About the Author: Philip
Yancey serves as Editor at Large for Christianity Today magazine. His
books The Jesus I Never Knew and What's So Amazing About Grace? were national
best-sellers appearing on both the Publisher's Weekly and ECPA lists.
Both books also won the Gold Medallion Book of the Year Award. Yancey
has written eight Gold Medallion Award-winning books, including Where
Is God When It Hurts?, Disappointment with God, and The Gift of Pain. He
co-edited The Student Bible, which also won a Gold Medallion Award. He
and his wife live in Colorado.
About the Author: Philip Yancey serves as Editor at Large for Christianity Today magazine. His books The Jesus I Never Knew and What's So Amazing About Grace? were national best-sellers appearing on both the Publisher's Weekly and ECPA lists. Both books also won the Gold Medallion Book of the Year Award. Yancey has written eight Gold Medallion Award-winning books, including Where Is God When It Hurts?, Disappointment with God, and The Gift of Pain. He co-edited The Student Bible, which also won a Gold Medallion Award. He and his wife live in Colorado.
Born Again Breech
Oh God, I --dont love you, I --dont even want to love you, but I want to want to love you!
Teresa of Avila
One year my wife and
I visited Peru, the country where Janet spent her childhood. We traveled
to Cuzco and Machu Picchu to view relics of the grand Incan civilization
that achieved so much without the benefit of an alphabet or knowledge
of the wheel. On a grassy plateau outside Cuzco we stood next to a wall
formed of towering gray stones that weighed as much as seventeen tons
"The stones you see were cut by hand and assembled in the wall without mortarso precisely that you cannot insert a sheet of paper between them," our Peruvian guide boasted. "Not even modern lasers can cut so accurately. No one knows how the Incas did it. Which of course is why Erich von Daniken suggests in the book Chariots of the Gods that an advanced civilization from outer space must have visited the Incas."
Someone in our group asked about the engineering involved in transporting those massive stones over mountainous terrain without the use of wheels. The Incas left no written records, which prompts many such questions. Our guide stroked his chin thoughtfully and then leaned forward as if to divulge a major secret. "Well, its like this . . ." The group grew quiet. Pronouncing each word with care, he said, "We know the tools . . . but we --dont know the instruments." A look of satisfaction crossed his sunburned face.
As we all stared at him blankly, waiting for more, the guide turned and resumed the tour. For him this cryptic answer had solved the puzzle. Over the next few days, in response to other questions he repeated the phrase, which held some significance for him that eluded the rest of us. After we left Cuzco, it became a standing joke in our group. Whenever someone would ask, say, if it might rain that afternoon, another would reply in a Spanish accent, "Well . . . we know the tools, but we --dont know the instruments."
That enigmatic phrase came to mind recently when I attended a reunion with several classmates from a Christian college. Though we had not seen each other for twenty years, we quickly moved past chitchat toward a deeper level of intimacy. All of us had struggled with faith, yet still gladly identified ourselves as Christians. All of us had known pain. We updated each other, telling first of children, careers, geographical moves, and graduate degrees. Then conversation turned darker: parents with Alzheimers disease, divorced classmates, chronic illnesses, moral failures, children molested by church staff.
In the end we concluded that God is far more central to our lives now than during our college days. But as we recalled some of the language used to describe spiritual experience then, it seemed almost unintelligible. In theology classes twenty-five years before, we had studied Spirit-filled living, sin and the carnal nature, sanctification, the abundant life. None of these doctrines, however, had worked out in the way we anticipated. To explain a life of spiritual ecstasy to a person who spends all day taking care of a cranky, bedwetting Alzheimers parent is like explaining Inca ruins by saying, "We know the tools, but we --dont know the instruments." The language simply --doesnt convey the meaning.
Words used in church tend to confuse --people. The pastor proclaims that "Christ himself lives in you" and "we are more than conquerors," and although these words may stir up a wistful sense of longing, for many --people they hardly apply to day-to-day experience. A sex addict hears them, prays for deliverance, and that night gives in yet again to an unsolicited message in his e-mail folder from someone named Candy or Heather who promises to fulfill his hottest fantasies. A woman sitting on the same pew thinks of her teenage son confined to a halfway house because of his drug abuse. She did the best she could as a parent, but God has not answered her prayers. Does God love her son less than she does?
Many others no longer make it to church, including some three million Americans who identify themselves as evangelical Christians yet never attend church. Perhaps they flamed briefly, in an InterVarsity or Campus Crusade group in college, then faded away and never reignited. As one of John Updikes characters remarked in A Month of Sundays, "I have no faith. Or, rather, I have faith but it --doesnt seem to apply."
I listen to such --people and receive letters from many more. They tell me the spiritual life did not make a lasting difference for them. What they experienced in person seemed of a different order than what they heard described so confidently from the pulpit. To my surprise, many do not blame the church or other Christians. They blame themselves. Consider this letter from a man in Iowa:
I know there is a God: I believe He exists, I just --dont know what to believe of Him. What do I expect from this God? Does He intervene upon request (often/seldom), or am I to accept His Sons sacrifice for my sins, count myself lucky and let the relationship go at that?
I accept that Im an immature believer: that my expectations of God are obviously not realistic. I guess --Ive been disappointed enough times that I simply pray for less and less in order not to be disappointed over and over.
What is a relationship with God supposed to look like anyway? What should we expect from a God who says we are His friends?
That baffling question of relationship keeps cropping up in the letters. How do you sustain a relationship with a being so different from any other, imperceptible by the five senses? I hear from an inordinate number of --people struggling with these questionstheir letters prompted, I suppose, by books --Ive written with titles like Where Is God When It Hurts? and Disappointment with God.