Transactional models of the at-one-ment have always bothered me. God is not a lender who swoops in to save us from the loan shark only to refinance our salvation with new terms of debt. God is not some kind of micro-venture capitalist who demands everything we have—which is always woefully inadequate, and never good enough, as the story goes—and then, “mercifully,” he kicks in and “makes up the difference” so that we can purchase the proverbial bicycle.
Salvation is not transactional.
Salvation is not about appeasing a distant, retributive and score-keeping God.
It’s about experiencing God’s transformational love inside of us … now.
Jesus tried to teach us this in many different ways and on many different levels. His miracles, for example, were transformational and defied economies of any sort, even the laws of physics. He transformed water into wine. (John 2:1-11.) He transformed loaves and fishes sufficient to feed only a few into a feast that not only fed the masses but resulted in leftovers. (Matthew 14:13-21.) He transformed the sick and the dead. Everything and everyone he touched changed. He did it for free, too.
God doesn’t refinance your spiritual mortgage.
Jesus disrupted the economy of the temple. This should have taught us that salvation is not about transacting business with God. It should have taught us that it’s not about sacrificing “this” in order to earn “that.” He brought unclean people to the temple; people who probably weren’t “worthy” to be there; and there he healed them to show us that salvation is about transformation, not transaction. (Matthew 21:14.) Indeed, he didn’t just figuratively turn the tables on the prevailing concepts of justice and mercy, which posits a God that is hell bent on making someone (either you or Jesus) “pay” the price for sin; he literally turned the tables of the temple, drove out the money changers, dumped their money on the ground and said, “make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” (John 2:16.)
In case you missed it, this is so much bigger than just cleaning house. It’s about ridding the human mind of the concept that God needs to be paid by anyone for anything. Salvation is not a transaction. God is not your lender. It’s so much bigger than that. It’s so much better.
God doesn’t refinance your spiritual mortgage. Through at-one-ment, he transforms you into a spiritual Warren Buffet, making you capable of paying off a thousand mortgages. God doesn’t help you pay for a bike. He transform you into someone like him, making you capable of building a bike, even a thousand bike factories.
You are good enough for Him.
Mercy does not rob justice. It overpowers it. God’s grace is so powerful that it cannot be contained or measured in any sense. It defies any type of economy. In fact there is no accounting in an at-one-ment paradigm because we discover God’s love now and, being filled with God’s love (and thus his power), we become one with him … because God is love. (1 John 4:8.)
As we accept and feel God’s love for us, we are powerfully “yoked” together with Christ just as two horses or oxen may be yoked together to pull a carriage or a plow. (Matthew 11:29.) We can’t help but grow and be transformed through the process.
Even the imagery Jesus chooses to describe his desired relationship with us is transformational and at-one-ment oriented. Jesus said, “I am the vine, [and] ye are the branches[,]” (John 15:5). Your interests are merged. One is the extension of the other. It is impossible to see where one leaves off and the other begins. And both, together, are transformed into something different than they are. God becomes human. Human becomes filled with God. Being so transformed, we are now able to transform, which is the whole point. The vine can produce grapes, which can produce wine; the seeds of the grapes can produce additional vines and so on. Can you even begin to count the grapes? Can you count the seeds? Can you count the future vines? It’s not transactional at all, is it! It’s transformational, evolving, and never-ending.
You are God’s temple.
In the economy of Jesus, you no longer go to the temple to offer up your sacrifices. You are God’s temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16.) You are good enough for Him. So much so that that’s where he yearns to be … inside of you. Our communions and sacraments teach us this. His flesh becomes our flesh through ingestion. He wants to be a part of us.
God loves you just the way you are. There’s nothing you can do to make him love you any more or less. But you can be happier by living your days not to merit God’s love but to personify it. You will feel God’s love to the extent that you share it.
The prayer of Jesus to the Father was “that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26.) That you may unburden yourself from a transactional relationship with God and experience the in-dwelling and transformational love of God … now … is my prayer, as well.
What has three years without food and living on a feeding tube taught me? Many things. But today I want to talk about grace. Grace is not a one-time act of rescue. It is not a one-night-only show. It is a lifestyle. It is a partnership with God. It is the means by which we mortals access the enabling power of God. Grace is not just an act of mercy or salvation. It is a process of transformation. Grace works. It works on us. It works with us.
