And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
– Philippians 3:15b, NIV
I was a teenager l when I was led to this particular verse in a part of the bible that I had never read. The whole story is probably in an old journal, but I was in a place of doubting God worked in a personal way with me. While I saw Them* work this way in the life of a friend, I doubted that They would use me. At that thought, another thought entered my head: “Philippians 3.”
What? No. I avoided Philippians for a reason. I had never read chapter 3.
I don’t feel like standing up and walking to the kitchen, where my bible was.
FINE. I marched to the dining room table and flipped open my bible to Philippians 3.
It didn’t make any sense. I thought about how pointless this was, but felt like I needed to keep reading. Fine, fine, fine. This is a weird chapter, but fine. It’s not like God is going to speak to me.
Then I read verse 15 and something clicked. “God will make it clear to you.”
Now, at age 24, I wonder about this moment. Even if it wasn’t exactly “contextually accurate,” I know that God was using these words. I don’t know how, but I know. When I start to sway, God will make things clear for me. It felt like a promise. It was a promise. It is a promise.
My understanding of the chapter now includes Paul being a, uh, real wiseguy with those words, but the words gave me a deep comfort at that age. This recent weekend and this morning I had moments where I felt that promise wash over me again.
Something lit up in me during a very short sermon this Sunday. Questions came back up in my heart. Is there a God of intervention? How can you justify Them showing up in the small goods without Them showing up in the large bads?
How can I say that God led me to this verse, if They didn’t stop death for others? How can I say that God protected one person and not another?
These questions have been haunting me for awhile now. I typed up a few paragraphs as I sat in bed last night on my church’s little group page. I asked them, “Why bother then with God?” I intended to delete it before posting, but when my phone slipped out of my hand and it posted… I thought “Fine.”
First thing in the morning, I read two people’s responses to me. As I replied, I processed things that had started this doubt in me. The death of someone young that I knew was the starting point on the doubt of God’s character… and also on the doubt of a God of intervention.
With this battle streaming in my head at 7am as I tried to shower and get ready for work, I decided to listen to “God Pt 3” of Rob Bell’s podcasts. I had listened to Pt 1 and 2 over a week ago, and my friend had just told me that there was a Pt 3.
The first half of the podcast irritated me as my questions were presented in a way that I wasn’t asking them. But I kept listening because hey, these were my questions. When Bell asks why we think God owes us anything, I got angry. I had heard those words before as a way to silence my questions, my doubts. My frustration isn’t even about me. It’s about someone else.
Then he begins to get into our view of God. God doesn’t “show up” to anything. He uses an example of Jacob, an old Testament person, waking up and having a realization about God.
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
– Genesis 28:16
We have this view of God that he pops in and out of our lives. Even with the concept we try to teach, “God is always with us,” something has not been sticking with me. “God is everywhere” isn’t sticking. Bell really digs into the reason for this and the teachings of the church during his God Pt 1 and 2 podcasts.
There exists this view I thought I had of God being everywhere (but maybe I don’t fully think that). Then I begin to wonder if perhaps God is speaking to all of us all the time. The sermon from yesterday comes back to me that we should not be surprised at who God uses, but perhaps because “God chooses everyone to be messengers, but only some reply/notice” (and often these people who notice are not ‘Christians,’ but that’s another thought.)
So when that processes over to horrible situations… the thought isn’t complete, and I don’t think it will ever be. But maybe God was there in that moment the same way They are with me in my moments. They will walk with me into my own dark places the same way They walked with others into their tragedy. God will walk with me into rejoiceful situations and boring situations. Bell said in his Robcast, (paraphrase) “When people tell me God showed up, I think — someone showed up, but it wasn’t God. It was us. We are waking up.”
God is not a puppeteer with strings holding onto us as horrible things happen. They don’t use the magic strings to suddenly give me a parking spot, but then choose to allow someone to die in a tragic car accident too young. Instead of a man sitting in Heaven, my understanding of God feels more like the wind in the air, but so much more.
So my views on who God is are constantly misunderstandings. I am learning only to relearn. I am gathering new information only to see that it is built upon partially-correct things that need to be worked on.
I recently realized that my views on “faith” have nearly reversed. I used to consider faith something that battled science and psychology, but I now see that we need faith to accept that our old views of God, our taught views of God, may be incorrect. I need faith in order to see that God works with science and psychology and a million tiny other things. I need faith to believe that maybe there wasn’t a literal 7 day creation, but that doesn’t mean Scripture is wrong. I need faith to be wrong about everything I have ever understood about God, and I need faith to believe that it is going to be OK. I need faith to ask questions. I need faith to not have answers. I need faith when there are answers, but I don’t like them or recognize them.
This is part of that. This is part of my story. Surely the Lord is in this place, and I am not always aware of it.
*I use “Them/They” in this post as I have been working on new understanding of the inclusiveness of God. I know this can be confusing, so I capitalized all instances of this for the purpose of clarity. Thank you.
Rob Bell, The RobCast, Episode 51. God Part 3.
Colby Martin, Sojourn Grace Collective. (Sermon not up yet)