Looking for that eureka moment
Regular Network Norwich and Norfolk columnist James Knight asks what happens when someone asks God to reveal Himself...and nothing happens.
I am in regular correspondence with a man who has for the past six years been exploring the Christian faith and what it all means to him. His progress hit a hiatus when one day he decided to pray to God and ask Him to reveal Himself, just as Christ asks us to do in the Bible (Matthew 7:7). This gentleman, let’s call him Chris, was quite perturbed as he went about his daily life feeling that no change had occurred within him. He had felt that his prayer was a one-way conversation, and that perhaps his initial suspicions were right – God isn’t up there at all, for if He is, why did He renege on His promise of revelation for those who ask for it? As a consequence of this perceived refusal Chris has tentatively concluded that there is no God, and continues to find himself in debating forums defending atheism against Christian apologists and commentators.
First off, I have to say, not being God and not being Chris, I can only make a conjectured speculation as to why he asked God to reveal Himself and had no consequent revelation. Believing as I do that God listens to our prayers and honours His promises, I can narrow it down to just two realistic possibilities, and in both I have concluded that Chris’s prayer has been answered, although obviously not in the way that he expected. Either God is withholding revelation until a time when He knows Chris is ready to receive it, or else He has answered Chris’s prayer but is working in him in such gradual stages that Chris is not yet aware of the changes God is making in him.
Before I became a Christian I thought that any who received God would know it, and that every initial revelation when the Spirit enters a man would provide him with an epiphantic eureka realisation, but I was wrong – God is sometimes more subtle than that – in some cases a lot more subtle.
Anybody that has really and genuinely sought Divine revelation will find that it is the best decision they have ever made; the angels in Heaven will be rejoicing as we rejoice down here at the news. Of course that is easy for me to say as a Christian, but this hardly goes very far in convincing someone like Chris, who is probably feeling a little let down and, I dare say, embarrassed that his prayer felt like a one-way conversation. Thus, if anybody ever meets someone like Chris who is looking for answers as to why he was refused, a good analysis of the situation as a Christian will be to paint for you a better picture of what it means to become attuned to the promises that come from salvation*.
* On this note, see my article on Finding Salvation, in which I explain the steps in more detail.
If God’s ‘refusal’ really was a refusal in the sense of refusing to assent to a wish that was premature or conceived under a misapprehension then I see the situation in two possible ways - either Chris didn’t have, deep down, the right knowledge, attitude, conviction, and desire (that was certainly the case with me the very first time I asked God to reveal Himself, and the same appears to be true in the case of my father) or, alternatively, it could be that Chris did ask with the right knowledge, attitude, conviction, and desire, and, as I have said, it is simply the case that the time has not yet come for God to show Himself to Chris. The latter I have seen occur in many people; that is, they have wondered where God is and why He hasn’t answered their prayer(s), but I could see from my external perspective how God was working in their lives, making small changes and preparing them for Christianity. Often we are one of the last to notice our own changes.
Now of course, with Chris and indeed any others who ask, I hope and pray that the latter is true. If, however, it is the former, I ought to offer something substantial for you to think about - after all, as I said earlier, this is the most important decision a person will ever make, therefore his or her prospective clarity in realising this is of paramount importance.
Because ‘possibility’ always exceeds ‘present actuality’, it makes perfect sense why God uses the ‘seek and you shall find’ method of revelation; for He knows that at the precise moment of revelation - that is, the moment one is able to get a cognitive purchase on ‘knowing God and receive the Holy Spirit’ - any human awareness of God must be filtrated from the Divine realm into our cognisance bypassing everything that is only reducible to, explicable with, and receivable as external sources of experience (noumena). In other words, given that we as created beings can only apprehend external sources of experiences through our capacity to perceive and conceive as internal (phenomenal) agents, if we are to interface the software (creation) with the hardware (the Divine) one must go to the hardware because God holds the key to all our potential – and we cannot really seek Him unless we are preoccupied not with what we are, but what we wish to be.
When stated like this, all this seems trivially obvious, but notice how it is not so obvious to those who constantly become distracted by things in creation and fail to look Heavenwards, or fail to express any desire to fulfill their potential. Receiving knowledge of God is about taking the focus off the self and onto Him to the extent that we must bypass all distractions that impair conceptual clarity. Given that the ‘possibility’ always exceeds the ‘present actuality’, a journey with God is always about moving forward – thus God will reveal Himself once He knows that Chris (or anyone) is ready to extend his pace of progression.
