God Will Find You
John Powell, a Professor at Loyola University in Chicago writes about a
student in his Theology of Faith class named Tommy:
Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file
into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith. That
was the first day I first saw Tommy. My eyes and my mind both blinked.
He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his
It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with hair that long. I guess
it was just coming into fashion then. I know in my mind that it isn't
what's on your head but what's in it that counts; but on that day I was
unprepared and my emotions flipped. I immediately filed Tommy under "S"
for strange . . .
very strange. Tommy turned out to be the "atheist in residence" in my
Theology of Faith course. He constantly objected to, smirked at, or
whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father-God. We
lived with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I
admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew.
When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he
asked in a slightly cynical tone: "Do you think I'll ever find God?" I
decided instantly on a little shock therapy. "No!" I said very
"Oh," he responded, "I thought that was the product you were pushing."
I let him get five steps from the classroom door and then called out:
"Tommy! I don't think you'll ever find him, but I am absolutely certain
that he will find you!" He shrugged a little and left my class and my
life. I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my
clever line: "He will find you!" At least I thought it was clever.
Later I heard that Tommy had graduated and I was duly grateful. Then a
sad report, I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I could
search him out, he came to see me.
When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted, and the
long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes
were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe.
"Tommy, I've thought about you so often. I hear you are sick!" I
"Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It's a matter of
"Can you talk about it, Tom?"
"Sure, what would you like to know?"
"What's it like to be only twenty-four and dying?"
"Well, it could be worse."
"Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals, like being
fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the
real 'biggies' in life."
I began to look through my mental file cabinet under "S" where I had
filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try to reject by
classification God sends back into my life to educate me.)
"But what I really came to see you about," Tom said, " is something you
said to me on the last day of class." (He remembered!) He continued, "I
asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, 'No!' which
surprised me. Then you said, 'But he will find you.' I thought about
that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that
time. (My clever line. He thought about that a lot!) But when the
doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me that it was malignant,
then I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread
into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the
bronze doors of heaven. But God did not come out. In fact, nothing
happened. Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort
and with no success? You get psychologically glutted, fed up with
trying. And then you quit. Well, one day I woke up, and instead of
throwing a few more futile appeals over that high brick
wall to a God who may be or may not be there, I just quit. I decided
that I didn't really care...about God, about an afterlife, or anything
"I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more
I thought about you and your class and I remembered something else you
had said: 'The essential sadness is to go through life without loving.
But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this
world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.'
"So I began with the hardest one: my Dad. He was reading the newspaper
when I approached him."
"Yes, what?" he asked without lowering the newspaper.
"Dad, I would like to talk with you."
"I mean. It's really important."
The newspaper came down three slow inches.
"What is it?"
"Dad, I love you. I just wanted you to know that." Tom smiled at me
and said with obvious satisfaction, as though he felt a warm and secret
joy flowing inside of him.
"The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I
could never remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me.
And we talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next
morning. It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to
feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me. "It was easier with my
mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each
other, and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the
things we had been keeping secret for so many years.
I was only sorry about one thing: that I had waited so long. Here I
was just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been
"Then, one day I turned around and God was there. He didn't come to me
when I pleaded with him. I guess I was like an animal trainer holding
out a hoop. 'C'mon, jump through.' 'C'mon, I'll give you three days
... three weeks.' Apparently God does things in his own way and at his
own hour."But the important thing is that he was there. He found me. You were right.
He found me even after I stopped looking for him."
"Tommy," I practically gasped, "I think you are saying something very
important and much more universal than you realize. To me, at least, you
are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make him a private
possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of
need,but rather by opening to love. You know, the Apostle John said
He said God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God
and God is living in him, ' Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know,
when I had you in class you were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can
make it all up to me now. Would you come into my present Theology of
Faith course and tell them what you have just told me? If I told them the same thing it wouldn't
be half as effective as if you were to tell them."
"Oooh . . . I was ready for you, but I don't know if I'm ready for your
"Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call."
In a few days Tommy called, said he was ready for the class, that he
wanted to do that for God and for me. So we scheduled a date.
However, he never made it. He had another appointment, far more
important than the one with me and my class. Of course, his life was not
really ended by his death, only changed. He made the great step from
faith into vision.
He found a life far more beautiful than the eye of man has ever seen or
the ear of man has ever heard or the mind of man has ever imagined.
Before he died, we talked one last time. "I'm not going to make it to
your class," he said.
"I know, Tom."
"Will you tell them for me? Will you tell the whole world for me?"
"I will, Tom. I'll tell them. I'll do my best."
So, to all of you who have been kind enough to hear this simple
statement about love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy,
somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven: "I told them,
Tommy . . . as best I could."