In 2009, thanks to some screw-ups by the bank, my car was repossessed. I brought the insurance paperwork in. I faxed it in. I called it in. But apparently, that wasn’t enough for the bank I was using at the time. And when I went outside one morning to head into town, I thought my Toyota Corolla had been stolen.
After playing phone tag for several days, one of the loan officers finally returned my call.
“If you wish to get your car back, you’ll need to pay the bank the full amount you still owe on the car.”
“How much is that?”
“I don’t have that much money.”
“Why don’t you have that much money?”
Naively, I took the bait. “Well, I work as a missionary. Actually, I’m still raising support for the mission field. I don’t have a full-time salary yet.”
“Excuse me? I just told you…”
“That’s no excuse. You should be able to pay off your car today.”
“Well, I can’t.”
“Then I think it’s clear what needs to happen here.”
“What’s that? I really don’t understand my options.”
“You have two choices. And it should be obvious which one you should make “
“Please explain. I don’t know what the options are.”
“You need to get a full-time job so that you can buy your car back. Or you can keep doing missionary work.”
I paused for only a moment, out of shock, before I laughed. “You’re right. The answer is very clear. Have fun reselling the car.”
“I’d rather be a missionary than own a car.”
“You clearly don’t understand …”
“No, no. You made things quite clear. Have a nice day.”
I had never really doubted my calling as a missionary. Not even when my dad died suddenly, and everything looked bleaker than anything else ever had before. I questioned God, asking Him if my faith was all in vain. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (I Corinthians 15:17–19)
Collapsing on a beach in Australia after finally making it to the mission field after my whole life fighting to get there — and still only for 3 months — crying out for God’s presence and feeling nothing was not enough to turn me.
With the white of a galaxy
Shining over my head
I’ve never before seen
A lighthouse making clear
The bay for ships,
The roar and crash of waves
And no other soul around,
I knelt beside you
I wanted to hear your voice,
To feel your arms around me,
To see your face just once,
And all I heard was waves,
All I felt was wind,
And all I saw was a cross
Painted in stars above:
A constellation of love.
(Written on a beach in Byron Bay, Australia, exactly six months after my dad died.)
The world has so often tried to convince me that my God isn’t real. The horrors around me. Concentration camps. Barriers that prevent safety for the lost and hurting. Terrible illnesses and sudden deaths of good people I love. Rape, molestation. Abusive people in my own life. Abusive people in my former church telling me that it’s my fault that an abusive man hurt me. Strangers taking my side but family taking a stranger’s aside against me.
There are internal and external arguments try to convince me that my faith is vain. “All this is worth nothing. Look at how you’ve been treated. Look at how your friends have been treated. You don’t deserve this, but it’s happened. Where is God in suffering?”
So perhaps it’s odd that I bring up this embarrassing moment from my past as an argument for my faith.
I could say my argument is that I’ve seen God reward me for my faithfulness in giving up things the world sees as success. And mind you, I’m not saying I haven’t been blessed. I have.
I could say my argument is that amid everything I feel good about being able to stand up to the bully at the bank, the abusive preacher, the jerks I’ve run into over the years. I do.
I could say that my argument is that the fruits of my sacrifices have seen plenty of harvests. They have.
Those are all great arguments from a human perspective.
But the reality is my faith wins out because of the very person of God. The One who has called me to goodness and kindness against all odds, in spite of the abuse, simply because He is good.
My faith is not based on the deeds of another human being — either one who follows Jesus or one who doesn’t — and it’s important to remind myself and others of that at times. We do not put our faith in people for our salvation — or at least we shouldn’t. This faith, this driving force that gives me peace in the trials, gives me joy in the sorrow, gives me beauty in ugliness, is not built on humankind, but on God.
I’ve often heard people argue that the evil in the world is proof that there is no good God in the universe. I can get that sentiment. I sometimes ask God what the deal is. I’ve had moments walking the streets of Chicago having a yelling match with God. I won — but only because He let me.
And as I examine this question of faith and God’s goodness and even existence, I realize that this question isn’t aimed in the right direction. God the Almighty has all the power He needs to do whatever He chooses, but He is not Someone who forces himself on people. He never demands anyone to follow Him or do what is good and right. We do these things out of our own choices.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” (Matthew 23:37–39)
This has always been one of my favorite passages spoken by Jesus. Not only does He decry this false idea that God forces people to do good or evil, but He speaks of His own desire toward humanity. He yearns for people to stop destroying each other, but He never makes Himself unwanted. It’s people who do that to Him.
This kind of God — the Jesus who loves people no matter how lost they are — is the God I serve and put my faith is. This God, my God, is not a self-serving, angry old white man who wants everyone to look and think and feel the same. He demands no conformity to anything but His two greatest commandments:
- Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength,
- Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
When I faced this “dilemma” of whether or not to quit my ministry work to pay off my car instead, I was immediately thinking of my good, kind God who demonstrates goodness, and calls for mercy, justice, and humility. I was not picturing some cranky old dude who asks for an overblown sense of “patriotism” and drive to earn and save money over everything else.
Neither was I thinking of God as someone who has rules and regulations and a set prescription of life for me to emulate exactly. I know I can never measure up to absolute perfection and I know that no one around me can, either. And I know that my bank account numbers don’t equate “success” in God’s eyes.
I don’t have to have a status symbol, a good reputation, or anything else that gives me “value” in the eyes of the world. I just have to love God and people, and I’ll be more successful in life than any billionaire who cares more for some fancy car than for a stranger in need.