The Nature of God – Part 4
[If you are just now stumbling onto this post without having read the various parts in this series from the beginning, I strongly urge you to go back to the start and continue on from there through each successive post. None of these individual entries stand on their own, and you may wind up with little but confusion and unanswered questions by starting here. That is easily done by entering “The Nature of God” in the search box on the home page, which will list links to all available parts.]
A lot of time passed since my teen years, or so it seemed. When I was about twenty-four, I was working on my hobby car project in the garage. I had always liked cars, and used my automotive hobby to console myself, since epic life disappointments had reached a peak, and I was deeply confused about what the right thing to do was.
Book-smart but not street-smart, the only response to obstacles that had seemed to work for me had been to keep going. Persist. Find a way over, around, under, or through. Or, wait for a passing opportunity, but never back down or give up, especially on a person. Sounds inspiring, but I had not yet discovered the concept of knowing when to quit, either. Never have since, actually. In the right circumstances, that can cause a heap of pain and, carried to extremes, a lot of unintended fallout, even with the best of intentions. The main challenge for me is not to do “the right thing” and persist in it, but to correctly discern what the real right thing to do is in the first place. Sometimes, it’s not that simple to figure out. Had I the presence of mind, I could have invented the later term called “blowback”.
The old car was my escape valve. I had taken its carburetor apart for rebuilding one Saturday, and I was sitting at the garage worktable dissecting it. I was trying to interpret the instructions on how to use a float height measuring gauge on this model of carb when I felt, well, a surrounding presence. Not a metaphysical, spooky flashlight-in-the-face ghost hunt thing, but a quiet, calm, immensely powerful presence. This was no small surprise, because it was out of the blue and I was concentrating on the stinking float height instructions that combined vagueness with contradiction. Couldn’t see it, touch it, or hear it, but someone – not something – was silently there with me. It wasn’t alarming or creepy in the least – no hairs standing on the back of your neck or anything like that. It was more surprising than anything else, and I felt confused as I tried to understand what was going on and why. I had the very distinct feeling that God was there in some way, in some representation. It just was, and I somehow sensed it.
This was an absolute first for me, of course. The supernatural was never a point of interest for me. I was more of a science “that’s pretty neat” guy raised on steady doses of the Watch Mr. Wizard TV show. This presence seemed to just quietly be there, waiting for me to interact with it somehow. But what are you supposed to say? My fear was that this might somehow be related to going back to church services, and my feeling was that I already had enough problems, thank you. I just assumed that if you got involved with God, He’d break your legs and make you learn to play the flute. You’d have to do everything that was boring and of absolutely no interest to you. It wouldn’t be your life anymore. What a wretched existence! I’d have to give up everything I liked to do. That’s how I kept my head straight! Things were going badly enough as it was, and adding a behavioral straight jacket did not appeal. Boy, like that’s all I needed, spending more time in some church and feeling bored, ignorant, and ill at ease. No way! I said, quietly but audibly, “No. This is my life. This is all I have. Leave me alone.”
Instantly, the presence seemed to evaporate from around me, and was gone. How I sensed that, I don’t know either, except that I felt very alone again, such that now there was a void, an absence where there was none before. Things were normal, except for that. I hadn’t felt alone before. I was left to deal with things in my own muddling way, but that’s the way I wanted it. I felt a pang of regret for a moment, and an “I wonder if I did the right thing” thought, but surely having to ladle what I knew of church on top of everything else I was dealing with would be just too much. Yes, for a logical person who was used to the observable, measurable and repeatable, this whole thing was pretty weird.
Some Christians that I relate this story to find it difficult to accept that I can validly claim to be a follower of Christ now, when what I appear to have done was to promptly reject the unusual and unmistakable presence of God’s Spirit. They liken it to rejecting salvation, which I knew very little about. Oh sure, heard of it, and that’s about it. You’re a sinner, you need salvation, come to Christ, whatever that meant. To them, it’s all the same, and your first reaction is also your last. The operating assumption is that God is in a hurry, so we get one shot at understanding what’s going on and one chance for a permanent categorization, since God’s main interest is in setting things up for the judgement to come, right? He’s efficiency-oriented, they feel, and efficiency is always good. Thankfully, God does not limit His thoughts or actions by human perceptions, nor to the human degree of mercy, love or patience. Turns out, His interest is in a relationship, not a sign-up sheet, and while a walkaway is just that, He knows our hearts much better than we do.
Little did I suspect at the time that God can read through both the person and the situation, and is sometimes disinclined to accept a straightforward and sincere “no”. Part of me suspects that it’s in consideration of the mental competency of the individual responding in that way. More seriously, I thought I knew what I was saying no to at the time, but didn’t really. I was operating from some wrong assumptions, and so I wanted no part of God, because I had no idea of what He was actually like. In fact, I had no idea what I was actually like, and I was deeply troubled by recent events. To me, God appeared to be a complication rather than a solution. Fortunately, God is even less of a quitter than I am when it comes to people, but I didn’t know that then. I had no inkling that He would not sit helplessly in the wings, waiting for me to decide to change my mind.
The English poet Francis Thompson did not refer to God’s Spirit as the “Hound of Heaven” for nothing. It’s a long poem, challenging to understand in detail because of the mix of Victorian style with deliberately archaic wording, but the core stands clear. Here’s just the first and most applicable stanza to what followed:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat–and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet–
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”