Never Alone

At church this morning, the sermon was good. It was about loneliness, and how Jesus Christ lives inside of us. As the hymn by the Gaithers goes: “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future. And life is worth the living just because he lives.” But the pastor told us the back story about the Gaithers’ writing of this hymn. He said that they were living during the “God is dead” trend as well as the upheavals of the 1960’s, and they wondered if they should have a child in that kind of environment. But they were comforted by their belief in Jesus’ resurrection and God’s presence with them, and so they had the faith to face the future.

The pastor told other stories as well. One story he told was about special education students who were using computers at their school, which helped them to improve their academic skills. The principal did not have faith in them, and so he excluded them from an experimental program that involved the computers. But their teacher did have faith in them, which is why she had them use the computers. One special education student named Raymond, who was from a dysfunctional family and who showed hardly any academic promise, demonstrated a remarkable amount of academic progress as he used the computer. When he was asked why, he replied, “Everybody calls me a retard, but the computer calls me Raymond.”

This story was meaningful to me because it reminded me of the importance of using people’s names. As social skills coach Deb Fine has said, people love the sounds of their own names! I think that the purpose of this story within the sermon was that, as an analogy, the story can illustrate that God loves us, values us, and knows us by name, even though we may be a blip on the radar of the rest of the world—or even if others scorn us. The pastor talked about these sorts of themes in his sermon.

At the beginning of his sermon, the pastor told us a story about actor Martin Sheen. During the making of the movie Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen was in the hospital, and he was worried that he might not be able to fulfill his obligations for the movie. When his wife told him that it was just a movie, however, he became more relaxed, and he quickly recovered.

The pastor asked us if we ever wished that life would be just a movie. When we are young, we want to fast-forward to a life of independence. There are times when we may want to pause life so we can keep the good times. When we are old, we may desire to slow down life so that we can live it a little longer. And then there are things that we may want to redo—and so we wish life had a “rewind” button. I think that the lesson here was that, wherever we may be in life, we can take comfort that Jesus Christ lives inside of us.

The pastor also talked about soldiers in war who found comfort in their faith. I have heard that there are no atheists in foxholes—but I doubt that’s this is completely accurate, for I have read of atheists in foxholes, and their lack of belief in an afterlife motivated them to stay alive during battle. But faith does give strength and comfort to people in the heat of battle.

But I wonder something: What kind of faith? Is it faith in a God who sends most of the world to hell for not being Christian, or is it a more generic kind of faith—a faith in a loving, benevolent, and wise higher power—the sort of faith that I see on such shows as Little House on the Prairie? Speaking for myself, I’d have a hard time deriving comfort from the critical, wrathful God who is in certain passages of the Bible and also in some conservative Christian circles. But I can gain some comfort from a more generic sort of God—one who does not send people to hell for holding the wrong beliefs, or refuse to hear some people’s prayers because they are not living a particular sort of way. I think of Ronald Reagan’s conception of God. His daughter, Patti, said that her father told her that she can always talk to God, however she may be living her life. I seriously doubt that Reagan was telling his daughter that how she lived did not matter to him or to God. Rather, he was saying that God is always there—as a loving and compassionate friend.

I believe that God loves each of us, even if we’re not living the right way. But God wants us to live the right way because that’s what is best for us. But he won’t shun us until we get our acts together. It would be impossible for me to have faith in any other kind of God, for, if God will have nothing to do with me until I get my act together, or “repent”, then God will never have anything to do with me, for my act will never be totally together!

I’ll be taking my Hebrew Bible comprehensive exam this week, and I appreciated my pastor’s prayer for me. He asked that I might read the questions and know how to answer them. I like how he phrased that. The first time that I took this exam, I read the questions, and then my reaction was “duh.” I didn’t know what exactly to say, and so I wrote all over the place. This time around, I hope that I can write cogent, organized, and well-informed essays. I’ve been asking God to help me to pass my exams, for I don’t want to pay another $1,200 for the candidacy fee this coming semester. But I wonder: Why I should trust that God will answer my prayer—when there are tornadoes in America taking away people’s lives and property? Still, in my opinion, when it comes to prayer—for myself or for others—it doesn’t hurt to try.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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