“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
I used to think it sounded “better” when someone said they were an agnostic instead of an atheist. Agnosticism seemed less resolute. “I don’t know about the whole God thing,” sounded mild, even malleable, compared to the hard-core, in-your-face, “I hate God and the horse he rode in on!” pugnacity of atheism. (You have to admit; atheists aren’t typically easygoing.) But I misinterpreted agnosticism, which actually holds the position that God is not only unknown, but unknowable.
Even so, most people these days who say they’re agnostic probably mean they’ve just sort of opted out of thinking about God and everything that goes along with him. After all, there are so many gods. How could you possibly know which one to choose? And there are so may variants of the religions that trail after them like wake turbulence. You might get tumbled around and bruised in one of them if you aren’t careful. Best to keep your distance. In fact, that’s the very advice a work buddy gave me once. He was a middle-aged PK, still smarting from wounds inflicted by his father’s religion. “Don’t get too close to God, Lisa,” he counseled, “because he always takes more than he gives.” Wow.
I’ve known about God for as long as I can remember. My family were Baptists, the backslidden kind. For the most part, we went to church once a year on Easter Sunday. You can imagine how much fun that was. We went a few other times, too, when one or the other of my parents found themselves in the throes of conviction for a week or three. But it always wore off, eventually. Still, you don’t spend even one Sunday in a Southern Baptist church without hearing the “plan of salvation” and figuring out that the journey to God entails a trip down the aisle to the altar to make a “profession of faith,” not only in front of God, but in front of everybody else, too.
I stewed in my own conviction through those years of intermittent and dreaded church services, and somewhere in the back of my adolescent mind I formulated a plan to make a deathbed confession and thereby dodge damnation. I know that sounds pretty silly, but it was the best I could come up with for the conundrum of believing I should be “living for God” and not wanting to hang out at church, or with church people.
Then one day, on the way to the Texas State Fair, a friend rocked my world. This friend had a sister, a Jesus Freak, who’d told her about the Rapture, a.k.a., the Second Coming of Christ. My friend thoughtfully passed this little newsflash on to me.
Wait! What? He’s coming back?!?
She told me everything she knew about it, and she was far less worried about it than I was. I’m pretty sure the news wrecked my day at the Fair (at least, until I self-medicated), and it very definitely put a wrinkle in my deathbed confession plan. But, with time, I was able to iron that out. At least, until I went to lunch one day with my own sister, who’d also become inflamed with love for Jesus. She told me, with enthusiasm, about a Bible passage, a parable, that had become especially vibrant to her recently. Rather than paraphrase, here it is:
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:1-13 ESV
This news was more than a wrinkle. It demanded a complete overhaul of my plan for dealing with the God problem.
So, pragmatist that I am, I bit the bullet and decided I’d go to church and walk the aisle if that’s what it took to avoid the Big Lock Out. The very next Sunday found me at the altar of my parents’ new church, which they’d been attending since – you guessed it – they’d become enamored with Jesus. It was the seventies, and people were falling for Jesus all over the place.
But a funny thing happened on my way to salvation. At the altar, eyes closed tight, I met Jesus, and I realized that I’d always known him, or that he’d always known me. Whichever way I try to describe it, what happened was that he, Jesus, was instantly familiar to me, as if I were returning to the place – to the very One – I’d come from. Before I came from anywhere else. It was that primal.
So, later, when I discovered in the Bible phrases like, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,” they really resonated with me. That identity, that being “found in Christ,” described how I felt. How I still feel.
That was more than forty years ago, and in all that time, which really isn’t very much time at all, I can honestly say that I’ve never believed more or less than I did at the altar that January morning in 1975. I’ve always believed with the same degree of confidence: Absolute confidence. I’m absolutely sure that God exists, and I’m absolutely sure that Jesus is everything he said he is. I’m absolutely sure that he knows me. I’m absolutely sure that I know him, though imperfectly. But I’m also absolutely sure that the time will come when I’ll know him just as well as he knows me. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV) When I take time to stop and think about it, I look forward to that day.
So, there it is. After years of study, years of prayer, years of worship, years of conversation with people about God and the meaning of existence, and even years of disappointment in myself and others, I still believe. I believe that God is knowable, and that I personally know him and am known by him.
I’ve thought the matter through, and for the record, I identify as Christ’s.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20