I am struck by how much wisdom and truth is out there from such a variety of sources if we can set aside our differences long enough to listen. In the midst of a passionate discussion about such issues as hell, Christianity, scriptures, patriarchy and the like, (apparently facebook can be about more than jokes and the minutia of life), a friend shared this link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WosgwLekgn8. It is difficult to summarize what the video is about so I recommend watching it. But roughly, this video shows a visual illustration of a traditional Protestant view of atonement contrasted with the view of atonement of the Orthodox Christian Church. Both tell a beautiful story of Jesus but the story they tell about God is strikingly different. The Protestant view portrayed here is God separated from us by our sin. Jesus sacrifices his life to put us back in relationship with God. The Orthodox view is humanity turning away from God. God comes in Jesus to persist in relationship despite our failings. Both are moving stories but I found myself relating more to the Orthodox view. It reminds me of the passage in Psalm 23 “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life...” In seminary, I learned that the word translated as “follow” has more of a sense of pursue. Thus this verse describes God pursuing us with God’s love throughout our lives. This rings true to me.
I was going to say that this is my experience of God but I realized that would not be accurate. Rather my experience of God has been a presence I try to wrestle into existence, a presence I long for and a presence that seems to be there when I don’t know it and can’t feel it.
A few years ago, I kind of test drove atheism. I decided I wasn’t sure I believed in all that God stuff anymore. It only lasted a few days because I could not stop praying. I could not entirely give up the belief in God. Perhaps this was nothing more than habits developed over the years. Habits are hard to break after all. My suspicion, however, is that God had gifted me with faith all along. But I wasn’t aware of God’s presence until I sort of tripped over God on my way out the door.
Faith for me has rarely come as a blast from the mountaintops and more often in ways that are difficult to recognize. In the love I feel for my brothers and sisters. In the hope I cling to by my fingertips. In the need to pray even when I don’t think it does any good and am not sure anyone is listening. Faith seeps into my pores without my even noticing it and rises up within me as a longing for something more and a desperate thirst for peace, justice, and mercy for all people.
This certainly isn’t the more classic view of God’s presence which descends on some people in their hour of need giving them peace which surpasses all understanding. In my hour of need abandonment descended on me, rousing me to wrestle with my faith, wrestle with my God, wrestle with what it means to be human.
As I read back over these words I realize it might not be inaccurate at all to say “goodness and mercy” have pursued me all the days of my life. Sure doesn’t fit the cliches of faith as warm and fuzzy feelings and unwavering beliefs but that doesn’t mean it is not true.
Perhaps this is not without precedent though. Consider the story of Jacob who wrestled with the divine and came away with a limp for his trouble (Genesis 32:24-32). Now that’s a story of faith to which I can relate. Maybe that is how God pursues some of us: by gifting us time after time with new opportunities to wrestle with God.