Thursday, October 6, 2011

Faith in Doubt (Part 4): Loving God

A continuation of the series by Luke, Faith in Doubt.

Phase 4:  Love God
Even after three years of living like a pretty good Christian, I still thought of God as a distant force, like a world leader whose policies I respect.  I liked God, but I knew I did not love God. I knew what love was supposed to look like.  I had been married for several years, and during this time my first son was born, who continues to teach me about another kind of love that I think only parents can know. 

But this is not how I felt about God. Love springs from familiarity, yet never ceases to produce awe.  Mine was the awe you might feel for a celebrity.  Love inspires a kind of reckless loyalty.  My relationship with God was still on certain terms.

This time I have no idea when the change happened.  One day I woke up and realized that God was as familiar and present to me as my wife or son.  After a thousand tiny steps I loved God again. 

But how can you love a transcendent being you have never met?  I have always found it difficult describe this to those who have not experienced it.  The best I can say is that I have met him.  He’s around quite a lot actually.  I don’t hear voices or anything.  It is much more subtle than that.  But like I said before, he’s there and at this point it doesn’t make much sense denying it.

This love completely changed my attitude toward God.  For example, there have been times when I have defended God because of the threat to my identity.  Like if God isn’t real…then what am I going to do next!  I wasn’t defending someone I love, I was just defending the idea of God.  This God is nothing but a proposition, an intellectual crutch to hold up my dilapidated life. When people attack God now, there is something profane about it, and sad, yet completely unthreatening.  When I engage in this kind of discussion now, it is almost always for the benefit of another.  Otherwise, what would be the point?  God and I are just fine.  I no longer feel the need to argue for God’s existence for the same reason I do not try to argue for the existence of my mother.

As this love crept in, so did the desire to serve God in full-time ministry.  Since we were in high school, both Jaymi and I had felt sure that ministry was what God had called us to do, and that certainty was returning by the day.   I remember having a conversation with a pastor around this time, and he was trying to encourage me by saying that I didn’t have to be in ministry to serve God.  Many people are faithful servants even if it isn’t their profession.  I completely agree with this in principle, and there are some amazing people in my church community living it out, but this is not me.  As soon as my love for God returned I became restless.  I began to feel like I was wasting my life. 

As soon as we could manage it, I returned to school to get more training, and we began looking into how God could use our life.  For those of you who have read our blog before, you know that this drive is currently pointing us toward Africa, and if you want the rest of the story you will have to read what Jaymi has written about it. 

So what does it mean? 
I turned away from God with no intention of ever returning, and now I have gone from being a functional atheist to a future missionary.  I would not be here if God had not gone out of his way to bring me back.  I know I have not been very specific about why I am so sure that God was there (when he “punched me in the face”).  I do not think this is the appropriate place to describe a thing like that, but it was powerful.   Powerful enough that it has continued to define me as a person ever since. 

There are a lot of people in my life who have struggled with the same questions, but who were not given the kind of gift that God has given to me.  When their questions came up, God seemed silent.  I have no idea why he does this.  It frustrates me.  But I cannot deny the fact that he has been gracious to me, and I hope that he will be gracious to them too. 

By complete accident I came across a verse about a year or two ago.  This verse comes from a very sad book that was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Israelites were being forcibly resettled.  In effect there was no nation of Israel anymore, just her people.  A prophet named Jeremiah was mourning all that had been lost when he said this:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
The bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed
For his compassions never fail
They are new every morning
Great is your faithfulness
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for him.” (Lam 3:19-24)

This verse is a summary of my life.  I often think of all that I wasted in those years, yet God did not abandon me.  He was faithful. He is still faithful.  I find new grace all the time.  I still feel doubt and confusion about a lot of things, and I certainly do not have satisfying answers to every question.  Yet what can I say now except “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for him.” 

He is God.  He has been good to me.  And I trust him.  


  1. I smiled when I read that you'd posted that verse. I read it yesterday, and actually have read it several times over the last week. Whenever I'm wrestling with suffering either in my life or (in this case) the lives of those I love, I come back to this one.

    Thanks for all of this, Luke. Stories have power.

  2. It's almost like you turned away from God from a misunderstanding of Scripture that sex before marriage is always wrong. Really the Bible just addresses sexual purity and not using sex to satisfy yourself while hurting the other person (such as in ancient times when a woman would be culturally useless if a man had slept with her, no matter what their motives).

    And so of course God was always there. He never left. The church has strayed, and so you did too, and it was all a big misunderstanding.

    Maybe you were able to come back to God because you no longer perceived a huge rift between you two.

    "I no longer feel the need to argue for God’s existence for the same reason I do not try to argue for the existence of my mother." - I like that. That's one area my faith has grown.

  3. Hey Anonymous,

    I hear what you’re saying that the pressure of the sexual relationship may have made me perceive a rift where there wasn't one. And it is true that when we got married, the pressure from our friends and family eased. However, I think there is more to it than that. I had been holding back a flood of unbelief for years, and our relationship was just the catalyst that started it all. After this, the rift was not simply “perceived”, it was real. I did not trust God and I did not believe the Bible, and that is what took so long to heal from.

    And for whatever it is worth, I don’t think I misunderstood Scripture back then. If anything the years have proved to me that sex is a far more powerful thing that most want to give it credit for, which is why ideally I still believe it belongs in a single monogamous relationship.