“Is the Devil Making Me Believe in a ‘Liberal’ God Who Isn’t the True God?”

Two days ago I received this email:

Dear John,

I have a problem (and know two others who share it). I was brought up in a Bible-study church. Thirty-plus years later, I’ve all but abandoned the Christianity of my childhood, mainly because it made God less than loving: cold, distant, mostly interested in tripping me up, even untrustworthy. I’ve since joined an Episcopalian church, because they seemed to be focused on the grace and love of Jesus. I believe Jesus would be more of a Democrat than a Republican: giving to others; not worshiping the almighty dollar and big biz; loving the unlovable; accepting of homosexuality, etc. (That whole thing about homosexuality being a sin pisses me off; I know too many gays, and cannot accept they’re destined to hell.)

My problem is that on a deeper level, something inside of me is saying that the Christianity of my childhood is the true way. I have a nagging in the back of my head, saying, “Episcopalians and these other sorts of liberal Christians aren’t Bible-centered. They aren’t right. Few will make it into heaven. Homosexuals will go to hell,” etc., etc. All of that kind of thinking is so ingrained in me; it’s like a stain that cannot be washed off.

My question: Could the devil have his hand in my liking my liberal Episcopal church? I know my feelings about Christianity have much to do with my psychological makeup, but knowing that doesn’t give me freedom. (Some quick background info on me: my dad, the demonstrative parent, died when I was two. My mom remarried someone like her: cold and distant. They both loved the kids, but it was conditionally and from afar.) Have you ever come across anyone like me? Someone who started their lives with a legalistic and punishing concept of God, later turned away from that view in search of a loving God, but was ultimately only able to accept as true about God what they so didn’t want to believe was true? That God really is a judgmental, legalistic SOB? What if the God I so do not want to believe in is the true God? Your thoughts on this would be extremely appreciated. Thank you!

First of all, thank you for writing me this letter. Simply by presenting it in the thoughtful and honest manner you have, I know you’ve helped others who are also burdened with this pressing, deeply personal concern.

What really jumped out at me here was, “I know my feelings about Christianity have much to do with my psychological makeup, but knowing that doesn’t give me freedom.” Simply thinking the thought that your theology and psychology are intermixed might not give you freedom, but the magnitude of that truth is the mountain you’ll have to start taking apart if you truly desire for your view of God to be unobstructed.

I’d bet my house and everything in it that your problem isn’t that you’re torn between a harshly judgmental, condemning God and a loving, benevolent, forgiving God. I’d bet that you’re torn between a loving, forgiving God, and the single, illusionary entity in your mind that consists of a combination of your parents and the God they helped inculcate you with.

You wrote, “I was brought up in a Bible-study church.” Look at how seamlessly, how instinctively you merge your home with your church. It’s very unlikely that phrasing was simply a convention of language. It’s often in how we use language—especially when we’re speaking or writing directly from our heart—that we reveal deeper, core truths about ourselves and our foundational operating concepts that are so primordial to our identity they’re barely subject to language at all.

And look how you describe your parents: cold and distant. You couldn’t pick two better words to also describe the God whom you’re now fearing is the “true” God.

I strongly encourage you to consider that you’ve superimposed—that, in psychological parlance, you’ve transferred—your feelings about your parents onto at least part of—the negative part of—your conception of God. And please know that there’s not a thing in the world even slightly weird or wrong about doing that. People all the time confuse God with their parents. And that they do makes perfect sense. The first thing we ever know about our parents is that, in every last meaning of the word, they are our gods. We depend wholly upon them for our survival. If they don’t give us what we need, both materially and emotionally, then we just don’t get what we need. Their power to make of our lives heaven or hell is absolute.

And what’s one of the primary determinants of which of those two it will be? Their judgment of us! Of what we do. Of how well we behave. Of how assiduously we follow their rules. Of how “good” they decide that we are.

Out of fear and love for the gods that our parents are to us we endeavor as children to obey the rules they give us, so that, pleased with us, they won’t make a hell of our lives; out of fear and love for God, we endeavor as adults to obey the rules He gives us, so that, pleased with us, he won’t make a hell of our afterlives.

And so we have this ancient, cultural, deeply salient tradition of a God who, essentially, spanks us forever. Who from above wags his giant scary finger at us, and in thunderous tones booms at us about how wrong, bad, and disappointing we are. Who makes us feel weak and ashamed. Who severely punishes us—but only because, through our disobedience, we force him to.

Look what you wrote about your parents: “They loved us kids, but conditionally, and from afar.” In a nutshell that captures the lion’s share of two thousand years’ worth of Christian theology: God loves us, but conditionally, and from afar. Take your parents, merge them into one imposing male figure, move that figure into heaven, put a white beard and robe on him, and voila: the popular conception of the God of the Old Testament.

But that’s not the God you want to be the “true” God, is it? You do not want God to be a harsh, judgmental, dictatorial, authoritative, “cold and distant SOB.” You want God to be loving, compassionate, patient, forbearing, and forgiving.

What you want is Jesus. The Jesus of the New Testament doesn’t show us a God who is harsh, punishing, aloof, and vindictive. It presents a God possessed of qualities directly contrary to those, a God who loves as God alone can: absolutely, unconditionally, unmitigatedly, freely. The New Testament shows us a God ready to love us the way that as children so many of us wish our parents had loved us: exactly as we are, without regard to rules. Significantly, the only people to whom Jesus showed extreme displeasure were those authority figures who, in the name of God, judged and condemned others according to whether or not they obeyed The Rules.

Why, it’s like so many of us had fathers named Pharisee, and mothers named Sadducee.

Just like everyone else in the world, you have work to do in separating your ideas about God from your deeply rooted ideas about your parents. At the beginning of it, that process is like sitting down before a chess board upon which are both chess and checker pieces. The simple and complex games are all mixed up. You can’t tell which if any rules apply. You don’t know what pieces you’re supposed to move, or how, or where. You have no idea how to win. You don’t know who’s supposed to be crowned king.

