Most people search for God in religion but find God in unexpected places.
Why are you reading this article? More than likely, you’re interested in the subject of finding God because you yourself are searching—or toying with the idea of searching—for God. And maybe you have no idea where to start. That’s understandable. After all, none of us has all the answers, and this kind of journey is intensely personal.
Countless people search for God every day. From the time we are children, we love to explore, and we tend to be interested in that which is bigger than us—namely, the magic of being a grown-up. But now that you’re an adult, you may be feeling that—as James Bond put it—the world is not enough.1 Luckily for you (and your wallet), you don’t have to go on an international pilgrimage to discover the presence of God.
The Failings of Religion
People search for God in a myriad of ways, but the most common is an investigation of various religions. Religion is most generally defined as “a belief in God or gods,” so it is natural to start the quest there.2
Unfortunately, God is not always the first thing we encounter in religious organizations. Often we instead find people who are doing a poor job at putting their faith into action, or those who use their faith in God as an excuse to treat others poorly. Even well-meaning people, those who truly believe in God and at least the positive tenets of their religion, sometimes do not permit their beliefs to influence their daily choices or behavior.
People prefer to compartmentalize God, taking their faith seriously mainly when they are facing challenges or in the public eye—we all have to admit it’s easier that way. But in these instances, religion is merely a human construct or even a delusion, not a sincere and life-changing force.
Jews and Christians believe that people were created in God’s image and therefore are reflections of God and his love.3 This makes it even more imperative that adherents to these religions act in a way that reflects their religious principles—and even more damaging when they do not.
But at times people surprise us by showing others unexpected kindness. Maybe it’s happened to you before; perhaps someone showed you compassion or was exceptionally nice to you during a personal crisis. Often (and I think we could all agree it doesn’t happen often enough), people of faith reach out to those who are also seeking God, or those who are suffering and in pain. When people are most in need of help, an act of kindness from a person of faith can lead to a new openness to God.
Or maybe you can’t help but sense something greater than yourself when you are alone in nature. Maybe a loved one is battling a debilitating disease and you’re looking for answers. Maybe things in your life have really turned around lately and you’re full of thanksgiving. A variety of things can happen in life that lead a person to a newfound open-mindedness when it comes to issues of God.
This openness sometimes allows people to recognize things they hadn’t noticed before. Often, upon embarking on a search for God, people discover that God seems to have already been at work in their lives. Upon reflecting on the way life has turned out, they recognize a pattern to what they had assumed were coincidences, a beautiful symmetry that suggests things happened for a reason.
Have you ever looked back on your life and realized that if x and y hadn’t happened at exactly the right time, you never would have made it to z? To say events like that are purely coincidental becomes, ironically, increasingly difficult to believe.
Perhaps God was involved in these situations. Perhaps while we are looking for God—and even beforehand—God is looking for us. Almost paradoxically, the process of finding God becomes instead one of accepting having been found.
Many people can attest to experiences of very personal interactions with God, where deep love and forgiveness are conveyed in ways difficult to describe with words. This may happen at a church, upon hearing a sermon that seems to apply directly to them. It may happen at the side of a hospital bed as they plead with God to heal someone they love. Or it may come during a moment of unbridled joy when they sense God’s miraculous work in the birth of a child. In all these instances, the God they have been seeking finds them.
Through these experiences, we can come to understand what Jesus meant when he said that he “came to seek and to save the lost.”4 As a shepherd looks for and recovers any lost sheep, so God is always on the look-out for those who have not yet come to know him.
The Bible says, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you.”5 We can begin to find God by simply communicating with him—however tentatively.
Perhaps the key to finding God rests in just taking the first step: the decision to seek him with our hearts, our minds, and maybe even our words. “If from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul,” wrote Moses in the book of Deuteronomy.6
So how about it? Ask yourself: Am I open to being found? If so, give it a try. Call out to God and let him find you.7