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Where Do I Find God - Part III


Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

This is not an argument built with facts and statistics. It’s not an essay to be graded. It’s not even an attempt to point fingers or blame anyone. This is simply my story.

I was ready to quit the faith. My whole life I had been conditioned to think a certain secular way, but a tiny part of me was always trying to push back against it. I held the smallest sliver of hope that Andrews would prove to have the answers. But for what? Was it even worth it? Maybe I should stop fighting and just go with the flow of whatever river I’m in. Stop thinking for myself and just stay quiet. Be a chameleon.

But that’s not how I am. So I ranted, vented, and let off all the steam that was boiling from within. In front of people that I didn’t think would give me answers. And I was right. They didn’t give me answers. They were incredible listeners, and they gave me questions instead. Why should the behavior of other people color your personal faith? What does the Bible say about faith? Have you read the Bible cover to cover? Why do you look towards sinful beings as examples when we have Jesus as an example?

And then, all of a sudden, it clicked. Of course, I was just looking at it from the wrong angle. Just like how I judged any ideology back in high school, I was trying to look for its fruits. Do the people that follow this ideology exemplify something I like? Are they good humans? Are they effective, are they capable, do they share the same values I have?

But the Christian faith says that we all fall short of the ideal, and that piece wasn’t included during my analysis. Factoring that in, I realized I was reading the wrong data—I wouldn’t find my faith with humans. I would find it from God Himself.

In “Steps to Christ” Chapter 3, “Repentance,” Ellen White writes, “The impenitent sometimes excuse themselves by saying of professed Christians, ‘I am as good as they are. They are no more self-denying, sober, or circumspect in their conduct than I am. They love pleasure and self-indulgence as well as I do.’ Thus they make the faults of others an excuse for their own neglect of duty. But the sins and defects of others do not excuse anyone, for the Lord has not given us an erring human pattern. The spotless Son of God has been given as our example, and those who complain of the wrong course of professed Christians are the ones who should show better lives and nobler examples. If they have so high a conception of what a Christian should be, is not their own sin so much the greater? They know what is right, and yet refuse to do it.”

Ouch. I realized two things: I was a hypocrite, and I had to look to Christ himself. So with the help of those who listened, I took the second step of my long journey. I started reading the Bible. And it changed everything.

I started with the gospels, reading about Jesus and learning who this man was—really learning about who He was by His words and actions. This wasn’t me sitting there having some other person tell me about it. I was there, present, discovering God for myself. Not for a class, not because someone told me to, and not because of social pressure. I always wanted answers, but I never looked in the right place. And even reading and studying brought more questions than it did answers. There’s so much I realized I didn’t understand about the Bible—and there’s still so much I don’t understand even now. But just reading it for myself was everything.

Growing up amidst a science-centered culture back in high school, I was always a skeptic, since the scientific method demands everything be tested. So I won’t say reading the Bible immediately changed my life and the sky opened up and angels started singing. I had a tough time changing my mindset from the one I grew up with. “Miracles” for me were just statistical improbabilities, still within the bounds of reason. “Demons” and “demonic possession” for me were simply ignorant superstitions/edited videos and mental health issues that were misunderstood since medieval times. Prayer for me was a roundabout way of saying words of gratitude for a positive mindset. God wouldn’t actually answer prayers, would He? Would I hear some booming voice across the universe call my name and tell me He existed? I’ve never had a supernatural experience, and I’ve certainly never felt the presence of God with me. The “presence” for me was merely music playing with my emotions or other people giving me a sense of community that I misconstrued with something transcendent.

As you can see, I had a lot of work to unlearn such a mindset. I’m still working on it today. But what I wanted to share was that prayer is the second thing that saved me. In any personal relationship, you learn about the other person through conversation. While studying the Bible is like listening to Him speak to you, prayer is like you speaking to Him. I could do it anywhere. At any time, in any place, I could personally connect with the Creator of the universe, the being that spoke the world into existence and who transcends reality.

I kept at it for days, weeks, and months. Dedicated studying, praying, and never giving up. I had gone through so much, so I wasn’t ready to just quit at the first sign of hardship. It wasn’t worth going back to emptiness and meaninglessness, but the process took a lot of time. It also wasn’t enough until a couple experiences changed me.

