This is the final installment of a series that began with Behind the Bookcase, Part 1: In Search of A Hiding Place.
I had heard the gospel pretty much all my life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.”
But I never really understood that I needed saving, until one evening several months after I came home from Europe. I worked in a cotton genetics research lab during several college summers, and as I was driving home from the lab one evening, I pondered the question that had been eating at me for years now: How did I really know anything?
I had asked the question philosophically many times before. And I had sought an answer intellectually. I had listened to various arguments, like a judge at a tennis match, calling “out” or “in” based on my own ideas of fair play. As I had gone farther down the road of literary empathy, I had felt some of the existential angst so common in earlier generations. I had tried to live with the Indigo Girls’ idea that maybe the seeking was the problem. Maybe love and experience was all.
But even so, even if that were true, how did I know that?
I had been listening, too, when an Anglican minister I heard at an ecumenical gathering had thrown out this metaphor: What if you woke up one day on a spaceship, hurtling through the darkness? You didn’t know where you were heading, where you had come from. Didn’t know anything about your purpose or your capabilities. Now, what if you found a manual, a guide that someone had written to explain all those things. Wouldn’t you want to know about it? The Bible, he said, was that guide. An interesting metaphor, I thought.
But for the first time, while I was driving down a stretch of two-lane highway through the Delta, a light switched on. I stood before the window of life and trembled.
I realized that everything I thought I knew about God and the world, all the ideas I had about whether there were a heaven or a hell, whether God cared about sin, whether I was a woman or a man or a field mouse, and whether it mattered at all, was based on my own imagination. Up until then, I had believed God was what I hoped He would be. I believed the world was what I had hoped it would be. And as I’ve charted over the last few months, much of that hope was driven by the stories and people I encountered. But in that moment, I realized that when it came down to it, I absolutely didn’t know.
Later that evening, sitting on my bed in my parents home, I opened my Bible at random to Acts 17 and began to read: “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Aereopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious, for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to You.
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
And I believed.
As I’ve written this series over the last six months, really over the last two years, I had expected to finish with a lot of triumphant declarations from God’s word. Declarations about Paul’s teaching on the true nature of the law, of how Christ alone can fulfill the demands of justice as well as mercy, how He alone is our refuge and hiding place. I had planned on discussing how Christ, in living the perfect life and dying for our punishment, offers us both a new relationship to the law–one of son and not slave–as well as healing for all the ways we don’t measure up. In Him, the animosity between love for the law and love for the law-breaker is utterly done away with, for in Him “mercy and truth have kissed each other.”
I do hope there’ll be time for more of that later. But for tonight, I should probably just leave it here. A girl, kneeling beside her bed, who finally admitted God wasn’t hers to form by art or imagination. And by the Lord’s grace, simply believed Paul’s witness.
It’s been a long journey to get here, but we’re finally done! Do you have any questions or suggestions that could help me in revisions? Hoping at some point to get the editor’s scalpel out and form something a little more unified. Til then, of course, you can read the whole series in our Behind the Bookcase category. And thanks for reading along!
Oh, and thanks to Sarah Britt of Camden, SC for the cello piece in the song below. I took the words to This is My Father’s World, changed the tune and rewrote the last stanza. I could say why, but I don’t have time tonight. Got to go spend some time with my sweet parents who’ve put up with me writing too long already today.