The question is asked with both biting sarcasm and pained lament: Why isn’t God clearer? Why the complicated hunt for answers? Why not a God with far more interest in direct communication? Such questions are perhaps further disquieted by those who seem to claim precisely this experience—hearing God as surely as in a letter, as directly as any other conversation.
It also used to bother me that I couldn’t give an exact date for my conversion. I can’t describe the moment when I finally bowed and admitted God was God. The lack of anything precise to claim as my own troubled me particularly when it was my turn to speak in a room of believers with specific dates and encounters to tell—and the expectation that I could tell likewise. I’ve since learned that conversion is more than one moment of waking—even for those who indeed have one moment that stands out among all others. But I’ve also come to love the diversity of means and ways God appears before a life—gently beckoning one to follow, pursuing over a lifetime the one lost or running, dramatically opening the eyes of another in an instant.
But could this broadened picture itself not be direct communication from God? The apostle Paul describes the converted one “like a letter from Christ… written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”(1) In this description, we discover conversion is inherently personal—a letter from creator to creature, written not in ink but in God, not on paper or tablet, but on living flesh, through the vicariously human Son of God. Accordingly, there are as many stories of God drawing near a life as there are words one could put in a personal letter. Like Paul, I have come to expect and to admire the compilation. Some will speak of waking to God’s truth gradually; others will describe being moved nearly to blindness as they encounter Christ more fully than they have eyes yet to see.
But like the God we discover, conversion stories can still surprise us. I met someone recently who told me that pivotal to his waking to faith was a profound desire to give. He said he simply found himself immensely thankful and wanted to know the somewhere and someone before he could act out his appreciation. There was something in this confession that made me marvel at the God we both profess, as if I was shown another facet to appreciate, another layer I hadn’t fully considered. Not only is there someone to thank, but there is one who moves within our desire to give and our deep realization that much has been given.
Moreover, if we see conversions as reflections of God, letters that come to us personally and communicate something of Christ, we also learn there is something of God to behold in our neighbor. Standing within a community of believers, it is hard not to marvel at the unsearchable riches of Christ, the depths of the person of God written on hearts all around us. What other god comes so personally, meeting the world as individuals, moving followers into a community that reflects more and more of him? Gratitude is a natural response.
A tradition in the Jewish Passover celebration called Dayyenu marks in the Passover ritual the rising crescendo of thanksgiving. “Dayyenu,” which essentially means, “It would have been enough for us,” is sung as a response after merciful acts of God in history are remembered one by one—the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Sabbath, the completion of the temple. Each act alone would have been enough to sustain our praise and faith, but God moves well beyond our imaginings.
God is gracious in ways we may never anticipate, meeting one profoundly in his desire to give, another in her profound suffering, coming to all in the sending of the Son and the manifestations of his life, death, and resurrection. It would have been enough to sustain our praise in the Incarnation of the Christ child or in the ministry and miracles of Jesus—”The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). But God wanted to bring even more: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And that Son was sent to the Cross, where he was crucified, died, and buried. This too would have been enough to elicit our gratitude—an innocent sufferer, God hanging with us on the gallows. But then Christ rose from the grave, defeating death, and inviting us to follow and do the same.
God is always moving beyond our imaginings. “This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’”(2) Whether living further into your conversion, telling the stories of God’s acts in history, or wondering at the unfathomable mercies of Christ, might our gratitude be heard across the land, a rising crescendo of thanksgiving for the one who is worthy of our praise.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) 2 Corinthians 3:2.
(2) Jeremiah 33:2-3.