Sometimes I'm struck by how utterly brazen it is to say we believe in anything at all. I mean, how we do know what's real? Take Christianity, for example. Over the last few months, I've struggled off and on with my belief in this faith. I've been reading different chunks of the Scriptures regularly -- the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew, and now Acts and Mark -- and besides drawing me close to God and His heart in and for the world and for me, it has also raised for me many troubling questions. For example:
Why did Israel not recognize Jesus as the Christ, if they knew the Old Testament scriptures backward and forward? Where, if anywhere, do we get any advance indication that God planned for the Christ to come down here twice, not just once? Why does He often say nothing happens without His making it happen, and yet just as many times He seems surprised and dismayed at what Israel chooses to do? Why did God choose Israel in the first place, but then go back and forth in anger and love, regret and forgiveness, despair and embrace with her so often, only to eventually open His arms to all people the entire world over? Why does Jesus preach the teachings of the law so stridently sometimes when He not only came down here to fulfill it for us but also seemed at other times to eliminate it altogether? And finally, why does Peter not figure more prominently than Paul in the New Testament letters, when Peter was the one upon whom Christ said He would build the church?
For a few weeks, I struggled hard with these quesitons. I teetered on the brink of despair. I wondered if Jesus was a fraud. I thought about Judaism, about other religions, about no religion at all.
Eventually, through the help of Kirk and my friend Sara, I settled into my questions and decided I was okay with having them. If what I believe through the faith of Christianity is true, God knows what He is doing in this whole big landscape of our questions and has folded all of reality into His infinite understanding, which He may or may not choose to share with me -- with any of us -- ever.
In that place about two months ago, it came down to one ultimate question for me: Does what I believe make more sense than anything else I could choose to believe? Because, ultimately, we have to put our trust in something. If I chose not to believe in Christianity, what would I replace that with? And how would I know that new belief was true, and more true than Christianity?
Eventually I decided that Christianity made the most fundamental sense of reality that I could understand at this time. It made the most sense intellectually, and it made sense at an even deeper level of knowing, beyond my mind's grasp. So I kept going.
My freaked-out-ness diminished. I kept living some more. I went on for another month or so just doing my thing. And then, as I'm wont to do regularly out of habit and fear, I started veering toward life in my own strength. I faced yet another course correction along that historic line. I had more conversations with God about the vocational trajectory of my life. He talked to me, and I talked back. We danced together a few more days.
And yet, for reasons I may explain in a future post, I reached a point over this past weekend where I was questioning His realness again. Not in the same theologically mind-bending way as before, but in a profound, deep place inside my heart. (That's not to say that the earlier theological questions hadn't penetrated me at a deep soul level; they had. It's just that this next time around, it got even more personal.)
We were staying at Kirk's mom's house for the holiday weekend, ten hours up I-75 in Georgia, sleeping in a tiny attic room with a square skylight that looked high up to the sky. Having evaded God in prayer for a number of days, one night I found myself sitting straight up in bed in the dark, long after Kirk had fallen asleep, talking at God feverishly out loud and spilling out all the reasons I didn't even realize I had been avoiding Him all those days and every single thing I feared inside that moment.
Like I said, maybe I will talk more about what led me up to that point sometime soon. For now, I will just say that I ended that prayer with one final, bold request: that He would somehow prove that He was real to me. I felt sheepish making this prayer, as I didn't like the way it sounded, me asking the God of the universe to prove Himself to me. But then I kept thinking that He says He wants my heart, the truth of who I am in total, a real and true relationship with intimacy and honesty, and in that place, all I truly wanted was to know that He is real.
Having made my peace by speaking all that was in my heart out loud with Him directly, I lay back down on the bed, my head sinking into the fluffy feather pillow, the stacks of thick down comforters and flannel sheets hemming me in warm and tight on all sides, and I fell fast asleep.
As I slept, I dreamed. I dreamed that a group of young men were following me, trailing me like a gang of men up to no good. I tried to escape them by ducking into a busy Barnes & Noble bookstore, but they folowed me inside, all the way to the back, where I fearfully slipped into the women's restroom.
I hid inside a stall with the door closed, yet somehow I could see through a one-way window into the men's bathroom, where the youngest of the three men had gone to wait me out. He didn't know I could see him, and he couldn't see me, and so I sat there watching him watch the door for me to come out. (Of course, this being a dream, he somehow had the ability, inside the men's restroom, to know if I had left the room next door.)
My fear increased, even though I was temporarily safe. I didn't know what to do. I felt trapped, Then, just before I was going to break through the door and make a run for it, another man entered the men's restroom. He was wearing a furry woolen hat cropped close on his head, and he entered a stall nearer the transparent glass to me. He had effectually put himself between me and my intended assaulter.
I knew in a flash it was Him. It was Jesus, come to rescue me. He came into that forlorn and dangerous place to save me, and I knew it. Without ever having seen His face, without ever having locked my eyes with His, without ever having heard a single word fall from His lips, I knew it was Him. He was as real as the heavy laminate stall door I was pressed up against. He was as real as the turtleneck sweater hugging my neck. He was as real as the air.
I never saw how the dream ended, but it didn't matter. When I woke up, I could think only one thought, over and over again, all morning long: He is real, and I know Him.