My illness made me question everything I knew about God. Through observing nature, I finally decided that God did exist, but the next question I struggled with was does Jesus really matter? Before I became sick, I would never have asked a question like that, but my suffering made me angry, and I was finished pussyfooting around and being polite. I was mad, and I wanted answers. I knew what the Bible said. I had John 14:6 memorized, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The idea that Jesus was the only way to heaven was a reoccurring theme throughout the whole Bible. It was a message that I had once wholeheartedly believed and even taught. But now I was starting to question it. It wasn’t just my hurt and anger that was causing me to doubt—it was also my desire to “get even” with God. In my opinion, God allowed an awful illness to strike my body. I was furious, and I wanted God to know it, and if doubting Jesus got my point across, I was happy to do it. And I’m not the type of person to do anything by halves.
With the question of Jesus’s importance burning in my brain, I decided to start examining what I believed. I couldn’t get around the scriptures–after all the scriptures are undeniably clear. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the father: but he that acknowledgeth the Son, hath the Father also.” (1 John 2:23). Since I couldn’t figure out a way around the scriptures—and I was too exhausted to try–I simply put my Bible in a drawer and chose to ignore it. Besides, I wanted to look at things without religious-colored glasses. I wasn’t going to deny the existence of Jesus—there was too much historical data to do that. I wasn’t even going to deny the fact that Jesus did miracles. I was simply going to deny Jesus’s deity and the fact that I needed to ask Him into my heart to go to heaven.
Back when I was in college, my classmates held huge debates about God. Many of my friends felt that all roads lead to heaven. They felt that it didn’t matter if you believed in Jesus–all you had to do was be a relatively nice person and believe in God. Thinking back over those old discussions, I went into my bedroom and closed the door. Looking up at the ceiling, I said in a voice that was full of undeniable hurt, “Okay, God. I’ll concede the point that you’re real. But for now, I’m not going to believe in Jesus. I’ll get back to you if I change my mind.” My prayer was rude and to the point.
For the next several months, I thought about Jesus. I thought about how much I used to love Him. I thought about the Sunday school lessons I had taught about Him. I thought about how unshakable my faith used to be. I also thought about all of the other “good” ways people had come up with to get into heaven. Some days, I would just sit and stare off into space and think. I had lots of time to do that—I was in so much pain that I couldn’t do much else. I had charley horse knots up and down my entire body, and my toes were being pulled so hard by muscle spasms that they were trying to curl beneath my feet.
There is something clarifying about pain. It brings things into perspective pretty quickly. You don’t have much time for nonsense when you’re hurting. I think it was actually my pain that made up my mind about Christ. Even though my Bible was physically in a drawer, the Word of God refused to be locked away. Scriptures that I had memorized continued to resurface. The verse I thought about most was 1 John 4:7. If 4:7 was right, and God was love, how could a loving Father allow Jesus to be nailed to the cross? I was in PAIN, but I knew my pain paled in comparison to crucifixion. How could LOVE allow pain? The only way it made any sense was if the pain would end up allowing great good to come. After all, I hated what I was going through, but I was glad the carbon monoxide leak in the furnace had been revealed by my illness. I was happy that the faulty furnace was NEVER going to hurt anyone else. That part of my pain was worth my suffering. If Jesus was God’s Son, I could understand that He wouldn’t regret the pain of the cross, knowing it would save billions. But I still couldn’t get over God’s willingness to put Jesus there…
Then it hit me.
GOD WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN WILLING TO PUT JESUS ON THE CROSS IF THERE HAD BEEN ANY OTHER WAY FOR MANKIND TO BE SAVED. If just being a nice person was enough to get you to heaven–the cross was worthless. If believing in another prophet or teacher was enough—the cross was worthless. If crawling on your knees, or sacrificing to idols, or any of the other ideas man has come up with was enough—the cross was worthless. And if the cross was worthless then Jesus’s pain was in vain. And if Jesus’s pain was in vain, then God wasn’t loving—He was actually cruel and incredibly stupid. Did I really believe that God was an idiot? Wasn’t that what I was implying by deciding that Jesus didn’t matter and the cross wasn’t important?
The longer I thought about it, the clearer it became. God wasn’t a moron. This “earth shattering revelation” became another turning point in my faith journey. I was still mad at God, but I didn’t think He was dumb. As I thought about what Jesus had suffered for me, I started to wonder if I was really willing to continue denying His deity just to get my point across to God. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how extremely small and selfish and silly I was behaving. It was as if someone had given me a beautiful ring and I looked at it, turned up my nose, and said, “This gift isn’t exactly what I had envisioned, so take it back.”
Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore. My prayer wasn’t fancy. I simply said, “God, I believe in Jesus. Jesus I ask you to come back into my heart.”
The power of the Holy Spirit came on me so powerfully that it took my breath away. It was so strong that I had to clutch the wall to keep from falling over. A wave of tangible peace washed over my body. I leaned my forehead against the wall as a cloud of love descended on me–encompassing me–surrounding me. The only way I can describe the feeling is to liken it to being extremely thirsty and suddenly gulping down ice water. Do you know what it feels like when you bite into a peppermint patty? That’s how I felt all over. Clean. Light. Refreshed. It was like I was swimming in a cloud of pure love, and it felt marvelous. All I could do was clutch the wall and praise the Lord.
Looking back at my personal battle of faith, I can say that I had intellectually decided that God was real, and I had logically come to the conclusion that Jesus mattered—but then God took over emotionally. It was as if He reached down and untangled my thinking. And the love that I felt was incredible. That day I learned that just believing in God wasn’t enough. I had to believe in Jesus too if I wanted to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in my life.
Is God real? Yes.
Does Jesus matter? Yes.
In spite of pain? Yes.
That’s what I’ve come to believe. That’s what I’ve come to KNOW.