Gospel of John, The Inner Landscape

Come and See

(thinking about John 1:43-51)

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and
said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses
in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."

Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip
said to him, "Come and see." 
(John 1:43-46)

Not too long ago I had a phone interview with a church, and I knew up front their theology and mine did not make sense together. I went ahead with the interview in part for the experience and in part because I wanted to let the Spirit work whatever needed to be worked in the process. It did not surprise me when questions I think of as more fundamentalist in tone were asked. It did not surprise me, but it did shock me, just a little, the sort of jolt you get when you touch a metal doorknob on a crisp day. You knew it might be coming, but Oh! It prickles.

"When did you become a Christian?" I know the thinking that underlies this question, that the questioner wants to hear a story of some sort of realization and life change. I come from a tradition that incorporates that thinking, but I live in a tradition that believes in Christian Nurture, that we don't require the particular sort of conversion my questioner sought. I can answer that question with a story that speaks her language, but it's not my language anymore, and it's not my thinking anymore, and it comes out of my mouth awkwardly.

I want to think I've been following Jesus all along, since I took my first toddling steps in the nursery at Court Street Baptist Church. I think we can do that, on some elemental level, as little people. (And not just Jesus, but whatever our way may be. I'm one of those kind of thinkers. Don't tell the lady from the phone interview.) I want to think I've been moving along the path, coming to see.

Now, at a crossroads where I seem to have the choice to make once again about the priority of motherhood over the pursuit of career, I wonder how well I followed. No doubt my delay of years, in part due to divorce and the choice to take time to raise my children, changed the nature and direction of the path I might have followed, and now I tread a different one. Most of the time this feels fine to me, feels right and fitting, but some days I wonder where I might be and what I might be doing instead. Some days I wonder if I've really been, as my friend NotShyChiRev once said, "Fierce and Fabulous for Jesus." On those days I fear I have been mild and parochial for Jesus, and that does not feel like enough. On those days I wonder why I expect God to be in such a hurry to make things clear to me when I dilly-dallied so determinedly before responding to God's call.

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"

Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and
the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
(John 1:47-51)

Just this minute, I'm not sure I see much of anything. I want to see greater things, and I hoped they might include some fiercely fabulous usefulness on behalf of Jesus, as rendered by me.

21 thoughts on “Come and See”

  1. I agree. I went to a tent revival once and took the “come to Jesus” call. They took my behind the scenes and prayed for me and for my salvation and “conversion”…but all the while I kept thinking, “I already know Jesus – and this isn’t making any of what I know different.” It was an awesome assurance of God’s abiding presence in my life, even if it didn’t “fit” the paradigm of conversion for this group.

  2. Ha. Haven’t those people ever heard of Horace Bushnell? (At least I think that’s who it was who said “The child should always know it is a Christian” or words to that effect.)
    I think you are being fierce and fabulous wherever you are.

  3. I grew up with that world view, but God managed to find me outside their box . . . for which I’m very grateful now.
    I agree that you are fierce and fabulous. 🙂

  4. Hmmmm…this is a very interesting set of comments to a very interesting post by my friend songbird. I tend to fall on the “inside of the box” so to speak if we must have a box at all (and I’d prefer not to). If there’s never any “decision” or moment of “second birth” how do we indicate that we have responded to God’s gift of grace? I believe that God’s offer of a right relationship with each of us is always present, but we need to respond back in some way to indicate acceptance. I’m not interested in being combative in this discussion but I’d really like to know what you think about that (any of you).

  5. I believe we indicate that response with our whole lives, with a constant turning toward God, with a nurturing, as Bushnell suggested, of our relationship with God (and with nurture of our children’s relationships with God as well). I also suspect that God must be capable of many kinds of interactions with humans, and my concern about the direction of the interview question would be that it points to a necessary formula, a script being performed, a human test of a mystical relationship.
    I believe in the place of conscientious Christian Nurture and the acknowledgment of an already existing relationship with God, which I believe is our human action at baptism. We do have a certain number of scripts we play out, and perhaps mine is no better than the other. What I do believe is that God is not limited to one or the other, that God acts on and in people, even little ones, in ways we cannot measure or perhaps comprehend. What brings a middle-aged man back to church after a lifetime of playing around? Is it something happening afresh now, or is it a seed planted many years ago, a long-dormant result or source of Christian nurture?

  6. I’ll come out of “lurkdom” with my thoughts on the “when did you become a Christian” question. I find that concept so confusing….one of the first teachings in the Bible is in the garden where the temptation was to be like God and know what God knows.
    So isn’t saying that as a person, you decided when to become a Christian a bit like trying to play God? Or at the very least, trying to bring God down to our size. I believe the term is decision theology?
    If my faith is in an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God……the I’m not the decider. It’s more like I’ve been pursued and surrender.
    It also means I can be confident that others have that same opportunity for relationship with Christ as well….however He presents Himself to them. It’s just not mine to call.

  7. Valerie, thanks for joining the conversation! I’ve never heard it called decision theology, but that adds something to the discussion.
    My longtime blogging friends know that I always like to err on the side of inclusion. One of the things I find uncomfortable about setting human limits on salvation based on following a script is the exclusive nature of the definition. I would never say a person who approaches salvation differently than I do is outside of God’s love and care simply because of our disagreement or different understanding.

