I Used to Think…

Yesterday, prominent Christian blogger and author Sarah Bessey presented a prompt for a Synchroblog on her own site.  Inspired by her newly released book Out of Sorts, Bessey has asked that others take up the conversation of the journey that is faith.  Thus, anyone wishing to participate was invited to use the following prompt.

I used to think _____ but now I think ____.

I want to thank Sarah Bessey in advance for providing such an insightful and thought provoking medium for these reflections.

As I contemplate the above prompt, I find myself conflicted.  I want to respond, I feel compelled to reflect on this topic, but it is difficult to find a place to begin.

I was raised fundamentalist and can honestly say that I do not believe today a single thing I believed 10 years ago.  It is hard to decide what to talk about when you have walked away from everything.  After a bit of struggle, prayer, and quite a lot of deliberation I am choosing to share a deeply personal story – the moment that marked the beginning of my journey beyond the realm of knowledge and into the arms of faith.

I used to think God was untouchable, but now I believe I have touched God.

It was 2007 and my wife, Sarah, and I had just married and I was taking my second stab at undergrad.  One morning, as I was sleeping, Sarah walked into the room with a pregnancy test in hand and fear on her face.  Her first words, “Oh shit, I’m pregnant.”  There was a mixture of fear and elation.  We rushed to tell everyone the news.  We were so excited.

Then came the blood. That which is often so elemental and life-giving would mark the death of everything I thought I knew about God.  Only a few weeks into the pregnancy, Sarah called me from work with the news, something was very wrong.  I felt helpless.  She wouldn’t be home for a while, so I went to classes.   I muddled my way through the day, waiting for her to get home.  Praying that somehow God would make everything okay.  He didn’t.

When Sarah arrived home, she sat down on our cheap futon in our crappy campus apartment (we didn’t even have a bed yet!) and spent the next 48 hours in constant pain.  There was nothing I could do.  My prayers bounced off the ceiling as I pleaded with God not to let this happen.  I swore at him, I cursed him, I vowed to never believe in him again unless he did something.  And, as Sarah collapsed to sleep from the pain, I sat on the hopelessly stained carpet in the hallway we called our kitchen and I wept.

I don’t remember picking up the book, I barely remember reading it.  I couldn’t tell you a single word.  But I found myself sitting on the floor with a copy of C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed.  And as I closed the book, having mindlessly finished the last page, I broke.  I ceased to exist as anything more than a ruined pile of grief and hate.  And in that moment, I touched God.

Even as I write this, it is hard to fight back the tears and see the computer screen clearly.  As I sat there on the floor, for the first time in my life, I knew the heart of God.  More than that, I felt his grief.  As every fiber of my being seemed to come undone, the God of the universe wept with me.  I felt him, sitting beside me, arms wrapped tightly around me.  It wasn’t some other-worldly spiritual moment, it was the physical, touchable, tangible presence of Yahweh himself.

That moment destroyed my certainty in the way only an encounter with God truly could.  I didn’t suddenly become a different person or have a magical Damascus road conversion from fundamentalism.  But, quite suddenly, I found myself with no frame of reference for understanding God outside that single moment.  I was raw, I was terrified, and I was searching for something I never knew existed – that I had been taught didn’t exist.  I was now talking about a God of pain and grief while my upbringing told me he was a God of wrath.  I was now seeking a God of vulnerability and profound weakness, yet systematic theologies told me he was transcendent, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and immutable.  I was searching for a god that, to me, seemed at the very core of his being anti-god.

It would take me 8 more years to come to terms with the God I had encountered, but as I walked away from the god of my childhood, I began to realize I was pursuing the crucified God – so beautifully depicted by Jürgen Moltmann in his classic work[1].  The Triune Yahweh who, with every ounce of his person, experienced the crucifixion of Christ.  The Father, who watched as his Son was tortured, beaten, and defeated and could do no more that turn his back and tear the temple veil, rending the cloak constructed to contain his presence in grief (Matt 27).  The Son, the slaughtered lamb, the weak and vulnerable, the creator God abandoned and conquered as part of his creation (John 1, 1 Cor 1-2, Rev 5).  And the Spirit, the hope of God for a New Creation, the power of God to raise the Firstborn from the Dead and guarantee my own hope of conquering death, the one who seals me in Christ’s blood and inspires the Scriptures, appropriates ancient words to penetrate the very core of my modern being (2 Cor 1, Eph 1, Col 1, 1 Tim 3).

