Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Connection

This blog is about my often troubled and contradictory relationship with God,the Church, and the Christian faith. I was raised in a nominally Christian home and my Christian education was rudimentary. Neither one of my parents modelled Christian living to my siblings and me. My grandmother took me and my sister to church regularly but I never felt I belonged and as soon as I could I stopped attending. Still, I managed to emerge from my largely religious deficient childhood believing in historic, orthodox Christian doctrine.

I believe in God. I believe that the Bible is His inerrant Word. I believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate. I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, was crucified, buried, and rose on the third day. I believe that Jesus died for our sins and that He is now the only way to God and salvation. I believe all of that yet I hesitate to call myself a Christian. Something is missing in my spiritual life, and until I find it I feel the label "Christian" is best not applied to me.

What's missing? I can't put it accurately into words but I refer to it as "the connection".

Over the past two decades I've read lots of Christian books and watched lots of Christian television. I've noticed a common theme when the topic of salvation is being addressed. In virtually every case new Christians described having what I call the conversion experience. This experience seemed to cement their commitment to the faith more than a rational understanding of Christian truths. This experience, which was invariably described with great emotion, opened up "the connection" with God. And what is "the connection"?

"The connection" is the feeling that you really do have a relationship with God. "The connection" encourages and helps sustain committment to Christian convictions. It's more than just a cerebral understanding of the reality of God; it's the heartfelt realization that God is there. I've never had that heartfelt realization.

When I was fifteen I asked Jesus to come into my heart as I'd been taught to do in church. I was serious; I really wanted Jesus in my life and in charge of my life. After praying, though, I felt nothing. I thought I must have done something wrong so I asked again and again, nothing. I tried a third time and got the same result. That was 30 years ago and I still don't understand why I didn't experience "the connection". I still ask myself, why did God reject me?

Well meaning Christians who have had that conversion experience and know the reality of God will insist that God didn't reject me when I was a kid. They'll insist that He did answer me, even if I didn't feel it, and I've been His child ever since. They'll say that faith isn't about feeling but about believing that God will do what He says He will do and then acting like you believe it. That's what well meaning Christians will say because they just don't understand what it's like to pursue God and not find Him. They don't understand because they have "the connection". So those well meaning Christians, sadly, are of little use to me.

Why does God choose to connect with some people but not others? And why would He do that if He really wants everyone to be saved? I mean, how is God encouraging people to seek Him and His salvation when He ignores them when they do? Alas, I am at a loss for any rationally and emotionally satisfying answers to such questions. One resource that was helpful to me was the book Disappointment With God by Phillip Yancey. While I believe Yancey fell back on some pat answers toward the end of the book, it was so refreshing to see someone in the Christian community acknowledge that God can be disappointing. My attempt to reach God had left me feeling like a woman quoted in the book who said:

I kept hearing the phrase "personal relationship with Jesus Christ". But I found to my dismay that it is unlike any other personal relationship. I never saw God, or heard him, or felt him, or experienced the most basic ingredients of a relationship. Either there's something wrong with what I was told, or there's something wrong with me.

Boy do I understand how that woman felt! And maybe she's got a point. Maybe what's wrong isn't her, me, and others like us but, rather, what we were told Christianity would do for us. I don't know, but my pursuit of God continues albeit with a lot less intensity than when I was young. I still want God in my life. I still want "the connection". Maybe, if I keep trying and have faith, I'll one day get it.