To say that we are saved by grace is true but vastly understated and oversimplified. It’s like saying we are “saved” by oxygen. Grace makes spiritual respiration possible. It feeds the marrow of our souls. It sustains and transforms immortal metabolisms. We are saved by grace, changed by grace, sustained by grace and, consequently, amazed by grace.
Grace is even more than the enabling power of God. It is the enabling presence of God. It is the presence of God manifested not only through his Holy Spirit, but also through the kind and helping hands of others. It is the power that has sustained me for the past three years and allowed me to survive. Please watch this seven-minute video to learn more about my journey with grace:
For more ideas and discussion on suffering and utilizing love as a powerful coping mechanism for suffering, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.
Does God Really Care About the Details of Our Lives?
There have been many times during my decades-long battle with lung disease, during my nearly three-year tenure without food, and while listening to the incessant hum and whirl of the infusion pump drip feeding formula through the feeding tube implanted in my small bowel, that I wondered, “God, do you really care?” I can tell you emphatically that, yes, he does care. But probably not in the way you might think. According to your current way of thinking, God may not care about the details, after all. Stay with me.
“… controlling Christians tend to fabricate for themselves a controlling God”
You see, I used to be one of those control-freak Christians—the kind of believer who thought God controlled and cared about everything; the kind that believed God could and would intervene if only I had enough faith. But once everything in my life spun out of control, I soon realized that my Hunger Games God—the God that was like a benevolent Gamemaker, adjusting the temperature, the climate, the people I interacted with and everyone and everything else … all, of course, for my benefit and good—was not really God at all. While I later learned that controlling Christians tend to fabricate for themselves a controlling God, and that this god, was not really God at all, I was deeply troubled by God’s silence in the face of my out-of-control suffering.
The God I had been taught to believe in fostered all of my self-centered, narcissistic tendencies. He knew every hair of my head. He noticed even the fall of sparrows. He was always there for me, at my beck and call. I just had to ask, or so I was told. I was at the center of his universe, so I could call upon him for anything. It was all about me, you see. But that whole spiritually infantile world soon came crashing down around me when I prayed for health and healing but none was received.
“God simply does not work like a genie’s lamp or the Make a Wish Foundation”
What was happening? After all, my God had always been there for me. He told me what school to go to. What profession to choose. Who I should marry. What job I should take. Whether to get original or crispy KFC, spicy or original at Popeye’s. He told me everything. Every little step I should take was guided by God (or so I thought). He spoke through that little voice inside of me. But now, God was silent. There was no healing. There was no miracle cure. There was no little voice inside telling me what step to take next. What was happening? Was my faith slowly dying? Could I continue to live if God no longer cared?
One thing I knew. I was no longer in control. I started to wonder if that voice I had heard so many times in the past was really the voice of God after all. Had I been engaged in self-deception? Had it really been the voice of my own desires … my own ego, masquerading as God?
For years I had thought God had an individually-customized, tailor-made plan, just for me. So I had agonized about each little step I took. I didn’t want to screw things up, you see, so I prayed and pondered and puzzled about every little move I made in life. Was it the “right” thing to do? Was this according to God’s will … God’s plan for me? Was it the right thing for me? Me. Me. Me. The voice that had always told me what to do was no longer there for me. Where was it? Where had it gone? Could it be that God didn’t care, after all?
“… the God I had faithfully depended upon for many years as a devout, ‘faithful,’ active Christian was not really God at all”
What about Jesus Christ’s teaching that “all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive[?]” (Matthew 21:22.) What of the Lord’s statement that “[w]hat things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them[?]” (Mark 11:24.) What of the promise that “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you[?]” (John 16:23.) I once believed these to be constitutional truths—truths that guided every little aspect of my life. But now, I had asked for too many things I hadn’t received for these promises to be empirically and demonstrably true at face value. Experience was beginning to teach me that either these promises were false or that there must be a deeper meaning to them.
While I cannot document within the space of this blog, my entire spiritual journey and internal awakening—even my two books don’t adequately describe my metamorphosis—I can tell you that the God I had faithfully depended upon for many years as a devout, “faithful,” active Christian was not really God at all.
“God really only wills two things. Love God. Love your neighbor.”
Having a paralyzed digestive system and being unable to eat food has a way of teaching you that God simply does not work like a genie’s lamp or the Make a Wish Foundation. He is not our spiritual Google or Wikipedia. Imagine how easy life would be if all our prayers were “answered” simply by the asking? That’s just not how it works. That’s not how God works.
