Faith Beyond Feeling

“If God feels distant, guess who moved?”

It’s a saying that gets tossed around in Christian circles sometimes, and honestly, I’ve likely even said it myself at some point. Lately though, I’ve been pondering it, and am beginning to see it for what it is: A lie.

If Christianity made total sense, then yes, reading the Bible, praying, going to church, being in a Bible study, and volunteering would likely guarantee we always felt God’s presence.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User ZoeLouisePhotography, Creative Commons

Except Christianity often doesn’t make sense. It’s not a religion of checklists (though it may be treated and presented that way at times), making sure we tick all the right boxes so God hands us our Perfect Little Lives. There’s much more mystery and ambiguity to it than that. I love God, I want to know him better and follow him well, so I try to read the Bible and pray and serve him in various ways, but a lot of the time I’m pretty bad at all of those. And then he seems to go missing for a while, and the ways I used to feel him, though they weren’t big and flashy, don’t work like they used to. Even though I’m still doing “all the right things.”

Which means, I’ve been told, that I’m the one who moved…like I somehow messed up, and God is punishing me by not letting me feel his presence anymore.

I don’t think it really works like that though.

As someone who interprets the world largely based on feelings, I want to feel God’s presence as a real, tangible work in my life. He works that way sometimes, but not always. So I don’t think I’ve moved and God is holding back from me because of that; I think I’m finding my way to a faith beyond feeling.

A kind of faith that trusts God is there, that he is who he says he is, that he will do what he has said he will, even when my present reality may not bear the witness of it like I had hoped it would. It’s a kind of faith that knows there are seasons, some where God makes himself known through feelings, and some where God makes himself known in the complicated, uncomfortable way of simply being held by his grace.

There’s an easiness of “If God feels distant, guess who moved?” which is probably why we say it. We are sometimes, perhaps even often, the ones who wander away from God. I don’t think God ever really wanders away from us though–that seems to go against his very nature, of one who is love, who is always there fighting for us. He does seem to use unorthodox methods for getting our attention, so maybe it’s more that he lets it seem like there’s distance.

I’m not sure how this all works. I’ll never claim to understand the complexities of God.

But I don’t think we need to feel like we’ve failed when God seems distant. Do we always have to put the blame somewhere, either on ourselves or on God? Or can distance sometimes just be…a thing that feels true right now, even if we ultimately know that it’s not? And maybe it’s a way to a different kind of faith, a faith beyond the need to always feel it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. How do you make sense of it when God feels distant?

Comfort in Mystery

In my life lately, it’s been difficult for me to get used to not knowing what’s going on with…well, pretty much any part of my life. Part-time jobs, living with my parents, my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces living with us for a few months, instability at work, and more–the unknown and I are no strangers to each other.

Yet there is unknown I find appealing, mystery I can appreciate the beauty of. Sure, I’ve taken some classes on the Bible, go to church,  read some books,  attend Bible study, talk to friends about God and Christianity and what it looks like to try to live like Jesus…but there will always be things I don’t know about God.

Studying can teach us a lot about God and his word, his triune nature, the historical and cultural context of the Bible, the attributes of God, and so much more. I find these fascinating, and love to read what others have written and listen to what others think of such things.

But despite all the books that have been written, sermons that have been preached, and arguments have taken place over God and his word, there is much my brain will never be able to fully comprehend, nor will anyone else’s. I don’t think we’re supposed to be able to fully understand everything about God. We are to seek to know him more each day, but no matter how long our lives may extend, there are aspects of God and Christianity that are simply incomprehensible to the human mind.

And I kind of love it.

Perhaps the two most incomprehensible, beautiful, mysterious aspects of God are the Trinity and the incarnation.

Trinity: God, in three persons, yet one. I’ve read about it, studied it, and there are those who have devoted their lives to studying it. Still, it’s a diving mystery. Perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Incarnation: God in human form; fully human, fully God, living and breathing and walking on earth.

The Message puts John 1:14 this way: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Incomprehensible, beautiful, mysterious.

For today, I find comfort in this mystery, that God is not a concept I can wrap my brain around. I’d be leery of a god I felt I could fully understand; if I could understand it, what would stop me from thinking I could do a better job myself? Though I often act this way in regards to God, at my core I know it to be untrue–there is no piece of my life that would be better if I were completely in control of it.