Sorting, as it were, the chess from the checker pieces, isn’t easy. It takes a lot of emotional work done over a great deal of time. If you’re serious about undertaking that prodigious journey, seek as a guide and helper a good psychologist or therapist. It’s almost impossible to do such challenging work alone. We all need help freeing ourselves from the oppressive tyrants of the old, and accepting for ourselves the liberating, true love of the new.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Cam

    I could have written much of that letter (I'm a Libertarian/Republican ;) ) and I seriously thought I was the only one struggling! Thank you for writing, but here's my question now. What about the Old Testament? Every time I WANT to let myself fully believe this I think "BUT . . . ". Your words are so healing, thank you! I am so blessed to be able to show my children a different sort of God in our home, where Mommy isn't just waiting to smack you if your sinfulness makes her mad enough.

  • http://thinkhebrew.wordpress.com/ James Prather

    First of all, the God of the Old Testament is not a vindictive jerk like most people seem to think. Contrary to popular belief, grace is not a New Testament concept. The fact is that God does not change and so if God is a graceful God now, how could He be any different in Old Testament Times? The answer, of course, is that He has never changed and has always been full of grace. If you doubt that and want to point at destruction and divine smiting in the Old Testament, we can point to the same thing in the New Testament.

    Second, from the person's letter it seems like they associate being "Bible-centered" with the beliefs in a "cold, distant" God, and associate a loving, caring, and graceful God with something much less Bible-centered. That is simply not the case. In fact, I would encourage you to read your Bible thoroughly – it is only in the word of God that you will find the answers you seek. Of course, a trained professional will be able to help you sort out these feelings and guide your steps, but don't discount the words of God (both Old and New Testaments) in your search for the one true God. I hope you find Him.

    Peace to you,

    James

    • http://whythulc.wordpress.com Deanna

      James,

      I don't think it's so much that there's a direct correlation between "Bible-centered" and "cold, distant", but for this woman's experience, it may have been.

      I struggle with these same kind of issues, and for me, it's not so much that the "Bible-centered" background was cold… It's just that it weighed too heavy on the rules. So really, most of my time growing up was spent on being perfect and following the rules to a T. Because if you followed all the rules, you were a good Christian and God would love you. But as it turns out, if I drank champagne at my engagement party, I was breaking the rules. If I voted for Obama, I was breaking the rules. If I went a meeting designed to help Christian not discriminate against the LGBT community and find ways to be more loving towards them, I was breaking the rules. If I tried to understand and respect the traditions and ways of life that other religions express so that I would not be ignorant of them, I was breaking the rules.

      And on and on. If it all boils down to breaking or keeping the rules, it becomes cold and distant because it's a race. So, she's not saying GOD is cold and distant exactly, she's saying that the way the community around her interpreted God and his love, turned out to be very cold and distant. And for a lot of people God is as much the community interpretation of him as well as his words. It's VERY hard to separate the two.

      Anyways. That's all. Just my thoughts.

    • Patty

      James, the Old Testament traditions rose out of itinerant rabbis spreading oral theology to empower themselves and insure their place in a nomadic community. Those tales, told by different men over many centuries, reflected the hardship of the people. Their God had to be a strong (and violent) God to protect and defend them from the difficult lives they lived. Jesus' gift to Israel was the Father he knew to be loving and compassionate. Hence the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament images of God.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Images of God were not painted on pages of the Bible but in the faces of men (including women).

        Itinerant Biblical prophets knew full well that their place in society was fleeting, meaningless, and pointless to pursue; they were after the greater, enduring things of God. It is for this reason that they were the ones whose teachings have survived, as opposed to those of just any old rabbi who went around in flowing robes and for a show made lengthy prayers.

        You are right though that people looked to God for defense, and even today that is a vital role of the LORD. Yet people have always looked to Him for love and relationship too, secure in the promise that is our God.

        Mr. Prather is right that God does not change: God was ever immensely patient, forbearing, and forgiving; God never broke His promises and covenants; and God was never a vindictive jerk.

        Yet God is strong and violent at times to this very day, just as He is and always has been full of Grace. Even as God is Love, Love is strong, and Love can get violent.

        Jesus' gift overall was the sacrifice of Himself. His Father, the one that would sacrifice His own Son, is the same God the Israelites always had believed in—though in Jesus He made Himself known, personally.

        • Patty

          Oh geez! I've brought down the rath of M. Tweedell!

          • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

            not everyone can do that, Patty. Congratulations

  • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

    Bravo.

    Thank God for John Shore.

  • http://aldenswan.com Alden

    Please forgive these plugs (I really try to avoid doing this), but I've been writing about this subject over the last couple of weeks at aldenswan.com. Also, I have a book coming out in a month or so entitled "The Gospel Uncensored" that deals specifically with issues of legalism, works, and why we can't shake off those legalistic feelings. You can read more at TheGospelUncensored.com.

    If this sounds too "commercial" a comment, please feel free to remove it.

  • Russ

    I hope you find Him? That's it? Like, “I hope you can come over for coffee.”? The stakes are much higher then that.

    1. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all sinners. The preacher, the president, the plumber, the prostitute. All of us are sinners and all of us are condemned because of our sin against a holy God.

    2. The wages of sin is death. We are all condemned to a place the Bible calls “the lake of fire”. We, as sinners, cannot enter the presence of a holy God.

    3. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for our sin. No one took Jesus’ life from Him. He willingly gave up His life to pay the debt for my sin and yours. He is the spotless lamb that was offered as a sacrifice for our transgressions. He laid down His life to save us from hell.

    4. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. [Rom 10:9]

    This is the gospel. The word gospel means “good news”. Jesus paid the price for my sin and yours and when I call upon His name, He hears me and He saves me. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

    Lord Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner. I thank you for dieing in my place and paying the penalty for my sin. Please forgive me and fill me with your Holy Spirit and help me to walk with you all the days of my life.

    If you prayed that prayer the Bible says you are a NEW CREATION in Christ. Old things have passed away, all things are NEW. You have been born again. You have passed from death to life.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      This response is filled with the noise that comes from having the bars of the cage rattled. For some, the idea of flying outside of it represents such loss and fear, it's a reaction to pull everyone back inside. That you so quickly needed to remind the writer of this incredibly powerful letter of the "wrath of God" when in fact that message has been a tool inadvertently used to push her away from Holy is I'm sure, meant to be helpful. But it says more about you than the author.

