The greatest good anyone can do for humanity begins with a dynamic encounter with the living God. I refer to a spiritual transformation so revolutionary that it is aptly termed being ‘born again’, though overuse has sapped this term of its power.
You could walk down church aisles all your life without ever marrying. Everyone knows that. Yet, tragically, countless thousands have walked down a church aisle and falsely assumed that made them born again. Like marriage, it is a relationship, not a ritual that counts. Spiritual rebirth results from a life-changing union between two persons. You can mumble the sinner’s prayer, the saints’ prayer, any prayer you like; you can join the best church, get wet, slurp communion, look more godly than an archangel, and have not a throb of spiritual life. Your act can be so convincing that you even fool yourself, and remain unaware that your life has missed an entire dimension.
In style and content, this chapter is quite different from the rest of the book. So if you are certain you enjoy daily intimacy with God, you may prefer to go straight to the heart of the book by skipping this chapter and return here later. I don’t want you losing interest by dwelling on matters you are already familiar with. For the rest of us, however, this chapter is essential. The remainder of the book will help only if you put this chapter to work. The quest for fulfillment starts here.
We crave love. It is an essential ingredient of a meaningful life. Yet it is a risky, potentially agonizing experience. Death or disagreement can so easily rob us of the one we love. Though we kiss with our eyes closed, relationships are frighteningly fragile. Beauty sags. People change. The deeper our love the deeper our insecurity.
Reality is cold, but dreams are too hot to hold. Our passions seem so insatiable that we shrink from them, yet still they haunt us. Just for a moment, release the iron grip that keeps your longings suppressed in the dungeons of your mind. Let your longings waft free before your gaze, no matter how unattainable they seem. Dare to see what they reveal.
You burn for unwaning intimacy; a companion who will never fail you; a carer who will always be there, no matter what the circumstance or hour; someone whose love never ceases to astound you; someone whose charms and beauty and powers will not fade with the passing years.
Too often you are misunderstood. You crave a friend who can slip inside your mind; ideally, someone who has not only heard of your every trauma and triumph from birth, but experienced them with you. You need to unburden yourself with a confidant who knows your blackest secrets, yet delights in you with unswerving devotion.
When life’s blows send you reeling, you ache for an admirer who not only passionately longs to meet your deepest needs, but is always able to. You need a partner so capable that when crisis swallows crisis you can trust your friend to comfort, protect and power you to success. Yet you don’t want to be smothered. On the contrary, you want someone who will nerve you to reach the heights you were born for.
You pine for someone changeless, yet exciting; someone who fits your needs so exactly it feels you were made for each other; someone you will be forever proud of; someone whose love for you is so vast that it always satisfies; someone faithful, genuine, open and warm, yet so resistant to the ravages of aging, sickness and tragedy as to seem immortal.
No human fits the bill, yet the craving remains. A few dreamers keep chasing the elusive high of starry-eyed love, forever groping for the perfect relationship. Most of us give up. A person would have to be God to meet our criteria! And how could he help? We’re flesh and blood; God, if he exists, is some nebulous, unapproachable Spirit. The notion of a friendship with God is preposterous.
Or is it? Within the realms of the unknown almost anything could dwell – even a God poised to shatter our insensibility to him. If there really is an Intelligence behind creation, why were we made with cravings that could never be satisfied? Is God a sadist, or were those yearnings for the ideal companion planted within because he longs to fulfill them by being your closest friend?a Could it be that God seems impersonal only because you’re not on close terms with him? If God were impersonal, that would make us superior to our Creator. That’s absurd. If we can speak, feel and love, our Maker can do all that and more.b God is warm.
This exciting Person, whose never-ending companionship and limitless power are able to fill the unfillable hole within us, is the perfect partner we ache for. Yet his very perfection makes him unapproachable. The Almighty is awesomely holy; incomparably virtuous. We are not.
The Joy of Being Wrong
We come hurtling back to reality. Life’s a bed of roses. The beauty is enticing and the aroma alluring but the thorns are cruel. There’s a solution, but to appreciate the grandeur of that solution, we must dwell for a couple of pages on the magnitude of the problem. This is so distasteful that we instinctively recoil from it, longing to deny its existence. Our reaction proves the truth of Jesus’ assertion that people love darkness (ignorance and wrongdoing) rather than light (truth and purity).c
We’ll expose facts that challenge the limits of our ability to grapple with reality. Yet facing them is the most liberating experience a human can know. Let me illustrate.
I’m stumbling up a perilous trail, far from civilization. Angry blisters jostle on the pain-scale with bruises and open wounds. The blazing sun sucks my throat and mocks my exhausted supplies. If I don’t get there soon . . . Panic rips down my spine, gets trapped in my stomach, and thrashes in wide-eyed terror. I stagger on, virtually insensible to the weird sound overhead.
The trail twists and to my amazed surprise a helicopter stands before me. A pilot approaches, claims to be part of a search party, and tells me I’ve been tramping for days in the wrong direction.
‘Do you take me for an idiot?’ I fume. My bush skills . . .’
Patiently, he takes out a map and dismantles my every argument. My spirit wilts. I could never survive the distance to even the nearest waterhole. Then the pilot offers to fly me to the exquisite oasis I had been looking for. My worries vaporize. The sooner I admit my need of help, the quicker I can get out of here. In such circumstances, even I can handle being told I’m wrong.
Magnify that tale and transfer it from fantasy to reality and you glimpse what this chapter is about. Discovering we are wrong can be the most thrilling moment of our lives. Confronting the truth of the next few paragraphs can usher you into a new world of joyous freedom, fulfillment, challenge and excitement.
When Frederick the Great visited Potsdam Prison, every convict he spoke to professed innocence. Finally he encountered a thief under sentence of death. ‘Your Majesty,’ he said, ‘I am guilty and richly deserving of punishment.’
‘Release this scoundrel,’ commanded the king, ‘before he corrupts all the noble innocent people here.’2
A similar surprise awaits everyone who dares admit the truth.
I make no claim to powers of mind and pen sufficient to portray the wonder and majesty of the world’s greatest love story. Nor can I highlight each facet of the unassailable wisdom, justice and moral perfections that opened the possibility of a transformation of human nature so radical that it defies comprehension. My hope is to whisk you to its benefits, not expound its intricacies. So if any of the following seems unconvincing, limitations of space and skill may be the problem. I warn, however, that in these critical issues, the real cause of blind-spots usually turns out to be psychological or spiritual. The door to spiritual understanding is not human explanation, but supernatural enlightenment – divine revelation. And that door swings not on mind games but on a willingness to surrender our stubborn will to One who knows better than us.a Already our defenses are on red alert. I ask you to face this issue because it leads not to shame, but to the exhilaration of a cleansed conscience. It leads not to oppressive restrictions, but to utter freedom.