The opposite is true: every piece of my life is better when I’m not trying to be in control of it.

So today, though not always, I am in awe and appreciation of the mystery of God, of the unknown that will never be fully known, and the beauty therein.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Do you find it frustrating or comforting that there are things about God we’ll never understand?

Unchanging

A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, David Brown.

I acquired this book today. Some family members are moving to a smaller space, and are getting rid of all sorts of books and things. My great-grandma gave it to my great-grandpa years and years ago.

The book is old enough that it doesn’t have a publication date or ISBN number. Pages are nearly falling out, and the book smells old, of knowledge and years gone by. Its cover, I imagine once a deep red, is faded to dusty pink on the edges, and scattered with spots.

If my great-grandparents were around to read it though, they’d find the words have remained unchanged.

And that’s what I love about it.

I have other commentaries on my shelves, and have used other ones as I studied for my Bible and Theology major. Some are written in “modern day language that everyone can understand” and may claim to be “updated, better than ever!” than this tattered one that now graces my room.

At the core though, they are are the same.

Studying the Bible, learning its truths and teaching them to its readers.

I think it’s one of the parts of Christianity that appeals to me–these are not new teachings, created by someone in my lifetime or not much before it.

These are time-tested truths and a way of living, following a God who does not change.

And for someone who does not take well to change and struggles with uncertainty…an unchanging God is quite a comfort.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

 

I Need Church

I’ve been attending church my entire life. As a child, I don’t remember ever actively balking at the prospect of going to church, though I’m sure in middle and high school there were times I would’ve preferred to sleep in. My first two years of college, I did a fair amount of “church shopping,” as well as some intentional skipping. For the last two years, I’ve been attending a church I have grown to love, and have become quite involved there.

Photo Credit: Flickr User celesteh

Finally, after over 22 years of attending church, I think I’m finally beginning to understand why I need it.

As I stood in church this morning, my soul sighed in rest. This is where it belongs. Worshiping, surrounded by other believers–this is what my soul needs.

During the week, I go to work. I go to classes where I am the teaching assistant, and leave with stacks of papers to grade. I go to Bible study once or twice. I grade the stacks of papers. I hang out with friends. I watch TV. And so forth. In their own way, these are good things, even necessary. These are the day-to-day bits that make up a life.

But they are often tiring, stressful, wearying. They take their toll, in all sorts of ways.

Church is a recharge for my soul.

In so many ways.

I love to sing, but I love to sing most when they are songs of worship and praise offered to God. I love (and hate) the way the sermon often seems to be intended specifically for me, and I find myself examining my life, determining things that need to change or I need to be cautious of. I love seeing friends, and greeting new ones.

Not every church has these elements, every week, for every person. As a whole, the church is not a perfect institution. On an individual level, no specific church is perfect, even mine. Most weeks I can’t wait to go to church; but this phase of wanting so desperately to go to church will not last forever. This is the first time in my life that I can say that with any sort of consistency, and as with all things, it will go in cycles. But I truly hope and believe I continue to go to church even when I do not feel like it.

Because church has praise. Worship. Community. These are the things my soul needs.

This is why I need church.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Church can be a touchy topic. What do you think about it?

My Christianity is Better Than Yours

Let’s clear something up right away: I don’t actually believe my Christianity is better than yours.

But occasionally I might think it. Or act like it.

It’s easy for me to excuse–“I’m just used to doing things the same way I was raised.” “I believe that doctrine and theology are important.” “I’m not good with change.”

None of these things give me a right to think, act, or believe like my Christianity is somehow superior to yours. They might be different, in terms of how we worship, how we experience God, the way that we interact with people, what we believe about baptism and communion and any number of things.

But that doesn’t make one solidly right and the other solidly wrong.

Different is not wrong.

I feel I must be careful here, though. Over the years, Christianity has been misrepresented, distorted, and misused. In some cases, I believe actions done in the name of Christianity, or teachings twisted to say what someone wants them to instead of what the Bible teaches, are wrong in a black and white sense. But they’re not wrong because they’re different than what I do; they’re wrong because they go against what God wants for people who follow him.

My hesitancy rarely regards issues as big as those, however. When I hear or read of someone experiencing God or worshiping him in a dramatically different way than I am used to, my first instinct is to question it. Is that really how God wants his people to be praising, or gathering, or dancing, or singing, or writing?

