Twenty-five years ago, I enrolled in Harvard Divinity School to study modern theology from a very liberal perspective. From this perspective, God was an academic subject, an abstraction.
The reason I opted for this “modern” way of looking at God was that because the more traditional way turned me off. But after much soul searching, I realized what it was that bothered me so much. Truth be told, I found the more traditional way very threatening – it meant taking God seriously as a real “being.”
After all, if God is only a concept, then I don’t owe God anything and I don’t have to change my life in any significant way. But if God is really there, and really is the Creator of the universe, then I have to take Him seriously. And that meant changing my life in some significant ways.
The moment I acknowledged my indebtedness to God in a personal way, I knew my life would never be the same. God now became the center of my life. I could no longer keep God on the periphery.
The Third Step
Acknowledging indebtedness is key to falling in love with God. It is the third of the four steps in this process.
Let’s quickly review steps one and two before examining step three in detail.
The first step requires that we develop an appreciation for how great life is. (See Falling in Love with God) To fall in love with God we must first fall in love with life first. Until we appreciate how good life is, it is impossible to appreciate how good God is.
Once we appreciate how much good we have, we are ready to move on to step two which is to develop a gratitude attitude. (See The Gratitude Attitude) The gratitude attitude means recognizing that everything we have is a gift and that we’re entitled to nothing.
Gratitude is the link to connecting the good of life to its source – namely God. Gratitude is about saying,”Thank you” to God for all the good He’s given us. When we understand that everything is not only a gift but a loan as well, we will feel a tremendous closeness to God.
Step three of falling in love with God is perhaps the most challenging. It makes us makes them feel uncomfortable and we are inclined to skip it. After all, no one likes being indebted to someone else.
Yet, to experience God deeply, we must face the undeniable truth that we are hugely indebted to the Creator of the universe.
If you lost your hands and someone gave you new ones, you’d feel not only a great sense of gratitude, but a deep sense of indebtedness. How much more do we owe the Creator of the universe who not only gave us hands, but also eyes, legs, feet, a brain, etc.
One might say, “But I didn’t ask for these things.” It doesn’t matter. You may not have asked the person who saved your life to pull you out of the ocean when you were drowning, but you are indebted nonetheless!
Yet, there are some people who might feel, “I wish he hadn’t saved my life!” As strange as this might seem, some people have such a negative feeling about their life, that rather than feel indebted to God for the gift of life, they feel angry at God for having put them in such a lousy situation.
My response is that such an attitude is most often the result of having endured much pain, disappointment, and discouragement. Such attitudes require a total shift.
A Total Shift
Judaism posits that life is essentially good. Because of life’s struggles, we can easily lose this focus. This is why it is so important to constantly work on one’s attitude. We cannot feel indebted unless we have an appreciation of life and an attitude of gratitude towards God.
Yes, feeling indebted is an uncomfortable feeling. This is because each of us has a strong drive to be autonomous, independent, and above all, in control. When we owe another person for something he or she did for us, we lose a little of our freedom, independence and control. The benefactor has gained some power over us.
Our rabbis tell us that honoring our parents is one of the hardest commandments to fulfill. The reason is because to honor our parents means to live with a constant awareness that they gave us life and that we are indebted to them forever! Just like our ego resists acknowledging our debt to our parents, even more so does it resist acknowledging our debt to God.
We bristle at the thought of living in a state of constant indebtedness to God, because we are afraid that we will lose our freedom and control over our lives. This is a very scary thought indeed and one which is normal to resist.
Getting Past the Discomfort
There’s only one way to get past the discomfort of feeling indebted. We must lead with our minds, not with our hearts. We must ask ourselves the simple question, “Is it true or not?”
If we can admit intellectually that we are indebted to God, then our ego resistance will begin to soften and the emotional discomfort will dissipate; it will not only become easier to tolerate, but it will become nothing less than transformational!
King David described this transformational experience as “the breaking of the heart.” This is an experience of total submission to the truth that we owe God everything we have. It’s an experience of letting go – letting go of the illusion that we are in control and autonomous. It’s an experience of acknowledging the truth that we are”radically dependent” on God for all the good He has given us. To admit this requires humility.
When we recognize and accept that we are indebted to God, we gain a clarity that will change our lives forever. Our entire self-concept is transformed when we acknowledge our total dependence on God as well as our relationship to the universe. We discover who we really are and what our place is in the vast of creation.
After this experience, nothing is ever the same! It’s a cosmic paradigm shift. Above all, our experience of God is transformed into something real and alive.
I remember the moment at Harvard when I stopped fighting and “submitted” to this truth. It was both scary and exhilarating. And it was for sure a cosmic paradigm shift that has changed the way I see myself and my place in the universe to this present day.
When you acknowledge and begin to live with the humility of indebtedness to God on a regular basis, you will feel a closeness to God that is very real. After this experience, God can not remain an abstraction. He will be powerfully real.
The most important tool you can use to grow in this way, is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my definition of God?
- Is it true that God is the source of everything good I have?
- If God is the source of everything good I have, do I not owe Him something?
- What stops me from”letting go” and acknowledging my total indebtedness to God?
If you honestly grapple with these questions, they will lead you towards this very wonderful experience of coming to terms with God in radically new way.