all. Like going to work or fixing up the house, church was just a routine that some grown-ups seemed to do for some reason. All I had been doing, as always, was trying to endure the church service, so that I could escape and go home.
Besides, in miracle cures that aren’t miracles, reality soon trumps psych jobs, doesn’t it? The physical problem or illness returns once the adrenaline wears off, and often with a vengeance. I didn’t realize it until I was in my late twenties, but I never had a simple raw throat, let alone tonsillitis, even once after that little encounter – even up to today, in my sixties. Pretty weird, huh? That would be quite a self-delusion for an exasperated young kid who halfheartedly took a chance on the unlikely, and then forgot about it. Sure, other common ailments have come and gone, or come and stayed, but my throat has remained out of the mix from that day on without my realizing it until decades later. It’s pretty easy to get used to having a recurring illness stop recurring.
So, as of that unexpected interaction, God existed after all. Hidden and secretive maybe, but this being existed and chose to call my bluff that day. And it sure caught me by surprise.
I don’t present this as a path that you should try to mimic, especially since the Bible cautions people not to try to make God jump through hoops, i.e.: “If you do this, I’ll believe in you,” which, considering the realities of the situation, is not all that far from, “Come over here and do what I want. Prove yourself, or that’s it for you.” Making deals is not His bag. He’s not there for entertainment value or a magic show. There’s a very different dynamic operating here. I was a kid. Why He chose to acquiesce to my request was a mystery to me for many, many years. Also, I don’t present this as a proof that puts me one leg up on anyone else, faith-wise. I didn’t have any. It just happened, and it happened to me. As Jesus said to His follower Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” He was talking about the past expectant prophets and others who had waited for His coming long before he was born, but my extrapolation from this is that a faith based upon experiencing miracles is not on a par with a faith that hasn’t needed them.
The true significance of this unexpected and persistent healing is really that it’s a first small revealing of God’s true nature. Think of it what you will, but get ready for more.