Tuesday, November 20, 2007

 

Giving Thanks

God is surely good, but God is more surely God, whatever else we think He may be.

I am often pleasantly surprised by the pathways readers travel to find my blog through internet searches.

I get a lot of hits on An NCO Induction, probably by unit non-commissioned officers (NCOs) trying to find ideas on how to conduct one.

I get a lot of hits from people wanting to find the story behind the hymn It is Well (With My Soul). It is a great story, if you’re not familiar with it. Linking to hymns and songs must build traffic, as many people want to know the lyrics to a song playing in their head.

I recently got a lot of hits on An Iraqi Dust Storm. Who knows? Maybe they wanted ideas for alliteration on current events.

But the one hit I seem to get most often is from A Letter to My Son. I haven’t revisited that post since writing it. It seems like I see a search on that topic at least once every day. I think there are a lot of Fathers trying to find a way to say something important to their children.

In my case, this letter was one I wrote in Iraq, in answer to questions Little Manly was asking Mrs. Manly while I was away. It seemed a good and right time to tell my son how it was that I came to believe in God, and call Him by name. Little Manly was asking about God, how you can know He exists, why sometimes He works in ways difficult or impossible for us to understand.

I explained how I went from being an Atheist, not only not believing but in many ways defiantly rejecting the idea of God, to tentative trust in a Higher Power, to believing in God, to coming to a place where I accepted who He is and what He offered to me.

If you need a little encouragement to think about God, maybe a little prompting to consider Him at His word, I’d offer that you read the whole thing.

As I look forward to Thanksgiving, I think it an excellent time to revisit what I believe, what I told my son, what I am most thankful for. I am so similarly thankful for the God I’ve come to know, and His gifts to me I’ve come to cherish, that I sometimes lose sight of which came first. But of course I know the truthful answer to that, and so I Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow.

Here’s an excerpt from that letter.

Where I Started, and What I So Wanted to Believe
Let me tell you why I believe in God, because once upon a time I did not believe in Him. I did not think He was real, I thought this was the only world there was, that there was no such things as heaven (or hell). I believed that each person only exists for just the amount of time they breathe and walk the earth, and when they die, they die and their bones turn to dust and they become just bits of matter. Eternity just meant longer than human beings can imagine, but nothing more than that.

So what changed?

My life changed, most importantly. And that has made all the difference in the world, all the difference in my world.

First, let me tell you that I always wanted to believe in God. When people did bad things, I wanted to believe that there was a God who would punish them. When dangerous things were about to happen, I wanted to think that there was a God who could save people. When terrible things happened to people, and they were hurt or killed, especially big catastrophes, I wanted to believe that there was a God who would love us and show us that there was still good, that we could be comforted and given hope. I very much wanted that Hope that He would provide. Because there are a lot of bad things that happen and that people do, even me, and I didn’t want to think, “These bad things are just facts, and this idea that there’s a God above us all is a lot of silly nonsense.”

So before I believed anything, I very much wanted to believe, because the alternative is to have no hope for something better.
How Did I Come To Believe?
In the process of me learning about myself, and my family, and dealing with people and problems, I came to believe that there was a Power greater than me who could help me, who wanted to help me, who had always been and always would be a part of the world He created. How did I come to that? I’m not really sure, but it happened.

It made me want to find out more about this idea of “God,” and the only place I could think of to find out more were other people – asking them what they thought – and the Bible. (That’s supposed to be full of God’s words, right?) So I talked to a lot of people, friends, family, people I trusted, and I started reading the Bible. I got far enough to start thinking there had to be something to what the Bible said, I mean Jewish people followed God for at least 2,000 years before Jesus was born, and they believed in him despite really terrible things: slavery in Egypt in ancient times, and even the Holocaust in World War II. They never gave up on their God, because they believed He never gave up on them.

And the first Christians, the ones who were called Saints, the ones that saw Jesus with their own eyes, and those who knew and met people who DID see Jesus when he walked the Earth, those early believers really believed. Many times, they gave up everything they had for Jesus. They were killed for believing in him. That’s pretty hard to imagine they would do for something made up.

One day, I was walking along the frozen Mohawk River and Erie Canal. It was a brilliantly sunny day in January, the kind of day where the sun is so bright, and reflects so strongly off the snow and ice, it hurts your eyes. But it was brilliant, beautiful just the same. As I walked, I started talking to a God I wasn’t even certain was there. I told him I needed Him to help me know that He exists. I told Him I needed to know for myself. I told Him that I couldn’t pretend, wouldn’t pretend something I didn’t know, and He was going to have to convince me.

As I walked, He spoke to my heart. He suggested to my mind some questions to ask myself, which He must have given me because they were way different from anything I had been thinking.

I asked myself, “How can I know God exists? Is there one thing I can see or know absolutely to be true, that can only be true of there is a God?”

And I found an answer. In my heart, I know that there are certain things, certain acts, that are absolutely bad or evil. Likewise, I know there are things that happen, things people do, that are absolutely good. Killing someone without necessity, causing harm to someone else for fun, these things I know are evil. Sacrificing your life for someone else, protecting someone who is helpless, saving someone’s life, these are good things. I know these things with complete certainty, without ever having been taught or told this is so.

If there is no God:
If there is no Being who created the world, who caused all things to be, or set the world in order;
If there is no God who requires us to come to know Him and His purposes;
If there is no God who will weigh us and our actions here on Earth;
If death is the final everything, and there is nothing after;

Then it really wouldn’t matter whether I do good or evil. There is no hope, but no punishment either. No law that binds us, no Authority greater than what each of us, in our own selfish desires, decides is good for us. And I wouldn’t care at all what happens to anyone else. And there is NO EXPLANATION for why I would know, deep in my heart, that certain things are evil and bad, and other things are good. Because without God, there is no reason to think abut right and wrong.

But, I still do. I have to. I can’t help myself. Because I am His creation, and that’s how He made each one of us.

As I listened to what God was causing me to think about this, I became more and more excited as I walked along that frozen emptiness. I was not alone, and I knew it. God was with me that day, and He’s been with me ever since.
For that, and blessings He has bestowed on me and my family, I am truly thankful. May the God who created all of us in His image shine His grace into your life, and bring you to the place of gratitude and love.

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