This is part 2 of sharing God’s story in my life. As explained in Part 1, I’m sharing this in order to encourage you and provide you a personal and broader context for my writing. I ended Part 1 with my decision to become a Christian around the middle of high school. But that was just the beginning.
duh duh duuuuuuuhh.
Bad, silent sound effects aside, this post is going to get fairly dark and pretty deep. So now you’re warned. This ain’t PG-13. But before that, we need to do some theology homework.
God doesn’t just want us to believe in Him, i.e. mentally assent to His existence. Even Satan believes in God’s existence (James 2:19). What more does God want? If I were in a relay race and I yelled at my teammate,” I believe in you!” Am I yelling, “I mentally ascent to your existence!” Clearly not. It means I trust them. It means I believe in them. You could even say it means I’m putting my faith in them. When the bible says, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), that’s what it’s talking about. This type of faith-trust the bible speaks of is deep and relational. What makes eternal life actually heaven is God Himself; unhindered relationship with Him. It makes no more sense to say God only wants us to mentally assent to His existence as a boy only wanting a girl to mentally assent to his existence in order to marry her. It’s certainly and quite obviously a prerequisite to love, but it, in and of itself, doesn’t mean much. Really, it would be quite creepy.
Yet how is believing in God lived out? See James 2 again (you can probably start in verse 14). Faith without deeds is useless. In fact, it shows that the faith isn’t legit. It’s like love again. If a husband doesn’t serve, or care for, or be there for, or desire the good of his wife, ever, he probably doesn’t love her. Those things aren’t themselves love, but without them we can tell the love is shallow. It’s only words. Certainly people mess up and it’s not always roses and lollipops, but I think you get the picture. Saying “I love you” doesn’t make it so. It’s the same with faith. The fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22), are things that should increase in measure as someone continually walks with God. They are not themselves faith, but if they don’t develop over time, it’s evidence against legit faith. And these virtues will translate into good deeds. James said he will show us his faith by his deeds (James 2:18).
Those are important things to keep in mind as we move forward in this story. But before we actually do that, I feel I should do a Pauline rant and make something clear, since I just talked about the evidence someone has faith. We cannot tell where someone is at in their walk with God. One of the most insightful things in C.S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity, is that we cannot compare one person to another. We can only compare that person with Christ and that person without Christ. That goes for someone judging the Church as well as anyone thinking someone else isn’t a legit Christian by their character. Do you know where that person has come from? Do you know the miles they’ve walked? Do you know where their blemishes came from? Do you know the story behind their Zits? Someone might not be so clean around the edges as you’d like, but they may have grown more than anyone else you know. Heck, a huge portion of the New Testament is basically Paul writing to a bunch of people who had nothing together; that’s why he wrote them. Unless someone explicitly denies Christ or is spewing obvious nonsense, none of us have enough planks out of our eyes to see very well. I’ve learned this the hard way.
But those are stories for a different day. For now, we can actually start on this one.
I went to a small high school. It was great. I made a lot of great friends and great memories. But throughout it, there were a series of unfortunate events, to say the least. First was when a girl in my high school committed suicide. In a school of roughly 85 kids grades 9-12, everyone knows everyone, and it shakes the foundations of the students and faculty. I wasn’t super close to her. One of my best friends, however, was very close with her. He was understandably rattled.
The second event is this: there was this one guy who worked at the school. He wasn’t a teacher; I don’t remember his official job and I’m definitely not googling him to double check. He ran a floor hockey night, threw parties, was a great guy to talk to; he was awesome. I remember thinking after the first couple times I met him that if someone were to ask me who the coolest guy in the world was, I would’ve said him. He was so fun, easy to trust, easy to talk to.
Then I found out he was arrested for using, creating, and trafficking child pornography. I wasn’t a victim. I’m lucky. There’s cops who are going to be going through his stuff for the rest of their careers. I’ve heard people suggest he’s the worst pedophile in Canadian history, if not all modern history. And I knew him. I shook his hand. I hugged him. Later in life, I googled him (bad idea) and read his emails that were made public. He’s a blatant liar. He even claimed to be a Christian but laughed in his emails to some other pedophile how he was pretending so people would trust him with their kids. It makes me gag. He ended up killing himself in custody before he was sentenced.
The third story is when my uncle and 11-year-old cousin were killed in a car accident half way through grade 12. (Now I really hate when people make jokes about hitting trains when they’re stopped by one. It’s a pretty gruesome joke. Stop it.) I had two other cousins who survived that crash and it’s crazy they’re alive and walking.
Am I just someone who tries to be sensational for a good story? Why share this? To make someone cry? This is why: you’d think that someone would be affected by those things; maybe show some empathy for my friend as he grieves; maybe be a little rattled by a mentor being a pedophile; maybe cry at the loss of family. Nope.
They were inconveniences to me; a disruption of the calm routine. I didn’t help my friend. After the school was told about the pedophile, we got the rest of the day off. I was stoked. I skipped my family’s funeral for hockey. Friends joked how I didn’t have tear ducts.
But no one would guess all this. I didn’t have tear ducts, but I was only tears. Liquids by definition flow freely and fill the space they’re in, but with a constant density. Liquid Aaron made sure to say what should be said, or just not say anything. Fill the space just right. Everyone thought I was a model kid, including myself.
Yet I was numb. That’s the best I can describe it. Completely numb. I had built so many walls that nothing in this world could penetrate them. It was safer that way.
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis said this:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
A casket of selfishness; that was me.
Does that show the fruit of the spirit? Does that sound like someone who’s given their life to Christ? Is that showing faith by deeds?
I remember sitting on the couch a few months after the accident. We had one of those sectionals where the prime spot was the corner. There I was sitting, scrolling through Facebook on my laptop and half watching The Simpsons on tv. And then it hit me.
I suddenly realized I was numb. God let me know what’s up in that moment.
Have you ever had your legs completely fall asleep? So much so that you can’t walk until you get feeling back? Did you ever just, sort of, hit them and think, “I’m supposed to be able to feel that.” That’s what God did to me. God used these events and the couch moment to hit me and say, “You’re supposed to feel that.”
It was like God was saying to me, “You’re numb, Aaron. Stop building walls and let me in. If you want to follow me, you have to let me in. No more word games. No more just mental assent. No more acting.”
I’m not talking a literal voice, here. It was this overwhelming revelation of how not-Christ-like I was. It was the epiphany of epiphanies for me. It was realizing God isn’t safe. It was finally recognizing I need to actually be following God, not playing christian™. It wasn’t accusatory, although I often accuse myself. It wasn’t shaming, although I often shame myself. It was convicting, however. It hit me like a punch in the face; a completely random, uninitiated tough-love-punch in the face.
I hope that if anyone reading this knows me personally, or meets me one day, and they ever see me do anything half decent, half altruistic, half sensitive; that you stop, right where you are, and praise God with all you have; it’s all Him. The me-on-my-own is numb. The me-on-my-own doesn’t care about anyone but himself. The me-on-my-own is a casket. But God put him in a casket. He killed him. He’s crucified with Christ. Anything good is Christ living in me (Gal. 2:20).
God punched me in the face to show me how numb I was. It still wasn’t the jolt you’d think. It takes time to get feeling back. I was still numb. But now I knew it.
It would take a few more years of chipping away at my defences. And we’ll tell those stories next time.