      To the author: Thank you for having the courage to write this and contributing to such an important conversation. I'm floored. In a good way.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      "All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved."

      I am interested to know how you reconcile this claim with Matthew 7:21-23.

      • DonP

        While I am sure you are not that unversed in the Scriptures to know what Matthew 7:21-23 is really saying; For the sake of those who don't know and might be confused by the implication of your question and additionally. unlike you, don't keep verbal alligator pits lying around just waiting for someone like me to fall into your the trap…………..I well say it. Matthew 7:21-23 is is speaking about many who come cloaked in the mantel of Christianity but who have never actually called upon His name for salvation. People pretending in other words. People who like to wear bells on their cuffs announcing how Holy they are. Those types Mr Tweedell,

        • Matthew Tweedell

          No, it plainly *is* about those who *do* call upon Christ as their Lord but are denied entrance into the Kingdom. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." This is corroborated elsewhere in the New Testament, such as James 2:14-20 (note: mere words may be a sign of faith but do not count as deeds in the NT Greek sense of the term).

          • DonP

            With this I will not discuss this with you any further. Except for this addition, I stand my my statement. And I believe you are wrong. Once you are standing at the gates of heaven, (which is where I believe this scene takes place) it is presumed that one is already dead. The time for asking for salvation has past dude.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            You are standing before the gates of the Kingdom even at this very moment. And then, in an instant, the setting transitions to Judgment Day, the last day, only *after* which stands the end (who also is the beginning).

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

            So, I'm curious, Matthew. Do you do you usually change the water in your bong as soon as it starts turning brown, or do you wait until it's practically a solid?

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Believe it or not, I don't need to do drugs to be cool.

            It just comes naturally to me.

          • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

            I just got in trouble in a meeting for laughing OUT LOUD at this.

            So worth it.

          • http://Sisterfriends-together.org Anita

            I feel the same way about the Diet 7-Up that came out my nose. It stung but was so worth it.

          • http://whythulc.wordpress.com Deanna

            Oh dear. That was THE funniest thing I have read all week.

            I nearly fell of my chair laughing.

    • soulmentor

      What rote thoughtless blather. I grew Wisconsin Synod Lutheran (the most conservative) and learned every Sunday from the liturgy how "unworthy" I was. It crippled my own sense of self esteem and confidence for my whole life. It wasn't until my 40's that I came round to the realization that if I was so unworthy then Jesus was a fool, but seeing what he did, I decided instead that he wasn't a fool, I WAS WORTHY.

      But the residual sense of unworthiness will go with me to the grave, I think. So when I hear someone like you spew all that mindless rote rot, I wanna puke.

      • Diana A.

        To whom are you speaking, Soulmentor? The reason I ask is that I can't tell from looking under whose comment your comment is nesting.

        • soulmentor

          I am addressing the writer of the letter to John.

          • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

            I'm confused as to why you're so angry. She's actually challenging her world view, the view she was raised within, not defending it. Maybe I'm misunderstanding.

          • soulmentor

            I understand what she is doing and going thru and I'm not at all angry with her. I'm seriously pissed off at a lot of so called Christians for what many of them know is blatant lies and hypocrisy about gays and what that has caused in MY life. I'm past it now but they're not and I find it aggravating.

          • http://whythulc.wordpress.com Deanna

            Oh! That makes sense. It really sounded like you were going off on the author.

          • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

            Got it, I figured as much. Thanks for clarifying!

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Are you sure you weren't addressing Russ? You did post that comment in reply to Russ's, and it what you said makes a lot more sense in response to that one. Perhaps you confused which comment Diana was asking about?

          • Diana A.

            Okay, this makes sense. Thanks, Matthew.

            I blame the nesting function with which I have a love-hate relationship–love, because when it works is clarifies so beautifully who is responding to what–hate, because when it doesn't work, it makes it even more confusing to figure who is saying what to whom.

          • Diana A.

            "…because when it works IT clarifies…"

            It, is…what's the diff?" (rolls eyes and hits "submit.")

    • Alex

      Responding to Russ

      You mean you can sum up all that Jesus came to do for us in four bullet points? Not hardly. I do alot of work with men and those four bullet points presented as "the gospel" has Christian men struggling to keep afloat. Christian marriages hovering at about a 5% thriving rate. No, until we move the Gospel to "Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost", and that he came to heal the broken hearted, and that he left to send us a Holy Spirit to lead us, he came……… it goes on and on.

      To John: Great response. It never ceases to amaze me how we project our images of our fathers onto God.

      To the author: Bravo. Hang in there. I pray that you have an encounter with a living, loving Jesus, that sets your heart free. Another reson He came, btw.

      To all those who view the bible as the fourth member of the Trinity, give it a rest. All religions have a book, we have a God that wants to talk to us on a regular basis. If your not using scripture to see Jesus, you are misusing it. Just quoting scripture, btw.

      • Diana A.

        "To all those who view the bible as the fourth member of the Trinity, give it a rest. All religions have a book, we have a God that wants to talk to us on a regular basis. If your not using scripture to see Jesus, you are misusing it. "

        This is so getting posted on my Facebook page! With full credit to you, of course.

    • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

      Oh, for shame. The writer of the original letter already KNOWS Christ. What she's struggling with is the ongoing relationship with the Father. To simply spout scripture at a struggling Christian is like throwing a boulder on a drowning person.

      What would Jesus say to a person who was in pain and struggling? What countenance would He turn to her? One of harsh cruelty, or one of love and compassion? As we know from reading scripture, Jesus saved his harshest condemnation for the legalists the Pharisees, the ones who stood on the steps of the temple spouting scripture to prove their faith. Jesus taught us that faith is not in works but in our hearts.

      What a sad, sad reminder of why I avoid conservative Christians like the plague.

    • Ace

      I think I saw this post on a Baptist tract in the Wal-Mart bathroom once.

  • Tim

    I'm sure quite a few here won't share my views regarding this post. As far as sorting out one's appraisal of God based upon the appraisal of parents…maybe a psychologist can certainly help. I see value in that profession/vocation. However, I'd say that this person could benefit even further by deeply meditating on the whole of Scripture (no cherry-picks) and asking for/allowing the Comforter/Holy Spirit to guide and teach His perspective of the trueness and faithfulness of God.

