Although Jesus has always reflected my understanding of God, how I have understood Jesus has changed throughout my life. My earliest conviction was that Jesus met me in a decisive moment and set me on an inevitable path of daily improvement. I thought a single encounter with Jesus would be a turning point that eternally transformed me.
What I have learned by struggles with disbelief, marital strife, failing health, and fallen idols is that while God is always reaching out to me, I am not always reaching out to God. I am “prone to wander,” and God’s grace is what brings me back.
I remember a moment of despair in a hospital chapel when I was thirty-six. My uncle was dying of cancer, my marriage was breaking up, and my trust in a religious community was shaken by personal strife. Until that day my uncle had believed he would be healed from cancer. He died two days later. Until that moment I thought that God would save my marriage by divine intervention. I learned I would have to choose to climb out of that hole. Until that moment I thought the truth would be clear from the guidance of my spiritual community and mentors. I realized that I would learn God’s will by taking small steps of faith— that faith involved groping in the darkness as often as following a lighted path.
I believe in the relentless grace of God. I knew grace when I received a sabbatical to complete my doctoral studies, when I found the ideal teaching position half way across the country, when my late wife was freed from addictive medication, when we reveled in three weeks in Hawaii the year before she died, when I met my current wife on an impulse date my first time in St, Louis. Some may call these events luck, the result of determination, or a deserved reward. I call them grace.
I had only looked for God in expected places like an evangelistic rally, in the pages of the Bible, or in a miraculous event. Today I find Jesus in everything I read, write, believe or learn from people with or without spiritual credentials. It is not because every person is a prophet or every statement is a prophecy. It is because I have so much to learn. In vulnerability and hope I am drawn, and wish for others to be drawn, to Jesus.