The God Who Is There (Inter-Varsity Press, 1968)


In 1999, I was a young single mom finishing the last semester toward my Associate’s degree, managing long days of work, parenting, and evening classes at the community college. To add to the challenge, this life looked nothing like my original plans. I was a believer, but much of my faith was shaped by my need for God as protector and provider. It was a faith of survival and staying in the lines. It was not a joyful faith.   

During that final semester, my graphic design professor gifted me a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s book, The God Who is There. He was a kind man who rode to our central Florida campus on a motorcycle, wearing a helmet with the Apple logo on the back (which would be cool, but wasn’t yet). He told jokes during class and shared stories about his wife and their dogs. I knew nothing about his past, but his comfort with my somewhat cynical, jaded self gave me the impression he’d encountered his own adversities in his 40+ years of living. In spite of this, he had an effortless enthusiasm, so when I received the book and read what he’d written on the inside cover — a note that said Schaeffer had tremendously impacted his faith and that he thought I’d enjoy the book — I believed him.

But my life was full. I graduated and moved out of state, into my first apartment where the book sat untouched in the hall closet. Then I got married, and the book moved to the front room of our first house, the house we filled with four children. Later, we moved across the country and the book gathered desert dust on a new bookshelf in Arizona. It traveled to Hawaii, where I hoped to start and finish it next to the ocean but made it only halfway through. It resided on the top of my nightstand stack, then the bottom. Finally, the book was tucked into the nightstand drawer, where it stayed four more years.

Two months ago, I finished the book — 25 years after it was given to me, 55 years after it was written. I love the timelessness of truth, and I think my professor did, too. It compelled him to share a book with me that was already 30 years into its life in print, and decades later, it compelled me to continue picking up the book again and again until it was finished. Here’s what I learned.

The Power of Presence Is Limitless

First, God bless my professor for believing a single, working mom in college had the time or the capacity to read anything philosophical that was by no means organized by main points and takeaways. Graciously, he trusted I would think critically and extract my own application rather than need it spoon-fed to me. And God bless my professor for seeing me as more than a student in a community-college design class. I was a believer, but he saw my wandering soul, and he cared about it — enough to drive to the bookstore, purchase a book, write a personalized message, pack the book in his motorcycle bag, and hand it to me. In our very digitized world, we casually discount the value of proximity, and we ignore time-consuming steps, even when we feel a nudge to take them. We see too much effort to invest, especially when we can’t be guaranteed it will make a difference. It’s easier to share a link to a website or a post on social media, to bring up a picture of a book in conversation as we make a recommendation. It’s no myth that placing an item into someone’s hands changes their attachment to and their prioritization of the item — and as a jewelry associate in my 20s, I learned this quickly. If you sense a book might impact someone’s soul, if your motivations are selfless and free of agenda, then hand them the book yourself. It matters.

I include these thoughts because individualized care and compassion were prominent themes throughout Schaeffer’s The God Who is There — compassion for a person’s suffering and tensions, compassion for their reliance on false balances and for understanding why they’ve constructed them, care for the way we go about offering truth and hope. Schaeffer does not neglect the necessity of patience in all of this. He doesn’t shy from the long work of drawing close to the lost, and hopefully, drawing people out of themselves and into a journey of faith and relationship. He doesn’t minimize doubt or the pain of revelation. Instead, he trusts the Spirit’s limitless ability in these matters. 

Jesus didn’t push people into faith and trust, he pulled them. He engaged them. Those who weren’t ready stayed put, committed to all they couldn’t release. Jesus let them and still loved them.

As a leader within Arizona’s trauma-informed movement, I appreciated Schaeffer’s conviction surrounding slow — and unpopular — virtues as the means for attuning to the lost. Compassion is one of these virtues, of course. Others include peace, moderation, humility, patience, wisdom, and hope. Each one contributes toward an honest and powerful presence, the true embodiment of God’s unconditional love, a stunning display of the good news of the gospel. And it should be that way. Schaeffer writes:

If we who have become God’s children do not show him to be personal in our lives, then in practice we are denying his existence. People should see a beauty among Christians in their practice of the centrality of personal relationships … Christians in their relationships should be the most human people you will ever see. This speaks for God in an age of inhumanity. 


This was true in 1968. It’s true today. 

Our Limits Are Real

As I’ve reflected on my long-awaited read of The God Who is There, Schaeffer’s thoughts on humanness and perfection have resurfaced the most, in both my mind and my body. And full confession: I’ve resisted. It’s too uncomfortable. Too real. I’m not a perfectionist by nature, but I can get caught up in feverish games of performance, production, and the need to prove myself. I find myself content believing that one day, when I know enough, do enough, strain enough, try enough, I’ll reach complete self-actualization. But this is not the mark. As Schaeffer writes:

The Bible does not promise us perfection in this life … people can be wonderfully helped psychologically, but that does not mean that they will then be totally integrated personalities.


For all I might achieve, heal, and strengthen, perfection, full integration, and wholeness will always be unattainable. The world tells me otherwise — every day, in fact. But if I don’t accept this truth, I will spend a lifetime shoving reality aside. I will spend a lifetime in the dark. Many of us are living in that dark space,  searching for purpose, peace, and truth apart from Jesus, exhausted but still persuaded that  the unattainable measures might not be that far out of reach.

There is great need for Christ-followers who are at peace within themselves, because they’ve  accepted the reality that the search for earthly perfection is futile. There is great need for Christians who do not deny their humanness, who do not resist this truth. This is not easy of course. It’s a challenge to acknowledge our arrogance and self-reliance. It’s unsettling to admit that God is beyond our understanding, that doubt is part of our DNA. 

Psalm 139 provides a template for spiritual examination and realignment: Lord, what do you see in me? What am I hiding? Point it out, test it, and lead me. The perfecting work of Christ is the daily work of stepping into the light and facing our shadows. Without a willingness to do so, we cannot know God’s character, nor can we reflect it. Without knowing God’s character, we cannot freely express the enthusiastic and confident hope found in knowing the God who is there, the God who is close. 

I Googled my professor and mailed him a note thanking him for his gift in 1999. I let him know 45-year-old me needed the book most, that it confirmed the Spirit’s continual work in me, and it is sitting on my shelf again, marked up and cherished. I trust my note reached him — 25 years late or, maybe, right on time.