Many of us have heard of the Christian obsession with insisting that God loves us.
I suspect for many, like me, that’s not an easy idea to buy.
Life is full of heartbreak and hurt; disappointment and unfulfilled potential; tragedy and horror.
At least that’s how it often feels to those of us who have experienced such disillusionment. We have been deeply wounded in our hearts and lack the ability to perceive life through any lens other than pain.
God loves us? If He really did, then why did “this” happen; why didn’t He stop “that;” where is He now when I call for help? He either doesn’t care or doesn’t exist.
For me and others who have been hurt, talking about what Jesus did 2,000 years ago just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t stir my heart. It doesn’t move me. It doesn’t seem to say anything to my life right now.
I don’t see why anyone would be a Christian if God’s love can’t be experienced as something real and tangible right now.
I’ve had isolated moments in my life when I felt particularly close to God, moments of what seemed like deep spiritual intimacy. But these have been few and far between.
People I trust have told me God is in the romancing business, but I’ve failed to see how He’s been trying to woo me.
In hindsight I can tell that many of the choices I’ve made as an adult have been the result of brokenness experienced as a child. My choice of major in college was motivated first by an idealistic zeal to change the world; second by what I thought would make the most money; and third by what I could finally just graduate with as soon as possible.
All were attempts at receiving some form of affirmation that would serve as a kind of drug to temporarily numb the void in my soul where a father’s abiding love and acceptance should have been.
As a result I’ve kind of just muddled through in life, getting by, as the vast majority of us do. There is no victory in life lived this way, only an abject acceptance that the best any of us can do is survive, a belief that goes back deep into my family heritage for generations.
But the Christian belief is in a life that is abundant, not so much in material possessions, but in love and joy. And bare-minimum survival does not equate to abundance.
I’ve been reading a book by Christian author John Eldredge called Fathered by God, and in this book Eldredge presents different stages of maturity that a man goes through. It’s his contention that many men either get stuck in one phase or another, or at the very least have stunted development in one or more stages that is often the result of being fathered poorly.
A lot of the themes Eldredge repeats throughout various stages involve adventure, exploration, and a sense of wonder. I found myself getting annoyed whenever I read yet another reference to these types of things as these aren’t typical tools I have in my wheelhouse.
So I thought back to my childhood, trying to recall when I did feel wonder at the world, and I remembered how much I loved history and archaeology.
I remembered hunting for arrowheads on the playground at school. I remembered playing with neighborhood friends, exploring the vast open pastures and forests where we grew up. Taking trips into sinkholes; taking backwoods routes after school on our way to the public library. Writing a short book on the history of my hometown in the fifth grade. Reading historical entries straight out of the encyclopedia. Coming home from church and making my mom help me look up the histories of the people and cultures of Mesopotamia: the Babylonians, Assyrians, Canaanites and Israelites.
I remembered badly wanting to be an archaeologist starting at age five. Writing to several universities with top archaeological programs in the seventh grade expressing my interest.
And, for some reason I can’t entirely recall, deciding when it came time to go to college, that I’d never make anything of myself as an archaeologist. I wouldn’t change the world that way. I wouldn’t go down in history books doing that.
My love receded as I unknowingly chased relevance and affirmation; to be the guy who’d write the ephemeral “Great American Novel.”
So, I decided to go back to where I started.
I got into my car, drove past my parents’ house where I grew up and went down to the now-abandoned train tracks I walked with my dad as a boy. And I walked. And I explored. And I found God.
There He was as my heart rediscovered what intrigued me as a little boy. He was in the air around those tracks, whispering through the voices of the past around once-thriving commercial stops now long reclaimed by forest. He was in the beautiful foliage that covered the tracks; in the cry of the hawk I heard in the sky; in the dampness of my skin; in my heart.
I’m reminded of a scene from the incredibly underrated movie “Chariots of Fire.” The movie tells the tale of the 1924 Olympic track team from the United Kingdom, focusing primarily on two characters: (to steal a quote from Wikipedia) “Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice.”
Liddell’s family serve as missionaries to China, and it is this commitment that dominates most of Liddell’s life. Yet, he is also committed to running, much to the disapproval of his sister, Jennie.
Again quoting Wikipedia’s entry on the movie: “When Eric Liddell accidentally misses a church prayer meeting because of his running, his sister Jennie upbraids him and accuses him of no longer caring about God. Eric tells her that though he intends to eventually return to the China mission, he feels divinely inspired when running, and that not to run would be to dishonour God, saying, ‘I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.'”
This exchange, coupled with the race Liddell ultimately runs at the Olympic Games, never fails to bring me to tears. This man knows that God gave him a gift, and when he participates in what God gave him, he feels His pleasure. It moves me deeply.
God has given each of us something in which we, too, can feel His pleasure. Where we can experience His love, His romancing of us. It’s different for many of us, and tailored to who we are as people.
For me, when I dig into history; when I try to discover the stories of people long forgotten and bring them back to life; when I walk around a place where others have tread hundreds or thousands of years before; when I enjoy nature in this way of thinking…
I feel His pleasure.