    I believe the Father/Jesus/Holy Spirit is all loving, all forgiving and an all knowing God. To me that means He desires to love all and forgive all—even in the face of knowing all. Unfortunately for us (humankind), relationship to God demands our participation. If that is seen as a condition, then I suppose that is a point, regardless of semantics, that we have to continue to wrestle with and examine. We don't have to fully understand such conditions to be "saved". Salvation only requires that we trust Jesus to cover our sin. If we reject Jesus, we are no longer under His grace and forgiveness, but instead, under the law (the Word/Letter) and OUR fitness to perform that law perfectly. We can't in any dictate what is or isn't sin. We need to acknowledge that ALL of us are sinners and incapable of being accepted on our own terms. Let's say, for instance, that homosexuality is NOT a sin. Is that homosexual secure in their salvation on all other points of the law? I mean, if we are truly saved by grace, those kinds of distinctions should be irrelevant.

    Jesus loves us, but it would appear in Rev. He also judges the whole of creation at the final judgment. He was given the keys to hell and death and says in John 8:19, "…if you had known me, you should have known my Father also. If we find it hard to believe that God's character is embodied in Jesus, then I think we should really examine Jesus closer. It's not a cosmic game of Good Cop/Bad Cop.

    Thanks for another thought provoking post, John.

    _______________________________________________________________

    John 5:22; 5:26-27; 9:39; 12:48; 2Cor. 5:10; Rev.19:11

    • DonP

      Luke was a physician. I'm not sure if he stopped that when Jesus called him or not. I rather suspect he did not. Today we have physicians of the mind. I suppose that one who was not intent on excising the religion of his patients could do some good. As far as the issues about specific sins like that mentioned here of homosexuality; I find it hard to believe that those kinds of things should ever be the focus of our attention when dealing with the unsaved seekers that God brings into our lives. Their sin is not our business unless they ask us directly about an issue. God deals with each of us on a personal level and at different speeds. Moreover, none of us ever gets to the blessed goal of actual perfection in this realm. From what I can tell about how Jesus dealt with the subject, he just didn't. He said come follow me…………" He didn't say come follow me if you quit sinning. I do recall him saying to a prostitute go and sin no more. I suspect that was more for a show to those trying to kill her by stoning that He forgives her and so should they. Although, I really suspect He meant for them to be convicted in their own hearts of their own sin rather than making an issue out of someone else's. We see, sin everywhere; in and out of the Church. We all do it. it's just not the point of the whole big picture He's been painting all these many years that God wants us to know. I read and see the horror of His judgment, but more than that, the message boils down to Him being all about mankind. We are the whole point It's not about rules and laws and condemnation. It's about look what I have done for you. I Love you.

      • Diana A.

        I love this.

        "Moreover, none of us ever gets to the blessed goal of actual perfection in this realm. From what I can tell about how Jesus dealt with the subject, he just didn’t. He said come follow me…………” He didn’t say come follow me if you quit sinning." This especially.

        "I do recall him saying to a prostitute go and sin no more. I suspect that was more for a show to those trying to kill her by stoning that He forgives her and so should they. " I always took that as a gentle encouragement on Jesus's part to keep trying to do right by God and to not give up. But that's just me.

      • Tim

        I agree with you. Peter obviously continued to fish, so I would venture to say that Jesus didn't ask him to sell all he owned and give that money to the poor before following Him. When Jesus asked His disciples to come and follow Him, I think we can be pretty certain that He wanted them to follow His lead, His example, His teaching. Otherwise the title Disciple, wouldn't mean very much. Thousands of people physically followed Jesus. Very few were compelled to risk everything by practicing what Jesus taught.

        When Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to, "go and sin no more", He had to know that she would obviously sin again in some way. I used to be puzzled by that command to "go and sin no more". I knew that I would continue to fall into sin, so that command stuck in my conscience. It made me mindful of each time I did sin, so I would be truthful and confess those sins continually asking forgiveness.

        I've come to believe that repentance is not a permanent turning and never sinning again, but a continual practice. By practicing the command of "sin no more", we hopefully perfect our ability to stand stronger each time in the face of temptation.

    • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

      Tim,

      For whatever its worth, you are the salt to our sweet and I like it when you post, if only because it's very difficult being the counter view in a group of…..passionate people. Xoxo

  • Kara

    I can so relate to the author.

    I have spent more than enough of my life doing mental gymnastics trying to explain why things that would be evil if a person did them are okay for God to do. Why God gets to be petty, spiteful, a major player-of-favorites, etc.

    Eventually and gradually I realized that if God seems evil? It's a flaw in my conception of God, not proof that God is really evil. This required altering major portions of my theology, but was so worth it. I had to let go of things like believing that God deals out infinite and horrendous physical punishment for finite transgression. Also, things like believing that Israel's semi-regular murder of non-Israelite babies was God's plan. Things like believing that God controls everything that happens, including rape, torture, genocide, etc.

    This requires a different perspective on the Bible. And when I realized that, it terrified me. Because, like the author, I was convinced that to believe anything other than that the Bible is 100% accurate in content, and that that content has been perfectly preserved, and that it should be read as literally as possible, was to believe heresy.

    We were taught that "liberal" Christians were apostate. Making it up to make things easier on themselves. But that was a scare tactic, and a lie. It's easier to believe that everything is black and white, and that you're on the right side. It's not more convenient to believe that the Bible is really complicated and takes a ton of work. We're not deluding ourselves, author, we're seeking to know who God is. And that is certainly not the work of the Devil.

    • http://none Don Rappe

      Can I second this post? If I could write so well, I would say just what Kara has said.

      • Derek

        and please count me as another voice that might have said what Kara did if I had her eloquence..

  • Jeannie

    Thank you for publishing this. I could have written much of this letter. However, I would not describe my mother as cold or distant. Anyhow, these are really painful things to look at.

    I still find myself going back and forth between wanting God to be good and loving and wondering if I am just all messed up and have totally missed the mark now. I don't only worry about myself as much as how I am parenting my children. Because they are cetainly not being raised as fundementalists. The only thing more frightening then dreaming about going to hell is dreaming that your children are in hell.

