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Searching for God Knows What

June 24, 2011

As I sat at my computer the other morning fighting with WordPress to keep it from reformatting everything whenever I tried to make minor changes to the layout of my last post, I glanced up to the bookshelf over the desk and my eyes were instantly drawn to a book.  It wasn’t that my eyes drifted over the shelves of books and this one stood out.  It was as though this book reached down and grabbed me.  When I finally got my post looking at least somewhat like I wanted it and published it, I reached for the book to see what it was.

Pay attention, Norma.  It’s time for a book review.

The book was Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What.  I was familiar with Miller having read Blue Like Jazz, and Through Painted Deserts.  I remember enjoying the former, but apparently the latter was less memorable since I can’t recall anything beyond the title.

I sat down on the couch and read the Author’s Note.  It was about feeling that life was like being fired out of a circus cannon.  I found it kind of meaningless but the four questions Miller closed with made me wonder where he was going.   I flipped the page.  In a short time I was curled up on the couch and didn’t move until midafternoon by which time my stomach was getting insistent about being hungry.  I also decided it was about time to get out of my pajamas.

Miller’s style is relaxed, irreverent and at times very funny.  It is also so very real.  As he described events in his life, his struggles in moving from religion to faith, I could identify completely.  He put into print questions that I myself have asked, but seldom out loud because I didn’t want to seem stupid.  But they are real questions, honest and pithy.  With self-deprecating humour the author accurately reflected some of my own struggles.

This first-person narrative talks about how pathetic some Christians can be, how they drive people away from Jesus.  It talks about how popular Christianity has been turned into a narcissistic program to get what one wants, how the cold rationality of systematic theology has cut the heart out of faith, and how the Bible has been turned into a self-help manual oriented toward personal success.  Miller describes his own journey in which his small God expanded to become enormous beyond comprehension, and the Bible was transformed into a poetic, complicated, messy invitation from God calling us into relationship.

I found myself rapt by his rendering of the story of the Garden of Eden; he gave it a whole new dimension that is so much more true to life than the not-too-relevant cartoon-like version I have held onto since childhood Sunday school classes.  I could truly identify with Adam in his desire for companionship.  He knew God personally and still he longed for someone like himself with whom to share his life.  And God recognized and honoured Adam’s need.  I have heard from many Christians that God should be sufficient for the person who is alone.  Apparently God doesn’t agree.

Miller explores the horror that Adam and Eve realized the enormity of what they had done and the consequences of they now faced.  He tries to imagine what it must have been like to have lived in the glory of God and to have lost it.  He wonders at the enormous pain of betrayal that God must have felt.  Through the author’s words the story became intensely personal and so much more poignant, so much more relevant.

Miller then presents his lifeboat theory that he believes explains much of human behavior.  He explains that God’s glory shone through Adam and Eve and that provided them with personal worth.  Since the Fall, that sense of self-worth no longer coming from God, people need to find other external sources of affirmation.  Consequently people have became intensely competitive, measuring themselves against others in everything they do.  The reason for this he says is that we are all afraid of being the one who will be tossed out of the lifeboat, rejected, found worthless.  In an attempt to prevent this we constantly try to promote ourselves, to make ourselves appear better than others, to give ourselves value in the eyes of others.  In the process we inevitably devalue others.  Through Jesus we have a way to return to God’s glory.  The problem is most Christians have been unable to make that reality experiential.

Miller’s central message rings true for me.  Following Jesus is about knowing Him intimately, not just knowing about Him.  It is not about “getting it right” but about loving Him and loving others as He loves us, deeply and passionately, notwithstanding the deeply flawed creatures we are.  Everything in the Bible is about relationship, man’s loss of that relationship with God, and His calling us back into relationship.  Our Father  just wants us to come home.

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As Yonèse (I have recently learned her name is properly written with an accented e) was leaving for the day and wished me bon lannwit, good night, I struggled to find the words to tell her I very much appreciate all she does for me.  In return she offered one of the most meaningful affirmations I have ever received.  She told me she appreciates how I live my life.

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