"I gave them my statutes and showed them my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live... but [they] rejected my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live..." -- Ezekiel 20:11,13
"Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care ... For indeed, the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest.... -- Hebrews 4:1-3a
Why do some people believe in God, and some do not? There are many reasons, I am sure, but these two passages, one from the Hebrew Scriptures and one from the New Testament, contain repeated phrases that speak to me of why I believe in God: "everyone shall live" and "enter that rest." Live and rest... that is why I believe in God.
When I was a young child, probably five or six years old, I must have realized that not everyone believed in God. I remember lying on my bed, thinking about this ultimate question: Is God real? If God isn't real, then why are we born? It didn't make sense to me that we are born and we would die and that's all there is to life. There had to be some reason for being alive. What that was, I didn't know, but I believed God knew. A meaningless life just didn't make sense to me as a child. It still doesn't.
As I got older and saw the beauty and intricacy of the living world around me, that also seemed to argue for an intelligence behind it all. Like the early Pythagorean's who were extremely fascinated by numbers, I wondered, why is there an underlying order at all? How is it that the lengths of the sides of all right triangles fit a formula? Why is the human body made the way it is -- like such a perfectly designed machine? Why do the same patterns occur naturally in various objects? Galileo is not the only one who thought that God must be a mathematician.
However, both of these explanations for God rely to some extent on my ability to reason logically. There is another, less logical, reason why I believe in God. In fact, the reason I most deeply believe in God is because I cannot explain my experiences in any logical way. My experiences do not make sense. In fact, they make so little sense that I find them very hard to share with very logical people. Only people who have had the same kind of ineffable experiences can truly understand what I'm talking about.
Countless experiences come to mind, but I will share three.
In my senior year of high school, I had a dream in which someone handed me a picture of a handsome young man with dark brown hair dressed in a blue suit and tie. I awoke with the sense that this was the man I was supposed to be with, not the one I was actually engaged to at the time. Shortly afterward, my fiance and I broke up, and I went off to college, where studying mathematics and history took center stage. Towards the end of my freshman year at university, I was invited to a luncheon for students who all had the same scholarship. I didn't want to go. Mingling with a crowd of strangers, making small talk, was my least favorite thing to do. But my roommate encouraged me. "Who knows?" she said. "You might meet the man you're going to marry." It was April Fool's day, so I laughed at that. Nevertheless, I went, and this cute guy sat down beside me, and he was surprisingly easy to talk to. We began dating, and then just before summer vacation started, he gave me a copy of his high school senior portrait to keep with me. It was the picture in my dream from the year before.
We eventually got married, and even more eventually, decided to see if we could have a family. Not ever having longed for children, I was surprised by the overwhelming joy I felt when I got pregnant. I felt as if I was carrying joy inside me. In my second month, I had a miscarriage. The sadness I felt could not be eased by anyone's words of comfort. After a couple of weeks, I went to church, hoping that maybe being in church would help me feel better. That day the sermon was about mourning the death of a loved one.
One final example -- an example that is similar to what most often happens in my life -- was the first time my thoughts found guidance in an unexpected book. One evening after a Bible study, I went to the bookstore to check out a book on the holy spirit that had just been recommended by the leader of the study. On the way, I started to wonder about gifts of the spirit, the topic of the study. I wondered if the ability to forgive was a gift of the spirit. I had never heard of this as a spiritual gift before, but I had been thinking about forgiveness a lot that day. It seemed to me that some people were just able to forgive more easily than other people. When I got to the bookstore, I found the recommended book. Sitting right next to it was a book by the same author titled, "The Gift of Forgiveness."
How do these things happen???
Some people might say that these examples are just coincidences. I stopped thinking that awhile ago. These experiences are too weirdly specific, and they happen so very frequently. I can't dismiss them as "just coincidences." And I can't explain them in any logical way. So it is, through these experiences, that I have come to believe that there is a supernatural being in this world who hears my very thoughts, and who offers guidance and comfort. I call that being God.
The repeated phrases in the passages above, that "everyone shall live" and "enter that rest," are not simply explaining that we will live and eventually die, and that's all there is to it. No, they are saying something much more meaningful, something more like what Jesus was talking about when he said, "I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly." And, "Come all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
When you feel that God is guiding you, life is rich and satisfying and truly amazing. It's not always easy, mind you. There are responsibilities that come to "those who listen," as both writers above attest. But I would not want any other kind of life.
Dear God, thank you for everything you have given me. May I in turn convey your deep and abiding love for the world, so that all may come to you for true life and true rest. Love always, Pam