    In any case, there's no going back to who I was. That ship has been torched.

  • berkshire

    John, I think this is one of your most perceptive and well-articulated posts I've seen (and I've seen a lot of yours that I would characterize similarly). Really, right on and sharp.

    I have thought this often when hearing people of various religions (not only Christianity) spouting about their punitive God, etc. I have often thought that they sounded like children looking for (or replicating) their parents. You said it better and with more precision than I ever could have, though.

    To the writer of the original letter, I would only add two things, in response to these:

    "I have a nagging in the back of my head, saying . . . . "

    The head lies. A lot. What does the voice in your heart say? In my experience, God is more likely to speak to me through that organ, rather than my head, if I can be still enough to listen and really hear.

    " . . . . 'Episcopalians and these other sorts of liberal Christians aren’t Bible-centered. They aren’t right. Few will make it into heaven. Homosexuals will go to hell,' etc., etc. All of that kind of thinking is so ingrained in me; it’s like a stain that cannot be washed off."

    You describe this thinking as a "stain", which is generally an undesirable thing, a negative thing. You may already know which view of God feels more 'right' to you.

    John's advice about seeking out help with a therapist is wise counsel. If you can find a therapist with a spiritual perspective (for some reason, many avoid this or are uncomfortable with it), who also understands the core concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), you might find it very helpful. One of the core prinicples or ideas in CBT is "Family Rules", which as John pointed out, you may have melded with your church's rules (note I said "church's", not "God's").

    Whatever approach you ultimately take in this discovery process, I wish you clarity and I wish you peace.

    • Tim

      “The head lies. A lot. What does the voice in your heart say?”

      According to CBT, trusting our emotions (examining with the heart) can certainly be along for the ride, but should take a back seat to trusting what is more logically true (examining with the head). I will admit that the head can be wrong too. But only when it takes too much direction from the heart. Emotions should influence or season our decisions, but the head needs to lead that examination to discern truth. Emotions will cause us to get it wrong more often than not. Emotions ebb and flow. They are inconsistent. Reason stands steady and constant.

      The Bible seems to back up that idea.

      Matthew 15:19—”For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

      Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things

      and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

      Romans 12:2—Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

      • http://whythulc.wordpress.com Deanna

        Yes, but the mind can also speak from years of conditioning and guilt.

        If the deepest roots of her childhood, upbringing, and adult years have all been drenched in that way of thinking, then of course it will be difficult to get through. Her mind, well trained to think the right thoughts and have all the perfect Christian answers will be yelling at her.

        A big part of why John suggests going to talk to someone (which I did, for the same reasons and it helped me SO immensely) is to help parse out what is the ingrained guilt talking and what is logic talking. But man, it takes work.

        To the author, don't start ignoring your heart. Yes, it can be deceptive and don't go about hatching plans of revenge or brawls. Just be patient with yourself. Search yourself. Listen to every organ that is speaking.Talk to your friends about what you wrestle with, confession is good for the soul. Talk to a counselor if you want to (it sounds daunting, but really, it's just someone in the room to show you a mirror and help you find what is driving that voice in the back of your head.) Keep wrestling, don't give up.

        You are not alone. Thank you for having the courage to speak up, because you have verbalized things that I have felt that I didn't even know what to do with.

      • berkshire

        I would say that what you're calling heart and emotion are still "head", masquerading as something else.

        The heart I'm talking about is a still place, reached in silence–when we're in the kind of emotional space that I think you're talking about (if I understood you correctly), there isn't stillness–we're pretty churned up (even 'positive' emotions churn us up).

        I referenced CBT because it deals with Core Beliefs ('beliefs' in the sense of ideas, carried around in our heads, that we learned in childhood). The two main one's CBT identifies are "I am not lovable (or worthy, or good, etc)", and "I am not safe (protected, etc)". Family rules, among other things, play a role in shaping those core beliefs. We can act out those family rules in our adult lives quite unconsciously–for instance, "in this family, we do not question authority". In the instance of this person who wrote to John, I can see where that rule might be taking up some space in this author's head, and exerting a negative influence. CBT helps to examine those family rules and core beliefs in a variety of ways that might be helpful to the person.

        I'm not talking about emotional heart. I'm talking about wise, still, clear heart. Not the same thing. I disagree that "truth" is ever found ultimately with the head. I would also disagree that emotions interfering with the head cause us to get things wrong. I think it's the other way around. But of course, none of this is absolute. I'm going by my experience, and experiences shared with me by others, personally and professionally. You may have different experiences.

        "Reason is steady and constant"–I would suggest that nothing in this world is constant, except change, itself. So, a 'steady constant' (i.e. unchanging) reasoning is likely fooling itself and likely to be wrong as often as right. But perhaps you weren't referring to that kind of constancy, or meaning it in that same way. I don't know.

        "For out of the heart comes evil thoughts"–last I checked, the "thoughts" came from the head. So this quote makes no sense to me. Likewise the suggestion that the heart makes us steal, etc. Out of the heart comes compassion, which is always a good impulse. To me, the metaphor of the heart kind of muddies things anyway, because it's easy to focus on the organ, and the association of the heart with emotions. I used it because I don't have anything better for the moment to describe what I mean. The best way I can describe it is the way I originally did, the clear space through which God speaks when the mind is silent. It's not about emotions.

        No disrespect to you is meant by this, but for me the Bible doesn't "back anything up" or serve as evidence of anything for me, as I'm not a Christian. I respect it as a remarkable body of literature with many wise and valuable teachings (as well as a share of unwise things) that has had a major impact on the world. But it doesn't inform my worldview very directly. Perhaps in some minor, indirect way, having grown up in a culture where the majority of religious people subscribe to Christianity. But it doesn't function as an authority in my life, except by coincidence (by which I mean, I have come to some similar conclusions about life and about how it ought to be lived, but not because those things are in the Bible).

        Isn't it interesting how many ways there are to see and interpret the world? I'm always fascinated by this.

      • http://leiashotfirst.wordpress.com Natalie

        I have done this both ways – I have examined my faith using my heart, and I have examined my faith using my head.

        Both have led me to atheism. Though it did take about 10 years worth of guilt to get there. :)

      • Mary G

        Please don’t use jargon without explaining it. What is “CBT”?

