Under the fig tree

August 20, 2015

I want to be an authentic steward of Jesus’ love because of a faith grounded in the knowledge of God’s goodness.

I’m so ready to be ready to do the first part [be a steward/missionary], but it’s the second part of that statement that I’m working on. I’m not certain of God’s goodness apart from Jesus. I can blindly believe it, trust it, and defend it, but I want to know it.

I want to open myself up and see my life how it truly is. What parts were God’s goodness? Who’s responsible for the bad stuff?

I know who God is supposed to be. God is love. He is unconditionally loving, of everyone. He wants the best for me and for everyone. He is the Orchestrator of the good and the bad, the Giver of every good gift, and the Creator of everything beautiful and weird in this world.

That’s who I think God is. That’s who I want him to be, I think.

I just can’t reconcile that with the God in the Bible.

I want to sugar-coat it all by telling myself, “Who cares? Even if the Bible makes it seem like he hates some people and is sending people to hell, and even if he’s made a pretty unfair world, at least I got the long stick. God clearly loves me.” So he should be my God, no problem. Right?

But I really can’t do that.

A small voice is saying to me, “Well, the God of the Bible gave you Jesus. Can you start there? Isn’t that enough to go on?”

Maybe.

Seeing others’ responses to Ty’s death agitated me in a way I’m not proud of. I felt like they were faking it. I wanted these people I knew in college – who went to the same weekly Cru meetings and the same retreats and conferences, had the same teachings, and heard the same preachers as I did – to admit that they were as scared and unsure as I was. Or I wanted them to give me proof that their faith wasn’t fake – to somehow quantify to me what God had done for them or said to them that made them so at peace with death. To me, they sounded foolish in their assurance of heaven, but I desperately wanted to be that way too. I was afraid, and ready to say “I quit” to the whole doubting process if only I could.

But I couldn’t, I figured, at least not without some work. So I tried to gather my life together piece by piece. At the time I felt – as I often do – overwhelmed by all of life’s tasks, and I was on an emotional roller coaster due to, well, my absence of faith and Brett having to travel for work. Ty’s death sort of sent me plummeting, and in the three weeks that followed, I had the physical presence of my husband as support and a shoulder to cry on for a whopping 24 hours. But I tried to take care of myself. I took up yoga, picked up books, cooked, called the insurance company, paid medical bills on time, got dinner with friends, and got by.

Prayers/cries to the vacuum of space were finally answered when Brett got a new job at the beginning of September, right before we left for a week-long, much-needed vacation with his family at the beach. On this vacation I took three books: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (a Rich Mullins biography; I was still thinking of him as my guardian angel. I know it’s weird), the second Game of Thrones, and a tiny little copy of the book of John. I became fascinated with the story of Jesus and the disciple Nathaniel in John chapter 1. In this story, Jesus introduces himself to Nathaniel by saying, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” Nathaniel then asks how Jesus would know that, as they’d never met. Jesus replies, “I saw you while you were under the fig tree.” And at that, Nathaniel calls Jesus Rabbi, the Son of God, the King of Israel. Jesus says, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.”

And Nathaniel did. As one of the twelve disciples, he saw 5 loaves and 2 fish feed thousands, he saw a storm calmed at a wave of the Teacher’s hand, he witnessed the dead come to life. But all it took for him to believe was one simple thing. A private moment, when Jesus saw him and knew him. I don’t think Jesus “caught” Nathaniel in an act of sin. I don’t think “under the fig tree” was some sort of innuendo, and I don’t think Jesus was being sarcastic when he called Nathaniel an honest man. But I don’t know. Nathaniel could have been napping or reading or thinking profoundly, or he could have been at rock bottom, calling out to YHWH for answers. Whatever it was, the fact that a strange man said that he saw him there and knew him in that moment, was enough for Nathaniel to believe that he was in the presence of God. Maybe the only point of this story is that Jesus knows us, and Jesus can keep a secret.

This story meant so much to me because too much of my faith was based on big moments with God. Mountaintop highs that my generation chased through youth retreats and college conferences, praise and worship songs soaring through little wooden chapels and huge concert halls alike. I have always looked to God for big things, clear answers, epic moments. Kind of goes along with how I want to be a missionary. I’m kind of dramatic. I’ve read Radical. I want experiences with God to be extreme. Bible stories in Sunday school were kind of dramatic, so don’t you dare blame me for this. I was conditioned! I believed in God and Jesus and the Bible my whole life, and I wanted to see the “greater things” that Jesus told Nathaniel he would see. I was due. The disciples followed Jesus for three years, but I had followed him for twenty-two.

But when I read that story that September, because I was at this point in my life, all I wanted was to know that Jesus saw me and knew me. I wasn’t sharing my doubts with others, and I wanted a moment that no one else would notice. Something small that would make me believe.

Anyway, I think this story was part one of me finding Jesus objectively intriguing. For the rest of vacation, I finished this sentence every day: What I love about Jesus today…

  • He’s badass. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John 2:19
  • He came to prove God’s love for me.
  • He took so much joy and got so much fulfillment from his first recorded action with one of the “least of these” – the Samaritan woman at the well – that he called it food. For him, the feeling was better than being full.

This post is a continuation of several about my journey with faith and doubt. The previous three posts are here, here, and here.

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One thought on “Under the fig tree

  1. […] through doubt. If you want to start at the beginning, here are the links: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part […]

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