The Nature of God – Part 7
[If you are just now stumbling onto this post without having read the various parts in this series from the beginning, I strongly 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.]
There came a time when I was encouraged to attend a church again, and I put it off for quite awhile. I finally agreed to go on the grounds that it was promised to avoid the sleep-inducing traditions I was used to. It turned out not to be so bad as I expected. The few songs were contemporary, and without hymnals to open. The sermons were brief, challenging, and to the point. The people there were just regular folks, thoughtful and friendly but not cloyingly so. I wasn’t a target or potential signee, so it was okay. They called it “non-denominational Christian”, which tended to free it from the debates over scriptural details. No robes. No choirs. No obsolete Middle English dialect that was purported to be the language that God spoke in. In the few visits I had made, there was no mention of classical sin, salvation, Heaven, or Hell. There was no mention of believing in something just for the sake of a someday, pie-in-the-sky future. No warbling Texas drawls, and no guilt trips about the offertory plate. No threats of a stern God eager to pounce on and punish disobedience. Only a calm voice and a consistent urging to examine your life carefully, and consider the unthinkable. The orientation was not for a future benefit, but one that waited to begin now, today. Left unsaid but painfully apparent: you wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t obvious to you that you had screwed things up, lacked a real solution and the ability to carry one out even if you had it, and that something critical was missing in your life. Want to see what God is truly like in the most direct and filter-free way possible? Look at the historical accounts of Jesus the Messiah. Examine what He does, and reflect upon what He says. That’s about what I picked up.
One Sunday, the preacher painted a verbal picture that went something like this: “Imagine there’s a parade going down the street where you are, and that it’s a parade about Jesus. There are lots of people lining each curb, cheering and clapping and smiling, and there’s Jesus too, in person, walking along. A few people are walking along with Him, around Him. He slowly passes by, and you hear Him inviting everyone to come and follow Him, to walk with Him. Everyone claps and cheers Him on of course, but that seems to be all. Once the parade has passed by them and the cheering has died away, the people along the sidewalks are turning to go back home. Jesus’ eyes turn to you and He invites you to walk with Him as well, as He walks past you. What will you do? Will you too clap and cheer, and turn to go back to what you know? I urge you to consider. Step off that curb and follow Him. Walk with Him. Step off the curb.”
I hadn’t really listened too attentively to the rest of the message, but this last part hit my psyche like the blast from a 10-gauge shotgun. I sat and thought while the service finished up. If there was some kind of altar call that day, and there might have been, I sure don’t remember it. Still, this mental picture weighed heavily on me. Returning to what I was familiar with was no bargain, and no safe haven. All I knew was what had failed. It had for a long time felt as though I was in an old four-engine bomber trying to return to base on only one engine and, despite chucking everything possible overboard, it had still been steadily losing altitude and wasn’t going to make it over the cold ocean of life. I had little interest in returning to live within what I knew. But, I shy away from change or the unfamiliar, and I had no idea what “following Jesus” and “walking with Him” through life really meant. It seemed abstract and unknown. Potentially disastrous. I wanted an abbreviated outline, at least. What lay ahead? What would it mean? This certainly hadn’t been described in that paperback review of 52 religions. Much to the great frustration of car salesmen however, I was not one to make an impulsive decision, especially right then and there in a rented movie theater.
The issue continued to weigh on me on the ride home. I found that my circumstances and emotional state provided a strong draw to step off that proverbial curb, but that wasn’t the heart of it. There was an odd, deep-down pull of both quiet desperation and absolute certainty that this was the only way out or through, for me. I had run out of options. I felt no Presence, no anointing, no discernible “calling”. There was only now, and an inward soul-deep pull of taking a step toward something that I didn’t know, and which had nothing to do with joining a particular denomination or a promised future. It had to do with a relationship, an asking, now, one on one, with the Presence who had once intruded to ask me what my hobby car was really worth. He had known its true value, while I was unaware. He knew me, while I was still unaware. This step-off into the unknown even made sense to me as the only reasonable option. Being at the end of my own resources, this was something I had to do – for me.
I knelt down in my former little temple of automotive worship, my garage, and laid out everything I had, which was nothing but my disastrously screwed-up life, such as it was, and my need for help to get through it, the kind of help that is not obtainable here. I was wide open for suggestions. I handed my life, my wreckage, over it to Christ and asked Him to make it His. I wanted to live it His way, whatever that would mean. My previous assumptions about God breaking my legs and making me learn to play the flute evaporated in desperation. My ailing bomber, losing altitude as it was trying to reach home, was as good as in the water, and I didn’t know what to do anymore. I wasn’t gonna make it. I had made critically vital commitments, but had no more energy to fulfill them. I handed it all over. I wanted to step off that curb and follow Him, come what may.
I felt nothing afterwards. No feeling that my prayer was heard, or that I was now changed in any way. No burden was removed, no comfort bestowed. No magical signs appeared. I got back up and sensed this, thought it notable, and didn’t care. I wasn’t going to continue on the way I had. I did what I could do for now. I was fully committed to something I couldn’t see or sense, no matter what came in the future. It felt crazy. It felt risky. It felt right. That would have to be enough.
I had no idea of what was coming, if anything. I had dug myself in pretty deep. What I would receive was not at all what I expected.
Your experiences are similar to mine. I have learned much reading about the various early Christian Gnostic sects that existed in the first three centuries A.D. – as found in the Nag Hammadi texts and other literature from that time. If you are interested, there is a series of ebooks available on Amazon by author Luis Varady that will give you not only historical background but a reasoned analysis of just how many of the early Christians lived their daily lives, emphasizing the “experiential” nature of Gnosis. Best to you in your journeys.
Thank you, John. In spite of the experiential origins of my faith in Christ, I do not ascribe to the basic premises of the various Gnostic branches of philosophy. As can be seen in my earlier posts in this series, I do not think there is much to be gained from relying on human intellect to piece together what we do not understand. Each of us, however, must pursue our own path, and I wish you the very best in yours as well.
You made me think of two things: 1. The song What a Friend we Have in Jesus and 2. a sermon I heard a few years ago.
The sermon happened on a day designated Youth Sunday. It was about the exchange principle. You know, the one where two cars colliding will always leave a bit of each on the other. The preacher made the connection between that and physical love. He encouraged the teens to think about how much they were willing to trade of themselves in short term relationships vs. how much of themselves they wanted to save for a future mate. If that type of “preaching” appeals to you check out http://messiahchurchmn.org for more of Steve Richard’s sermons.
That’s a biblical concept, as I recall! Not the cars of course, but the spiritual consequence. Thanks, Linda!
Cliffhanger. I can’t wait to hear what happens next. I know, in my case, the way the good Lord handles the mess I make of my life, always seems to come out of left field, but always turns out to be so perfectly right.