Starting with this phrase: “No one will ever truly understand you.”

Those words are burned into my memory. Someone spoke these words to me at a time when I didn’t feel understood. At the time, the words hurt, but in the end, they are true. No human can ever fully understand another human; while I would normally fall into despair at the hopelessness of human connection, this realization pushed me in a different direction. One of my biggest gripes with life is that I don’t feel understood. I’m kind of a weird person. So a lot of times, people don’t get me. But at that point, I realized that only God will really get me. And it’s the biggest comfort in the world that someone understands what you’re going through—and beyond that, they’re on your side. Once I thought those thoughts, I actually cried. Just laying in my bed one night, imagining the sheer loneliness of life being dissipated by one being. I can talk to the one person who’ll understand my strange thought process, and He’ll know what’s best for me and will be there for me every step of the way. Everywhere I looked, humans failed me, but God was always a real one. I finally found my foundation.

My life has been one of transience and temporality, people coming and going. I’m like a ship drifting in a foggy sea; other ships appear out of the fog to intersect my path but never stay by my side in the long term, disappearing back into the fog. When life’s tables turned for me at Andrews, I gained so many friends and I even had the opportunity to enter my first relationship. It was terrifying. I was aware that I would be committing to another human being, but I didn’t know if they were the one, or if I was capable, or if our relationship would succeed. I had all these insecurities with connecting with another person, but someone encouraged me to take a leap of faith, and that’s when another piece of the puzzle fit.

I finally felt what a leap of faith was for me— letting go of my reservations and desire to have things in control and be assured and totally secure in everything. Like I said, that was terrifying. I was leaping in the dark, really. I didn’t really know if God existed and certainly couldn’t prove it. I don’t know if I’ll ever remove all the skepticism I have that’s so ingrained in me. But regardless of what you hinge your beliefs on, you’ll always have to take a leap of faith; no human can say for sure that they fully understand the world and its meaning. I’ll always be taking a leap of faith for the rest of my life. I think that’s just part of the process, because it’s called faith for a reason.

Time passed, seasons changed, and I finally got a chance—from a totally unexpected decision I made—to enter an authentic Christ-centered community. At that place I learned for the first time what a group of people held together by Christ could do. This was one of the greatest and most enlightening experiences of my life, and after years of searching, I finally saw the fruits of a Christian life and community. I found something special about Christians that non-Christians couldn’t do, and the people there showed me what love looks like. Remember when I said, “The church only gave me comfort, but it never gave me depth”? I learned instead that a Christ-centered community can give depth surpassing most secular communities—and following Christ certainly offers real ideas to deal with real life, suited especially for all the grittiness that accompanies life. It’s almost funny how I only got to experience all of that after I nearly gave up and started a whole journey with the acceptance that I may never experience God. Yet, at the same time, my struggle makes complete sense. God was trying to push me to discover Him in my own way and establish those seeds before showing me any fruits. He knew what I wanted, but gave me what I needed.

Shortly after, I got baptized. That’s not the end of my story, but the end of that chapter. There is so much more to come.

I don’t know how long it’ll take for me to believe in individual miracle events, but what has helped me the most is stepping back and seeing the larger overarching story of my life. I have done things I never expected to do, and I have become someone I never expected to become. I can only attribute that to some larger unseen force nudging my life in certain directions behind the scenes. If I told my younger self just a few years ago what I would do, he would probably scoff at me. Some things only made sense years later, and I’m sure decades in the future even more things will make sense. I just have faith that there is some kind of greater purpose for all of the messy chaos that is existence on planet earth.

I would say something inspirational here at the end and rally for some cry for action, but that’s not why I’m writing this. This is simply my story, and I want every reader to just take from it what they will and make their own decisions on how to respond to it. But to those who are like me and can relate to parts of my story, I do have a message:

You are not alone.

By Andrew Pak

This has been a three-part personal story from an Andrews University student. You can read part 2 here. If you’d like your own narrative, creative work, or art piece to be considered for publication, please send it to tjhatra@andrews.edu.

The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.