15th July 2018.
God became most real to me when I wasn’t really sure I believed in him anymore.
I’d felt this niggling over the years, every so often I’d be in church, or in my bible, or otherwise engaged in listening to God and I’d get the feeling I was supposed to end my marriage. I always talked myself out of it, I’d pray so earnestly “I’m misunderstanding aren’t I? Of course you don’t want me to get a divorce, you hate divorce” I always decided it was actually Him telling me NOT to get a divorce, to work harder at my marriage.
It’s not always easy to discern the voice of God, to work out what his will is is it? I think that’s because sometimes he wants us to make our own decisions and will support us whatever they are. Perhaps his will is that we exercise our own free will, learn discernment, make a choice for ourself and stand by it, I know that’s the kind of thing I want for my children as they mature.
Anyway, I digress. When I did leave, I didn’t immediately feel I’d done what God wanted. In fact I immediately felt defiant “you hate divorce, well tough, I asked you to fix him and you didn’t, this is your fault.” I remember telling my sister and her friends I didn’t really care if they prayed for me “because I didn’t believe in God anymore anyway.”I did really.
And God believed in me. I’ve written loads about how he showed up, how he picked up the pieces, and how he taught me “I never wanted you to be abused” “I’m not angry with you, I’m angry for you.” Over the next couple of years God made me realise that when I’d been living with abuse it was like living in perpetual darkness, so adjusted were my eyes to it I’d forgotten what daylight looked like. As the blinkers were removed from my eyes I slowly realised that I’d lived a half life, a fear driven dark life. Abuse had prevented me from really living, from thriving, from being everything I was created to be. And it had prevented me from really having a full and loving relationship with God.
As all that changed Jesus’ words “The thief comes to steal and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in all it’s fullness” (John 10:10) took on new meaning for me. I realised that my circumstances had meant I couldn’t have life in all its fullness, a life lived in fear isn’t a full life. But now, because God lifted me out of the abuse, I can live, and the possibilities are endless. The really cool thing about this fullness of life is that it means I am not only happier and more fulfilled, but that I’m able to enjoy a deeper relationship with God: Jesus gives me fullness of life, and the fullness of life gives me a better relationship with Christ, which gives me more fullness of life and so on and so on.
At the same time I was freed from physical fear I began to throw off the shackles of spiritual fear. So often the “Good News” is presented as “escape from hell,” so often we’re told to believe in order to save our souls from hell, to tell others to believe to save their souls from hell, salvation becomes about being saved from some future scary afterlife, that’s not faith, it’s fear. But the bible tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18) For me salvation itself began to take on new meaning. Salvation wasn’t a future event, to happen at the moment of my death (or sometime thereafter) it was something that was happening now. Jesus had saved me from a life of fear, caused by my husband’s sin. I realised that salvation from sin wasn’t some airy fairy theological concept, it was real, it was now. And it was bigger than this, because as I began to grow with God I not only stopped being fearful of the hands of a man wrapped around my throat, I also stopped being fearful of the chains of sin wrapped around my soul…. yeah okay I’m being a bit religiously hyperbolically poetic there aren’t I? Sorry I couldn’t resist. But what I mean is that I stopped worrying…. what if I read the rules wrong and believe or do the wrong thing? like: Should I cover my head when I pray? Should I have not have got that tattoo? What if my son doesn’t ever return to faith, will he go to hell? I stopped worrying about all of it, because God said “it’s okay, I’ve got this”
You see, my God got bigger. I learned that when I get things wrong his grace is enough. When I believe the wrong thing, his grace is enough, when I feel sad because I’ve been dumped, or didn’t get the job I applied for, or fell out with a friend, his grace is enough, when I feel guilty because I was horrid to someone I love, or I skipped church or whatever, his grace is enough. God says “it’s okay, I got this.” And for me THIS is what salvation looks like, and this is what fullness of life looks like. No fear, no guilt, no shame.
And this changes everything about my theology and how I respond. Critically it moves my evangelism focus. Because for me salvation isn’t about escaping some future catastrophe brought about by failing to follow the right rules. For me salvation is about fullness of life, lived free from fear and guilt and shame and poverty and abuse. This is what being freed and saved from our sin looks like. Being able to have a beautiful, loving relationship with a perfect father who loves me and affirms me as his brilliantly created child, and takes pleasure in watching and helping me grow and become more. For me, the gospel I’m told to share with the world isn’t escape from fire and brimstone, isn’t “don’t do this bad stuff” it’s fullness of life.
I don’t believe I have the ability to convince anyone about how great God is. But I know God does. The notion that I need to preach to people to save them from hell is ridiculous to me, what does it say about God that he’d place another human beings soul in my fallible hands when his are so much bigger? That someone could end up in hell because I didn’t say the right thing to convince them? God loves them more than that. God is big enough, wonderful enough to convince anyone, everyone of that and I trust him to do that in His time, in His way. God has shown me that he wants all those precious people out there to have fullness of life, in Him, through Him, because of Him. He wants people to be all they can be, he wants all of creation living free of the bonds that stop us having fullness of life.
So what’s my place in building his kingdom? What does evangelism look like? It looks like helping everyone I meet to have fullness of life. If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from you don’t have fullness of life. If you are walking on eggshells trying to avoid your husband’s temper, you don’t have fullness of life. If you’re being trafficked, if you’re travelling across the world in a rubber dingy fleeing war, if you’re being raped, you don’t have fullness of life. I can’t convince people about God, only God can do that, but I CAN do something about the social injustice that is the thief in the night who comes to steal and destroy, I can help make that space in the lives of everyone I meet for God to whisper ‘hello’ and shine a light in the darkness. This is the gospel. This is salvation.