Rock Bottom

The best thing about being a Christian is knowing that God is always with you. The worst thing is when he goes away and leaves you.

“Ah – but he doesn’t actually leave you. It’s only your feelings going wrong.” So say the lucky people who have never felt deserted by God!

Some of the people in the Old Testament knew what it’s like.

Job:

God has wronged me and drawn his net around me.
Though I cry “I’ve been wronged!” I get no response;
though I call for help, there is no justice.
He has blocked my way so that I cannot pass;
he has shrouded my paths in darkness.

Jeremiah:

O Lord you deceived me and I was deceived.

The trouble is – it happens. And when you feel deserted by God, where are you but in hell?

Can Jesus help in this sort of hell?

Jesus grew up knowing and enjoying God. He loved getting away to talk to God for hours. He shared God’s secrets. He called God his father – even his Daddy. His delight was to do what his father wanted. Communion with God was in his very nature.

Then after a lifetime of loving and serving his father, he faced his crisis. He was arrested and there was no help from God. Of course, he didn’t expect any help, he knew he had to go through with it. But he also knew that God was still with him. Next day, even during the agony of being crucified, he still talked to his God. “Father forgive them . . .” At his lowest point his sense of God remained. He knew his father was with him. But suddenly – all was changed. The cloud came down. The heavens became black. “Father, where are you? I can’t see you. I can’t feel you. What’s happened? You’ve always been with me. You were there yesterday as they tortured me. You were there this morning as they drove in the nails. Now suddenly you’re gone! Why? My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” The unthinkable had happened. Jesus had lost his faith.

We know the sequel. (Where would we be without the sequel?!) The blackness did not last. Triumph and resurrection followed. With hindsight the crisis was a short one. But what use is hindsight when you’re struggling with the blackness? What use is Jesus’ resurrection when you’re not even sure he exists? God has deserted you. There’s no reason to believe anything. You’re drowning. Is there no lifeline? YES there is! When you feel abandoned by God, Jesus has already been there. He KNOWS!

There may be no other reason for being a Christian – but this is reason enough.

References: Job 19.6-8; Jeremiah 20.7; Luke 2.41-52; Matt 14.23; Matt 11.25-27; John 5.20; Mark 14.36; John 6.38; Matt 26.50-54; Luke 23.24; Matt 27.45,46

What happened to Bathsheba?

I can’t understand why David in Psalm 51 says “Against you, you only, have I sinned”. It seems to me the person he let down most was Bathsheba. But why doesn’t she get a mention in his apparent guilt as expressed in this plea for mercy?

As I think about how ineffective I am as a Christian I often think about how I let people down. I can’t get into this “I’m off to heaven so I’m alright” bit and I often feel like I would feel more at home with the let down people, who according to some people’s interpretation, are destined for the more warmer climate of ‘down there’. If we sin against another person, whatever that sin is, we destroy another chance for them to have confidence in the gospel. Is that right?

Then in Matthew 18 v15-17 Jesus tells those who have been sinned against to go and tell the culprit. What did Bathsheba do? Did she say to David “With God on your side I assume you will get away with this?”

God’s grace was once again exploited.

My testimony – final more level-headed version

I became a Christian at the end of the first year of my degree, which is now about 3 years ago. Though brought up in a Christian home, up until then I had decided God, Christianity and church were not for me.

However, I had always felt deep down that God existed and that Jesus came to earth and died for my sins. It’s hard to explain but though I ignored it I knew it was true but I just didn’t act on it and tried to prevent it from impinging on my life. This meant, of course, that my life without God was fraught with contradictions and meant I worried that if it was true, I should do something about it, and if it wasn’t true, that caused serious problems for some of my deeply held beliefs.

So, 3 years ago, I decided it was true and became a Christian. I would like to say those 3 years have been a time full of obedience to God, radical improvements in me as a person and the growth of a faith that could shift the Alps. Sadly I don’t feel this is the case.