If you are reading this as an atheist who feels he has been refused by God, or if one of your Christian friends has passed this on to you because you too have not sensed God’s presence, I would like to say this. I do not mean for you to think that every instance of salvation arrives in one sudden moment of spiritual ebullition, for as I have said, for some it arrives gradually over time until there comes a point when salvation makes sense. Nor do I mean for you to think that nature herself has nothing to say to us about God - just the opposite is true. Look around you and you will see that you are already part of a miracle - creation itself.
But I do mean, and do advise, that the best way to know God is to cut out as many earthly distractions as possible and concentrate on you and Him. The grand revelatory activity of the cosmos is too low-resolution for a ‘salvation purchase’ and is simply not enough to inform us about the exact nature of our Lord’s activity in your own heart; that is why a much more specific revelation is needed if the personality of Christ is to be revealed. As the book of Hebrews says:
“God who at sundry times and in many ways has spoken in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us in the Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by Whom He also made the worlds. And He, who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of His Person, and who is upholding all things by the Word of his power, when He had purged sins by Himself, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high”.
This revelation of Christ is grounded in history and in one’s personal journey with God. This is the revelation of God through Christ. This is the truth. Seek and you shall find, ask and you shall receive. But seeking and finding involves knowing what one is supposed to be looking for, thus in Christ we have the answer to the question of why we should search in the first place. Unless we are really looking for Him we will not find Him, and unless we know exactly Who it is we are looking for and what His grace at Calvary has done for us we will have little or no reason to start looking in the first place.
There are, of course, obvious differences between those that know Christ but they are experiential differences and conceptual differences. Everybody who has found salvation will have found it in a different way - but the truth of the revelation remains true. One hundred people could read the story of the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan or the Persistent Widow and they would affect each one in a very different way - their value and resonance would depend on individual positions and personal experiences, but that does not alter their veracity – in fact, it intensifies veracity by being dynamic not static. We can go further; it intensifies the glory of Christ - for these stories are designed to fill in the gaps where one is lacking; they are there so we can sense some of the glory that is going to be ours - they are our pathway to seeing salvation.
All Christians (should) agree on the sound; what they differ on is the echo it produces. God’s ways are so much greater than ours, thus, all the creational innovations turn out to be part of the echo - wholly valuable in themselves, but the echo nonetheless. The real sound is to be found in other things - in the realm of the Divine - in the real nature of the self when it searches for the Divine.
Don’t be put off by supposed refusals from our Lord. There have been many occasions when I’ve thought a prayer had been refused only to find out that it had been answered in a better way, or that my timing was just a little off. Christ said that those who search shall receive Him. Those who hear the echo and listen for the sound will find glory in both. But paradoxically those who hear only the echo will remain deaf to the sound. The nature of the sound means that those who get half way near it still might be only partially wrong, yet miss the real quintessence of salvation (Matthew 7:21-23). The Muslim might be slightly closer to it than the Scientologist; the Mormon might be slightly closer to it than the Japanese secularist - but to be wrong is to remain stuck in the murmur of the echo; thus he may well be lost in silence. The same is true for each and every one of us. We will either come to learn the truth or we will remain detached from His presence until we can hold out no more. But one thing is certain - no changes in knowledge and no advances in culture or technology will change this fact one bit. If we want to know the truth, we will find it - God is faithful in His promise. By surrendering yourself in Christ’s presence you will find out in one second what the world could not otherwise find in one thousand years of human progression - the eternity that has been set in your heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11) will no longer be dormant in you, it will awaken, rouse, excite, and stimulate every part of you that was once not alive to Christ but is now more alive than anything you ever could have imagined.
We are told that Christ was brutally killed for us, that His death has cleared us of all our sins, and that by dying He overcame death itself. That is what we are to believe if we are to become Christians. But if we suppose God became a man - and we can conceive of our whole ‘self’ being incorporated into God's ‘self’, then in that form, God can help us. He suffered because He was a man, and He suffered perfectly because He was God. God by becoming man experienced our suffering with us, and we can only experience the self-surrender that is necessary for salvation if we share in God's dying, just as our thinking can prevail only because we are a drop in His ocean. But we could never have shared God’s dying unless He Himself had once died as a man. That is the sense in which He clears us of our sins, because He suffered for us, only because He chose to do so; and because He chose to, we are beholden to Him, and must surrender our lives to Him if we are to share in the glory of the Risen Christ. “Seek and you shall find!”? Absolutely!! The question is always about whether one is really ready to find.
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James is a Norwich local government officer, author and Proclaimers church member in Norwich. You can access his current collections of columns here
Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about Christianity, visit: www.rejesus.co.uk