When I was 18, I had a list of questions. Although they seem a little silly to me now, these questions routinely provoked a passionate response from the self-identified Christians at my high school. How did the sons of Adam and Eve find wives? How could a wooden boat (built with bronze-age tools) sustain two of every creature on the planet? Could God make a rock that is too heavy for God to lift? Time and time again, I encountered Christians who felt compelled to answer these questions, and to defend their answers with a vigor matched only by their disregard for logic.
At the time, I concluded that having “answers” must be at the heart of religion. All the religious people I knew seemed to have answers in abundance. Then I met a group of Quakers. Instead of answering every question, these Quakers kept saying, “That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that.” It blew my mind.
I found myself asking a new set of questions. If not “answers,” then what do these Quakers possess? If they’re not committing themselves to a body of information, then what are they doing? Finally, I came to realize that faith was a matter of relationship for them. These people were Friends of Jesus. Friendship isn’t a collection of statistics and evidence. Friendship is a bond of love.
I was in a Quaker meeting house on Easter morning, 1982. Upstairs and down the hall, people were gathered for worship. I wasn’t with them. After helping with breakfast that day, I developed a headache. I decided to lie down in distant corner of the building. In that quiet space, I was surprised to find myself in God’s presence. Apparently, it was God’s turn to ask me a question:
“Are you going to admit that you know me?”
I knew it was true. Even though my questions were unanswered, I knew I was in the presence of God. I had been drawn into Friendship. The question was, “Are you going to admit that you know me?”
I hesitated. I still wanted to see myself as an outsider. I enjoyed asking hard questions. If I admitted to a relationship with God, would I lose some part of myself? God was kind enough to reassure me: “You can still ask hard questions. Just do it from inside our relationship.”
Still, I hesitated. And then, I felt God’s challenge: “What’s more important to you? The image of yourself as ‘outsider?’ Or the truth of my presence with you?” Over the years, I’ve learned that God is remarkably good at this sort of clarifying question. How could I choose an insubstantial image over the truth of my own experience?
Looking back, I don’t think this was my first encounter with God. But this was the first time I had a name for the experience. I was drawn into the Light. I was becoming a Friend.