THE STRUGGLE OF THE INDIVIDUAL WITH GOD
“Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace: thereby good shall come to thee.” Job 22:21.
Some years ago these words caught my eye as I was riding one of the municipal buses in Los Angeles on my way to visit the famous St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The poster which contained these words literally threw me into a state of deep meditation. Not only were my eyes hypnotized by these words, but actually I felt my whole being, body and soul, consumed by the message of this verse from the book of Job. I was so overpowered by this verse that I became completely detached from what otherwise would have been a distraction.
“Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace: thereby good shall come to thee.” Indeed, how much of a reward is to be granted to the person who actually is acquainted with God. And yet, can we actually say that we know God? How many of us can honestly say that we have established an acquaintance with our Lord? This is a ridiculous question, someone might say. The fact that we are in God’s House of Worship is indicative of having established an acquaintance with our Lord. Well… I am not all that so certain. That we may be found attending church services with some degree of regularity is not by necessity indicative that we know God. However, in the eyes of how many of us can one detect the glow of knowing and of having encountered God? In the lives of how many of us can there be found peace of mind and soul? Are we at peace with our fellow man? Are we at peace with ourselves? Are we at peace with God?
Or are we finding it most difficult to live and to communicate with our fellow man, with our own self and even with our God? Is this not indicative of the personal struggle which each and every one of us is experiencing to a greater or lesser degree? Our not being able to get along with our fellow man, does not this cause us personal anguish? The fact that we are constantly on the brink of war, is this not indicative of the struggle which our society is faced? Our failure or rather our inability to communicate with ourselves, much less with God, is this not an example of a personal struggle?
Indeed, life is a continuous struggle. This struggle of the individual begins the moment he takes the first breath of life. As the years pass, it becomes all the more apparent to us. This struggle of the individual expresses itself in three areas. There is the struggle of the individual with society, the struggle of the individual with self and the struggle of the individual with God.
At this moment, I would like for us to address ourselves to the struggle of the individual with God. I do not know how many of you have had the opportunity of reading Bishop Robinson’s book, HONEST TO GOD. This book is a ‘cri de coeur’ to understand God in modern terms. In this truly honest presentation of man’s struggle for a tangible knowledge of God, Bishop Robinson battles for a meaningful exposition of God’s image. In sincere humility, he tells his readers that he can no longer think of God as ‘transcendent,’ in the sense that God is ‘out there,’ but rather thinks of God as being ‘depth, or as being ‘the ground of our being.’ The idea of a three-storied universe with heaven ‘up there’ is un- in the ‘middle’ and hell ‘down there’ is unacceptable to Bishop Robinson. The symbolic language of the earthly Church, he has replaced with what might be classified as secular language. I refer to this modern language as the secular language, because our age is a secular age, a post-Christian age. The classic example of this struggle in the life of an individual with God is that of St. Paul. He was an intellectual who displayed great zeal, enthusiasm and courage in the fulfillment of his religious convictions. So much so, that prior to his conversion, he looked upon Christianity as a vile imposture, and set out to persecute those who had espoused the new religion. The irony of it all lies in the fact that in his personal struggle for communion with God, he was one of the main instruments of his time in the extermination of the new creed. His soul thirst for what his body sought to destroy. Unconsciously, he was rebelling against the God whom he sought and longed to engage in a dialogue. And finally, that dialogue took place most dramatically. Paul, not being content in persecuting the Christians of Palestine, obtained a commission to go to Damascus to seek out there the professed Christians and bring them back to Palestine to be tried and condemned. It is on his journey to Damascus that our Lord Jesus Christ miraculously revealed Himself to Paul. Thereby, Paul’s struggle and search had come to an end having at last found that which he struggled to possess and yet at the same time sought to destroy.
This quest for communion with God, characteristic of man of every age, is eloquently expressed by Job in these words, “Oh that I knew where I might find him,” or by the 42nd Psalm “My soul thirsts for God.” The most effective means at man’s disposal in engaging in a dialogue with God is prayer. The individual struggle with God lies n the failure of man to engage in conversation with God. In prayer, one does not talk to God, but rather talks with God. Too many of us tend to monopolize the conversation and fail to listen. In one’s conversation with God, doubt is not always excluded. Thus, we should repeat these words, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” Mark 9:24. True, the problem of personal faith is a critical one for many of us. The individual in his struggle with encountering God may find the arguments of old of little help to him today. He need not despair, however, for like others of our times, he, too, may experience a personal encounter with God and thereupon Christian faith will become a living aspect of his life, for the whole man is seen and can only be seen in his relationship to God — with respect to both his origin and his destiny.
We as individuals, as we struggle along the unknown road of life, should pay heed to these words of Job, “Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace; thereby good shall come to thee.” What steps must we take, however, in order to become acquainted with God? Why this very moment, God stands at the door of our soul and knocks seeking to enter our being. However, it is only we who can open the door and allow Him to enter. Will we continue to keep it forever shut, or will we fling the door open and allow Christ to illuminate us, so that we will be forgiving as He was forgiving; loving, as He so humbly loved His enemies, as well as His friends; giving, as He so generously gave of Himself for us sinners. Do we in all sincerity seek assistance in our personal struggle with God? Do we truly want to become acquainted with our Lord? We, as individuals can only answer these questions. Our destiny lies upon the stand which we take on these vital questions.