“If God asked me to sacrifice my only son, I don’t think I could do it.” This isn’t the first time I heard this statement, but I most recently heard this claim at a Christian conference I attended over the summer. For the first time since hearing it, I didn’t believe it. My disbelief was confirmed when I returned home and was confronted by many of my old evangelical friends and their aspiring “relationship” with God. They want to “hear him” but they don’t pay attention to the sermon; after all, it’s just the pastor’s pontification. They want to “see him” but they don’t believe that Communion is his body and blood; after all its clearly grape juice and an oyster cracker. They want to “feel him” but they don’t understand that baptism is the hand of the Holy Spirit cleansing us from our sin; after all that takes away my choice in salvation. They want to serve God, but they complain about all the daily vocational opportunities God gives us to serve our neighbor. I know how “they” operate because I once was, and all too often still am, them. I am just as guilty of it as anyone.
Everyone wants to see or hear or touch God. We are all doubting Thomas at some level. We always quote the part of the story where Jesus tells Thomas, “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet still believed.” We ignore the beautiful Gospel in the story where Christ himself, confronted by a mere man who denies belief without evidence, simply reaches out his hands an allows Thomas to touch him. He doesn’t just tell Thomas to believe harder. He doesn’t tell him to look for signs and wonders and miracles and to figuratively feel him. He tells Thomas to place his finger in the nail marks on his hand and to place his hand in the fresh spear-wound in his side. Just as Thomas had been told only a week before to “take and eat, take and drink,” he was also told to “touch and see.”
This is the Gospel of Christ, that we are invited to touch the very wounds of our Savior. So why is it that we refuse when we are offered? I don’t believe the people who say they wouldn’t sacrifice their son if God told them to. Of course you would. Anyone would. If a booming voice came down from the heavens and told you to do anything, you would do it because then you would be “experiencing God.” But when Christ tells us to love our neighbor, to avoid sexual immorality and dishonesty, to turn the other cheek or to take the speck from our own eye, we refuse. On the surface, it sounds hard to kill a loved one, especially your own flesh and blood child. But we all know what we will never admit aloud: it is much harder to kill the self, with all its selfish desires, worldly pleasures, and fleshly temptations.
So let’s cut to the chase: all of us are waiting for a flashing neon sign from God or a voice booming down from heaven. But it is much easier to ignore the still small voice in the Scripture, the southern accent of a called and ordained minister, and the confusing little parts of the Bible that make the faith a bit too tangible for our own comfort.
We look for God in the extraordinary, because he is an extraordinary God. We talk about him calling ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It makes us feel good inside to believe that we’re all Bible characters in our own way, being used by God to do big things. It makes us feel good to think that God speaks to us in our feelings, because that seems intangible and miraculous, like an obvious way that an intangible God would speak to us. We want everything to be “spiritual.” We want nothing to be physical. Even physical things in the church that we cannot avoid (such as baptism) we only allow to have symbolic meaning, because we are simply too afraid to see God himself get dirt under his fingernails. We cannot find it in ourselves to respect a God who uses such humble means as water, bread, and wine to give us life and salvation. We look for God only in what we imagine miracles to be, not the miracles that he actually shows us.
We are looking for God in the wrong places. Some people go to the opposite extreme and believe that God doesn’t speak to us in feelings or dreams or any intangible way anymore. This claim is a bit bold for my taste. God can speak to us anyway he pleases, he is omnipotent after all. But the tangible, given things of God always outrank the intangible. And think of what a blessing this is! We love finding God in our feelings when our feelings are pleasant and spiritual. We despise finding God in our feelings when our feelings condemn us and tell us that we are insufficient, unworthy of grace, and they claim that God couldn’t love such a sinner. Ah, but here is where the tangibles of the faith outrank the intangibles. God’s eternal word: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, 39 ESV) Please note that this eternal word of God was first written down on tangible pages by real men. God uses means.
It’s time to take a break from looking for God in the miraculous “spiritual” things and find him in the sacraments, the Scriptures, and the vocations he has established and prepared. It’s time for us to understand that our extraordinary God uses ordinary means of communication and sanctification. It is only then that we can see just how beautiful our God and his salvation really is.
If you want to touch God, you may. If you want to hear God, you will. But he has in his divine goodness established means by which we may do this. We despise these means because they are humble, they seem too base for an omnipotent and impressive God. But it is in the humblest means – word, water, bread, wine, fisherman, shepherd, and father – that we find our Lord. And it is through these ordinary things that God proves his extraordinary nature and plan for the world.
In the following weeks, I hope to share with you the ultimate secret of the known universe: the key to finding God. Perhaps it sounds cheesy, being on a quest for Christ… (or maybe it has a nice ring to it…) but the mystic influence on our modern faith has unfortunately led us to lose sight of the revealed Christ and search for someone or something else. This wild goose chase has left so many Christians tragically lost, missing out on the most beautiful components of the Faith. This is the Christ I hope to find: the tangible, incarnate Christ that allows me to see and touch him, just as he allowed doubting Thomas to see and touch.