Perhaps it is meant to be a part of the journey – maybe it isn’t. But distancing myself from God is something I can be quite good at. Sometimes, it’s because I know I’ve sinned and am scared to come before Him. Other times, it’s because I have lost all understanding of Him that I thought I had.
These past weeks, I have began a new chapter of my journeying. It’s not like that last one ended and the new one begun, distinctively separable from one another. Life is never like that. Things flow and fade and whilst we have to adjust to one thing, we are dealing with another, and all in all we find ourselves caught up in a maze of thoughts and feelings and knowledge and people.
But looking back, I have seen how distancing myself from God has enabled me to examine what I knew, what I thought I knew, and what I need to know. It’s made me realise where I need to be, instead of thinking I was already there. It’s made me examine the context in which I experience this world and as a result, experience and understand God.
God cannot be understood. If we could understand God, there would be little point in our existence, and no need to turn to Him in the first place. Just as Ian Stewart once said, “If our brains were simple enough for us to understand them, we’d be so simple that we couldn’t” – in much the same way, if God, our creator, were so simple for us to understand Him, then we would be too simple to understand Him.
Some Christians point to Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” They point to this verse and take it as a given that God has an individual plan for each one of us, a special plan that will play an important role for His kingdom. But they forget the context in which this was written – a verse that was directed to Israel, and not necessarily to us today. That’s not to say that He doesn’t have a plan for each one of us – to be honest, I have no idea whether He does or doesn’t. But the whole lesson of love is that we have a choice in everything we do – what we do with our time, how we treat people, how we react to God’s word. God promises that if we believe in His son who died for our sins, we will receive eternal life (John 5:24). He promises to care for us (1 Peter 5:7).
I have never felt God speaking to me in my mind or my heart, other than through the Bible, and through the knowledge that I am saved because I believe in His son. I’ve never seen Him before me or felt His presence. And these past weeks have led me to realise that what I was looking for – the kind of emotional transfiguration that is often expected of Christians, is unlikely to happen to me any time soon. God’s message is definitely a joyful one. But my faith is not based on an assurance that I am heading in the right direction or making the right decisions, or knowing what is around the corner. In fact, there is a lot of doubt in my heart; not necessarily in God, but in my perception of Him and in the way I follow Him. But it occurred to me that, as a being made in His image, our faith is not meant to be manifested in absolute certainty about everything, or in emotional expression. Our faith should be what it is – faith. Not based on anything we see with our eyes, heart or other sense. And as beings made in His image, He has given us the freedom and creativity to make our own paths that are just as good and pure as one that He could have chosen for us – because He made all the ground that we walk on. And if we mess up, we mess up because we are human, and sinners, and because other people are too.
Perhaps God does have a plan for each one of us. But in any case, we are not going to fulfil it by waiting to hear what He says. We have the Bible for that, and there is plenty to be said about what God wants us to do.
So I guess that’s what I’ve learnt. I cannot wait to have another person’s spiritual experience. But I can make a start on creating my own. Wisdom is not a matter of the heart, it’s a matter of the mind. Follow the mind and the heart will follow. Perhaps that’s what Paul meant when he speaks of the “renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2). God is there to be found, and it’s time to find Him again!