  • Matthew Tweedell

    "What if the God I so do not want to believe in is the true God?"

    So we are starting with the assumption that there is a true God, and we wish to determine what He is like. The only way to connect the two is to understand what exactly is inherent in that assumption—what definition we have of God. For this, we've chosen to turn to the Bible as an authoritative document. Starting from the beginning, the first thing that we know about this God is that He made the heavens and the earth and when He tells light to be, it is. So He is the Source of it all, and when He made it, He made it good (at least according to His own estimation). And He imparted matter with spirit and made man. And when some man finally asked Him who He is, He indicated that He is that He is, or will be what He will be, or some vague thing like this that together with the fact that He shows up everywhere, can only mean: the Source of all the good things that came into being is in identity with Truth Itself (being the great universal that is whatever it is regardless of what we think about it or whatever else).

    Then He proceeded to give that guy a list rules to follow (as if to teach him a lesson for having the nerve to investigate a burning bush and do whatever it told him). Of course, this wasn't the first time He'd done something like this: when he made man, he gave man a single moral rule, by which I mean a rule that's actually made optional, as He also instituted numerous rules that we don't have a choice about, like gravity. But here, there's a choice — or at least it would seem so to man — and the rule lies in the fact that there is a consequence to making a certain choice; of course, making the choice to obey it also has a consequence, as do many other choices that God let us alone to figure out about for ourselves. And of course, He also let us to figure out that He is God for ourselves—we're the ones who gave names to things—and He let us figure out to turn to the Bible to find out these things about Him.

    Anyway, for the people whom God gave Moses the responsibility to lead, in that place and time, there were certain things that had certain consequences, so there were certain rules that revealed themselves to Moses as being plainly evident. God didn't fail to make clear through the prophets that He didn't really care for the blood of sacrifices and so forth; these were rules followed for the sake of cultural cohesion, psychological comfort, etc. Sometimes, the consequences of a certain person and the sort of people he associates with living a certain way is ultimately their demise, just as irresponsible sexual practices can lead to developing AIDS. When He came in the flesh as Jesus Christ, He explained how the rules on divorce or what was safe to eat, etc., were to be re-evaluated.

    And this is next point about who God is. A certain Son of Man claimed privately that he was the Son of God. And He revealed Himself to have just the sort of supernatural nature that would be required to make people to believe it. And we had it so wrong in what we thought of God when we knew Him only from afar; in many ways, we realize that we tend to think of Him upside down, because the things of this corrupted and fallen world are not at all the things of Heaven. The Creator was laid in a manger. The King of Kings became a servant unto man. The Judge declines to pass condemnation. The Son of Man is granted authority to forgive sins. The One who spoke Truth, and who is Truth, said things like this that sound like nonsense. The One who was beaten turned the other cheek. The Almighty laid down his life. The One in the grave was resurrected. The One without stain was punished. The chief among rebels was a sanctified servant to the Lord.

    Then it is revealed that, of all things, God is Love. He *has* love, yes, even as He verily *is* Love. And when we look back and see how he made creation good, it's obvious: He always was. It's part of the very definition. As far as there is such an essence knowable to man as divinity, we have every reason to understand Him to be no less than perfect in His compassion! We have every reason to look to Jesus Christ to find the face of God, to know what God is like. The Bible makes clear that no one has ever seen the Father really; so we are SUPPOSED to do what you are doing, and look to the Son, and where you see the Son, you see the Father and the Spirit too, and then—just like any other spirit—you can just *feel* it and *know* that It's the One (not that that helps so much with figuring out what the Spirit is to inspire from you actually).

  • soulmentor

    The writer or you, John, didn't offer a name for the writer so forgive me for not using one here. It occurred to me that there's no indication of the gender of the writer tho the use of words sounds like a woman. Here are my thots for her:

    I know it's a cliche but it's an appropriate one…..WWJD? I'd be willing to bet MY house and everything in it that your Bible study church and study groups focused more on that cold and distant judgmental God than on the loving God presented to us by Jesus; mostly on the rules and not so much on the Love. Right? So here's some thots to help you think your way thru your struggle. I can't cite chapter and verse like I'll bet many of your former church members can, but what I write here is gonna be almost verbatim to verses of Love…..FROM the Bible.

    "God is Love"

    "He/she who lives in Love lives in God and God in him/her."

    "Love is the only law you need" Romans 13:10

    "Love fulfills the Law"

    "In Christ (Love?) there is no male or female" (think homosexuals)

    And, of course, 1st Corinth 13

    And when you confronted by those who would judge or condemn you, remember 2 Corinth 4: 8-9 (that has gotten me thru a lot of struggle)

    And once again….WWJD. Focus on Jesus, not the God others have stuffed into your head. I'm betting your Bible study focused more on God and a LOT less on Jesus. Right again? Jesus showed God to us. What you grew up with was not worship of God, but blind, unexamined worship of tradition among people who equate God with the Bible and worship the Bible which, of course, means their interpretation of it. Ultimately, therefore, they worship themselves. They take Paul's admonitions about the heart and mind being deceivers so literally that they won't trust their own intellects and hearts which, if you think about it, is precisely where and how God speaks to us. Learn to trust those God given gifts.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Amen, soulmentor!

  • http://penelopepiscopal.blogspot.com Penny Nash

    John, thank you for posting this and for your very pastoral and thoughtful response to the writer. Your reading of the psychological aspect of one's image of God was right on.

    I'd like to chime in as an Episcopalian about the whole "Bible thing." I have heard many times that others think we are not a BIble centered church. I grew up a Southern Baptist, and on Sunday we heard maybe one reading and often just one verse of scripture, the one upon which the pastor was going to preach. In the Episcopal Church (all of our churches, because we follow the Book of Common Prayer liturgy and don't get to pick and choose what we want to do on Sunday and leave the rest out), we have four readings from the Bible every Sunday morning – an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a reading from one of the NT Epistles, and the Gospel. Plus many other phrases and verses from the Bible are part of our prayers and hymns. We follow the Revised Common Lectionary for readings, meaning that we also don't get to pick which verses we're going to read each week – we read what's assigned for the day and don't get to skip over the uncomfortable ones. We do Bible study groups in our churches, too – on Wednesday nights or in adult classes or at 7:30 in the morning so working folks can come before going to the office. Those Episcopalians who press to accept all people (including homosexuals) in the life of the church do so not in spite of the Bible but because we believe that the Gospel compels us to do so, based on the teachings of Jesus and our own baptismal covenant that says we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.

