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Tempting God: My Story of Faith

by Jim Rodenbeck

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In mid-February, 1979, Mom had requested a visit from Terry Crist, the senior minister of the church we attended. After admiring Mom’s Elvis Presley decorations, which were throughout the house, Terry read to us several passages from the Bible. These passages explained how we could rest securely in the knowledge that, after death, we would be spending eternity in Heaven with God. After Terry left, we assessed the conviction of our hearts and decided to fully accept God’s great gift of salvation. It was all we could do to wait for Dad to get home from work late that evening so that he could share in the joy of our baptism.

Rising from the baptismal waters, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I knew that my sins had been forgiven and that the Holy Spirit was dwelling within me. As a sixth grader, I had confidence that if I passed away in my sleep that night, I would have an address in heaven. I wondered what the future would hold.

It did not take long for me to find out. Coming home one day from school in tears, after being made fun of for still believing in Santa Claus, Mom finally told me the truth. Since my only reason for continuing to believe in the existence of Santa had been due to Mom’s insistence on the matter, I felt betrayed. That was a turning point in my life. I realized that I could no longer unequivocally trust information shared by authority figures in my life, including parents and preachers. Of course, I had been reading my Bible, but I was suddenly aware that my understanding of the Scriptures had been largely filtered through the lens of preaching and Sunday School teaching.

I continued to believe in God. Throughout junior high and high school, I faithfully attended church and attempted to live for Christ. Yet, the time I was spending in God’s Word was leaving me spiritually empty. Although my prayers were a part of my daily routine, they lacked purpose and expectation. Doubts were starting to choke my faith. The doubts intensified during my first couple of years as a music student in college. When a sincere adult leader from one of Butler University’s campus ministries spent an hour with me in my dorm room trying to convince me that the salvation approach taught in my local church was wrong, I became particularly conflicted.

During my junior year, I assumed an agnostic stance. For me, to continue living the life of a Christian would be inauthentic. Although I could see what seemed to be evidences of God’s power working in other people’s lives, I could not sense His work in mine. The resulting loss of hope permeated every aspect of my life. I became increasingly cynical and less patient in my relationships with other people. My musical studies sought (but never fully managed) to fill my life’s spiritual void. This agnostic and pessimistic attitude would prevail for over a decade.

After college, I embarked upon a career as a freelance musician (i.e. a trombonist and low brass instructor). During a late night conversation with other staff members at a high school band camp in the mid-1990s, a religious discussion developed. The band director shared his belief in a creator who was not directly involved in people’s lives. While I doubted the God of the Bible, I was even more perplexed at the idea of a God who would go to the trouble of creating an intelligent, relationally-driven species and then purposely avoid possessing an emotional connection with it. Later, one of those staff members confessed to me his interest in understanding how I could possess such a clear, thorough knowledge of the Bible and be simultaneously plagued with so many doubts regarding God’s existence.

For curiosity’s sake, Mom and I attended one night of a Billy Graham crusade when it came to Indianapolis in the summer of 1999. After a simple presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ, thousands of people came forward during a time of invitation. While I also felt the strong tug in my heart, I remained in my seat. After all, I desired to possess a genuine, solid faith brought about by proof, not a fickle faith produced by a purely emotional response to an eloquent Gospel sales pitch.

Later that year, with encouragement from Mom, I attended a revival where Terry Crist was evangelizing. Things I heard during this revival compelled me to determine once-and-for-all whether the God of the Bible was fact or fiction. I was tired of being a “fence sitter,” but what could I do? Well, I knew that the Bible contained the following promises:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
Matthew 7:7 (KJV)
“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.
1 Chronicles 28:9 (NASB)
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
Romans 10:17 (NASB)

I decided to make a deal with God. Every day for a month, I would diligently read the Bible and pray to God, asking Him to reveal Himself to me through His Word or in some tangible way that would provide the proof I felt I needed. I told God that once He proved Himself to me, I would diligently serve Him. However, if no discernible proof came, I would understand that either He didn’t exist or that He didn’t want me to find Him.

That month passed by with no discernible response. A great sadness enshrouded me. Possessing a tremendous fear of death, I desperately wanted to believe that God had indeed sent His Son to be the propitiation for my sins so I could live with Him forever. Instead, I felt betrayed by a God whom I wasn’t even sure existed. Was He cruelly ignoring me by playing favorites or did He simply not exist?

I knew it was time to permanently return my Bible to its resting place on the bookshelf. However, I opened the pages of my Bible one final time, probably out of a sense of nostalgia. Now that I had given up my aspirations of heaven, the printed words were suddenly speaking directly to my heart and mind. I began to inspect the Biblical texts like a man obsessed with finding the long lost truth about his life. Randomly viewed passages were shedding light on some of the questions that had long plagued my intellectual curiosity. That night’s personal and extensive Bible study ended when I came upon a passage warning me not to tempt God.

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.
Deuteronomy 6:16 (NASB)
“And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Luke 4:12 (NASB)

I realized that I had been putting God to the test. Throughout my month-long pursuit of truth, I was continually asking God to reveal Himself to me. But, rather than truly seeking God, I was seeking for Him to prove Himself to me. I was tempting Him, bribing Him to provide me with absolute proof of His existence. If He gave me what I wanted, I would give my life over to Him. However, God cannot be tempted, Furthermore, He requires faith.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
James 1:13 (NASB)
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Hebrews 11:6 (NASB)

That night, after asking God to forgive me for living apart from Him for so many years, I rededicated my life to serving Jesus Christ. I also embarked upon a new journey: a journey of faith. Since then, my passion has been to explore, according to Scripture, what constitutes genuine faith, how faith is acquired, and the role faith plays individually and collectively in accomplishing God’s will. I enjoy helping people who have been confused by denominational differences, ridiculed by sanctimonious religious leaders, or discouraged in their attempts to simultaneously possess faith in Christ and maintain intellectual integrity.

Learning about faith, the correct interpretation and application of certain passages of Scripture, and all manner of Christian living will be a lifelong pursuit. I need to strive to remain humble and open to Biblical interpretations other than my own and to serve Christ wholeheartedly, even when He seems to be uninvolved in my life or when I do not clearly see where He is leading me.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
2 Peter 3:18 (ESV)
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