A stray cat has taken up residence at the place where I work, and has recently cranked out a litter of kittens. One of them, a black and white kitten, often wanders around where we can see her, and when I get the chance, I try to feed her. The problem is that she's way too skittish, and goes running off when I get within thirty feet of her.
This frustrates me, because I know that if she got near me, I could provide her with food and affection. While it's true that she could find some amount of those things on her own, without my help, she'll be nowhere near as full or as happy as she could be if she would simply run toward me instead of away.
Have you ever noticed people reacting to God in the same way?
Christianity is often explained as if faith brings joy, and people who don't have Christ are miserable all the time. I don't think this is the case. Even people who don't have Christ are capable of partaking of the gifts of life that God has given them - friendship, good food, humor, a place to live. They are capable, like that kitten, of acquiring some measure of contentment for themselves outside of God. The irony is that they're relying on the senses that God has given them, taste and touch and sight, and feeling emotions that God created, happiness and love. In the past, when I have written about the parable of the prodigal son, I have suggested that this is what it means to "demand our inheritance" from God, to use the things that he's given us, but to use them for all the wrong things.
Indeed, just like the kitten, people may feel somewhat content apart from God. The problem is that they've spent so much time running from him that they don't have any way of conceiving how much happier they could be if they were in God's arms instead. A feral cat's first instinct is to run away from people, although in the cat's case it makes some modicum of sense, because any given person may be out to feed the cat, or may be out to give it a swift kick. The cat has no way of knowing what it's about to experience, so it fears everyone and never gives them a chance. I don't know if this is the exact reason that people who believe in some higher power are scared to run to the God of the Bible. Yet the reaction to the fear is the same: fleeing something that could be really beneficial and bring real joy and happiness.
See, when the cat runs away from me, the cat perceives that it's fleeing a potential source of pain and mistreatment. I, seeing it differently, perceive that the cat is fleeing a source of affection, comfort, and satisfaction. I wonder if God doesn't see people the same way. I wonder if he doesn't frown and sag his shoulders, metaphorically of course, when we - Christians and non-Christians alike - choose to retreat into ourselves rather than run into his arms. He knows what we're running away from, and if only we knew it as well as he did, there's no way any of us would ever run away from it.
I think this is probably the reason that David, in Psalm 34, sings, "Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in him." Taste and see. Find out what God is like. Although much of Christianity can be defined in words, wrapped up in propositional truth, there is a definite element to it that is strictly experiential. That cat's worldview isn't going to change until the day she trusts a human and sees that there's nothing to fear. In some ways, a non-Christian will be the same, persisting in unbelief until the one day, the one crisis situation, where they find themselves turning to God for no reason that they can really explain. We know that when that happens, they will find out experientially what we have been telling them propositionally all along: that the Lord is good, and blessed are those who take refuge in him.
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