Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for youAs yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bendYour force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.I, like an usurp’d town to another due,Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,But am betroth’d unto your enemy;Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,Take me to you, imprison me, for I,Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.– John Donne
In my first post I discussed my intention to explore the three pillars that have made me who I am. My first four posts were about the first pillar, my parents. The following three posts were about my war, the second pillar. The final pillar is my God. I will discuss this pillar in only a single post. This is in no way because God has played a smaller role in my life than my parents or the war. In fact it is quite the opposite. His influence is so all-encompassing, so overwhelming that I could easily write volumes. With that in mind, I have decided to write this post about where I was as a person when I came to Christ. I intend to write many future posts about topics such as discipleship, creation, and living as a Christian. So, instead of packing all of my thoughts into one post, I will limit the topic today and give many of my thoughts a larger stage in future posts. This post will be a little raw, but its the only way I know how to discuss this subject.
I have often thought that if I didn’t believe in God I would kill myself. I don’t mean that I think about killing myself in some cerebral abstract sense, nor do I imagine doing it in some grand public display. I mean that I would just go home, and call the police so that they would know to take care of my dogs. Then I would put my Remington 870 in my mouth and pull the trigger. I wouldn’t do it because I hate myself, or because I’m depressed, but because outside of God I fail to see the point of my own existence. Now before you start bombarding me with crisis hotline numbers and telling me how I’m a unique person who has intrinsic worth, let me assure you that I have no intentions of killing myself. My point is that without God I wouldn’t really see the point of living. Perhaps you do, and that’s great, but I don’t.
I have pursued many of the pleasures the world has to offer. Many of which were advertised to me as fulfilling. I have pursued at one point or another: sex, drugs, alcohol, violence, and money. They have all turned to rot in my mouth. They brought only momentary fulfillment, but nothing lasting. So what was the point? If I am left unsatisfied what should I do? Do more drugs? Drink more? Sleep with more women? Pursue pleasure as far as I can? No. These are not the actions of a man. Consuming whatever I see before me with no self-awareness or any thought to the consequences, is not being human. To be human is to aspire to something greater.
These aspirations can be seen throughout the history of the west. From the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres to the Symphonies of Beethoven, from Shakespeare’s plays to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, from the pen of Plato to the Magna Carta, humanity has striven to rise up. Humans were made to look up. At one point in my life I faced the choice of whether to continue wallowing in the mud, or to try to seek something greater. It happened during my second tour in Iraq.
During the late summer of 2007 I had been in Iraq for almost 12 months. I had spent 3 of the previous 4 years of my life overseas, and 2 of those in combat zones. I was tired, and I was beginning to shut down. Before I left for my second tour I was convinced that I wouldn’t return. So I just gave up on the idea of living. Many guys who have served know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a lot easier to get through combat when you give up hope. You lose your fear of death. This enabled me to operate freely and confidently without being paralyzed by fear of getting killed. For almost a year I operated under the assumption that I wouldn’t live. As my tour began to wind down, I was confronted with the fact that perhaps my death wasn’t inevitable and I might actually survive. The idea shook me to my core because I had lived so long without any hope, that I had no idea what I would do with myself if I survived. The only life I had known was one of mindless consumption, and I saw no point or attraction in that any longer. I needed a higher calling, something that gave me meaning if existence were to mean anything to me at all. So I started to search, and that’s when I found God.
My father is a pastor, so I was no stranger to thinking about God. This was something completely different. I desperately needed a reason to hope, a reason to continue. I had seen so much human depravity that I found no hope in humanity, and I could find nothing in this world in which to place any faith. Instead I found hope in the one who created us. I was struck by the promise in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” I had put my faith in so many other things over the course of my life, I decided to take God up on his promise. I decided to accept a yoke. I yielded my own will to his. In doing so I found purpose, meaning, and hope. Through submission I found freedom.
In 2007, I was in Baghdad, Iraq as a member of the U.S. Army infantry, so my day-to-day life involved the almost constant risk of serious injury or death. One day my platoon was asked to investigate a dead body that had been found in a pile of trash. Baghdad was the murder capital of the world at the time, so dead bodies were very common. Our job when we found them, was to try and determine how they were murdered and to see if there were any witnesses. It was usually a waste of time as most people were too afraid to say anything.
