Moving beyond mere belief

I recently came across this very intriguing text that I wanted to share:  “I knew you that you existed but did not believe it was so real.”

To my mind, this anonymous text has a certain “modern” feel to it—as if somehow similar in meaning and intent to the title of C. S. Lewis’s autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy, in which he describes his slow conversion to Christianity.  It also brings to mind the 17th century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who wrote in his Pensees —in which he records his own conversion experience to a new and deeper faith—that he had encountered “not the God of the philosophers, but the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”  Yet, the actual source of this text is described as “graffiti on the side wall of a church near the catacombs of Saint Callistus and Saint Sebastian on the outskirts of Rome.” That would place it somewhere in the second or third century of the Christian era.  Be that as it may, I would only add that it indeed is quite a piece of graffiti, as in one brief sentence it says more than some long and laborious theology books.

Whoever scratched these words on that catacomb wall had an experience of the overwhelming and “awesome” presence of God, wherein God is no longer simply a concept or even an object of belief, but an actual living presence that almost takes one’s breath away.  I believe that this is the image of God that Jesus presented in His teachings—a God Who was “so real” that He could be called “Our Father.”  With an experience like that of our anonymous wall scribbler, we can then understand the teaching of Christ about leaving everything aside to continue that relationship, to which nothing can really compare. A God that is “so real” is not the kind “you have to wind up on Sunday”—to quote an old progressive rock band’s lyrics.

If we can actually ever “lay aside all earthly care” just at the Liturgy, then perhaps such an experience of God is not beyond our grasp.  I believe that our common hope as Christians is to move beyond a belief that God exists into a living relationship with the Living God “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4].