Looking back to see how you have changed is always difficult as most change is gradual and it’s often very hard to be objective about it. Change is hard to recognise and when I do, it is all too easy to ascribe the changes to time or even to myself, rather than to God.

Over the last three years, it’s hard to see how my relationship with God has changed, but I feel it has, improving slowly but steadily, overcoming my natural distrust. Rather than through extreme spiritual experiences or emotional crises, I feel most progress has been made through my learning actually to trust God.

Having this type of relationship, to which it is hard to ascribe dramatic emotional experiences, often makes me feel insecure and makes me worry that I don’t have as good as a relationship with God as other people do. The last three years have shown me how suspicious I am of emotion, always resisting the feeling of getting carried away, and finding emotional experiences rarely seem very convincing after the immediate feelings have fizzled out.

I am learning more and more how individual a relationship with God is, and how comparison (though often involuntary) is fruitless.

Having highlighted how hard it is to assess yourself objectively, there are definitely areas in my life, in which I can see God’s hand. I can definitely recognise His peace in my life. This is a clear answer to my prayers and without which, on many occasions, my panicking, paranoia or distrust could have wasted opportunities.

`Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever’ (Hebrews 13v8), over the last 3 years this verse has been very important to me, reminding me that however my moods differ, my circumstances change, or my confidence fluctuates, God does not change. However far I move from him, he loves me just the same.

My testimony – the first bolshy draft

I became a Christian at the end of the first year of university, which is now about three years ago. Since then I have not always loved my neighbour and though I do not covet my neighbour’s ass, I could not be called a good person by the world’s standards, let alone God’s.

I do not feel like I am always doing God’s will, most of the time I am not even sure what God wants me to be doing. I do not feel that God is constantly with me and though after this speech you may feel I have no shame, the idea that I should be a reflection of God’s glory makes me feel very ashamed.

Despite all this I do believe that I am saved. Though often I doubt it and often ignore God and feel far from him, I believe he is always there.

So basically I am being baptised because God and I have made a commitment to each other.

As I said at the beginning of this speech, I have been a Christian for about three years so you would have thought I would got around to being baptised before now.

There are two very good reasons why I have not: firstly I did not want to give my testimony and have everyone looking at me, and secondly as time passed I did not want to have to answer the question – why have you not got around to being baptised before now.

However I think that the real reason is not the very convincing excuses I fooled myself with but straight terror at the thought of confirming in front of other people my commitment of giving my life to Jesus.

A little while ago, when I was explaining to someone, what I was going to say in my testimony, someone suggested it was actually more of an anti-testimony dwelling more on what God has not changed yet.

I guess what I would like my testimony to make clear is that even if you do not feel you are the Christian type or are not prepared to conform, God offers you eternal life and more importantly he loves you how you are.

Arguing with God

Practically everyone in the Bible spends most of their time complaining to God about how unfair everything is, but not many people actually get him to change his mind.

(Very loose paraphrase indeed of Genesis 18:20-33)

God: “I’m going to kill everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah because they are so evil.”

Abraham: “What if there are some good people, 50 say: then you’d be killing 50 innocent people! Surely you wouldn’t do that – don’t you always do right?”

The Lord: “OK, I’ll spare them if there are 50 righteous people.”

Abraham [presumably reeling from this wholly unexpected response, presses home his advantage]: “Now that I’ve been brave and said this to you: well, if you’d do that for 50 people, why not 45? Would you kill everyone because of 5 people?”

God: “OK, if there are 45 people I won’t destroy them.”

Abraham: “What about 40 then?”

God: “OK, 40 it is.”

Abraham [getting nervous]: “Please don’t be angry, but what 30?”

God: “OK I won’t kill them if there are 30.”

Abraham: “Well, I’ve spoken already, so I’ll go on: make it 20.”

God: “Alright – 20.”

Abraham: “What about only 10?”

God: “OK we’ll make it 10.”

[God leaves before he gets beaten down any more.]

What is going on here? Why are my prayers not like this? Why do we prefix every request with “if it’s you’re will …” when we never mean it, or if we do mean it we’re obviously not praying about stuff we care about. We are not Jesus, and we really shouldn’t pretend we have his obedient spirit.

