God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
I wish I had the answers. I wish I were more certain. I wish that after a single great struggle, all those struggles yet to come would cower in its wake and I could just kick up my feet and coast through my days with profound and utter certainty. Perplexity would be vanquished, doubt a thing of the past.
Even when those occasionally intellectual places in myself are functioning at their peak, I somehow continue to aspire to the belief that one day, this absurd fantasy just might come true: it will all make perfect sense, one day all loose ends will be tied. I will experience no more confusion or mystery. I’ll write the book and my work here will be done. I wish.
I wish. I wish. I wish.
Truth is, I’m angry at God right now. After several weeks of avoidance, I really just acknowledged it a few days ago. I cringe at my own words; I do not want to be, but I’m angry with Him, with what He’s doing and not doing in my life right now. On the thinking-feeling scale, I tend to lean heavily toward the former. It’s not that I’m not emotional, but I rely more on my intellect to drive me. And when I have an unpleasant emotion like anger or sadness, I attempt to rationalize my way out of it. Instead of having the emotion and learning to express it in a healthy way, I bargain with it. I negotiate with it as if it were holding me hostage. It hasn’t worked yet, but I continue to try. My propensity to barter with my heart is so automatic that most of the time I do not even recognize when it’s happening.
I’ve questioned what He’s about. As I break into new territory where my faith is concerned, I question why He would choose now when I’m at my most vulnerable to strip those things I’ve relied upon. In regards to my faith, I’ve never felt more stranger and alien; He chooses now to take away certain comforts and place limits on relationships, to make me less understood by those who were once my familiars. To take me to this new place alone, one that I did not actively seek, but stumbled upon in the pursuit of an altogether different dream.
I’ve moved forward in spite of feeling so tentative, in spite of my heartstrings pulling me backward. At first I couldn’t recognize why my forward movement was so timid when my intellect was so persuaded. I recently recognized this familiar pattern: before my heart had the opportunity to recognize anything resembling anger, I attempted to subdue it not only with well-constructed arguments, but with Scripture as well:
Take up your cross and follow me.
No one who puts his hand to the plow and turns back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.
He who loves his father or mother … son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
But my heart still does not follow. I read the words and I think I’ve got a good handle on what they mean. I just don’t like it; I resist and I wince, knowing what they require of me. I don’t want to draw lines, hold boundaries, or restrict friendships. I don’t want people to think I’m crazy or rash or impulsive. And I definitely don’t want anyone to disagree with or scrutinize my decisions. It seems so petty to say it, so terribly shallow. And maybe it is. No sooner do my thoughts and the feelings they inspire take shape than I realize there is a good answer for them. I am not encountering anything that wasn’t promised. But I still want to scream.
I know that a life of faith requires sacrifice and yet I object to what is demanded of me; I give with a heart that is less than cheerful or generous in the offering. It hurts, I plead. To which my intellect says, so what? God promises us many things; easy is definitely not on the list. So where and why is the disconnect?
What I’ve come to know with increasing familiarity in recent weeks is that there is a gap between God and I that exists by virtue of me being finite and His being infinite. It is vain to expect that I could ever wrap my tiny little flesh-bound brain around God and all his God-ness. I’m fairly certain this -- my inability to understand -- is what lies at the root of my anger and what keeps my reluctance well-fed.
As I learn to embrace my faith in a new way, I am learning to see a far more expansive picture of God than I ever have before. God is the embodiment of what our minds might deem polar opposites:
He is mercy. He is justice.
He is grace. He is law.
He is compassion. He is authority.
He is gentle. He is powerful.
He is comforter. He is rebuker.
He is rest. He is go forth.
He is peace. He is the sword.
He is neither do I condemn you. He is go and sin no more.
He is the lamb. He is the lion.
And the list goes on.
Because of my limitations as a human being, I cannot wrap my mind around how He simultaneously personifies these and countless other seeming opposites in all their fullness. I’m willing to bet these are not opposites at all where God is concerned. My tendency has been to favor one trait over the other or make them entirely circumstantial depending on who I think He needs to be. It makes it simpler for me to break it down, to tend toward an either/or way of thinking of Him, because fully embracing the notion that He’s all these things at once far supersedes my cognitive abilities. Breaking it down gives me the illusion that God’s character is somehow subject to my whims and personal needs. It’s not that I think God is not personal, because I know He is. But if this process has taught me anything, it is that if we present ourselves to Him with open hands asking to be led, He will gladly take us up on the offer and the God we meet may not be who we expect. While I implicitly trust He has our best in mind, that path toward our best may be at times a spare and empty one, devoid of clarity and answers, and perhaps without those peripheral inducements strewn on the path like breadcrumbs to entice us forward.
I can’t make sense of this. God utterly defies the dichotomies I’ve favored and lived by, and all my former perceptions are reduced to ash as a result. He is shattering my former ways of knowing Him; He will never fit in my understanding. The minute I try and wrap my head around any of this experience, boil it down and make sense of it is the minute I make Him infinitesimally smaller than He is.
Perhaps this is why Solomon advises do not lean on your own understanding. Nothing contained within our understandings could possibly allow God to be God. Any god held so neatly within our minds is one we fabricate for ourselves; it is an idol and not God at all.
How am I to grasp that He is one and the same who gives me everything and demands it all in return, who comforts and corrects, who gives grace and demands perfection, who is gentle and who is fierce?
I can no more hold all this in my mind than I can hold Him in the palm of my hand. I must learn to resign my ability to understand and allow myself to be enfolded in Him, to be led by Him. To embrace the fact that even if I don’t understand Him, I know Him. I confess I don’t really know what all this means; I don’t know what it will look like in the thick of daily living. But I expect I will learn. I must in all [my] ways acknowledge Him: lay my whole heart on the altar, even if it is one that is frightened and angry; accept that my mind cannot break Him down into smaller pieces to comprehend Him; trust that the path I’m on is a straight one even if I cannot see where it leads.
One day, I hope I will no longer protest His right to be God or the demand that I entrust Him wholly with all He’s given me. But for now my heart responds to these demands with irritation and reluctance, so much so that there are days I go so far as to wonder if any of it is worth it. I don’t want it to be this way. If I move forward, I want it to be with my heart and not in spite of it. And so I pummel His chest with clenched fists, knowing somehow that He still holds me close. Knowing He can handle my fighting. It hurts so much, I say. I feel like I am breaking.
I know, He says. I know.
For all my not knowing, at least I can hang on to this: that He asks no more of me than He gave Himself. That He loves me. That He understands. That He is good. And maybe that is enough.