Today, I am journeying daily towards a deeper experience of and faith in the God who held me, the God who wept with me, the God I touched.

I used to believe in a man-made god, now I pursue no other god than “Jesus the Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, Crucified God (Harper & Row: San Francisco, 1974).

**cover image from http://favim.com/orig/201105/17/faith-font-scrabble-text-typography-word-Favim.com-47260.jpg**

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20 thoughts on “I Used to Think…

  1. So very well and beautifully told Nate and such a testimony. To hear your story means I don’t walk alone when I seem so isolated from what appears to be the “normal” Christian experience of God. You are the only person to speak of God crying that I have ever heard that resonates with me.

    Regarding your story, you might find this relevant.
    John 11:35 Jesus wept. Every sermon and commentary I ever heard or read inadequately discussed that verse. I kept wondering why did the God of all the universe, the One who would in just a few moments raise the dead…. why did He weep?

    As I too, like Mary and Martha, asked God why wasn’t He there, and wept my way through a Lazarus story of my own, I came to understand God’s own vulnerability…. how the Good Shepherd must step aside when He desperately wants to intervene. How many tears, I wonder, has He shed with and for all of us. The greatest thing He gave was free will that brought in the consequences of sin. I think the hardest thing He must endure is His own will.

    I too was raised in extreme fundamental beliefs that became inadequate to explain the dissolution of all I had ever known as it was torn apart by abuse. Every understanding I had was shredded as I battled God, and I found Him, not wanting, but rather present, powerful, tender, yet resolved. Events would occur the way they needed to occur that God could work His perfect will, in order to reach others so that “they might believe”. John 11:42. I’m good with that now, but it took a bit.

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    1. Thank you for sharing. It took me a while to get comfortable with my beliefs – they still scare me sometimes.

      Thank you for sharing from your experience. I am glad you have found God through the pain and struggle 🙂

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  2. So sorry for your loss. I became a believer in college but the first few years of my faith walk were also a lot of theology and “head knowledge”. Then over the course of 3-4 years, I re-learned everything I had taken at face value, but all through the lens of a deep, intimate, personal, daily walk with God. That made all the difference. I’m curious to know what else you learned!

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    1. Sorry, sent that prematurely. I meant to say, I have learned a lot by wrestling with God and learning to doubt instead of pretending I know it all. It has been a long hard road. I wrote a post over at CBE, I link it under my guest posts page, talking about another part of my journey – learning to be a stay at home dad and how that affects my hermeneutic.

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  3. “Thank you” doesn’t seem to cut it, but I will say it anyway: Thank you. Thank you for being so vulnerable, for allowing us to see God in this very painful moment for you. Your story spurs me on in seeking after this beautiful God.

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  4. Oh man…. Thank you for sharing this. What a powerful piece that so resonates; I’ve had a couple of those experiences which shake everything out. I love the imagry of touching God – and that the point of contact wasn’t in your guilt or in your righteousness, but almost totally aside in your grief and your suffering. Like we get so caught up in right vs wrong while God is waiting us to just live and do this being-human-thing with him.

    Thanks again for sharing. I am so deeply sorry for your and your wife’s loss.

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    1. Krysann thanks for reading. Thank you also for the words of sympathy. We are never truly rid of the pain of loss, but we do have 3 beautiful children now (2 girls, 1 boy). I am blessed that people resonate with my story.

      Blessings to you!

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  5. It’s so beautiful that you met — and were met by — God in this moment of suffering and saw him in such a profoundly new way. One of my favourite pictures of God in Scripture appears in Revelation when John sees God in all his power and majesty and then says, “And he placed his right hand on me and said ‘Do not be afraid’.” This reminds me that the God who is high and holy is also the God that comes close and allows himself to be vulnerable to us. Thanks for sharing; I feel honoured to have read your post.

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    1. Jeannie, I am honored that you took the time to read/engage. I so often find the God I met that night in Scripture and am left wondering how I went the first 23 years of my life without noticing. Thank you for your kind words, they touch my heart as this was not an easy story for me to share one this medium.

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Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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