I used to think Christians had to be perfect.
I think that hindered my coming to faith more than any other thing, because I knew I never had a chance in that regard—I was a mess, and I knew it better than anyone. But the thought was still there: for most of my life, I thought a person had to live this perfect life to know Jesus, because that’s the way the lives of the Christians I knew seemed; at least to the extent that I knew them.
They seemed blissfully happy all the time.
They never seemed to doubt God, or His will for their lives.
They never had marriage, family, or friendship troubles. At least not that anyone on the outside knew about.
It was almost like they were ideals, rather than actual living people.
Even after coming to know Jesus, I would sometimes feel like I was posing, because there were times when I still felt down, or sad. There were times when it seemed God’s will for my life was not perfect at all, and that he might have even “had it in for me” in some way. I can’t tell you how many times I would get whiny and defensive with God, asking things like, “What did I do to deserve _______?”
This felt particularly true regarding my relationships with women, such as they were. It was difficult for me to see the hand of God in any of them. I suppose now that was because what I was looking for could not have been found embodied in a person—at least, not until I sought Jesus with that same fervor first. But what I did was make bad decision after bad decision, and then blame anyone and everyone else—including God—for the outcome.
And the truth of it all is that sometimes I still doubt God, even though my life is better now than it’s ever been. So my doubt often stems from when I see how things are going badly for people I care about, and I don’t know what to tell them about where God was when X happened, or why He didn’t answer their prayers the way they wanted. There are only so many times a person can mention “mysterious ways,” and really, no one wants to hear that, even if it is true.
I have an amazing family, and a wife that loves me in spite of all my stupid baggage. My kids are strong, and growing, and loved. I have the opportunity to be the father to them I always wanted for myself, and really didn’t have.
Yet doubt still creeps in. I doubt when I see what the world has become, and the terrible things that happen in it—things that would break even the strongest heart.
There were times when I doubted God had a plan for anyone, or that he was any more than a benevolent bedtime story.
I am not perfect, and certainly not a perfect Christian.
The thing is, there is something that tells me God can handle my doubt, my childlike petulance, and my outbursts of anger and unbelief, because He is bigger than any of my grievances, large or small.
I think that if I didn’t doubt, and if I didn’t question things from time to time, then I would be little more than a God automaton, wandering around praising the Lord in a monotone and handing out tracts at gas stations. I would have no idea what it was like to experience God in His fullness, or that such a thing is even possible.
And for what it’s worth, here is how it worked for me:
My doubts led me to thinking, and praying, and asking questions.
Asking, thinking and praying led me to scripture.
Scripture led me to truth.
Truth led me to Jesus, who was waiting for me.
What I want to say here is that I make no claim to having all the answers to your questions. I may not be able to assuage your doubt regarding God, and His will for your life.
There are probably hundreds of books out there right now that will tell you how you can have a better life, or get out of debt, or find a better you. They have all these tidy little formulas to achieve your goals, and to get where you want to be with the least amount of effort. You can learn how to see it and receive it, or name it and claim it.
I think that if you get somewhere or achieve something without any effort, what kind of satisfaction can you find in that? Because at the end of it all, faith is not easy. It takes work—sometimes a lot of work.
It seems to me that if you could break Jesus, and healing, and restoration down to a formula, then it would not mean as much. And in spite of what a great many people would have you think, I don’t believe hearts work that way.
What I want to tell you is don’t abandon your faith because of struggle, or because you doubt that a loving God exists.
Wrestle with God—Jacob did.
Ask Him questions. Cry out to Him for the truth that only He can bring. Talk to a pastor, or small group/bible study leader. Go forward during an altar call. Delve into scripture with a disciple’s heart—Psalms in particular are filled with laments, and the hurting crying out to God with unimaginable pain.
Most of all, pray.
MC Hammer may have been one of the cheesiest rappers of all time, but I think he had it right when he said “you’ve got to pray just to make it today.”
It’s true that we live in a fallen world, and faith is sometimes hard to come by. So when I read about writers and speakers like Rob Bell who call people into a dialogue about things that may be controversial, or simply just hard to talk about, I think maybe it’s a good thing. It sheds light on subjects many people probably think about but don’t have the rocks to mention.
Because I believe everyone has doubts, and questions. That’s right, even people of faith. I believe that if there are no struggles in your life—no pain, or hurt, or disappointment—then you’re deluding yourself, like those people with the plastic grins and the perfect lives I knew when I was a kid.
And I think it’s so dangerous when we get to a place in our lives where we think we’ve “arrived” spiritually, and there is little more we can learn or experience in the way of God. I think then we’re farther away than when we began. Faith is not a class with a nice certificate at the end—it’s real, and it’s hard, and sometimes it feels like it isn’t worth it.
It is worth it, in spite of how lousy things can be.
And there’s always more to learn, and understand, and question.
I think writers like Bell cause people to seek answers to those questions, and once again, I believe that’s a good thing.
I will say, though, that no writer, or pastor, or speaker can lay claim to knowing the mind of God other than how it is described in scripture, and when such men and women start putting words into the mouth of the almighty they will most likely run into a buzz saw of trouble.
I don’t know what Mr Bell says about Heaven or Hell in his new book, because I haven’t read it. I probably will read it eventually, but with the foreknowledge that he is but a man trying to stir thought in people, and hopefully to get them nearer to God. And he did stir people up—not just with this new book coming out. Bell has been a controversial figure for years, because ever since Velvet Elvis came out, he’s been stirring thought in people by making them approach their faith in ways they maybe never thought of before.
In my opinion, if this or any book draws people to look into the bible, and seek knowledge about God, then it’s a good thing, because I don’t believe God’s truth can be denied when earnestly sought—there certainly came a point where I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m hoping that if you’re getting close to that point, you won’t be able to either.
And if not automatically branding Bell and others like him as heretics (as so many in the blogosphere have) makes me one, too, then I guess I’ll just have to live with the label.
Like Tupac said, “only God can judge me.” Not that Tupac quoted a lot of scripture in his lyrics—I’m just making a point.
It’s not ours to dictate whether or not someone is worthy of…rescue, of salvation.
It’s not ours to condemn.
I don’t know about you, but I have no desire for that particular responsibility, and I certainly do not know the mind of God.
So what I hope to do here is just tell you a few things I’ve learned about God, and about how he relates to me. I’ll tell you a little bit of my story, and maybe you will be able to take something away from it that will make you think, make you ask questions.
Some of these posts that will follow in the coming days and weeks you might recognize from previous postings, and many are largely the same, but with a few changes made in a feeble attempt by yours truly for a more concise narrative.
I’m hoping this will make sense, because I feel like this story is one I have to tell, even if I have no idea whether or not anyone will care to spend time reading another person’s thoughts.
So what I plan to do is try, and see what happens.
See you in a few days.