I always thought I understood what it meant to know God. Read the Bible, and you’ll know God, right? That’s what I thought, at least. But there’s a real difference between knowing God and knowing about him.
A fellow writer, Jonathan Merritt, recently explained on author Annie F. Downs’ podcast, “That Sounds Fun,” what it truly means to know God. Here’s how he put it:
One of my favorite Christmas movies is “Elf.” [Buddy] says, “Santa, I know him!” He’s saying, “I have experienced him,” right? It’s not, “Santa, I can name 10 things that are true about him.” It’s, “Santa, I have encountered this person,” so there’s a familiarity, so that I can say, when I step into that, I know God is in that, because I know God, because I’ve experienced God.
That profound yet mystifying truth — the gravity of really knowing who God is and experiencing the Almighty, even in the midst of mighty difficult situations — is at the crux of Downs’ newest book, “Remember God.”
Toward the beginning of her book, Downs makes what some might interpret as a watered down, somewhat blasé statement. “God doesn’t disappoint,” she writes.
How can that be true, though? How can God not disappoint when, so often, life leaves all of us — at one time or another — utterly disappointed?
“That’s a conversation to have with God in each of our lives, ‘I feel disappointed, but I’m still here. So what do we do, God?’” Downs told me. “I think that’s what you have to do in order to stay connected and stay true to who you are and to stay true to the God you believe is really who he says he is.”
Christians also have to come along side one another and be willing to wrestle with the uneasy middle ground of “no” and “not yet.” Sometimes, Downs said, the “kindest thing we could do for each other is just sit with each other and just be in the pain.”
“We need to remove the pressure that showing someone Jesus means giving them the right answer,” she added. “What if showing someone Jesus just means being with them in their pain, and not having the right answer?”
Downs said we need to “let God protect his own name” because he’s “not asking us to protect his reputation.” Instead, he wants us to tell the truth of the experiences we’ve had, the hardships we’re wrestling through.
Maybe that’s experiencing God — realizing, even in our present chapters, whether good or bad, that our Creator is authoring grander stories in each of our lives that aren’t yet complete.
For Downs, the roots of this realization came when she was playing a game of Chutes and Ladders, where everything is left up to chance, with one of her friend’s five-year-old son, Troy. There’s no rhyme or reason to the game. Just luck.
Luck picked Troy.
“I need us to throw that game board away and see ourselves playing a different game — not against each other, but alongside each other,” Downs writes in her new book.
There it goes. Out into the wild. Into your hands and hearts and bookshelves.
Happy birthday #RememberGod. You taught me more than these pages can hold. I’m limping and I’m blessed. To God be the glory. ? https://t.co/xnVrkhKiKs pic.twitter.com/XeGzmaOoCT
— Annie F. Downs (@anniefdowns) October 2, 2018
Life for the Christian, she explained, is less like Chutes and Ladders and more like a game of solitaire. After the cards have been dealt and the piles have been stacked, you start moving, strategizing, configuring and reconfiguring until every card is in its rightful place.
That’s a better illustration for life.
“We’re sitting here together — you, working with the cards dealt to you; me, working with the cards dealt to me, trusting that the God who deals my deck of cards has done the same for you,” Downs writes. “That’s more of what I think is happening here.”
So as we’re shifting, evolving and growing, we don’t always need answers. Sometimes we just need friends — the body of Christ — to come alongside us. Because God will show up, and does show up, in the communion of his saints.
More often than not, life’s greatest uncertainties will birth our most certain experiences with the Lord.
“We know the truth that God is the right answer and God is who he says he is, even when our lives don’t totally match,” Downs said. “‘Remember God’ is really my story of when that despair just got so great, I didn’t know how to hold it. It’s really me wrestling with — and going head to head with — the despair I was feeling in my life.”
“Remember God” is available now wherever books are sold.