As a child, I thought the number one reason to become a Christian was for the experience of miracles. Because, like, they’re cool.
I hear others echo this desire when they ask me for “evidence” of Christianity. They want to hear the stories of healings and fulfilled prophecy and exorcised demons. I won’t judge that desire: I’ve prayed for angel encounters and God’s audible voice plenty of times. Those are great things, really, and I do have handfuls of stories about this and that. (OK, still waiting on angels and audible voices.) But my faith is not founded on the miracles.
No, my faith is driven by the radical contrast between the Brad Who Was and the Brad Who Is.
The Brad Who Was.
‘Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not.’–Job 14:1-2
He hated this world. He deceived as naturally as he breathed, he vented scalding rage into his family, bitter jealousy toward the healthy consumed him. Every few hours, he was slammed between panic attacks, fury, depression, and he’d punt between self-loathing and intensely prideful. His idea of love was self-serving and dehumanizing. In intense physical and emotional suffering, he’d taken to dumping medications down the toilet, having lost his taste for living.
He didn’t know why he was so brutal to others and himself. He’d consciously think that he hated being hateful, yet cruelty would hijack his heart, drowning out the small voice begging him to relent. He’d sit in front of the mirror and call himself a cruel, hideous, unlovable, moronic “monster.” A psychiatrist diagnosed him with a guilt-based disorder, noting he seemed unable to shake the feeling he was only ever in the wrong.
He was a broken boy. Much of this was not his fault; he didn’t ask for diseases of the body and mind. But there were opportunities for relational redemption and he refused them. He didn’t deserve them, he thought.
All these wounds were symptoms to a single sickness: He was unable to accept love from both others and himself, too shattered to be forgiven.
The Empathetic God.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.–Luke 23:34
I’m not satisfied with the pamphlet-sized Gospel that often gets presented. What does it actually mean that “the son of God died on a cross for my sins”? Maybe that was meaningful to a 1st-century Jew or pagan, but for the longest time, I didn’t know how it translated to any meaning beyond theology or trivia.
(The cynic in me has been grateful for the Holy Spirit that turns hearts toward Abba because I don’t understand how atonement summary statement elevator pitches alone do a thing for the unchurched.)
But one day, after hearing this message a thousand and one times throughout my church upbringing, it all clicked for me. I was reading the Gospel of Luke when I came upon Jesus asking his — no, our — father to forgive the very people who tormented him, declaring “they know not what they do.”
I thought then of how I felt like I had little control over my actions, how I despised every little clumsy, foolish error, how I’d fall into blinding rage I couldn’t begin to understand. And there I was, reading that some men had tortured the Author of Life … yet they were forgiven despite not even requesting forgiveness!
Suddenly, the Gospel was about more. It was a God who made himself bone and flesh, only to have it all broken in ways far more horrific than anything my disease threw at me. It was a God who delivered sermons among the sweaty masses, begging his people to release contempt and anger and objectification and violence, begging his murderous people to gather to him like chicks to a hen. It was a God who looked at me, lovingly, and said he understood why I hurt so many people, even if I hadn’t yet understood.
My new reality was this is a God I could nail to a tree, and he would forgive me — how much more easily he could forgive my outbursts, my lustful objectification, my deceit! My new reality was that when reviewing every traumatizing memory, I could now see he’d never left me, just as Father never left Son. My new reality was this God is a brilliant teacher who could not bear to be separated from his people — this is a God of dusty tents and joyous temples and crowded mounts and misfit churches. This is a God who calls cruel me his son, and challenges me to live up to my original design. This is the God whose grace was so irresistible that I finally opened myself to feeling love and forgiveness both for myself and others.
The Gospel of Deeper Healing.
Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk‘? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.–Mark 2:9-10
The Gospel is the story of a God who knows what we need. For the longest time, I thought I needed only healing from my disease and deafness: surely life would be perfect once I became like every healthy person surrounding me, right? Wrong. The Gospel is the story of a God who did care about physical hurt, but wanted to go so much deeper: He didn’t stop at healing the paralyzed man‘s body; he forgave the man, too. He knew a physical miracle was only half the healing the man needed.
My new identity isn’t found in my new health and hearing, it’s not found in my miracles. No, my healing is found in something I once thought far more impossible in my mind: I was forgiven.
The Brad Who Is.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’–Mark 12:30-31
I used to fear God as judge, thinking I was unworthy of even existing before him. But I’ve since realized that — rather unfairly — the judge is my father, and he has a habit of mercy fueled by a compassion deeper than I can ever hope to comprehend. This is a father who knows my full context, the depth of my wounds, far better than even I do, and how they drive me to hurt myself, others, him.
God forgives me, so I love him; I am beloved, and so now I love. How could I hate what Abba loves? And because I now love myself, I no longer need to be loved by others, so I love others as myself without the distractions of reputation and people pleasing.
I rest confident in God’s love, knowing it does not fade even in my ugliest transgressions. I no longer need to slam my nose to the grindstone in hopes I can “earn” his love. Now I work to better myself, and rest, in gratitude for what God has already accomplished for me.
My salvation isn’t found in the head knowledge that Jesus died for my sins. Rather, it’s found in the limitless euphoria of feeling his grace and love without the burden of my myriad past sins — it’s found in deep affection for him.
My eternal living is one of life to the full. I still have heartbreak, I still stumble, I still hurt, I still hurt others. But I experience what I once did not: Peace that transcends understanding, fills voids, restores order to my disorders — shalom. Prayerful ecstasy among nature and strangers. Relationships that aren’t about me. Instinctive acts of sacrifice for neighbors and “enemies.” The ability to shake off worry about material possessions. New realizations of and ammo against my idols and emotional obstacles. An unbreakable joy.
I still leap with excitement (often literally) when I witness a miracle, but my faith really derives from the revolution of my soul. Then again, that’s a miracle in itself.