By the time I was 21, I had concluded that life had no meaning. I had grown up in the church, but I was cynical. I didn’t see Jesus in the life of the church, especially in race relations. I had briefly tried a life of partying and “having fun.” It wasn’t fun for me; it was empty, meaningless.
At age 21, I calculated that a normal life expectancy would bring me 50 years of meaningless, empty existence. To cope, I decided to live dangerously: racing cars, climbing mountains, wild river canoeing. But all that did was provide me with fleeting moments of distraction from my meaningless life.
Then one day it occurred to me (the Holy Spirit gently convicted me) that I had not tried God for myself. My sojourn in church had been as a guest, a stranger. So I decided to try an experiment to see if God is real.
At the time I was working a night shift in order to leave my days free for adventure. So I decided in my humility that for one week I would read the Bible before I went to work. The first night I began reading Matthew. It was so familiar from my years in church that it was no help to me. Same old, same old. (I am ashamed to say.) The next night Mark, with the same result.
Wednesday night I was getting desperate; I really did want God to be real; I wanted life to have meaning. So I flipped through the Bible, looking for something fresh. When I got to the end, I thought, “Well I saw the book of Job in there. I kinda know the story but I haven’t really read it.” So I turned to Job and began to read.
By the time I reached the twelfth chapter, I was twisted into knots. Here was someone as angry as I was, someone questioning God. I had felt that the church excluded someone who thought like that and argued with God. But here is such a man right in the Bible.
The tension was more than I could stand; I couldn’t keep reading this argument, this anguish. So I turned quickly to see how it all ended. I found chapter 38, where God answers Job out of the whirlwind:
Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? . . . . “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.”
In these challenges, God spoke to me. I am not alone; I am not alone in an empty, meaningless void. God is with me treating me like a mature person. But God is also God, and I am also human. I struggle into live faithfully with God in a fallen world. I am learning that to live faithfully with God is to follow Jesus. I have learned that to follow Jesus I need the presence of the Holy Spirit among God’s people. I have learned to think of my calling to theology as a call to wrestle with God.
The foundational epic moment of my life: reading Job as a 21 year-old, being claimed by God as I knelt weeping on green-ribbed bedspread, overwhelmed by the beginning of my life of faith in God.