God is not merely the God who comes near in the midst of the pain of adolescence or the cries of an adult for understanding, but is the creator of the spirit that leads us to that crisis and guides us through.
C.S. Lewis once asked thoughtfully, “How can we see God until we have faces?” It strikes me as a question innately at hand in the process and crises of human development. As one theologian and developmental psychologist has noted, “It is evident that human development is not the answer to anything of ultimate significance. [But] every answer it does provide only pushes the issue deeper, back to the ultimate question, ‘What is a lifetime?’ and ‘Why do I live it?’”(1)
Working amidst the often miry course of human development, author Margaret Kornfeld speaks of the “mysterious healing process” that has already begun at the point when a call for help is verbalized. I have long understood the need for the will and volition in the healing process of our personal histories. There is good reason why Jesus asks the paralytic by the pool if he wants to be well. But thinking of this call for help as being inherently present within the human developmental process has only recently entered my perspective. What if every pang of trust or mistrust, every cry for autonomy or cry of shame is the call of the spirit to that which is beyond it? In the words of James Loder, “In its bewildered, blundering, brilliance, [the human spirit] cries out for wisdom to an ‘unknown God.’ But it is the personal Author of the universe whose Spirit alone can set the human spirit free from its proclivity to self-inflation, self-doubt, self-absorption, and self-destruction, and free for its ‘magnificent obsession’ to participate in the Spirit of God and to know the mind of God.”(2)
What if God is not merely the God who comes near in the midst of the pain of adolescence or the cries of an adult for understanding, but is the creator of the spirit that leads us to that crisis and guides us through—maybe even to—certain pains? What if the stages and crises of development that most transform us are stages that inherently seem to bid us to ask the existential questions we were somehow meant to ask? It is not merely, as one author notes, the “capacities of the human psyche” that “make spirituality possible.”(2) It is the Spirit of God who makes the human psyche capable of knowing God. “You did not choose me,” said Jesus, “but I chose you” (John 15:16).
Whether distinguished by joy or pain, a transforming moment of human development is always more than a moment, and each moment carries this implausible potential. In the deepened discovery of our own faces, the face of God is somehow revealed—the face of a God who promises never to leave or forsake us, even in the rawest stages of deciphering. It is this presence that powerfully reminds us there are existential questions we were always meant to ask because there is one in whose image we were fearfully and wonderfully made, because there is one who knows us far better than we know ourselves. Thus, viewing our own pains and longings, the moments of insight and the events that indelibly shape us, we can begin to discover the intimacy and knowledge, power and proximity of a God who not only shows us his face, but shows us our own.
(1) James E. Loder, The Logic of the Spirit (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 106.
(2) Ibid., 4.
(3) Ben Campbell Johnson, Pastoral Spirituality: A Focus for Ministry (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1988), 26.