As I survey all the Christians I have ever known in my life I can vaguely divide them into believers in God and lovers of God. I wish I could come up with better words for the two side of the coin, but that is the best I can do. Usually believers are on the road to being lovers, but the relationship just has not stewed long enough. The difference between the two is ill-defined and never ask me which you are – that is between you and God. It is more of a sense than something I can put my hands on.
In “The Happiest Life,” my host here discusses having a “profound religious experience.” There are no details of that event, but he confesses that it marked him deeply. I know that in my own life, experiences that I would describe that way mark major advances on the road from believer to lover.
Friend of Hugh’s show, John Mark Reynolds wrote on Friday:
Orthodox apologetics is not about winning arguments, but saving our minds from deception. The battle is primarily spiritual, but does include an intellectual component. Arguments supporting the existence of God are rarely why we believe in God, but reassurance that our interpretation of our religious experience are not self-delusion or madness.
I don’t think that is limited to the Orthodox expressions of Christianity. In fact I would argue that when we move from the intellectual to the spiritual, from belief to experience, that our denominational differences begin to slide away and our commonality as men and women of God begins to appear. It is the point where God matters more than what we think about God, and God’s presence matters more than how that presence is manifested. But that also sort of describes the journey from believer to lover of God. It is a movement from intellectual ascent to spiritual reality.
While it is a journey from believer to lover of God, I do not think it is a journey we can undertake with great deliberateness. There is no map, no spiritual Garmin. Some Christian expressions have codified the “profound religious experience,” and have tests and signs to ensure that it is genuine. But I have met far too many that have shown the signs and passed the tests yet who are not truly lovers of God for me to think this is something that can be bottled and presented.
I am happily and blessedly married more than 20 years now. I still tease my wife about having to “walk off a cliff” to marry her. I had not the slightest clue when I asked what she would say. Oh, I knew we were more than friends, and I knew that I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life, but I had no idea if she felt the same way, or if I was stepping off into an abyss of rejection. I did not know what would happen after I uttered those words, “Will you marry me.” It was impossible to plan for what came next because there was no projecting what that would be.
That is what the road from being a believer in God to a lover of God is like. Another friend of Hugh’s show, Mark Roberts wrote this a few years ago:
One evening, as I worked at my job cleaning dishes, I came to grips with the fact that I could not make myself believe in God. Period. Unless God helped me, I would be mired in unbelief. I began to pray, crying out to God for help. The clamor of the dish room provided cover for my desperate supplications. I remember saying, “God, unless you help me, I’ll never be able to believe in you again.” I felt utterly helpless and needy.
Late that night, when all of my roommates were asleep, I snuck over to the common room of my dorm. It was the only place I had where I could pray without disturbing people. There, in the darkness, I poured out my anguish to God. I begged for his help, confessing my former pride that I could produce faith all by myself. I admitted that, without his grace, I would never have faith again.
As I sat in the silence of that common room, all of a sudden I felt peace descending upon my heart. I knew I wasn’t making this happen. I couldn’t make it happen. Yet, as I sat quietly, I felt my doubts lifting. I sensed God’s presence as never before in my life. I didn’t see a vision or hear an audible voice, but God was more real to me in those moments than anything I could see or hear. I could feel faith welling up in my heart, a different kind of faith, not something I produced by reason, but something even stronger.
I could not make myself my wife’s husband, she had the final say on that. We can choose to believe in God, but we cannot make ourselves into lovers of God, only God can do that.
There is a mountain in Colorado that I went up several times when I was a young man. Near its peak stood (I have no idea if it is still there?) a cross and on that cross was Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” It was a powerful place to be. As I have aged and tried to relive that experience at lower altitudes I have come to like a slightly different translation of that verse, “Cease striving and know that I am God.”
The journey from believer in to lover of God is one we take blindly, relying wholly and completely on God. It is not a journey that we can make under our own power. The sooner we quite trying to make the journey and instead let God carry us on it, the sooner we will find ourselves progressing.