On Spiritual Exploration, Letter 5
My final contribution to a correspondence about life paths and unfolding journeys of faith
This is part 5 in a 6-part discussion between me andof entitled "On Spiritual Exploration." JG offered a fascinating look into the intellectual side of his spiritual journey in letter 4 last week:
If you missed any of the letters, you can catch up here:
This series is all about finding a life path: Is it ever linear, or is it more of an epic journey? What has that path looked like for each of us spiritually? Today, I'm sharing my ongoing journey following the path of the Christian life--and all I'm learning along the way.
Here we are at the final two letters. Strange to think our exchange has gone by so quickly—and yet, we've covered a lot of ground. And, I think, we'll have more to cover beyond this brief conversation. The spiritual aspect of a life path is, after all, far more deep and complex than a mere six letters can contain.
I'm fascinated that your dive into philosophy and socialist ideology drove you toward spirituality rather than away from it. I've had only minimal contact with these ideas, but from what I do understand, it seems inevitable that following the logic to its conclusions leads either to a nihilistic worldview that rejects teleology or intellectual hypocrisy that accepts the inexplicable (or spiritual, we might say) while rejecting any actual basis for it.
And yet—you landed on teleology.
What an interesting word: A suggestion of greater purpose, a statement that the world truly has design, meaning, and an ultimate destiny. God has been opening my eyes to this reality in recent years as I've grown in my faith and delved into books on Christian worldview—but that part of the story comes later.
First, I'd like to take you through some key moments along the path I've walked with God for the last 12 years. More waypoints, if you will, on a journey of growth.
In my last letter, I left off with the concept of dying to sin and being born again after accepting deliverance and forgiveness through Jesus. The Bible describes this both as putting to death and putting off the old nature and becoming a new person. A new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24), complete with a new way of living.
I want to be clear that this isn't my own doing; I'm not transforming myself. As I look back at my spiritual path, I can see more and more clearly how God worked in my life, in my very nature and personality, to strip away the part of me that was mired in darkness and move me forward to that new reality.
Not that the old nature goes down without a fight. The Bible is very clear that, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden and chose go their own way (Genesis 3), sin became part of mankind's very nature—we understand what evil is and delight to do it (Romans 4:12; 1:32). But when a person turns from that rebellion and is born again, God grants the power to choose something else: Him.
It's a matter of deciding who and what to serve, JG (Romans 6:11-13, 16-17). As God grows and matures me on this Christian path, I can choose to serve God and cooperate with the changes He wants to make in my life, or I can choose to serve the old darkness of my sinful nature and risk the consequences.
It's like being a child. At first, you have to be taught not to do wrong or dangerous things because you don't know any better. Once your parents teach you, their instruction gives you the capacity to make the right or safe choice. But sometimes you choose to do what you know is wrong—to disobey—and your parents have to enforce consequences to keep you safe and help you learn and grow.
The Bible describes God as a Father in much the same way: One Who graciously teaches, guides, and corrects His children over every bump and misstep of the growth process. And I'm learning that He is a very good, very patient Father.
I started my Christian walk in shaky ground. The eating disorder left me mentally and emotionally raw, and I continued to struggle with fear and body image issues. I was so unstable that I once had to leave a Bible study immediately upon arriving when I realized the hostess had ordered pizza for everyone. I also wrestled with the persistent feeling of being an outsider, always afraid that the people around me might shut me out at any moment.
But God was working to move me through the fear. He brought a trainer into my life who shifted my exercise regimen away from the excessive amounts of cardio with which I'd been slamming my body. He gave me the courage to buy lunch from a food truck and eat it without feeling like I had to add up every calorie and track every macronutrient that was going into my mouth. And He changed the way I thought about body image until, one day, I looked in the mirror and actually liked what I saw. I also had opportunities to get involved at church, including using my love of music to play and sing solo or do duets with the pastor, who played a rather snazzy electric bass.
Somewhere along the line, I got into the habit of listening to a daily sermon from a selection of preachers who taught the Bible systematically and unpacked concepts like heaven and the end times. I, who at the start of my Christian walk had found such detailed study boring and frustrating, became a voracious Bible nerd with a hunger for deep study and a growing library of reference books.
But, as I'm sure you know with your own experience traveling The Road, no path is without its bumps and potholes. After several years, I left the church I was attending, citing theological differences that I likely could have worked through had I been more spiritually mature at the time.
But God knew what He was doing. I began attending another church that my parents had visited several times, one that took a different approach to preaching and church life. Services were more structured, the music more traditional. And the congregants loved to socialize.
