To me, one of the most memorable episodes of Sports Night is one entitled “Eli’s Coming.” In the episode, sports anchor Dan Rydell senses that something is amiss and comments “Eli’s coming.” His co-anchor Casey wants to know why his friend is randomly mentioning the title of a Three Dog Night song. Dan says that he always thought “Eli’s coming” was a foreboding warning; a sign that bad things were on the way. Casey tells him the song is about an inveterate womanizer; Dan has heard the song wrong. Dan knows what the song is about, but he can’t shake that first feeling he had when he heard the song. He knew what the song was about, but it said something different to him deep down.
I know the feeling. I recently have been wrestling with God. I have recently been living in the fear of making the wrong decisions. In addition, I continue to see things that say, “If you believe x or don’t believe y then you aren’t a Christian.” Sometimes x or y hits close-ish to home or they’re not really important matters in the gospels and it makes me wonder if God really would want anything to do with me. It has been a strain. Thus I have been wrestling with God. I haven’t doubted God’s existence, but I do not feel any sort of real affection for God either. I feel like one of us is drifting away and I’m not sure who. It is a frustrating and powerless feeling.
Into this divine wrestling match has come Vampire Weekend’s most recent album. Three or four tracks of the unfortunately named Modern Vampires of the City go toe to toe with the Almighty in a way that evokes Old Testament Wisdom Literature by way of postmodern indie pop with a dash of world music. It has been an appropriate soundtrack for recent experiences. Yet it isn’t any of the songs that directly address God that has made the deepest impression on my struggle with my Creator. It’s a song about the slow dissolution of a relationship between a man and woman over the course of a cross country trip entitled “Hannah Hunt.”
Ezra Koenig sings most of the song in a half whisper. Yet eventually the song wakes from its slumber and cries out in aguish: “If I can’t trust you then d——- Hannah / There’s no future, there no answer.” The first time that I heard that lyric, I was frozen. I know this is a song about a guy and a girl, but that line cut through to what I was feeling with God. It gave words. It was my “Eli’s coming.” Yet I couldn’t figure out why. Sure there was the emotion and the song was about a relationship, but the fact that the name Hannah is right in there…well, that specificity usually cuts into generalization. Then it occurred to me. Several times I have flipped through those cards in restaurant lobbies that have the meanings of various names on them. Hannah means “grace.”
I have lots of issues, but the lurking problem - the one to which I had been blind for a long time - is grace. When I listen to those voices that tell me that I must believe x, y, and z or God does love me, then I have lost trust in grace. When I am full of fear about the future, when I am trapped by the feeling that any move I make will blow up in my face, then I have lost trust in grace. And grace is all I have. I am not perfect, I don’t have it all figured out. Not by a long shot. Still as a Christian, I believe that the grace that comes from jesus is absolutely the only thing that can save me.
Grace doesn’t end my doubts or struggles. It does not fix me. But drifting away from God’s grace or at least the recognition of grace, royally messes me up. If I can’t trust grace then there is no future, there is no answer. It’s enough to make me want to swear in anguish. Without grace, I am stuck and trapped. If forget that God loves me, if I forget that God’s grace covers our shortcomings then I am paralyzed with fear; worried that I am not good enough, that my next step might ruin everything. Grace has always meant much to me, but somewhere on this long, meandering trip, I forgot grace. I lost her. I couldn’t see her. For whatever reasons, I stopped trusting her. I listened to all of these other voices and them rob me of the freedom God gives.
So God help me to remember Your grace. It will not fix it all. I’ll still have doubts. I’ll still wrestle with You. I’ll still experience fear. I’ll still screw up. But You know that. I suspect those reasons are part of why You gave us grace. That is what I hope. Or, at least, that is what I am beginning to hope again.