Have you ever seen something beautiful, and then long to see it again? I remember riding the bus home from Buchholz High School, this was back in ’95-’96, and seeing the most amazing sunset. I noticed a photographer while going over the 75 over-pass, and sure enough, my favorite sunset was on the cover of the Gainesville Sun the next day.
If you’ve ever driven west on 39th, past the over-pass, you may know what I mean. As 39th caps off the northern end of Meadowbrook Golf Course you begin the steady climb up this “huge” hill. I call it a huge hill, I remember thinking as a young teenager that it must be the biggest hill in Florida (I grew up in SW Florida where I-75 over-passes greatly surpass anything that resembles a hill).
From the bottom looking up it is beastly; I would never dare someone to ride a bike up it. At the top there is a nice U-shape formed by the trees. Almost like a great foot ball goal post. At a certain time of year, the sun sets right down in the middle of that U-shaped, goal post looking, tree-lined bowl.
As you can tell, I remember it quite fondly. But I’ve never seen the sun set there again since. I don’t remember even when it happened. I assume it only comes close to lining up with the road for a week or two every year. Maybe there’s only one day a year that it lines up perfectly, like stone hedge or other great pagan monuments from the ancient past. All I know is that it was during the school year, it must’ve been in winter when the sun sets early. But other than that, nearly 14 years later, I’ve never experienced that sunset again.
It has become highly romanticized in my head. This amazing sunset, the feelings I get from it is almost… spiritual when I think about it. And when I consider finding that perfect time and going to see the sun set, instead of looking forward to it, I dread it. I dread that it will not meet to the standards of my memory. That it will not be this glorious thing it has become in my head.
This predicament becomes the analogy of so many people and their relationships with God. We get this beautiful picture of who we think God is, or who we think God should be and we begin to rely more and more on ourselves as the source of that beauty and less on the one true source. God becomes this great idea, in our head, instead of a great deity. For example, we may read and reread only our favorite passages of the Bible. The verses that fill us with warm fuzzy feelings that line up with our idea of who we think this God is that we are trying to worship. We avoid anything that speaks of discipline, or hell, or anything not pretty that may be controversial, too strict or that may lead to doubt. We are so afraid that we will lose this warm feeling about God that we’ve considered as love that we choose to ignore all the parts of the Bible that we don’t like. And so we end up with this very small, very fragile picture of God.
It’s not that we don’t have access to more knowledge about God, that it is too difficult to find or beyond our reach. It’s that we’d rather “love” the fond memories we have of God than to experience Him fully and risk being disappointed.
The rich man in Mark 10(or Luke 18) reminds me of what it is we fear the most. Here’s a rich man, a ruler, who has spent a good part of his life learning and obeying the scriptures (Mark 10:20, Luke 18:21). I imagine that he has longed for a prophet, a teacher like in the old days that he has read about in the scriptures. Then one day he hears of this teacher that speaks with authority and performs miracles under the name of God. It is his dream come true. The great thing that he has longed for in his dreams has come to life, he just needs to go and to see him. His mind is already made up, this is the one, this must be the one. He finds him, goes to him and says “Good teacher” (Luke 18:18, Mark 10:17) and right away, “ZING!” as some of my college friends would say. Jesus replies with a, “Why do you call me good? No one is good– except God alone.” (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19)
‘Ummm… ok… it’s ok, it could be worse,’ I can see him saying to himself. I’m sure this is not the way he imagined his meeting with the good teacher would go, but that’s ok. But the experience goes on, and the rich ruler ends up going home with his head cast down in disappointment. It didn’t go the way he had planned. It’s not what he had expected, not the way it went when he imagined it in his head. His dream is shot, he’s full of doubt, and he has a long way home to think about it.
We have to be weary of romanticizing God, the cross or anything in this Christian religion. Our God is a God of truth, not fantasy. When we grow attached to anything less than the whole, it’s like trying to pick up the shadow of the cup that holds the life giving water that we so desperately need. It won’t help, you’ll still be thirsty, unsatisfied, possibly in dire need.
Don’t be afraid of doubt. What is faith without doubt? I don’t know what you would call it, but I do know it is no longer faith at all.