If anybody asks

“Quietly trust yourself to Christ your Lord, and if anybody asks why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him…” 1 Peter 3:15a (TLB)

“But… do you still believe in the God of Abraham, Jacob, Isaac… all that?” He asked.

I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. “Well, yeah.” And then I stumbled through some sort of defense, an explanation. But what I largely felt was embarrassed and scared.

Embarrassed and scared because I didn’t want this friend to lump me together with certain perceptions of Christianity, certain schools of thought, and political associations that I don’t identify with. This friend had also known me in High School, when I was young and naive and ever so idealistically narrow in my experience and beliefs. I wanted him to know I wasn’t still that same person. So, I stumbled through some defensive explanation.

For somewhere around two years now I can’t stop thinking about this conversation. I wish I could have handled it differently. What I said wasn’t false or a lie, but it also wasn’t the truth. Not the whole of it.

I don’t remember everything I said, but I remember that a large part of my argument, my defense for why I believed, centered around this line of thought….

The fruits of belief are better than the fruits of unbelief.

Essentially, I like who I am better when I believe. The results of belief in my life are helpful, good, desperately needed even. Maybe religion is only “the opiate of the people” as Karl Marx said, but who cares because it’s a damn good opiate.

This line of defense isn’t false. I do believe this. There are times when I think exactly this practically and disconnectedly about faith. But, I knew as soon as I got in the car to drive away from coffee with that friend that it also wasn’t the truth. It’s not why I still believe. I said a lot of things, but I didn’t say the one real, true thing — the only reason I can really give.

I have tasted and I’ve seen.

I don’t still hold to the God of my childhood because it’s better than the alternative. I hold to the God of my childhood because I’ve experienced God and I cannot walk away from that experience. I have seen, and heard, and known deep down in my bones, the presence of God with me.

I can’t explain these experiences. Maybe that’s why I didn’t even consider talking about them when put on the spot, but this is why I believe. Whenever doubts flood my mind or God feels distant I remember and cling to those moments. And they aren’t vague. They aren’t abstract experiences of some vague, unknown, disconnected God — they are specific.

I have been asked to lay everything I care for on the alter, like Abraham, and I was met there with refining fire.
I have wrestled with God late into the night, begging for a blessing, like Jacob.
When I have been desperate and needy, God has shown up as the God who provides.
When I have been lost and confused, God has shown up as the Councilor and Prince of Peace.
I have heard the Spirit of Love whisper over me, “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased. I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Even when the concept of God seems unclear, when theological questions feel heavy and without answer, when I don’t know where I stand on topics that others seem willing to die on in the name of Christianity, when I flat out disagree with something in scripture and don’t know how to rectify the divide, I cling to these experiences of God’s presence. And I trust. What needs to be clear will be clear in time and even though there’s a whole heck of a lot I don’t understand, I’m not asked to understand, I’m asked to follow. I’m asked into relationship and that’s what I have experienced and what I can’t walk away from.

Because I know God. I’ve tasted and I’ve seen.

And don’t get me wrong. I am not claiming to have physically seen God. I am not claiming to have heard an audible voice, or seen a vision, or anything like that. But these experiences of God’s presence have been so tangible and real, so complete and full, that many of them may as well have been physical experiences. They were real, truer than true, and I can’t argue against them or get away from them.

Of course this isn’t my constant, or even my normal state. I do not always feel God’s presence in this way. I do not always hear (or listen) to the guidance of the Spirit. There are lots of times when God has been silent and distant. That is in fact my more common state. It’s the state of being that asks of me more trust and faith — exactly what is required.

I went to a Christian school. I learned all the apologetic arguments. But the only thing that has kept me on this path, through thick and thin, is the very real and living presence of God. I have had enough of these real and powerful experiences that I can’t dismiss them. I can’t walk away from this God I have met, and known, and walked with all my life.

This is what I wish I had said when I sat at that little table on the patio sipping iced coffee. This is what I wish I had said to that old friend, who had walked with me through so much doubt and uncertainty in my early adult life. This is what I wish I had said when asked if and why I still believe.

Grace and peace,

Bethany Stedman