Maybe it is.

Or maybe, what it really comes down to, is that people are different, and God created them that way. Doctrinally, we may believe the same things, but we may have very different ways of expressing it. The instruments used in our worship services may be different, or the way the leadership of the church is or isn’t organized, or the volume at which we speak our prayers.

It is not up to me to question the validity of a certain way of expressing belief. 

It may not be something I am comfortable or familiar with, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Thoughts? Drop a comment.

Redemptive Goldfish

In the span of my ten minute drive to work yesterday, I decided it was time for a pet. Seeing as my house is still fuller than normal, a goldfish seemed the best way to go.

Naming things is very important to me, be it a pet or even some of my inanimate objects. (Example: my current car is named Cleo. It took me several weeks to decide on this name.)

Needing a quick way to get as many opinions as possible, I posted a Facebook status announcing to the world my decision to acquire a goldfish, and requested suggestions for names; preferably biblical, male names. Though I received many good suggestions, none seemed quite right.

As I went through my work day, I happened to come across the story of King Manasseh as found in II Chronicles 33. (Yes, I really was working—when you work at a Christian publishing company, flipping through the Bible sometimes does qualify as work. Which is pretty cool.)

I noticed Manasseh because I had names on the brain, and thought, “Manasseh would make a pretty good fish name.” Then I read his story.

Manasseh the Goldfish

Manasseh the Goldfish

Manasseh became king at the age of twelve, and “led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.”  (II Chronicles 33:9, NIV) He built idols, worshiped the gods of the nations surrounding Judah, even sacrificed his own sons—not what God had in mind for the ruler of his people.

So God let Manasseh be taken captive by Assyria. Only then, after being ripped from his land and position of power, did Manasseh see his foolishness.

In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God. (II Chronicles 33:12-13)

 

It’s a redemption story. As I quoted here in a post about everyday redemption, to redeem is to buy back. To set free by paying a ransom. To deliver from sin and its penalties, as by a sacrifice made for the sinner.

After his piles of sin, Manasseh did not seem like a likely candidate for redemption. But, as Albert Wolters writes in his book Creation Regained,

“Nothing in the world ought to be despaired of. Hope is grounded in the constant availability and the insistent presence of the good creation, even in those situations in which it is being terribly violated.”

It is one of my favorite quotes about redemption (and I’ve used it before over here). As one of the worst kings Judah ever had, Manasseh was a prime example of violating God’s creation by blatantly disobeying what God had told him to do. Yet God heard him, rescued him from his plight, and redeemed him.

And so, Manasseh. An unlikely name for a goldfish, perhaps. If he goes the way of his predecessors, he may not swim for long; but even so, he will serve as a reminder that redemption is not only possible, but a reason to hope.

“Nothing in the world ought to be despaired of.”

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Heavenward Tantrums

God and I had a little chat last night.

Though, to be more accurate, as sometimes happens in my conversations both with people and with God, I didn’t do so well with listening.

If you’re a frequenter of my little blog, you may have noticed that for the last few posts, God’s been…a little absent. Not in actuality, as He never goes anywhere; but absent from these posts, at least in name.

We don’t seem to be seeing eye to eye right now, is the thing.

Or perhaps, more accurately, He’s got a plan that He hasn’t clued me into yet, and I might occasionally be throwing little fits about it. Big fits at times, even. With sharp, frustrated words thrown at Him as I rage against my right now, my everyday reality that I have selfishly, childishly, deemed as inferior.

Heavenward tantrums.

Because the reality that there is something larger at work here is currently lost on me.

Getting angry at Him, capital H Him, is not entirely new for me. Several years ago I wrote in a Facebook note:

So I was rather frustrated…I kinda wanted to throw a shoe at Him. I was mad at Him, really…but I think that a God who can’t handle the infantile anger of His people wouldn’t really be much of a God at all.

Circumstances have changed many times since then, but my thought that He can handle my anger—nay, my confidence that he can—that has not changed. My anger is not the type that doubts His existence, omnipotence, or love; instead, it fails to see how those things are working in my life right now.

Christian Wiman, in his poem And I Said to My Soul, Be Loud, states this so eloquently:

For I am come a whirlwind of wasted things

and I will ride this tantrum back to God

And He is there, and will be.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~