So, what did Jesus intend when he promised, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you[?]” (John 16:23.) I can think of no other thing Jesus taught that has challenged me more. I have asked for so many things that I haven’t received. Was Jesus lying when he made the ask-and-ye-shall-receive promise?
No. As always, we can have complete confidence in him. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.” (1 John 5:14-15 (emphasis added).) In other words, if we ask God something that we know is according to his will then we can be assured that he will answer our prayer, just as Jesus promised. The problem is that “we know not what we should pray for as we ought,” (Romans 8:26), and with prayer (and everything else) God really only wills two things. Love God. Love your neighbor. As the great C.S. Lewis put it (in regard to unanswered prayers):
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.’
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that.
And that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them.
(C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 69-70 (San Francisco: Harper Collins Ed., 2001).)
When all is said and done, does anything really matter to God besides the condition of your heart towards him and your fellow earthly beings? Isn’t the only thing we can always genuinely believe that God wants us to receive through prayer or otherwise is a loving heart? Is discipleship about getting what we want, or wanting what it is God intends to give us—the heart and mind of Christ? Is it about getting things our way? Or is it about wanting things his way?
“Whatever condition you find yourself in, you must love God and your neighbor as yourself. That’s what matters to God. That’s what you can control. “
The only revelation you need is for God to whisper in your heart how you ought to love others the way they want to be loved.
Whatever condition you find yourself in, you must love God and your neighbor as yourself. That’s what matters to God. That’s what you can control. And whether God wants you to move to Manhattan or Muskeegon, whether he wants you to work at Marshal Field’s or McDonald’s, or whether he wants you to attend MIT or Montana State may be wholly beside the point and, in some instances, unanswerable; for all that matters to God is that you love those you associate with in Manhattan, Muskeegon, Marshal Field’s, McDonald’s, MIT or Montana State.
So stop agonizing over every decision in your life. Stop worrying about “why” this or that is happening to you. Just accept that most of life doesn’t matter to God. Trust me. Adopting this paradigm really, really helps. Just accept that his priorities are different than your priorities. (Isaiah 55:8-9.) He sees the big picture. Your heart and what you do with it matter to him. You can be assured of that. But stop worrying about what’s in “your” plan. You already know what’s in your plan. You were built to love.
What if it didn’t really matter where you went, what happened to you, or what you did with your life so long as you loved—with all your heart, all your might, mind and strength—the ones you choose to be with? What if God’s plan is less like God as a puppeteer or Gamemaker and more like God as the scientific genius who designed and created an ecosystem to begin with, knowing that the ecosystem, itself, would eventually produce enough transactions, reactions and counter reactions to get the job done so long as we were placed into that physical and spiritual ecosystem? If we come out the other end with a loving heart—the heart of Christ—do the details of what happened to us in the interim really matter?
“God just doesn’t care about the details. And, yes, living on a feeding tube and being unable to breathe normally—these are just details in the grand scheme of things.”
God just doesn’t care about the details. And, yes, living on a feeding tube and being unable to breathe normally—these are just details in the grand scheme of things. They really are! I have learned that. I can speak from authority because I have lived that truth. Do you know how happy I have been these past three years that I’ve essentially lived without food? They have been some of the happiest years of my life! Yes, it has been tough. I’m not going to candy-coat it. It’s been miserable, painful and torturous. But I found God. In fact, he shouted at me, when I let the ego-driven, me-me-me, my-plan, my-plan, my-plan, control-freak Christiantiy die and started focusing on how I could better love others. I was surrounded with God’s love—it felt like being wrapped in a cocoon at times—and yet, at the same time, I felt a freedom I had never felt before. I could wake up and not worry about what I was to do that day or what was to happen to me that day because, to God, he didn’t care … so long as I loved. Yes, he mourned with me. Yes, he had compassion for my situation. But he helped me see that my paralyzed digestive system was really just a small thing. He didn’t want it to happen. It just happened. But he said to me, “Well, let’s not let that stop you. I built you to love so let’s get on with it!” I just accepted my circumstances and decided to live my purpose, which is to love.
“…it took losing control for me to relinquish my thirst for control.”
Sadly, it took losing control for me to relinquish my thirst for control. It took losing control for me to realize that the golden-calf God who had directed every step of my life wasn’t really God, after all. It was something else. Perhaps I was really the God I was worshipping. But I know now, with a certainty, that, whatever it was, it wasn’t God. It took jumping off the cliff, so to speak, and letting go of all of my beliefs about God for me to find him again. But I’m glad I did. Because knowing that God doesn’t care about the little stuff—and, yes, most of it is all little stuff—frees me from worry and anxiety and allows me to love and live like I should. When my “me” Christianity died, the great I am—the real me, the real God—came to life as I found God’s loving presence through his absence.
