There's Nothing More to this Life

Going to church ruined my faith. From diapers to adulthood, church was all I knew about Christianity and it created a barrier between me and God. Especially the worship part of church services.

Half of my life was spent playing or leading music before a congregation of enthralled people. The enthusiasm and earnestness written on their faces evidenced an undeniable experience. Many spoke of being able to sense God's presence in a very real, almost tangible way.

While attending Moody Bible Institute, I was surrounded by hundreds of emotional worshippers during weekly chapels, and I often heard students describe how awesome it was to be singing God's praises together with so many fellow believers. They could really feel the Spirit moving.

I never did.

Skeptic that I was (and still am), worship was at best a meaningless experience to me. When I saw joy in the crowd, I assumed it was from a particularly sick drum fill or guitar lick, not God. When I saw tears, I assumed it was from an overly-excited smoke machine operator, not God.

At least that's usually what it was for me.

When I saw Animals as Leaders live for the first time, it was hard not to cheer because holy crap they're incredible. I actually cried once while listening to a Fleshgod Apocalypse song because it was so gorgeous. And you can always tell when I'm depressed because you'll catch me listening to Alice in Chains' Would?

But nothing moves me more than playing music with a group. The style doesn't really matter. I've been in every kind of band imaginable from jazz fusion to emo to Americana/bluegrass/40's gospel and I've loved playing in all of them.

It's an indescribable feeling to play music together with different people. Rather than the provincial conformity you find in a church's doctrinal statement, music finds harmony in diversity. It takes our differences and creates a prismatic beauty unobtainable through sameness. It's almost a religious experience.

Unfortunately, I was often reminded that the evocative quality of music has nothing to do with God. He was supposed to be my sole focus while I was playing in church. I had to enjoy him, not the music or the playing because that was idolatry.

Church not only ruined my faith, it ruined my love of music.

For much of my life, I tried to muster the spiritual euphoria that was required of true Christians. I begged God to let me experience him in the same ways that I saw in others to no avail. I was broken. And my faith a joke.

Aimless, I stopped going to church entirely because I couldn't bear to sit indifferently through a service and claim to have the Spirit. I stopped playing music because I couldn't express a self that no longer knew who it was.

I spent almost four years in spiritual wilderness wrestling with God, wrestling with myself, hating God, and hating myself. I was desperately looking for more to this life than the temporal things I was taught to keep at arms-length lest they compete for my devotion.

What I found was nothing. And it was the most freeing feeling in the world.

No amount of faith can conjure an experience with God. A multitude of prayers cannot manifest the Spirit's power nor ceaseless tears bring Jesus down from the clouds. We were created to live an earthly life and die an earthly death. Just like Jesus did.

Of course, there's more after this life as our death will usher us into a oneness with God that we can only see dimly this side of resurrection. But divine union is a promise for the future; it is not a promise of divine experience in the present.

I won't say that no one has been granted encounters with God in the form of dreams or visions or an inexplicable metaphysical embrace, but we were never meant live in the not yet at the expense of the now.

Scripture tells us we can do nothing better than eat and drink and find satisfaction in the things that occupy our day. Or simply, enjoy life. God didn't create delicious food, cute animals, and beautiful music to test us. Like any loving father, he gave us these good gifts for our enjoyment.

Indeed, every good thing in life points to God because every good thing comes from him.

Playing music is a religious experience for me because it is a religious experience. In gifts like music, I see God and I feel his love. We don't need to deprive ourselves of every pleasure and manufacture an otherworldly experience to know God and worship him. We need only take joy in this transient life he's given us and thank him for it.

That is how we know God and that is how we worship him.

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