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