Seriously. What do I want from God?
Let me take a step back. The question of what I want arises from losing any certainty about God and faith. I know what I was taught, but my assurance that what I was taught was true was vaporized in the implosion of American Evangelicalism and its nearly unanimous support for a troop of horribly behaved goons led by Donald Trump. I still believe there is a God, and I believe that God does not endorse coarse, philandering bullies as leadership material. I also know the language of Christianity and can use it to describe God, but I am no longer certain of specifics or the theological claims that I was raised with.
And if I ask, what do I want, it seems fair to ask, what do I need? That complicates the question. What is reasonable? What is likely? Would what I want be helpful in the long run? Or would granting my wish come with all sorts of unanticipated drawbacks? Humans, especially conservative humans, long for certainty in the worst way, and they often create it where it is not warranted, which, in a nutshell, describes the development of fundamentalisms of all sorts. Intellectual humility pushes back gently but is largely ignored by the masses. I don’t mean to be elitist, just to say that living with uncertainty is hard.
So . . . I believe God exists, but I can’t be sure of more than that. I hope and gravitate toward the idea that God is good—while there is much that is evil in the world, I don’t see how the good and kind could exist without an eternal paradigm—but many days I have my doubts.
I often feel a deep, existential loneliness. Human relationships are good and a gift, but they are temporary and often fickle. It seems that a relationship with an eternal, self existent God would be dependable beyond the limits of humanity, except that I too am temporal and often fickle. Is an eternally dependable relationship possible, or am I too looking for certainty that doesn’t exist?
Would I be happy, even temporarily, with an experience of God, something I could feel and touch. We like to picture ourselves as rational beings, but that isn’t what sustains us—we need to feel loved. I can have all kinds of good ideas about God, but what I really want is a hug.
Christmas used to fill me with warm fuzzy feelings—it was a special time that we celebrated together; it brought the promise of time together as family, of gifts and good food, of time away from the workaday, when we could enjoy each other and relax. We celebrated the presence of God With Us in a naive assurance that it was all true and all would be well. Now I feel a nostalgic ache for those times I remember but cannot reclaim. I don’t want to be cynical, but I’ve seen too much of life to believe that all can ever be well. A lot can be well, and all can be well for a short time, but sadness, hurt, and loneliness always return. It really does seem to be existential, and we need to learn to embrace the good knowing it will all will eventually end.
Am I looking for a temporal connection to an eternal and good God? Or an eternal relationship in some kind of post-death existence? I don’t know. Either sounds good; each has its drawbacks. Temporal relationships end, and eternal ones I can’t wrap my head around. Projecting my current existence eternally is, frankly, exhausting and frightening—a wearying existence with no hope of escape. It makes one feel for Sisyphus—why does he continue to push that rock unless there is no alternative? I’m left hoping for an eternal existence that I can’t currently understand and having to trust the goodness of God to make it good. Or that my existence will end peacefully and that I will be able to enjoy what I have while it lasts.
Do I want certainty again? Probably. Perhaps what I want is certainty and what I need is to accept uncertainty. Can I trust God enough to eventually make all things well that I can live in an unwell world with hope? I long for love and friendship and even more so for love and friendship with an eternal God. I want a sign that God exists. Jesus often spoke of signs and of the people’s blindness to them—am I asking for a sign that will not come? Am I being stubborn and not believing the signs I’ve been given? It seems to come down to what I can make myself trust, if I can make myself trust anything.
My initial, glib, answer was for God to become known. For me to have some kind of relationship with God that felt familiar. Or that felt like anything. I can barely feel close to people I can touch and see, much less a transcendent God. For God to become known would be for the transcendent to become present in the material word, perhaps immanent, maybe even incarnate. I think that’s why Christmas and the incarnation hold such fascination for me—I am longing for God to be present in my life.
It seems like an undeniable encounter with God would be really nice, but could I coast through the rest of my life on that? Am I being realistic or cynical? Or hopeless? I honestly don’t know. Would I need to coast through the rest of my life, or could I just enjoy the experience while it lasted? Anything that could carry me through the rest of my life would seem very likely to involve certainty, so maybe I need to keep renewing my experience to charge my batteries for another bit. Maybe that’s the essence. Maybe that’s why we have weekly services and annual holidays—we can’t go forever on just one charge. We need to keep breathing, to keep eating, to keep encountering God, even if it doesn’t feel we’re encountering anything. Maybe just going though the motions is all we can do some days, even most days. There will always be a post-holiday letdown, we’ll always have to return to ordinary time, but we can always look forward to next week and nextyear, when we do it all over again.
Life feels spectacularly ordinary right now, and yet I still long for Christmas. That old hope won’t go away—hope that God will be with us. Is that enough? Maybe it has to be, at least for now.