Abraham, arguably God’s favourite human being ever, was God’s favourite because he spoke his mind and had a real relationship with him. In this case he practically emotionally blackmails God, saying “I thought you were good – why not act like it?” Why don’t we plead with God in this way about, say, the killing and hatred in the Middle East?

Because we perpetuate the lie between us that God wants us bland.

~ and Goliath

The people most likely to read this (and reply) are people that are interested in God and their relationship with him. Because of this I welcome all replies since I have no answers to offer.

For me the battle of faith lies not with the Goliath but more the cleaning of teeth. What I mean is when faced with obvious questions I can see the answer: can God forgive anything? Yes. Can God do anything? Yes. I trust that you too could answer the same questions with the same ease as me: BUT.

What about those things which don’t bring about the end of the world or are grand enough to write about in legends of old? My way of eating soup is not to my mum’s liking. I know this is trivial, but that is the whole point, that is what life is primarily made up of.

Who are the masses? What do they do? I may well have been one of the soldiers lining up knowing full well that if I went up against Goliath I would surely die. I might say that if you had been stood next to me and asked why I didn’t go up to fight, `Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ would swiftly have come to mind. Yet at the same time if a superior ordered me to go and fight him, I would like to believe I would have obeyed. Yet we will never know what happened to them or whether or not they had a life full of purpose and meaning – the soldier, the baker, the blacksmith etc. who just live out their lives serving God trying to do everything as best they can on the level. Yet they slay no Goliath, they heal no dead people.

I do not believe that God only requires people of heroic nature but also those of human nature. He does not require someone with any kind of special ability. So I freely choose God.

I also say that we should be able to get the same sense of fulfilment by being just a human following God and not dependent on how many Goliaths I slay.

I now say to you that I now long for a fulfilled and purposeful life. I have given my life to God and I don’t know what is next. I feel the continual finger of despair and underachievement points my way. Yet where to go and what to do? And how should I eat my soup?

I seek to have more than just contentment with my life: I seek to have fulfillment. How do I go about achieving my goal when I have no great physical ability or sharpness of mind? And to top it off I’m not sure what I’m fulfilling!

~

What I said at my baptism

I recently got baptised (at a Baptist Church, where they do adult baptism rather than soon after birth), and I gave a little speech, which I thought people might be interested in …

The reason I’m here today is because I have a relationship
with God. Until I started to think about what I would say
today, I would have hesitated to say that, because I don’t
have `conversations’ with him, I don’t hear his voice out
loud or in my head, I don’t see him, I don’t feel him. So
how can I say I have a relationship with him?

Well certainly, because I don’t do all those things, it’s
not like my relationships with other people, but it really
is true that God is a person, and I `know’ him (a bit),
and he knows me. How do I know this? Well, really, it’s
because of a particular low point in the relationship.

I’ve been a Christian for longer than I can remember, except
for a brief period when I was a teenager. Basically, I’ve
always been pretty sure God existed. But about 2 years ago,
I started to feel that God had drawn away from me. I felt
dry and alone. It’s hard to describe it in any more detail
except to say that I couldn’t feel God near me. This was
particularly weird as I hadn’t realised that I had been
able to feel him before.

This was an extremely hard experience – I was suddenly missing
something I had depended on for my whole life without knowing
it. I felt bitter and angry with God, although for some
reason I never doubted his existence.

A week or so ago, I was wondering what to say today and I
knew I wanted to say something about this dry time, but
I also wanted to talk about what being a Christian is. I
thought to myself that the `right answer’ to the question
`what is a Christian?’ is someone who has a relationship
with God, but that I couldn’t really say that with confidence.
Suddenly it struck me that I could: in fact, how could I
deny this relationship when I so obviously missed it when
it changed? This time of feeling far from God proves to
me not only that he exists, but also that I rely on him
in a way I never recognised before.

