The absence of God is often the most present thing in my life. The words of Ecclesiastes send shudders through my soul, and I am perhaps the chief of what I may call Christian pessimism. And yet, as if part of a joke that I don’t understand, I am teased with Hope and Life like a sexually frustrated and celibate man is teased with sex. I long for the presence of God — the very presence of a God that I must willfully choose to believe in, despite the overwhelming of emotions and doubts that lead otherwise. Perhaps my longing for Him proves that I believe, and perhaps my belief is derived from a deep longing for Him. Whether it is purely Him that I desire or the pleasures and Goodness of His presence that I desire, I do not fully know. But I do know that I desire. I pray that is enough.
“Where are you?!”, I ask, pounding the steering wheel with tears racing down my eyes and trying to keep myself from looking at the night sky, as it reminds me of the voidness of His presence. The routine is usual: I long for the presence of God in a world that often resembles Hell, and after what feels like eternity I see a glimpse of Eden — only to have it stripped away like a band-aid.
Nothing gold can stay.
And yet, as the tears dry and I come to my senses (or perhaps run from them), I allow myself once again to experience love, and hope seeps in to my heart the way the moonlight radiates through the windshield. After rolling in to the driveway and eating the remains of a mediocre and cold Chipotle burrito, I become aware of the peace that surpasses all understanding, and my anger shifts to sleepiness. I down a melatonin, shimmie off the jeans, and slide into the covers. I wake the next morning with a fresh sense of the Kingdom, and grab coffee with Jesus on my back porch as we watch the sunrise together. The night before, I thought I had always been in Hell; the morning after I believed I had always been in Heaven. Joy can do that to a person.
C.S. Lewis describes his own skepticism this way:
“When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. […] It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in his bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.”
There are some things that just help us believe in God again.
I’ve felt the healing power of Jesus the most while swimming off the coast of Jamaica, as if each dive I take in to the Caribbean is really a dive in to His grace. With each stroke, I can feel the shackles of my sin, shame, and endless doubts lose weight, and I sense the coming of a smile that had long been lost. The curse is broken.
I long for my heart to be mended, and every time Jesus does so, I always find a way for it to be broken again. The comfort of the grave kills me, but oh how I enjoy it.
I hide in my grave of knowledge, digging myself a deeper and deeper hole with each hour I spend of “soul care” in my room. But, as the psalmist testifies, “[even] if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (139:8). Perhaps it is in those moments when God’s presence is the most present, and His voice most clear. But if so, I haven’t figured that out yet.
Amidst the doubts and confusion comes a still, small voice — one that calls me to a life of deeper intimacy and adventure with God and with others. I don’t always accept it, and I don’t always believe it. If action always reveals belief, then I’d say I often live like a practical agnostic.
And then, just as with before, I must come to terms with the unmistakable and mysterious joys of the Kingdom. I puff on a cigar with my best friend, and the smoke reminds me of the vanity of life while the taste of the tobacco and the words of my friend remind me of the joys of life. I go on a run, and the pain in my feet makes me want to curse God while the pleasure of the wind makes me thank Him. Oh how I wish I could put to death my cynicism and skepticism — I wish I could crucify them. Perhaps I can, and I hold on to them out of fear of what would happen if I truly began to love and truly began to live. Or, perhaps, they are thorns which keep me pressing on toward eternity, holding firmly to Jesus’ promise of restoration.
Man was kicked out of Eden, and both man and God have been trying to get him back in ever since. The Kingdom has been subjected to violence, and perhaps it has yet to permeate my life because I wish to take it by force. But it refuses to be taken — it advances through Love, Life, and the death of all that is not Life. Perhaps, when Jesus said that the Kingdom is both here and not yet, he was suggesting that we can only experience more of the Kingdom as more of the death within us dies. Circumcise these hearts, O Jesus.
I have come to believe that life is a continual process of death and resurrection. But thank God for resurrection. Thank God.
I wish to see Eden, to see my Father face to face and walk with Him — run with Him. I wish to share fish with Him, as the disciples did for breakfast the morning after the Resurrection. I wish to swim with Him. To surf with Him. To pursue the girl with Him. To fight the dragon with Him. To live with Him. I break all compromises I have made with the Enemy, declaring that death will have no hold over my life — whether relationally, emotionally, spiritually, or ultimately physically. It will not have the final say. Death has died, and death shall die.
I must confess that I do not always believe that He is who He says He is — of course, intellectually I do. But the heart is the wellspring of the soul, and when the heart experiences a drought, so does life. And yet, as Lewis notes with the zoo, heaven is touching earth all around us — yet we remain asleep. We must learn to see, to hear, to taste, and to feel the Goodness and Splendor of the Lord. Afterall, “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (Isaiah 64:4).
Before we drift into the monotony of life, we must remember the Epic all around us. Like a seasoned pilot who has grown numb to the joy and thrill of flight, so have many of us grown numb to the joy and thrill of the Gospel. We must recover, like the lost treasure it is, the truth and vitality of the Story — primarily that of Jesus Himself.
Do not grown numb to the zoo. Do not grow numb to the sunset. Do not grow numb to the smoothness of coffee, nor the stogieness of a cigar. And do not grow numb to the presence and person of Jesus.
Stay golden, Ponyboy.