To Really Know God

One day I was at a meeting of religious education teachers. After a while as I listened in Spanish and caught the gist of what was being talked about, it became clear: they were upset that young people weren’t going to church. They were upset that the youth were losing their religion. They were upset that their sons and daughters and grandchildren were going about living without the religious practices that they knew. And so, they had come up with all types of manipulative ways to convince, cajole, bargain with, and even coerce youth into participating in the religious education program.

I had one and only one thing to say to the staff:

“Let them go.”

Do you know what I think was the real problem with Adam and Eve. There they are in the garden with each other and with God, and they’re hungry. Plop – there’s an apple to eat, straight off the tree. They are very thankful to God for the apple. Another time, Eve is lonely, so she goes over to Adam to go for a walk looking at all the animals to name them. She’s very grateful to God for Adam. One day Adam wakes up and takes a deep breath of fresh air and walks down to the river to get a drink and to bathe. He’s very grateful for the water and the air. They know God as a great provider.

But there’s a drawback to being the crown on the creation project: you weren’t there for the creation. You weren’t there for the calling out light. You weren’t there for the dividing of the waters and the emergence of the earth. You weren’t there for the forming of the stars and sun and moon and planets, or the plants and animals on the land or in the ocean. You came last, and so there’s something really important about God that you don’t know:

You don’t know how God brings amazing, beautiful life out of a chaotic, formless wasteland.

You don’t *really* know God.

So, how’s that going to happen?

Well, you’re going to have to leave the garden of paradise – and enter the chaotic wasteland.

After Adam and Eve get kicked out of the garden, the whole story of the Bible – the story of people’s relationship with God – is the long story of the experiencing God bring amazing, beautiful life out of the chaotic wasteland. It’s how we are all going to really know God.

Noah got to see how all life ended and the new existence rose out of the flood. He really knew God after that.

Job had it all: property, wonderful family, wealth and home and business success. Then, it was all taken away from him. Job wanted an answer, and God said, “Were you there when I made the light, and the oceans, and the sea creatures, and the planets, et cetera et cetera…” God is saying, You don’t really know me yet. So, He gives Job back everything he lost and a whole lot more. After that, Job really knows God.

And, when the Israelites finished their 40 years in the desert, they crossed into the promised land with God, and …. immediately left God in the dust. Why? Well, there was hardly anyone left who saw God take the Israelites out of Egypt. God had always provided in the desert. They knew God as the provider. They didn’t know Him as the one who can bring amazing, beautiful life out of the chaotic wasteland. So, the Israelites eventually fought wars and were enslaved. God sent Judges to bring them out of their mess again, and *then* they really knew God.

And there’s the story of the Prodigal Son, who takes off with his inheritance, leaving his father and brother behind. When he turns back and returns, the other son is angry and wants nothing to do with the party that Dad is having for the punk who left. It’s the prodigal son who comes to really know the father. The other son only knows him as a provider.

And so, kids – and everyone else – need to be let go, so that they can find themselves in the chaotic wasteland that life always – at some point- takes us into. It’s then that they will have the opportunity to see what God does with a place like that. They will come to really know God.

There is often talk about the latest saint being canonized. They are typically morally very good people. They do a lot of religious practices, subscribe to orthodox doctrines about beliefs, and have approval of the clergy. But I sometimes wonder if they ever lived as a citizen of the chaotic wasteland instead of the good paradise. I wonder how much they really knew God.

This weekend has been the feast of All Saints, and then All Souls. I like to joke that the first day is for the All-Stars, and the second is for the rest of us. But it makes me think back on some preaching I heard a while ago that mentioned that while Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II will have a crowd of followers around them in heaven, you could put them all together – and include all the saints’ followers together – and it won’t even come close to the number of people around the thief who was on the cross next to Jesus. And I think it’s because things are not quite what they seem: all the rest of us have a better opportunity in this life to really know God, that you don’t get when you’re always in the good lane.

So, if you are in a rock bottom, a complete disaster, a chaotic wasteland of life; if election season or the pandemic or your health or something you’ve done has put you there, whatever the reason, remember that there’s a reason for being there. God wants the chance to show you how He can bring amazing, beautiful life out of your chaotic wasteland. It is an invitation to live the most surprising, transformational, fulfilling, awesome, and life-giving experience that you could ever imagine.

You’ll come to *really* know Him.

You shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and make you come up out of them, my people!  (Ez 37:13)

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