    I encourage the writer to enter into conversation with his/her priest about getting into a Bible study group or an Education for Ministry (EfM) group in which s/he can talk and study with others at the church about these things and not only learn more about how Episcopalians study Scripture (along with tradition and reason), but do so in community, which is one of the basic tenets of our Episcopal way. Most of us Episcopalians feel that one of the great things about our denomination is that we can bring our doubts and our questions with us to church and talk about them there.

    Penny Nash

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Thank you for this, SO MUCH. I, too, am an Episcopalian, and so deeply appreciate you making this very important point. You can't GET a denomination more biblical than the Episcopalian.

      • Diana A.

        Perhaps not, but Methodists have better hymns :-P

        But I do concur with the whole idea of getting into an in-depth Bible Study in the Episcopalian tradition. In our church, we use the Disciple series and while challenging on all levels, it is a great venue in which to examine our doubts and beliefs and come to terms with them. And I imagine the Episcopalians have resources as good if not better.

  • http://none Don Rappe

    The authors concern is very real. For me the "true" God is the creative power that shows itself in us and in all things. (Creator of the heavens and the earth.) I find both Old and New Testaments to be primarily about a deal, covenant or agreement between God and his people: "I will be your God and you shall be my people." I allow this to color my understanding of everything else, written or said. And when Jesus purified the Court of the Nations in the Jerusalem temple, preaching that it should be a house of prayer for all peoples, he informed us that "the people of God" referred not to a particular human blood line, but to everyone who listens for God's voice and follows his instructions. The Good News is that all are welcome to receive his promises.

    In view of my understanding, I must reject every teaching which limits God's grace, because these teachings blaspheme God's universality.

  • Diana A.

    "In view of my understanding, I must reject every teaching which limits God’s grace, because these teachings blaspheme God’s universality."

    Me too! Thank you for saying this.

  • JB

    I, too, can totally relate to the author. I came to realize after a few years that I was letting my uber- conservative, right-wing, white, Republican church shape the identity of Christ for me. It all clicked one day…..at a prayer night. About 20 of us, spent time praying for leaders, the country, etc. The year was 2006. This older gentleman was selected to pray for our leaders, I'd heard him prayer out loud before…he was really good. His voice was deep and weathered…. it was like poetry. So, he went on, and on, and on about GWB in his prayer. And then, something bothered me. I asked myself, whether or not he would pray like that if were Kerry in office and not Bush. I knew the answer. He wouldn't have. And that REALLY bothered me. All this talk about how important it is to pray for our leaders….but ONLY of your own political affliation.

    I had to excuse myself from that church…..really get away and find Jesus. I had to let Him shape my circle of people around me, shape my politics, my view on the world, my money, my time, my take on social issues, etc. I'd let the "c"hurch to do that for me. I didn't let JESUS do that.

    It all came full circle for me when I started dating this wonderful woman about a year ago. Total bleeding heart liberal…who's in love with God. Around election time last year, she told me, "If I look at the life Jesus led, and want to do my best to pattern my life after his, then I can't vote Red."

    It's rubbed off on me, BIG TIME. Where as in the past, I would've considered the term "bleeding heart" as derogatory….. I now wear it with pride.

    • http://leiashotfirst.wordpress.com Natalie

      I absolutely love people like you, and your girl. You really took a look at what Jesus did, and what he preached and practiced, and you found it in yourself to change what you were used to doing. You evolved in your faith. I wish more people would do the same. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so much hatred in the world.

  • Derek

    Thank you for sharing this with us, and I can definitely relate, although in my case, I was raised in what some refer to as the "liberal" Episcopalian church (Anglican in Canada) and have, as an adult, moved to an even more liberal denomination. Growing up in the Anglican church I don't recall that the focus was ever on the negative messages of sin, atonement, God's wrath etc., and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. As an adult, however, I found a church that spoke more clearly to me because of its involvement in many of the social justice issues that concern me. The unexpected bonus for me in this, is that today I feel much more challenged through my association with other Christians who are actively discussing their personal faith journeys. Some of the posters have suggested getting involved in bible or book study groups within your church and, for me, these have provided many opportunities to share discussion about what we used to believe, what we believe now, and even what we may not believe. I encourage the writer to find a group or forum where he can share these feelings with others in his church face to face. I suspect he will find that he is not alone, and that these kinds of discussions within a supportive Christian context can be faith affirming and transformational in THIS life; And obviously the writer has happily discovered John Shore and this supportive online community, so thank you again John.

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    Unlike the author, I was raised in an Episcopalian home – well, sort of – Episopalian mother, atheist father, but dad went to church with us on the "big" holy days. At any rate, for many years, I had a terribly difficult time reconciling how I felt about God. Much of it was related to my experiences later in conservative churches, but a couple of years ago in therapy, my therapist asked me about my relationship with my father. We do better now (thanks to a lot of CoDA 12 step stuff on my part) but when I was a kid my dad was absolutely tyrannical. He would withhold love and affection if he was mad at us, I won't say we were abused but he did spank, and sometimes with things like hairbrushes and yardsticks and the like. I was terrified of my dad as a child and for most of my life my biggest memories are of him being angry much of the time. My therapist then asked about my relationship with God…and was able to very lovingly point out how much my concept of God as Father was tied to my relationship with my dad. I've been able, since that time, to remove the bad filters I was seeing God through and begin to work on understanding Him as He is, not as my father is. Its been an amazing and uplifting journey and made it possible for me to re-commit my life as a follower of Christ.

    Because we are human and we see things through the layers of our experience, it is not uncommon for people with difficult fathers to subsequently have a difficult time with their relationship with God.

    I loved your response to the letter writer, and I am loving many of the comments that follow. Very thoughtful, compassionate and quote-worthy statements have been written here. You have some readers who are also excellent writers themselves.

