I remember a time when it seemed quite obvious to me that God was what I wanted. I thought I understood what Pascal meant by a God-shaped vacuum in my life and Saint Augustine's insistence that hearts are restless until they rest in God. But what I was fairly certain I had grasped cognitively, I knew I had not grasped practically. The hole seemed only partially filled and my heart did not seem at all at rest. I wanted to want God. I knew it was God that I ultimately wanted, and yet I was sickened with the suspicion that I had not found God fully because I didn't want God enough. And so I wrestled: Do I really believe? Fully trust in Christ? Hope in the cross? Am I sorry enough for my sins? Am I seeking with all my heart? How can I make myself want God more?
But who can navigate through such a mess of ifs and conditions? If I work harder, if I trust more fully, if I repent more somberly or seek more fervently, then I might find the holy God of faith. Still for others, the conditions we set before a relationship with God are a matter of hiding: if God really knew me, if I stop running, if I sat before God without this mask, God wouldn't want anything to do with me.
But in our mess of conditions, it is often the simplest thing that escapes us. For at the heart of the Christian pursuit of God is the game-changing promise of God as human.
And I am most confronted about the 'ifs and thens' I needlessly carry, when I am sitting before the 'ifs and thens' of those who knew him best. The apostle Peter writes: "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good" (1 Peter 2:2-3). Peter's words put forth a shining thought: If you don't want God, then why are you so anxious to want to want God? But if you have indeed tasted that the Lord is good, then why wouldn't you want more? Could it not be that this longing is in and of itself an assurance of God's presence? If you have tasted the goodness of God in anyway, then hunger for the one who spoke and walked and died and lives, as if a baby crying for milk; for God is near.
The disciple who knew first hand his own disappointing reactions before God here exhorts us to move beyond 'ifs' when it comes to Christ. Let us not prefer our pain, or drag our feet, or self-examine ourselves to sickness. For Christ is one of us, mediating on our behalf. If you have even slightly tasted the goodness of the Lord, then like newborn infants, yearn for this one who nourishes, thirst for God's living, human Son.
In reality, I believe that my want for God was a real one. And in fact God was nearer than I realized, as life often goes. I believe our longing itself is something of answer to our restlessness, though it is one that will not be fully known until we are fully in his presence. In any case, and perhaps most importantly, God has found us.
When Jesus stood at the well beside the woman of Samaria, the conversation was about water but the words were about life, though she didn't realize it at first.(1) Shocked that he, a Jew without a cup, would request a drink from her, a Samaritan with a past, she asked if he knew what he was doing. For surely, she must have reasoned, if he really knew her, he would not want anything to do with her. Pointedly, Jesus responded not by validating her 'ifs' but by replacing the subject of the sentence with himself. "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." Putting down her water jar, and her struggle, she ran home with the excitement of a child and told everyone about the one who found her at the well.
We are like children discovered by one of our own.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) See John 4.