“Professor Edition” will feature different professors on campus. Here is Dr. Jackie Smallbones’s story:
To ask a person how they’ve experienced God or witnessed God at work is like asking the ocean how it experienced the sand at work. Some days, the waves pound on the beach, churning up the sand and the experience is very real and obvious. Other days, the waves are very gentle and the sand is barely noticed. That’s how my experience with God has been, ever since I can remember.
A gentle, yet very real experience of God at work happened during my ‘infant’ baptism (I was about 3 years old). I only remember one spiritual moment—the priest marking my forehead with the sign of the cross. I was profoundly moved and knew, beyond doubt, that God had marked me as his own. This was confirmed when we got back home after the service. I looked in a mirror and could see the cross sign on my forehead. The fact that I never saw it again didn’t bothered me. I only needed to see it once. God was at work in my life. By the way, you can read the details of this story in my memoir, Knit Together: many colors one life.
A churned-up experience of God at work began shortly after I started my teaching career at a Bible college in Johannesburg. I was confident about what I knew and about my ability to teach it. I was also very confident in my faith in Jesus Christ. That all shattered the Sunday I heard a sermon with content that made me seriously wonder whether that’s what I wanted. I sat in my pew and angrily muttered, ‘If that’s what Christianity is about, I quit!’ The sand in my life was being vigorously tossed around. At that moment, I had a vision of God seated on his throne and he compassionately said, ‘Okay, let’s talk about this.’ I angrily retorted, ‘You’re d___d right we’ll talk about it!’ After I got home I suddenly realized I’d just sworn at God and he didn’t respond and neither did he punish me! As a result, I chose to struggle with my doubts and questions and gradually I was led to a deeper and more real faith; not a faith full of answers, but one full of questions.
I’ve learned that questions, not answers are more important and I learned to live and even love the questions. Perhaps some distance day, without even noticing, I’ll live into the answer, as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once advised. Each day I choose to live the questions and they show me where God is at work.
Wow, thank you Jackie for sharing both the gentle and churned-up ways God has been at work in your life. As you referenced Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, it’s a classic and I think it’s worth sharing as a response to God’s activity in your life. Indeed, we all have questions, how are we to respond to such questions?“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet