I have been receiving emails from Pope Francis’ charity, “Missio,” for some time now. They send appeals but also daily quotes from the Pope. This one came this week and caused me to stop. I can see a lot of reflection to be done around this. I’ve only just begun that process, but I suppose the reason it arrested my attention was that yes, the Old Testament presents a God who is often vengeful, punishing generations after for their parents’ sins (as the first reading this past weekend said). And it’s hard to imagine love (at least, as we think of love) in that context. It’s not that God changed between the Old and New testaments, it’s that we figured out something new about God. And that could not have happened “had we not known Jesus.” Jesus coming to earth–showing what it means to love in life and death and resurrection–shows us something about God we couldn’t have understood before that.
That’s the baseline reflection. I think there are a lot more depths to be plumbed.
My freshman year in college, I landed (quite unintentionally) in an honors writing intensive class on Darwin which shook my faith right to the foundation. Sometime in college—not sure if it was that fall or later, when the fallout had time to settle—I remember sitting on the rough stoop outside the “back door,” so called even though it was on the front of the house because it was the work entrance with an iron bar to scrape manure off boots before coming inside, and saying to my mom, “Sometimes I wonder if I really believe any of this stuff at all.”
As a Catholic mother myself, that sounds like just about the worst thing a child can say to you, but my mom handled it with tremendous grace. She sighed. “Well, Thomas Aquinas said that you could prove the existence of God, but it would take so long to do it, it’s better to take it on faith. But everything in the universe is caused by something. And before that there’s another cause, and before that another one. And if you go back to the very beginning of all that, that’s God.”
It was a simple revelation but one that resonated deeply.
Twenty-some years later, I no longer doubt the existence of God. At all. Ever. I doubt many other things. I question many other things. I have a rocky relationship with the Gospel of John, for instance, because it seems to me that Jesus goes around picking fights and being deliberately obtuse. It’s hard for me to see through John’s advanced theology to who Jesus was and what he was like when he walked the earth.
So I pray often, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
But I don’t doubt God, because in the past twenty years, I’ve encountered him so many times.
I didn’t realize that was the Holy Spirit until years later, when I was married and on the core team for Life Teen and I went to an adoration event where people were laughing and whispering in tongues and being slain in the spirit. I remember this rawness in my soul that night, a desire to experience the Spirit utterly at war with the certainty that such expressions were Not Within My Comfort Zone. When it was over, I thought with both disappointment and relief (but not surprise) that I’d been passed over.
Hours later, I processed the quiet, cool peace that had replaced the raw pulsing in my chest, and I thought, “Oh. Um. Something did happen to me in there.” It was the first time I connected that feeling I experienced by the creek in northern Iowa to the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is my guy. We talk all the time. We talk about music, about kid problems, about the personal flaws I want to be rid of, even about my writing. (We talk a lot about my writing.) The Spirit never, ever fails. If I don’t get a solution to my problem in short order, I’ve learned to step around the problem and ask another question—like, for instance, “Am I barking up the wrong tree? Am I not supposed to be doing this at all? Is this why it’s so hard?” (Sometimes the answer is: Obviously! Other times, it is: No, it’s just hard.)
There’s been a meme going around Facebook lately, saying something like “I don’t believe in God because someone told me to, I believe in God because I’ve experienced him.” It’s no secret that I am deeply, deeply suspicious of memes. That one seems a little self-righteous to me. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the sentiment, but wouldn’t the witness be more effective to just, y’know, tell what your experience of God is, rather than send out some nonspecific meme crowing about your faith?
So that’s what I’m doing today—since I have little time and way too much to do, I decided to free write this little witness of why I believe in God. What is yours?