Yours was an enviable task. In the old days, God came to you by vision and prophecy; He made himself known in ways indisputable. And even though you were reckless in your hate of the Jews, your heart and mind turned instantly from the persecutor Saul to the prophet-preacher Paul. From the unequalled light of that Damascus moment to your execution at the hands of Nero, you steadfastly pursued the righteousness of God in Christ, delivering the good news to those who had not heard it, and shepherding many into faith.
But God does not work in such ways now—or at least, I have not known such salvation. I struggle in the mundane and meaningless, but desire to do good. I lack spiritual affirmations and emotional comforts—even the material means to move forward in my life—but I receive no vision from God. I am only reassured by others that God is with me. But how, Paul? I once asked why, thinking myself unworthy even of God, but now I ask: How?
I do not pretend that the life of a persecuted preacher was easy. Your travels led you to hostile people and you spent years of your life in prison, communicating to friends and fellow Christians only by letter. I think that is why we so love to read those epistles; they are symbolic of your patience and persistence in the face of oppression. And if we have them right, then even in the darkest hours, your faith was sure.
Why then does it take so much for me find God when I am free? I have no known shackles or starvation; I do not suffer from the threat of death or torture; I am not forced to roam constantly for my safety and survival. But I lack warming relationship in my life—I suffer, not in beatings, but in neglect from others, the sort of abuse that is normalized in work and relationship. And is this anything to compare to the sufferings of the apostle Paul, or Peter, or any of your fellow disciples who did God’s work without complaint?
My suffering is not dire because it is common. We, as a society, have come to value other things—money, power, privilege. And where is God in our pursuit of that? As I have fallen into that mold, so, too, do I suffer lack in what truly matters—the wholeness of heart and spirit and mind.
I write this to you knowing, of course, you will not respond. I have only your letters to turn to—letters that were written to communities long dead and buried. But perhaps those people were not unlike us. You speak so often of gift and sin and faith, but what of love that is community? What have you to say of friendship to someone who is pushed to seek other ends, but falls empty without it? What did you do for company in prison, brother?
If the opportunity allows—and if God is willing—come to me with an answer. I know that my God is not one who feeds his people in this way, lest they become impotent and utterly dependent. But guide me to the answer that I cannot find, guide me to the comforts that lie within me. Open my heart to myself, that I may be utterly myself, without apology, and for whatever ends God has created me.
For whether I secure wealth, and power, and privilege is of no matter. Only that I am wholly me before God, and in that, find the happiness of being. No caveat, no explanation—just Jeff. So I believe, but cannot see and do not know. Show me; that my belief may be my reality.
Your loving and faithful brother in Christ,