As I woke the other morning and my eyes adjusted to the gathering light, I watched out the window from the warmth of my bed as a white-breasted nuthatch defied gravity; foraging up and down a tree trunk, checking under the bark and in cracks and crevices for something to eat. He was within 15 feet of a virtual smorgasbord of offerings in the birdfeeders, yet he ignored it: black oil sunflower seed, suet, nuts, thistle and dried fruit. He went about his business, looking for the morsels of nutrition his Creator had provided. The little bird was unconcerned and un-harried. I thought to myself “That little bird has a great relationship with God – no struggles there.”
How’s your relationship with God? That’s a provocative question for someone who is stuck in a personal struggle. It helps with perspective and it prompts one to look inward (and outward in a bigger way) as they search for answers. But what if the issue is your relationship with God?
I recently stepped out from the cocoon of the church and back in to the real world. And I was surprised to discover that out here, most people don’t give God much thought. Or, if they do, it’s usually with a fair measure of skepticism. They’re dismissive. God is not important or relevant enough to warrant their attention. Even less than God, the Church is not considered interesting food for thought in our modern society either.
Of course, that’s not the case with church people. We think about God. We think about Church. We think about how we can please God, what is God’s will, and how God is moving in and through the Church. “How’s your relationship with God?” is really just a re-focusing question for church people. It’s almost a gotcha question. The response is usually something like, “Oh yeah, I’ve been missing the big picture, haven’t I? Thanks for the reminder.” It usually just takes is a little nudge and church people are back on track.
I’m painting in broad strokes. It’s not quite so simple as that or as black-and-white. Not all church people are so easily refocused and not all secular people ignore God entirely. But since I’ve stepped out of the church and work in the world, I’ve become aware that my own relationship with God is mostly a wrestling match; constantly, pushing and pulling to coax the divine presence into revealing Itself. God is mostly passive in this struggle. Like a puny child arm-wrestling with all her might against the giant, who, out of boredom and lack of striving, examines the fingernails on his free hand.
So if I, former pastor and present Seeker/Advocate of Kingdom Values struggle with God much of the time, it’s no wonder the world also wrestles with God. I am meeting a lot of people these days who doubt God’s existence. Not in a hostile or aggressive way -- they just don't believe in a Divine Consciousness. They are self-proclaimed agnostics and atheists who have come to the conclusion that the human mind is the highest manifestation of intellect the universe offers. They don’t “need” a God to be smarter, bigger, or more in control than they already are.
I don’t doubt the existence of God. I’ve experienced God in too many ways to dismiss the Creator as myth. But when I do doubt, it’s about God’s character. The theodicy issue is tough. I fear God. But every time I start to go down that path, thinking that this God of the universe is un-feeling and un–caring about something so inconsequential as me, I experience a moment of great personal mercy, when love, compassion and tenderness wash over me in such a way that it takes my breath away. When I doubt the goodness of God, it is really the goodness in me that’s in question. Who am I, that I demand the attention of the Creator of the Universe? Who am I to think God should attend to my needs and desires, or anyone else’s for that matter? Yet, the Great God of the Universe does. He cares immeasurably more for us than even we care for ourselves.
“Consider the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” Luke 12:24