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.