  8. You wouldn’t believe how timely this post is for me. Well, maybe you would, but thanks for being fierce and fabulous right when I needed you. xoxo

  9. Maybe an analogy can be made with children who are raised in a warm, nurturing, loving family as compared to children raised in a loving family that is not as warm and nurturing. In both cases, the children are deeply loved but the realization of that love and response to that love may come in different forms. In the first family, the children may not be able to say when they realized how much they were loved because the love was so much a part of their lives. While children in the other family, who were loved just as much, did not realize that love until a specific moment or event. In both families the love is present, in both cases the children respond to the love, but the revelation and response come in different forms.

  10. I tend to agree with Songbird on this one, that our very lives become our statement of faith. The way we live becomes our creed.
    I too had never heard of “decision theology” – it sounds intriguing, but would not apply to most UCCan folk that I know. Of course, the UCCan is all about inclusion, and we certainly don’t exclude those who may have experienced that “moment” in time when they responded to God’s love, but that kind of “lightning bolt” “Paul-blinded-by-the-light” thinking is not common in our denomination. I guess that makes me fairly unqualified to comment, but that’s never stopped me before!
    Ultimately, God is so much bigger, so much more Mysterious and Wondrous than our definitions of “when” we might come to know her. All we can do is respond to that love as faithfully as we are able. That is what Jesus called his friends to do, so we do it.
    Songbird, you do so with such grace that I am in awe.

  11. Hey there – AWESOME conversation! Thanks!
    I started to comment here, but it just kept getting longer and longer, so I posted it over it at my place.

  12. We’ve had quite a bit of discussion about “decision theology.” For us as Lutherans though, it’s considered “works righteousness,” because it’s dependent upon our actions rather than what God has done in Christ for us. I would have to echo Valerie’s input. Songbird–You go girl!

  13. This is very interesting and comforting to me. I grew up Southern Baptist, so you absolutely had to have the conversion moment. But I never did, not really. I was asked a question about conversion during my job interview, and it was very disconcerting. I had to translate my experience into something acceptable to my interviewer. But I’ve never had a Wham Bam moment, just a series of small steps, side journeys, wanderings, rebellions, decisions that little by little brought me back into conversation with Christ. I think my whole life has been changed, but I didn’t suddenly “see the light,” burn all my records, throw away the booze, or start evangelizing door to door because I was overcome by the Spirit. Instead a new pattern gradually emerged.

  14. My journey has also been a slow, steady one (with more than a few side wanderings) almost exactly as “Bad Alice” describes hers. But there was still a “moment” when I responded “yes” to God’s invitation. It wasn’t “Wham Bam” or “lightening bolt” experience by any means…but it was still an intentional decision. I wasn’t “bad” before and then “good” afterwards. I was only about 10 years old! Decision theology? Maybe! But it definitely has never seemed like I was “playing God” because of it.
    I’ll throw out this question…what about answering God’s call to serve? Something songbird has certainly been wrestling with a lot lately (aren’t we all?). Isn’t that a decision when we say, “Yes, Here I am. Send me.” Help me understand how that is different. I am certainly open to the possibility that it IS, I just would like to hear it explained.

  15. It most certainly is a decision to follow God, Liz. What I’m objecting to in the question the interviewer asked is the idea that there is only one formula, one way of “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior,” that makes a person okay as a Christian. If I couldn’t answer that question in a particular way, the questioner would conclude I was not a true believer. I want more flexibility, for you and for me.

  16. And by “want more flexibility” I mean from other people!! I trust God understands the varied ways we stretch ourselves out to meet the Divine, no matter what words we use to describe it.

  17. what an interesting conversation ! Thanks everyone.
    my tuppence worth …
    “What I’m objecting to in the question the interviewer asked is the idea that there is only one formula, one way of “accepting Jesus as your personal Savior,” that makes a person okay as a Christian. If I couldn’t answer that question in a particular way, the questioner would conclude I was not a true believer. I want more flexibility, for you and for me.”
    Of course there isn’t only one way, one formula … and there is (or should be) room for God working in mysterious ways in each of us! Everyone’s conversion story is different -and there has to be room to express that differently! At least that’s how I see it (grin)
    But I like Liz’s thoughts. Decision theology (delicious term!) must involve us – at some point of other – agreeing to / deciding to follow Jesus … responding to the call / finding our own particular calling (however we put it) … but that decision process might very well be (and actually is) very different for everyone of us.
    To insist that we all go through the same process and at that point say the sinner’s prayer – are saved – is to be something akin to the Pharisees and actually put God into a box. (Of course we all do that from time to time!) – but I’d say that that kind of thinking goes against God choosing to work in a myriad of different ways in different people as evidenced by the Bible. Acts in particular seems to speak against formulas and emphasises that God works as the Spirit of God chooses!)
    As I said I like this convo. Thanks all! Glad to be able to follow it (I can’t always get into the comments here – typepad and my computer don’t get on very well ! )

  18. So, just as there are many wonderful ways that God might extend the invitation to “follow me” there are also many varied ways to accept that invitation. Got it! Love it! Thanks all.

  19. I would say that I have made this decision several times, and continue to do so. I have also been a Christian all my life (baptised as an infant & raised in church, etc.)
    I did have a lightbulb SHAZAM moment, and while I hold onto it firmly, the continued return to the decision is important too. Especially after times of great trial.

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