I found that perhaps God’s greatest power is his ability to relinquish control. He could “fix” so many things. But he doesn’t. He just lets things grow. And thank goodness. For circumstance is merely the soil from which the flower of love blossoms. Nurture that seed of love inside of you. That’s where you’ll find God. That’s where you’ll find yourself again.
For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.
“Everything happens for a reason,” I am often told. Though millions believe this, I do not think it is true. Trying to bring sense and order to random suffering and injustice is like expecting to see a Rembrandt or Monet in a pool of retch, another inevitable human byproduct. This primal urge to find meaning in everything is grounded in an ungodly appetite to control everything. However, God’s plan was not that he (or we) would control everything but that, through agency, most everything would become out of control. Consequently, accepting the randomness and injustice of life is part of accepting God.
“Accepting the randomness and injustice of life is part of accepting God”
I cringe nearly every time I hear someone say that “everything happens for a reason.” I cringe whenever I hear someone say God gives us trials so that we can learn from them. Do you know how that sounds to someone who hasn’t eaten a normal meal in three years and lives on a feeding tube? Do you know how that sounds to someone who has seen countless, innocent children dealing with the terrible fall out and aftermath of sexual abuse? It’s ridiculous to think that a good and just God would want any child to be sexually abused. It’s offensive for me to think that God intentionally deprived me of food for three years just so “I’d learn my lesson.”
That God is a false God. It’s not the God of love that I know. Stuff happens. People make bad choices that hurt others. The body does strange and random things that we don’t understand and can’t control. God is not pulling the switch on everything. He is not the master of circumstance.
“Saying that ‘everything happens for a reason’ makes as much sense to me as blaming the paramedics for the accident.”
Indeed, God’s role is not primarily to control or change your circumstances. It is to help you cope with them. His power is most strongly felt not in creating the massive crystal chandelier of our existence or even suspending it, but in restoring it when we or others have shattered it into a million pieces. He does not conduct the orchestra of life. He gives us earplugs to alleviate the noise and clatter of a symphony run amuck. God does not will life’s messes. He is the humble and helpful janitor, who faithfully arrives on the scene to help you clean them up. God does not cause or will suffering but uses it as a venue for communion with mortals. So saying that “everything happens for a reason” makes as much sense to me as blaming the paramedics for the accident.
Random, unwarranted suffering is simply part of mortality, an inevitable byproduct of agency. But that doesn’t mean suffering has to be completely senseless. Those who suffer often ask, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” I think the better question is, “What can I teach?”
“Those who suffer often ask, ‘What am I supposed to learn from this?’ I think the better question is, ‘What can I teach?'”
So if you are suffering, please don’t listen to the people who are telling you “everything happens for a reason.” Please ignore the people who are telling you that God must have something really important for you to learn. That’s nonsense. Yes, you can learn from suffering. In fact, you will learn from suffering. But that doesn’t mean God willed or wanted your suffering.
When people tell you that you have some important lesson to learn from your suffering, politely tell them, “No, I have something important to teach.” Teach people, through your grace and dignity in suffering, what it means to endure. Teach them what it means to persevere. Teach them what it really means to have hope. Teach them, by example, that you can be happy in suffering. Teach them how to love.
Teach them that you stand with Job, who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” (Job 13:15.) Teach them and show them how to be like Paul—who was whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, betrayed, starved, sick and imprisoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-33) but said, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13.)
“Love your way out of the storm.”
Being grounded in Christ simply means living his mandate to love others. Love your way out of the storm. Love others. Stop thinking about yourself and your problems. Stop focusing on what you can’t do and just do what you can for others. Love your way out of the storm. As I have said repeatedly, if you live your life with love, you live your life with God, for God is love. This is how you walk with God daily. This is how you find his presence in his seeming absence. This walk with God is the stabilizing factor of life. It’s what brings order to a chaotic world that is spinning out of control.
No, not everything happens for a reason. But your suffering can give you reason to live, to keep trying, to teach others, and to be an instrument in the hands of God to help bring his presence back into the world … for you and for all those around you!
For more ideas and discussion on suffering and utilizing love as a powerful coping mechanism for suffering, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.