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