So what was he doing? Why did he make me so unhappy by drawing
away from me? By the way, I do believe that he drew away
from me rather than the other way round: not that I didn’t
do anything wrong (far from it!) but I did seek him desperately
and often, and couldn’t find him.

Well, here’s a thought I had: I knew some people once whose
16 year old daughter got pregnant, and they made the decision
to make her move out of home. They didn’t do this to punish
her, but to give her the best possible chance of becoming
a good mother to her child, instead of passing the buck
to her parents and relying on them to support her.

It doesn’t matter whether you think this was a good decision
or not (in fact she is now a very good mother!): I think
that what God was doing with me was a similar thing – he
had to push me into a very uncomfortable place for reasons
I couldn’t understand at all. Can you imagine how those
parents felt? I imagine God felt pretty bad too, but he
must have had his reasons.

Now the neat conclusion to this would be to say that this
dry feeling went away, and now everything is alright, and
I understand what God was doing. But, it’s not quite that
simple. For a start, I haven’t got the whole feeling of
God’s presence back – perhaps a little bit, but not like
there used to be. I don’t think he’s ever going to give
it back – that’s something I’m going to have to live without.
What’s more, I wouldn’t say that I’m fully through the process
of forgiving him for the hurt I felt.

I’m not here because I’ve got a perfect relationship with
God, but because I haven’t. If I had a perfect relationship
with God I wouldn’t need saving, which is what baptism is
a symbol of. What I know is that I want to be with God,
and I also know that he wants to be with me. What God asks
of me is that I seek him – that’s what I’m doing today,
and every day – trying to get near him because I love him,
but acknowledging that it’s a lifelong task. I chose the
song we sang `By your side’ because
it says `by your side I would stay’ not `by your side I
am staying’: it expresses that same desire for closeness
to God, which is sometimes frustrated.

I chose the reading (Isaiah 49:15-16) because it makes the
point that God feels this frustration just as much as we
do. He desperately wants to be with us, to be friends with
all of us: it hurts him to be apart from us. It hurts him
so much that he died, actually died, in order to make it
possible for us to be close to him, if we choose to accept
him.

22

I seem to define myself almost entirely by negatives. I am not a normal person, not a CU Christian yet not a non-Christian, not of the world, not good, not boring, not stupid.

But those things which I am not are really things I hope not to be. I define myself, it seems, by my distaste for the character flaws of myself and others.

The question remains as to who I am. Some positives? I’m 22. I come from an unbroken home. I don’t remember ever feeling or desiring contentment (a lie). I’m not part of Generation X. I’m back to negatives.

My main characteristic therefore (apart from 22-ness) seems to be despite: hate for hypocrisy, weakness and clich̩ Рthe traits I am most certain I possess.

From where does this come? Perhaps from the fact that the only thing of which I can be certain is my own weakness.

“Therapy” seems to me to be the process of constructing within some poor creature’s mind the delusion that he is worth something, worth loving.

Or she.

You see I was born with these words written on my heart:

“everything is meaningless”

As Descartes started from “I am,” so I start here.

What can you build from everything is meaningless?

Yet I believe in God. A positive: I am a Christian. But look closer and you see it’s not that simple. Jesus? He was:

Not sinful
Not hypocritical
Not condemning
Not clichéd

I know there are positives, but this is how I see him.

Do you know my greatest hate? Christians my age. Why? Because they have bought in to Generation X – they are untrue to themselves. Thinking they are following Christ, they mimic their elders.

Generation X! The people who achieved the first genuine worship of money in history before realising that that left them nothing. And that’s where they are now:

“nothing”

They pretend that what they have is enough, and wait to die.

And my peers copy – thinking that Christians must exist with only this nothing inside them – not realising that our parents are all like this Christian or not. Not realising that we must get further than them before we simply fade away.

We were born knowing

“nothing”

and we have to escape.

We must avoid cliché – it’s in our makeup, and we’re in the image of God. Our great passions are pure things – we can feel that – so they are from him and should be nurtured.

What is important to me? A positive?

“integrity”

or we fade away.