That last point was key, JG, because I still had a lot to learn about relating to other people. During my time there, God showed me that I was still using the "nobody understands me" mentality from my days of darkness as a mental excuse to keep myself aloof from others. He worked through the social atmosphere to pull me out of my shell and start doing things like attending the ladies' breakfasts and meeting people for coffee outside of church.
As God continued to bring me out of my self-imposed shell, He changed my attitudes and perspectives. Whereas before I would lose my temper or descend into fits of crying when life pushed my buttons, I began developing patience and control. My heart began opening up to types of people who before had frustrated me or put me off. I started to see how my own behaviors and responses had contributed to volatile situations in the past—and recognize that I had to take responsibility rather than self-righteously cling to the notion that I was blameless.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, the COVID pandemic happened, with its dizzying flurry of news and doom scrolling that fueled the persistent background fear that We Were All Going to Die.
That time had a profound effect on my faith. It caused me to deeply examine what I believed and what I cared about, to question whether I was really committed to God. It was a time with a lot of soul searching and a lot of tears. But I emerged stronger from it, thanks in great part to my brother, who spent countless hours listening as I worked through the questions and inner turmoil that surfaced on waves of fear and uncertainty. I realized I had more growing to do—and I was committed to staying the course.
With that assertion came another change in church. Perhaps because I sought a better understanding of my relationship with God during COVID, or perhaps because I continued my in-depth Bible studies, I began feeling the need for more detailed teaching than the church I was attending provided. It was time for another change.
And wouldn't you know it—God led me back to the church where I'd been baptized.
Although the pastor who baptized me had retired, several people I'd known before still attended. Familiar faces greeted me when I walked in the door again last spring, along with many new ones from all walks of life. Since then, God has continued to teach me how to step out of my little cocoon and participate in relationships with others. For the first time, I feel like I'm starting to understand what the Christian concept of church as a family. I don't know if I didn't have this before or if I just wasn't in a position to recognize it, but it's a strange and unfamiliar experience to walk in that door and know that I belong there and people love me and aren't going to reject me even as I continue to struggle and grow.
And that, JG, would probably be the end of the story—if this were a story. But one more aspect, one more Waypoint, is important in my spiritual journey thus far.
About a year ago, I discovered a Christian apologist named Nancy Pearcy who writes and speaks extensively on worldview, specifically how the Christian worldview compares to others.
What struck me most in her writing is how she breaks down the divide between sacred and secular that's so prominent in our society. It's generally accepted that religious or spiritual convictions are set aside when dealing in the "real world." Yet Pearcy makes it clear that, as a Christian, the new life and nature that God is working in me should inform all aspects of my life and fundamentally change how I view and interact with that world. The Christian faith is more than a list of rules or a "get out of hell free" card—it's a total transformation.
The concept clashes with a large chunk of modern evangelicalism, which tends to "sell" Christianity merely as a solution to problems or a way to achieve perfect happiness and fulfillment. I heard that language so often that I absorbed it as true, part and parcel of what Christianity was and what God was for. But as I read more about other worldviews and philosophies and watched people who weren't Christians live lives that appeared happy, successful, and fulfilled, I started to question those narratives.
I began to wrestle—again—with what I truly believed.
Because, JG, I'm at the point in my spiritual journey where I'm digging down to fundamental truths, seeking to know God as He actually is and not who people or society say He is. I'm seeking to understand how to articulate, even to myself, that God is different than the paths I see others taking, that what He offers is earth shattering and life changing.
And I keep coming back to one fundamental thing: God is.
It sounds simple, but I believe it's the core consideration not just of Christianity but of life itself.
If God is, then humanity is who the Bible says we are: made in God's image, created for a purpose that exists outside and beyond ourselves. We are made to reflect God, to point to a transcendent Being of beauty and power and wisdom and glory, and to cooperate in the ongoing work He is doing in the world. We are made to be in relationship with God and enjoy all that He is with nothing standing in the way.
Which means, JG, you're right that alienation is mankind's greatest problem. I mentioned in my last letter that sin is far more than doing bad things or breaking rules—and its effects are far worse than feeling guilty or getting punished in a court of law. Sin is deliberate rebellion against the God Who made us, a deliberate choice to ignore what we were made for, to declare we know better and set ourselves up as a god on the throne of our own lives. In doing so, we reject the beautiful purpose, the breathtaking teleology, for which we were created.
So we scramble and hustle and search for meaning, making futile attempts to fulfill a purpose we can't see and don't understand, to invent meaning to replace that which we have rejected. Because, JG, if God isn't...what's the alternative?
A world where everything came from nothing, and life has no ultimate purpose. Where humans descend from pond scum and decay into dust, living a brief and frantic life in between as we try to make a mark on a world that will ultimately disappear when the sun goes nova.
