I had an opportunity to have a long conversation about faith with someone this week. He had lots of questions and lots of concerns about Christianity. Even after our conversation, I'm sure he still does.
At one point he asked me: "God loves you, right?"
He said this as an on-ramp to a series of comments about suffering. He paused to let me say the obligatory "Yes" or "Of course" or "He loves every Duke fan." After I answered, he'd turn the question to something like "Well, then, why does he ..." or "why doesn't he ...". I've had this conversation a dozen times. And not only as the one who's being asked the questions. I remember peppering Tommy Frank with questions like these almost 20 years ago.
But I've learned to do something over the years.
Instead of answering with "Yes" or "Of course" or "He'd better," I answer with "I think so. I hope so."
That's a very strange answer for a pastor or missionary to give to the question "God loves you, right?"
And the guy I was talking with picked up on the strangeness. "You don't know? You're not certain?"
This pushed the conversation into a different vein. Instead of positioning myself as God's defender and the guy with answers to all the questions (a role that's so tempting to play because it flatters my ego), my comment positioned me as a fellow seeker. And that's how I view myself.
I believe that God loves me. I have lots of evidence: evidence from Scripture, from experience, from my community. I live my life as if God loves me. But I know I'm playing the odds. 999,999 to 1,000,000 that he loves me. One and a million that I'm mistaken.
I'm not sold on the postmodern idea that says "You can never be certain." It's too easy to deflate that balloon: "Are you certain that you can never be certain?" My comment isn't about philosophy. Instead, it's about posture.
The world needs more people who will hold on to the posture of a seeker - that eagerness and humility and charity - in order to give others space to ask their questions and explore the faith.
That said, there are times when the certainty will wash over me, like a wave sweeping across the beach. I had a moment like this in prayer last week. The wave covers over all the doubt and all the questions, but only for a moment. If asked in that moment if God loved me, I would reply "Right now, I feel like he does, yes."
Perhaps this is why Jesus insisted that his followers would need to rely on the Spirit when giving testimony to him. If the person I'm talking to needs assurance of God's love, God's Spirit can wash over us both like a wave and give us the confidence to claim that we're loved. If the person I'm talking to needs space to explore the Christian faith, God's Spirit can give us the courage to wander the doubt-scattered shore, awaiting the rising of the tide.
What posture do you need to take today?