Friday, January 09, 2015

"God had better start treating me fair"

This comment, from someone named Lyle, was posted through the Q&A forum on a website I help manage:

"If god wants me to start going back to church, he had better start treating me fair"

It's been haunting me ever since I read it.

If it's true, as A.W. Tozer once said, that the most important thing about us is what we think God is like, what about this perception so many have that God is wronging us, that God, if there is a God, is clearly giving us so much less than we deserve, that God is cruel or deeply unfair? Sounds like a monster, not a God. How could you embrace, love, and worship such a God?

Yet many do not seem to get past this trap, believing that they could only worship a God who was much better than the only God they can imagine must exist based on all the trouble in their hearts and in the world. Of course, looking to our own imagination as a reliable source of what God is like is not the only option, but so many seem to start there and can't get past the obstacles they find.

I heard something similar from a friend who is trying to figure out if there's a way to rediscover and reclaim the faith of her childhood after having walked away from it some years ago. As a young adult she just couldn't keep believing in or trusting the Christian God whom she saw doing things like letting little kids get leukemia and die. Years later, she's still struggling with much the same thing. How can God let her suffer like she has been suffering lately? Why is God "making" her and her family go through all this pain and torture? She's prayed and found it doesn't "work." Meaning that God does not do what she's begged him to do. Her problems - and they are serious ones - have not gone away.

Well, there are worse places to go with your anger and disappointment at God than to talk to people who love God, or even talk to God himself about how angry you are. He can take it.

I want to comfort my friend in her struggle and not push religious or trite answers on her, but she's practically begging for answers, and certainly a part of her suffering is with the sense she has that God himself has let her down. So perhaps the kindest thing I could do for her, along with just listening to and loving her, would be to tell her or show her how she's got God wrong. I want to tell her he's not like that, not at all like that.

Doesn't she see - doesn't my online commenter see - that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love? That we, who were made for a purpose, for relationship with him, reject him at nearly every turn and yet he pursues us, and showers us with blessings whether we respond to him or not? That the existence of evil and pain in the world does not mean God himself is evil and the source of pain? 
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
“For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”

– A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.

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