I’m going to talk about the trouble I have with God.
You might expect that I am going to talk about the trouble with believing in God when God cannot be experienced in any way that would pass laboratory scrutiny. Well:
1. Either there is a God or there is not.
2. If all that is real is what we can prove, then we are of all species most to be pitied.
3. And I have had sufficient personal experience with a startlingly magnificent Other that I have no trouble believing in that Other’s existence.
To quote the theologian Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
Or you might expect that I am going to talk about the trouble with believing in a loving God when there is so much suffering in the world. Well:
1. Suffering appears to be woven into the fabric of things.
2. I and others can testify to a strange phenomenon in which we actually experience the presence of God to a greater degree in difficult times than in easy ones.
3. And the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ continue to teach me that God suffers with us and is overcoming our suffering.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
No, the trouble that I have with God comes not from wondering if God exists or why, if God exists, there is suffering in the world.
The trouble that I have with God comes rather from the fact that I sometimes – quite often, really – find God to be so utterly aggravating. Frankly, God won’t leave me alone.
Sometimes I think that my life would be simpler if I did not have to take God into account because in taking God into account I find that there are greater expectations, responsibilities and obligations placed upon me. And if it really is God with whom I have to do – and if it really is God who has to do with me – then the expectations and responsibilities and obligations could hardly be higher – nor could the stakes. After all, if the One with whom I have to do really is God, then it is not in this life only but in the life to come that I have to do with that One.
It is the same, although to a lesser degree, with all relationships; they increase the expectations and responsibilities and they raise the stakes. Being a husband does. Or a father. Or a friend. Or a neighbor.
I don’t have to live in any of those ways, by which I mean that no one forced me to choose to live in any of those relationships. I could have withdrawn from society and lived in some secluded place far away from any other person. Even if I could not have managed to live on a deserted island or in a mountain cave, I could still have chosen to live without opening myself up to the demands and the risks that are inseparable from personal relationships. I could have limited my personal conversations to statements like “Number 1 with sweet tea” and “It’s a debit card.” I could have chosen to live being responsible in anything approaching a personal way to no one except me.
I shudder to think, though, how sad and empty my life would be had I chosen that way. I shudder to think of how less human I would be. I shudder to think of how less me I would be.
The people in my life who matter the most to me, the ones to whom I am the closest, the ones in and through whom I find so much of my life’s meaning, are also the most aggravating – by which I mean they never leave me alone, they never stop making demands on me, they never stop causing me to feel responsible to them and for them, even when they are not trying to do those things, which, I am eager to report, they almost never are. They do them just by being there and by being there for me.
It is aggravating.
And it is wonderful.
I would have it no other way because it is precisely in the relationships that place the most responsibilities and demands on me that I find the most excitement, the most fulfillment and the most meaning.
Yes, my life would be simpler without those people and without the responsibilities and demands they place on me but it would not be as full of joy and possibility and adventure and meaning as it is because they are in it.
That brings me back to why God is so utterly aggravating.
It all comes down, I think, to openness – openness to the possibilities, openness to others, openness to risk and, to sum it all up, openness to life and to the potential fullness of life. The more open I am to someone else – to all that I can bring to her and that she can bring to me, to all that I can be for him and that he can be for me – the more reward there will be but also the more risk there will be. The more vital and important and necessary a relationship becomes, the more responsibilities and demands and obligations I will feel in it and the more I will want in the depths of my being to live up to and even exceed the maximum requirements – even when I don’t want to.
If it is that way with the people to whom I have opened up my life and who have opened up their lives to me – if so much of the reward is imbedded in the aggravation – how much more that way will it be – must it be – with God?
So here is a new prayer: “Thank you, God, for aggravating me. Please don’t stop. Amen.”
Michael Ruffin is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga. This column originally appeared on his blog.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.