“Once in Israel love came to us incarnate, stood in the doorway between two worlds, and we were all afraid” (Annie Dillard, “Teaching a Stone to Talk”).
While visiting Athens, the Apostle Paul saw an altar dedicated to the “unknown god.” Most likely with a twinkle in his eye, he confidently declared to the Athenians: “What therefore you worship as unknown, I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). After describing the wonders accomplished by this Almighty Person, Paul articulated God’s goal in creation and history – that we “should seek God, and perhaps feel” (remarkably, after his resurrection Jesus uses basically the same Greek word in Luke 24:39 – “‘Touch’ me and see”) our “way toward him and find him.” Certainly, Paul’s eye twinkled as he concluded: “Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).
Curious – in the midst of all this assurance, there is a noticeable uncertainty – “perhaps we will feel our way toward him and find him.” Perhaps. Those who spoke our language earlier may have used hesitant words like: “Mayhaps,” “Peradventure” or “Perchance.” However we describe the uncertainty of the godly reality Paul tantalizes us with, the puzzling question seems to be: “What piece of ‘luck’ will reconnect the sovereign God with us?” Hmm.
Naturally, we look for a recipe, a formula or at least a trend – as in the “ordinary means of grace” – Scripture, sacraments and prayer. But these ordinary means must be used extraordinarily – as in a journey from darkness to light. Even that transformation rests on “perhaps.” “God may perhaps grant them (those who are spiritually trapped by the devil) repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 2:25). When God exercises his “perhaps,” what “perhaps” will reconnect us with God?
Perhaps it will be a sign. Joan was a vegetarian. Her husband, Adrian worked – fetching irony – as a meat cutter. His nickname? – “Blade!” As a 50-year-old, Joan had a successful career but needed hope. Driving down Warren St, she saw a sign at First Baptist – “Christian Motorcycle Association meets here today.” Knowing that Adrian loved motorcycles, she went in. She found people she thought Adrian would enjoy. She asked questions about Christ. She found Christ – and hope. Connection!
Perhaps it will be forgiveness. After finishing culinary school, Seth cheffed at a Christian retreat center. One day on break, his boss asked him how long it had been since Seth had stopped using drugs. “Oh, some time ago.” “Well, then, what’s that bag of drugs by your shoes?” Seth looked. Sure enough, his drugs had fallen out of his pocket and his employer had a no drugs policy. His option – either be fired on the spot or take a discipleship course with one of the other cooks. Seth chose the latter, came to trust Christ and today gratefully serves as a pastor in Helena. Rapport!
Perhaps it will be the Bible. In my hearing, Marvin Olasky (1950 – ), editor-in-chief of WORLD Magazine, told a group his story of faith. He was Jewish – bar mitzvahed at 13. At 14 he espoused atheism. After graduating from Yale, he joined the Communist Party – eventually travelling to Russia. In his PhD work at the University of Michigan, he needed to hone a foreign language. He picked up a Russian copy of the New Testament. As he slowly read, he understood that this book was like no other – it was from God. When he taught a course in early American literature, Puritan preachers Edwards, Mather and Cotton used Scripture to preach the gospel to him. Olasky professed faith in 1976. Linked!
Perhaps it will be an accident. In 1967, Joni Eareckson Tada – as an eighteen year old – suffered a diving mishap that left her a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. One of my friends helped point her to Jesus. Today, a worldwide advocate for persons challenged by disabilities, she is a vocalist, radio host, and author of nearly 20 books. Poignantly she let’s us know: “I learned early on in this wheelchair that God owed me no explanations. He did enough explaining on the cross. God allows suffering so that nothing stands between Him and me” (“His Passion: Christ’s Journey to the Resurrection,” p. 118). Bonded!
Joni, when you say: “Nothing stands between Him and me,” we wonder: “What about death?” Paul writes that through Christ many are given power – “somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:11).
“And Can It Be?”
“Perhaps” – “somehow” – or as Charles Wesley wrote immediately after his conversion (May 21, 1738) – “And Can It Be?!”
“And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That You, my God, would die for me?”
Sometimes we need a nudge. For you that nudge may be the invitation in “perhaps” – the mystery in “somehow resurrection” – the wonder in “and can it be?!” Each of these or all together – with the blessing of Christ and the working of his Holy Spirit – prosper faith.
Perhaps your nudge is still to come.
But with being nudged comes a growing confidence that you are loved with an everlasting love. Christian and those yet to come to Christ – the transcendent, holy, immutable Lord of heaven and earth has in Christ gone looking for you and found you. “He is actually not far from each one of us.”