[Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions here.]
I have a friend who has started reading the Bible and praying, but he is still not convinced God exists. I thought God would have touched him to show He was there.
My friend is taking steps toward God and I’m afraid that if nothing happens, he might give up. I don’t understand why God can be silent if someone is looking for Him. I have been praying for months now that he might be touched by God, that God might overwhelm him with the love and grace I feel. And I have prayed to understand why God is waiting, but I still can’t figure it out.
So I guess the big question would be “Why would God sometimes wait to reveal himself?”
I know I start almost every Life 201 this way, but I just can’t get over how appreciative I am of your question and the sentiment behind it. Here’s what’s clear by what you’re asking: First, you are a compassionate and loving friend. I am so glad that Leo (we’ll call him Leo because The West Wing is the greatest show ever)…anyhow, I’m so glad that Leo has you in his life. Your prayers, concern and modeling of Christ’s love is a beautiful picture of what we’re called to be about. Good job, Leah.
Secondly, I’m glad you asked the question because I think you’ve outlined a conundrum that many of us face, but are unwilling to admit. That is, why does God appear to be silent? Let’s think about this together…
The first part of your question presented us with an intriguing thought, “Why would God sometimes wait to reveal Himself?” At first blush, I was agreeing with this statement and thinking, “You know, Leah’s right, I wish God were louder sometimes and that we all got a very obvious burning bush kind of moment.” However, as I continued to dissect your question it occurred to me, God has already revealed Himself. In fact, He’s revealed Himself in a number of ways. Example No. 1: the Bible.
If you read the Bible, you see countless accounts of God working, promising, forgiving, and guiding. Additionally, you see The Bible talking about it’s own importance. For example:
Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, The Message)
So Leah, God has revealed himself—through the Bible. However, this is not the lone means of God’s conversation with us, in fact, it’s far from it. We also have (and these are very general categories):
Historical evidence: In your life or in the lives of those around you, where have you seen the God working or intervening?
Prayer: Have you ever been in a prayerful conversation with God and deeply felt some measure of clarity, direction or wisdom as a result of that conversation?
Community: Have you ever been in some sort of setting with other believers and learned something about yourself or your situation that you didn’t know before that time?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, Leah, but it serves as a starting point to illustrate the fact that, indeed, God does reveal himself to us in multiple ways.
However, you mentioned in your question that Leo seems to be reading the Bible and praying, but isn’t convinced that God exists. To that, I would say first that Leo’s not alone. Cultivating a relationship with God can seem hard, especially when we don’t communicate with Him in the conventional sense (i.e. talking face to face). However, it is precisely because we don’t converse in this manner that when we learn the language of God, what results is intensely powerful. Which leads me to my second point: Is Leo engaging in meaningful disciplines that draw him nearer to God?
Some of these disciplines are ones you’ve already mentioned (prayer and scripture reading). But there are others: purposeful journaling of where you’ve seen evidence of God, going to church and participating in the community, finding ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus (in other words, serving and caring for the poor), and the list goes on and on. A great read on this is Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Pathways.
In any event, my encouragement to Leo would be to explore the languages in which he best connects with God and then fervently pursue that conversation.
Now Leah, I’m going to say one more thing that, I fear, will light up the comments with people wanting to burn me in effigy. However, I was talking with my pastor today (what’s up Zach!), and he shared with me a radical idea that just might work for Leo. In the words of Zach, Frozen, and every 8-year-old girl in America …
Let it go!
Call it a hunch, but it feels like Leo might be overcomplicating things a bit. It’s all out of a good place and a desire to hear God’s voice, but I think that sometimes we so desperately want to hear from God, that our own intensity plays louder than the voice of Truth that’s speaking directly to us. I think we get so worked up when we read the Bible, wanting, hoping and praying that we have “the moment” that we don’t actually realize it when the moment is happening. I think Leo may be doing this, and I’m sure I do it all the time.
What I want for Leo is for him to calm down and trust that even if he’s not understanding the language, God is speaking. I want him to take some time to drop the idea that what he does, how much he reads, how hard he prays, can somehow earn him God’s good grace. But rather who Leo is, and all that he’s done, is covered by the grace of God. What I want is for Leo to let it go, read Hebrews 11:1 (“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”), and trust that the God of the universe, who spun all things into existence, loves Leo very very much.
Leah, you’re a good friend. And Leo, if you’re reading, listen to Leah, she’s got a lot of life and experience under her belt. Do what she does and trust that God cares for you deeply.
Have a question? Good! All identifying information will be kept anonymous. Send an email to Life201@RELEVANTmagazine.com
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.