Because I was considered one of the ‘smart guys’ in the platoon it was my job to inspect the bodies we found. But, on this particular day instead of dropping me off near the body, my squad leader delayed and dropped me off 100 yards away. I was angry and just wanted to get my job done, so I yelled at him. At about the same time I was losing my temper the body exploded and seriously wounded several American and Iraqi soldiers. The body had been booby-trapped, and had my squad leader dropped me off when and where I wanted, I would have been killed.
This wasn’t the first, or last time, I came close to being killed. But it was the only time my life was saved because of the seemingly random actions of someone else. Upon reflection that night, I considered that it made absolutely no sense for my squad leader to have delayed that day, he should have just dropped me off. That’s what made me realize it hadn’t been random chance which had saved me, it had been God. I knew then that I could no longer ignore him.
That night I opened up the Bible my parents had given me, but I rarely ever read. I wanted to discover more about this God who had saved my life. What I discovered was that saving my life was only the tip of the iceberg. He had saved my soul.
I learned that all people were sinful, which didn’t come as any surprise. What surprised me was that there were no ‘good people,’ and no one could be good enough for God. There was no amount of good living that would make me worthy of him. That was depressing to read. But what I learned next blew my mind. I learned that God had anticipated how helpless we were in our sin. Consequently, he sacrificed Jesus, his own son, to be punished in the place of us all so that we might all be saved. Not just in body, but in spirit. I learned that God had already saved me when I didn’t even know I needed saving.
I realized that what I had perceived to be freedom was really slavery. I had been a slave to my own desires. Submission to God doesn’t mean I no longer have desires, it just means that they no longer rule my life. My guiding principle is no longer just “feeling good.” I had never explicitly stated that “feeling good’ was the guiding principle of my life, but a close examination of my choices would have revealed that this was the philosophy undergirding it. While I still enjoy feeling good, I am now more concerned with the will of he who made me than how often I am able to have a good time.
I cannot express how radically this changed my life. I finished my tour in Iraq without the fear of death. The difference in me was that I no longer feared death because I possessed hope, not because I had forsaken it. I had faith that if God was powerful enough to create the universe then he was also powerful enough to determine what was best for me. Maybe that meant dying, and maybe it didn’t. I trusted in whatever God had in store for me. Death itself held no more power over me. I know it sounds crazy, but I truly believe that I will never die. My body might die, but not me. I’m eternal.
Let me be clear, I don’t want to begin writing a theological treatise here. I’m just expressing my own experiences. However, it is important for me to confess that I believe all these things because I believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Everything else flows from that.
The idea that Jesus Christ was more than just a man, that he was both a man and God at once, completely changed me. All of the sudden he seemed real to me, and by extension so did everything he said. The idea that I was created (whether through evolution or not, I’m really not trying to open that can of worms right now) gave my life new meaning. If I was fashioned, if I was shaped, if I was watched over by the author of all creation, I had meaning, I had purpose. And I do. That isn’t to say I have discovered exactly what I’m supposed to do at every moment of everyday. For that matter I still have trouble getting through an ordinary Tuesday. Yet, I still have the assurance that I am being watched over. That I am not on a ship with no captain. That I am headed somewhere.
God gives my life purpose, direction and meaning. Outside of him I cannot see any reason to exist or keep on living. Some might see this as a sign of weakness, that I need God to be my crutch. Quite the opposite is true. I view this as a sign of strength. I’m strong enough to admit I need help. It’s tough to swallow your pride, its easy to give into it and go it alone. Without God I see no reason for me to exist. Without God I am not me.
I know this has been a sort of rambling post, but its hard to talk about something that is so deep within me. Once again, I’m not going to kill myself, and neither should you. Perhaps you see lots of other reasons for existence outside of God, and that’s great for you. But I don’t. This is just something I had to get out. God is my reason for existence. He strips my soul bare and remakes me day by day. He is the reason I get out of bed everyday and he is the largest influence on who I am. As always I invite your thoughts, critiques, and communications in the comments.