Saturday, September 24, 2011

Looking for Jesus

Once upon a time, I was working at an industrial plant in Texas during a maintenance outage.  Around a hundred contractors worked on completely disassembling large pieces of machinery.  Parts were cleaned or replaced as necessary to ensure reliability.  One particular worker there had an incredible religious experience during the outage.

A man was working on sand-blasting hard-water scale off of some nuts when he saw a vision.  On one particular nut, the image of Jesus Christ was made manifest almost immediately after applying the jet of sand.  Elated and awestruck, he stopped his work and immediately started sharing the miraculous apparition with everyone.

That's the actual nut in the photo!  Do you see Jesus?  Yeah, neither do I.  I can kind of make out a face, maybe even a little like Tom Selleck, but if that is the best the Creator of the universe and master of all matter can do to show His face, I'm not impressed.

If God did go around putting the image of Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, on nuts, or toast, or fountain water-stains, it would be weird, and more than a little creepy.  You'd have to examine your bumper after every drive for bug guts in the shape of a crucifix for a sign from God.

Millions of Christians claim to hear from God, but not in picture form.  Thankfully, it appears that relatively few Christians claim to hear God speaking literally.  Instead, in our time, the normal way to "hear" from God seems to be to discern it from emotions they feel or events which occur.  Discernment can be a real problem.

God, in most common reference, provides these messages invisibly.  If there was some invisible phenomenon which moved air from one place to another, and rustled grass and leaves, but was not wind, how could you discern it from wind itself?  Is it just when the air moves in a favorable direction?

If you believe that God controls everything, then anything could be interpreted as a message from God.  Even the weather, which affects everyone regardless of faith, you can see as a personal sign from God.  My older sister appears to have this perspective, as she has said (paraphrased) things such as "God did not want me to take my children to the park today because it rained." 

As a teenager, I had the idea which seems most popular, that God lets most events play out however they will (because He knows the will ultimately end the way He wants), but occasionally does step in to tweak the events or send messages.  I had believed that Jesus/God would step in and provide healings.  I had believed that God would answer prayers.  I had believed that God would place things on our hearts and in our minds.  I didn't know exactly how it happened, but I wanted to know.

You see, as a teenager, I was a budding skeptic.  I was not at all skeptical about Christianity at that time, as a whole.  (The time I am focusing on here, specifically, is during my pious revival mentioned in my last post.)  Yet while the months went by, waiting to hear from God, I thought seriously to myself:  "When I hear from God, how will I know it is really a message from Him?"  This got the gears of my skeptical brain working.

Even at that age, I had come to realize that self-deception was pretty easy.  I had the sense that if I forced myself to look for Jesus in everything, I was sure to find what I thought was Him, but not necessarily the real thing, such as the bolt up above or this recent tale about a guy who thought God had saved him during a trench collapse.

Besides self-deception, I also thought Satan may be out there, lurking around, ready to misdirect me too.  This would have been a perfect opportunity for him, too, given that I was so inexperienced in the faith.  He could have lead me down a path I thought was right because it felt right, but turned out to be all wrong.  I had to be on guard.

That sobering thought reminded me, too, that a message from God may not be telling me to do something that I wanted to do.  In fact, it could be quite the opposite, because it was to be His will, not my own.

With all of these possible snags waiting to catch me, waiting to lead me astray, I got nervous for a while.  I was afraid I might miss the message God gave to me because I was being too guarded, too cautious to make sure it was a real message.  However, this nervousness soon passed.  I knew that God knew my thoughts and my heart, and I knew that God was God.  God could figure out a way to make the message incontrovertibly clear.  At least, that's what I thought.

So I waited.  Listening.  Watching.  Patiently.

Several months went by.  No contact.  No message.  So, slowly, my teenage mind got distracted by other things as my passion for God burnt down to a few glowing embers.  Even with those few, meager embers, I kept the heat of hope alight thinking that God would call me when He needed me.


  1. I think about that often, that each person interprets life at pleasure, attributing to god whatever they choose. Sometimes they beat their children and abuse their wives and say that god told them so. It's unbelievable, really, how a non-existing god can be a flag to so many people, and each flag has a different colour and shape!

  2. Well said, Lorena! It is really amazing, and impossible to fit together a coherent image of God based on the perspective of a billion different believers. Funny enough, their God always resembles them. :-)

  3. Fun. I agree with much of the analysis. But as I listened to your story and remember stories of others who deconverted, I recognized a difference with mine:

    You said, "With all of these possible snags waiting to catch me, waiting to lead me astray, I got nervous for a while. I was afraid I might miss the message God gave to me because I was being too guarded, too cautious to make sure it was a real message."

    I must have a blindly, self-content, optimistic personality. I never doubted myself, thought of myself as doing bad, prayed for old sins to be forgiven, I never felt any self-loathing (like Luther), or felt confused about hearing God's voice.

    Jesus, I must have been a cocky fellow -- wait, maybe I still am.
    Maybe if I had a bit of self-doubt and insecurity I would still be a Christian today. Who'd guess that God's gift of natural happiness would be the cause of my Damnation!

    1. Ha Sabio! I often wonder what I would have been like if I didn't have the nagging insecurities in my youth. If it's anything like how I am now, but without the wisdom of experience and empathy, I would probably have been quite the pompous ass!

      You know, it is "Blessed are those who weep now, for they will laugh," which, if the converse is true, well, sir, I'll see you in hell! ;-)

  4. So you gave up your religion in your late teens?

  5. For the most part, Sabio. It was a little after High School, and it wasn't completely "given up" at that time. There was a little bit of me that clung to it, hoping to see the light. In other words, I didn't really fully decide anything. It was more of a putting on hold.