I have never seriously doubted the divinity of Jesus, or the reality of God. Mind you, I have wrestled with those questions (I believe we all should, and must, at certain points of our spiritual walks), but I’ve just never had to sit with such queries for long before being convinced.
What I have doubted, time and time again, is that God or Jesus have any actual interest in guiding or directing me towards a life of significance and importance.
When I say what I’ve just said, your first instinct may be to quote Scripture passages to me that convey God’s deep care for my physical and spiritual needs. Made in the Image of God, and all that. Trust me, I know them. I may have even quoted them to you. In Hebrew. (Yeah, it was pretentious then and now, and I’m seriously cringing that I did that. Sorry.)
When I say what I’ve just said, you may point to miraculous stories in your personal spiritual walk that point towards God’s supernatural, divine provision for you when the chips were down. Or how God “gave you a ministry” which means…well, I actually have no idea what you mean by that. Anyhow, I have those stories, too. Perhaps like you, I’ve seen miracles first-hand. I’ve seen, felt, and heard things that can only be explained as divine actions. I may have even told you those stories.
When I say what I’ve just said, it doesn’t come from a place of Scriptural ignorance or of spiritual inexperience. Rather, it comes (and yes, Virginia, irony is real) because God is a good friend of mine. We’ve been through a lot together.
And what I’ve discovered is that God seems to be frustratingly resolute when it comes to his being God. Which is a problem.
Because he refuses to be predictable, or to offer predictable answers. Except sometimes, he does. Then he doesn’t again.
The Spirit of this God, which happily takes up residence inside me, answers my questions ALMOST NEVER the way I’d prefer it to in the moment. It doesn’t hand me the answers, except in those rare moments where it deems in its perfect cohabitation with wisdom that a handing out is what is needed. It knows me in ways that I will never know myself during my mortal life. It stubbornly refuses to take my tests for me. It does not spoonfeed. Seriously. Ever. The Spirit is a SEAL BUD/S instructor and a parent and a friend and a mentor in the same instant.
It allows me to be frustrated, because only in frustration will I be tested.
An example to illustrate:
Steve’s prayer: “God, I want to do your work. I will endure hardship if I have to, but in all honesty I really don’t like being poor. Sacrifice is cool, when I can control it. I’d love to be a Jesuit, but it’s a serious commitment, and those vows…so yeah. Should I do that? I love teaching, God, but I don’t know the best way to go about having those opportunities. I love learning, but I’m not sure that scholarly research lines up with how I’d like to live my life – but the way that the art of the sermon intrigues me and inspires me to craft my words, that’s magical. So, anyway. Rambling. I’m here to listen…just speak and guide, Lord, and give me the wisdom to know how to sift through all these options…okay…how do I serve you with my life?”
Lots of silence.
Spirit: “Hey, remember that time that you were in that place, driving out of town, and really humiliated, and trying really hard to keep it together? And your face felt like it was on fire from all that shame, and you wanted to yell but couldn’t?”
Steve: “Yeah. Thanks for that memory. Those were good times.”
Spirit: “You know God was in that car with you, right? And we never left your side through that whole thing?”
This is more or less representative of our relationship.
I feebly try to be all noble and altrustic in my requests, but God appears to be infinitely more concerned with who I’m becoming, and how I respond to life’s fireballs. My offers of humble service are undoubtedly pleasing to him, but maybe in the way that a 2-year old’s first macaroni picture is pleasing to a father, who by the way had to put all the glue on the paper and place almost all the macaronis himself. The same kid who declares proudly, “I’m going to be an astronaut!” The father knows the odds are far worse than one in a million, and no 2-year old knows what it will really take to get to that goal. The father knows that the 2-year old needs to be parented and mentored, more than career advice.
Towards that end, God seems pretty focused on maturing my character and poise in impossible situations. My courage when things are terribly unclear. I’ve asked God to make me a man, to make me more in his image. God will sometimes remind me of this when I am struggling through particularly frustrating uncertainties. “This is how you become who you’ve told me you want to be,” the Spirit says.
Contrary to the start of this post, I know God wants me to have a life of significance and meaning. I know the gifts and skills He has given me to use for the benefit of others. What is often frustratingly unclear, is how exactly to bring these gifts to bear upon the world in the best way. How does it actually look, on the ground, in real life, to “do something significant” in life, that has eternal and lasting significance?
Sometimes God answers by saying: “I’m not going to do your work for you. Get out into the surf zone and get some character. Take responsibility for your life. Make opportunities where you can, cut losses where you must. Take risks, fail, succeed, learn, grow. I’ll be right here watching, but you need to tackle these challenges yourself.” That’s SEAL instructor God.
Then, after a thousand-thousand pushups and PT drills and practice operations done over and over, God claps me on the back and says, “Push your chest out. Be proud. You’re making it. You’re ready to lead others into something bigger than themselves.” That’s parent/friend/mentor God.
Then, one day with the benefit of hindsight, I am able to see that God’s “plan for my life” that I was praying to understand, was something I never could have understood. A 2-year old trying to plan out his career to become an astronaut.