Or a world where we're at the behest of an impersonal universe that doesn't care what happens in our lives, whether we live or whether we die. A universe that can't give us anything and that provides no ultimate purpose because it exists for no ultimate purpose.
Or perhaps a world where a god or transcendent force of some kind is present but either isn't personal or isn't in control. Such a god may smile on us with divine benevolence from time to time or rain judgment on a capricious whim, but it doesn't love us or even pay us much attention at all.
But, JG, this is the mind-blowing thing that I'm still trying to fully wrap my mind around: if God is, then He is Who He says He is. Holy, powerful, awesome, and zealous, a righteous bringer of justice upon sin and evil (Leviticus 19:12; Job 34:12 Ezekiel 39:7; Nahum 1:2). Self-existent, without beginning and without end (Revelation 22:13), the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Genesis 1:1; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:3), above all and yet visible in every aspect of what He has created, from microscopic organisms to distant galaxies (Psalm 19:1-4).
If God is, it means His structure for human life, as laid out in the Bible, is the definitive path to our purpose. It means sin is real, and its penalty is real, too. People don't like to hear about hell, but what else can you call eternal alienation from purpose, spending forever suffering the consequences of choosing to walk away from the path, freely offered, that leads to reconciliation?
But if God is, He is also merciful, tender, humble, infinitely loving, delighting in forgiveness, and attentive to the smallest details of our lives. He knows sin cuts us off from the purpose He created us for, and He takes no pleasure in seeing people walk paths to their own destruction (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11). He loves all those He created—all of humanity—with a love inherent in His character (1 John 4:8,16), a love I'm only beginning to grasp the enormity of.
And this love was fully demonstrated in Jesus (Romans 5:8)—Who, if God is, is also Who He said He was: the Son of God (John 1:1-2), born to live a sinless life and to die a substitutionary death by crucifixion on a Roman cross in the place of all sinners (John 1:29), taking on Himself the punishment for sin, which the Bible makes clear is death (Romans 6:23).
Born to die...and rise again (Matthew 28:6). Because death couldn't overcome the One Who never sinned (Acts 2:24; c.f. John 1:5). Instead, Jesus overcame death—physical and spiritual—to open the way for us to get back to God. To heal our alienation, restore our relationship, and put us back on the path to our ultimate destiny.
Which is not an eternity of puttering around on puffy clouds and strumming harps with a bunch of winged babies. I have no idea who came up with that image of heaven, but they've done the world a great disservice.
No, heaven as Bible describes it is a glorious renewal of all things, a restoration of creation to a state perfect and pristine, complete with a heavenly city where sin will no longer exist and no one will ever die (Revelation 21:1-6). And God Himself in the midst of it all, back in the presence of the people He created, giving light to everything (Isaiah 60:19; Revelation 22:5).
And what I'm really coming to terms with about all this, JG, are its implications not just for me but for the whole world. Because if God is, then there is an objective truth, an plan, and purpose. The eternal destiny of mankind depends on understanding our status as sinners and accepting that we can't fix that about ourselves—but Jesus could and did. Reconnecting to our teleology and healing our alienation requires the same action on the part of every human being: turning from sin—what the Bible calls repentance (Matthew 3:8, 4:17)—and accepting the open invitation to the very same deliverance God held out to me in Jesus all those years ago.
C.S. Lewis put it much more simply than I have here when we wrote, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."
As you can tell by now, JG...I believe it is true. I believe, in fact, that it is the Truth (John 14:6).
All these things are...because God is.
Because God is...that changes everything. About my life, about the way I see the world, and about the purpose of humanity itself.
Lest I make it sound like I have this all worked out—I don't. I still struggle with the old nature creeping in and old sins rearing their ugly heads. I struggle with trust and love and believing in God's goodness. I'm still coming to grips with the reality that my life's overarching purpose is to glorify God—to magnify, praise, and honor Him—and to thoroughly enjoy all of Who He is. Probably because He infinite and in many ways unfathomable (Romans 11:33), and I feel like I'll never completely understand the reality of this God I serve.
That's why it's a journey, right, JG? Every path involves steps. And every step reveals something new.
And I know I won't arrive until I reach that glorious eternity, that purpose, that beautiful Endpoint that all the Waypoints have been leading to.
Perhaps your road will lead you there. My hope and prayer is that it does
Thanks for reading! This is probably one of the most open an honest things I’ve put out into the world since I used to journal in my teens and 20s. I’m grateful to JG for agreeing to this exchange and for being open in his letters. Stay tuned tonext week for letter 6, his final reply.
If you’d like to keep up with future essdays, drop your email here to get posts in your inbox. 👇🏻