If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What if there is a God? The Back-Story

 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace  which He lavished on us (Ephesians 1:7-8).

My life-changing event of December 24, 1972 (see this link) did not occur in a vacuum. And as with all stories, mine has a back-story; this one, an important one for you to know.
I discovered the existence of a Being called ‘God’ when I was five or six. My mother had wrapped herself in a shawl, lit a candle, waved her hands above the flame and then covered her eyes. I’d never witnessed such a thing in my young life – at least not to my recollection.

“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Praying to God,” she answered.

It was then I’d learned the concept of God and the idea of prayer. Mom must have explained more about Him because I remember praying many nights in my bed. A simple prayer. I still remember it: Oh, God. Please God. Don’t let anything happen to me, Andrea, Tommy (whom my mother was dating), or my mother. 

With virtually no further instruction from my mom – or anyone else, for that matter – my understanding of this Being we called God remained static for many years.  By the time I reached my early teen years, I stopped praying, and God became for me a childhood fantasy.

In 1969, when I was 19, I stopped at a traffic light on the corner of Mott Avenue and Beach Channel Drive in Far Rockaway, New York. And from nowhere the thought dropped into my mind, “What if there is a God?”

I let my thoughts speculate a moment on that idea, but then – the light was still red – I realized if there was a God, He did not approve of my sex-drugs-rock ‘n’ roll  lifestyle. If there was a God, I would have to change. But I didn’t want to change. I liked my life the way it was. So, when the light turned green I pushed the question from my mind.
Several months later as I walked toward my apartment I spotted an ant hill at my feet. I don’t know why I stooped to examine it, but the tiny creatures intrigued me as they scurried in and around the mound. Then I remembered my high school science teacher telling us ants are an important component of the ecosystem. Without them, and insects like them, the earth could not sustain plant life.

Such intricacies in life illustrated an ordered world. But an ordered world implied One who did the ordering. And I knew where that thought was leading, so I quickly pushed that idea from my mind and continued on my way.
Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – is the most holy day in the Jewish calendar. It marks the day when Jews around the world fast and pray for God’s forgiveness of their sins. It was on that day in 1972 that I sat alone in my navy barracks in San Diego. I’d become melancholy about my life. There’d been times within the past few years – infrequent though they might have been – that I wanted to be good, to obey the God I’d learned about as a child, to stop sinning so much and so badly. But I failed every time.

My worst failure had occurred a year earlier on Yom Kippur, 1971. I had tried to take advantage of that most holy day and turn over a proverbial new leaf. I determined to fast and pray, to promise God I would be better from then on.
And then my girlfriend rang the doorbell. I hadn’t expected to see her that day, but there she was. And one thing led to another, and before I knew it, we were in bed together. On Yom Kippur. The most holy day in our Jewish calendar. Committing sin.

I remembered that 1971 failure as I sat in my barracks room on Yom Kippur, 1972. Depression settled over me and I wrote in my journal:  Oh, God, please forgive my past sins and look with tolerance on my future ones.
I would not presume to promise God I’d stop sinning. I knew I was no more capable of living a holy life than I could jump off a building and fly like a bird. The best I could hope for was His mercy.

And that is the back-story to my Christmas Eve 1972 commitment to Christ. If you haven’t yet, you can read it at this link.
So, what’s the point of my telling this story? Why do I think it important for you, the reader, to know mine when your story is likely so different? Here’s why:

I’d made at least two conscious and deliberate decisions as a young adult to turn away from God.  I wanted my life of sex-drugs-rock ‘n’ roll without His interference. And it didn’t matter to me that I killed my baby in an abortion chamber, or I turned young women into whores, or destroyed the fledgling faith of some, or lied or cheated or stole to gain an advantage for myself. I didn’t care because I was all about myself.
And yet, through it all – my arrogant rebellion against a holy God, and the damage and death I brought to those around me – God did not give up on me. He did not turn me away as I had turned Him away. He continued through all those years to pursue me, to woo me, to love me.

Why is that important for you to know?  Because regardless of your own back-story, as dark or as light as it might be, that you have read this far is evidence you are seeking God – and just as important – He has not given up on you. He is pursuing you, wooing you, loving you to Himself.
And I believe He is waiting – hoping – for this to be the day you look to heaven and say, Lord God, forgive me for all of my sins, take me to Yourself, and help me live as Christ for the rest of my life.

If you wish, email me at richmaffeobooks@gmail.com if you would like to talk more.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for once again being honest and "one of us". Makes me reflect on moments I had as a child, but my reasoning was, "If there is a God, I don't want anything to do with Him." It seems the people I talk to are more likely to believe in a "god", but are angry at Him or think He's angry at them. I wish I knew what to say to reassure them of His love. Did you ever struggle with that?

Richard Maffeo said...

Did I even struggle with that? Sure. I don’t know of any Christian who has not struggled at times with the concept of a God who loves them, in the light of the tragedies that sometimes fall upon us, or those that afflict all humankind.

How do I handle that? I suppose I could write pages and pages (and I have touched on your questions at various times in my blog), but for now, let me give you a thumbnail sketch.

First, my default is: God is love. I know that because Scripture says so (i.e. 1 John 4:8). When things go terribly wrong in my life, and I do not understand how a loving God can permit such things, I revert back to the Scripture: God is love. And His ways and thoughts are not mine. Indeed, as high as heaven is above the earth, so are His ways and thoughts beyond my ability to understand (i.e. Isaiah 55:8-9).

Second: This world and the people inhabiting it are mortally poisoned with sin. In fact, we are dead (the Greek word here is ‘nectrotic’) in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2), and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23 and 6:23) – not only physical death, but death of relationships, death of hopes, of dreams, of families, of health, of finances, of security. Sin is not God’s fault. It is ours. So we (humanity) live as we choose and then get angry at God when things go badly.

(This is not to say necessarily that all illness or accidents or tragedies are the result of our personal sin. Most often those things occur as the result of the sins of others. But certainly, we do sometimes bring evil and tragedy on ourselves because of our personal sin).

Third: God has given us a way of escape from the wages of sin, that being by becoming new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), to be ‘born again” or ‘born from above’ (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23). But it is our choice to do so. It is our choice to live as we choose, or live as He commands us to live.

Fourth: God is love. I know I said this before, but I repeat it here because it is a good way to close the circle. I do not have to understand the whys and wheres and ifs and hows of life and the evil around me and which happen to me or those I love. I only need to know God loves me, that all things work for the good to those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and that nothing – NOTHING – can separate me from His love (Romans 8::31-39).

I hope that helps.