  • DonP

    Uh, I mean "religious beliefs"

  • Old Stuff

    Ah yes….the “True God”

    John said in his post after this

    And if three thousand different people [fully studied theology], when they were finished what would we have? You know: we’d have three thousand different sets of fully informed opinions about what Christianity really is, means, was, and should be.

    He is spot on here. For what it is worth; after thousands of years, that study should be leading toward some narrower and narrower truth with less and less variation. (Such study, I maintain, is more about eliminating wrong answers than isolating final solutions). To my mind; the inability to make inroads toward a more accurate picture of God is symptomatic of there simply not being a god.

    Literalists claim to know the unknowable…which is deluded, primitive and dangerous. Liberals seem to allow Christianity to be pretty much any freaking thing that makes them comfortable…which seems self-serving.

    The fact that we haven’t gotten closer to a more accurate depiction of God (actually we have gotten farther IMO) should not be dismissed. The vast disparity in theological interpretations, to me, says that Christianity is 100% subjective and lacking in any substantive truths.

    • DonP

      @Old stuff, "less and less variation" huh? The notion of increasing diversity, even of studied sets of religious beifs, is not surprising at all. Evolution is the embodiment of the progression from the simple to the more complex. So says your revered Scientist. If mankind in your own non-religion religion is part of the universe then even his own observation must also increase in complexity. "What's a matta' you" anyhow'?

      • Old Stuff

        Interesting that you bring up natural selection as the metaphor. Increasing diversity will invariably result in biological systems and it related brethren memes over time.

        Definition: A meme (rhymes with 'creme') is a unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. (The etymology of the term relates to the Greek word for "something imitated".) Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures.

        With both biology and memes, we would expect ever increasing diversity to exploit, through no intentional action, more and more areas of the biological/cultural landscape. There is no 'truth' or facts that draw them toward any point of convergence.

        On the other hand, we have [what I believe to be] the more apropos metaphor of the structure of matter. In the case of matter, there is some actual reality that we are trying to uncover. There used to be various speculative ideas about what made up matter. For the sake of argument; lets say that this speculation started with fire, earth, water and wind (aka FEWW) (I think that was the breadth of our understanding at one point) We kept studying and studying and we come up with the concept of really small particles and atoms (the Greeks posited that I think). Then we started to unlock some of the secrets of molecules and atoms.

        My point being that when studying something that has an underlying reality, we should get less and less divergent and closer and closer to understanding that reality. Do we know everything about matter, of course not. But we are a billion-billion times closer than we were when we thought everything was made from FEWW.

        Religion is entirely consistent with the concept of a meme passed generation to generation and splitting and diverging where more successful [in terms of propagation only] religious concepts pushed out less successful religious concepts. Arguably the most successful mutation in religion was the switch from polytheism to monotheism. Before monotheism, a person really couldn't be fully allegiant to any one god, so there was less of a personal investment. With the advent of monotheism, a person could go 'all in' and make the complete investment without fear of having chosen the wrong god.

        This point being that religion is not drawn toward any truth or fundamental reality, but rather religions will change and propagate like bacteria to exploit the environment in an unwitting race to to consume all the minds that it can.

        • Diana A.

          "But we are a billion-billion times closer than we were when we thought everything was made from FEWW."

          Please define FEWW. For some reason, I'm not locating that term when I search for it and it's not one with which I am familiar. Thanks.

          • Old Stuff

            Sorry. FEWW was my paraphrasing of (I think) an ancient Greek idea that there were just four elements: Fire, Earth, Wind and Water. I say paraphrasing because, off the top of my head, I thought those were the four 'elements'. In the day, everything was made up of some combination of those four elements. If someone recalls the exact list of elements, I would happily be corrected. I didn't investigate further because I didn't think it mattered for the point I was making.

          • Diana A.

            Thanks for the clarification. And yes, you're right about the four elements (Fire, Earth, Wind/Air, & Water.)

        • DonP

          @Oldstuff, "My point being that when studying something that has an underlying reality, we should get less and less divergent and closer and closer to understanding that reality." Oh yeah, I forgot; You don't believer in a creator. Nevertheless, if there was, and we studied Him and we began to understand Him we would find our understanding including more and more of creation. A complex entuty I might ad that we, Isuspect, have just begun to scratch it's secrets. More and more complex. Human understanding of God, if He existed that is, would reflect a similar expansion and thus complexity.

          It is so funny to me Oldstuff, how you like to write out all these reasoned. high minded and long winded explanations for your position. When the realities that shine a light on your protest are composed of such simple to understand rebuttals. Must just be absolutely confounding for such a wise man as yourself.

          You laugh that a glimpse into the truth of creation and the Creator were revealed to such a simple minded and desert dwelling people after thousands of years. I suspect like you the greater part of the "wise" men of the time where as high minded as you with all the answers.

          You said: "My point being that when studying something that has an underlying reality, we should get less and less divergent and closer and closer to understanding that reality…………. But we are a billion-billion times closer than we were when we thought everything was made from FEWW." I have heard it said by learned men, that every new discovery creates a thousand new questions.

          You are further away from truth than you know Oldstuff.

          • DonP

            Well I guess I'm getting really tired now. Thanks for not mentioning my grammar and spelling errors.

          • Old Stuff

            I have heard it said by learned men, that every new discovery creates a thousand new questions.

            A truer thing has seldom been said.

            I suspect like you the greater part of the “wise” men of the time where as high minded as you with all the answers.

            I never claim to have all the answers, but investigation will often eliminate the wrong answers.

          • DonP

            Well now! There's a starting point. Good for you Oldstuff.

    • Diana A.

      “To my mind; the inability to make inroads toward a more accurate picture of God is symptomatic of there simply not being a god.”

      I think you’re wrong about this one, OS.

      I think that if one were to talk to the three thousand people who know me best, there would be three thousand different descriptions of what I’m really like. So are you saying that I don’t exist?

      It’s actually pretty typical for people to see what’s around them through their own framework. So some variation in opinion is to be expected.

      • Old Stuff

        That is true to an extent, Diana. But there are basic truths that the Christian population is no closer on even after millenia. Is the universe and (life within) the act of special creation? Is humanity an act of special creation? Are all the cited abominations really abominations? (literalists say yes…liberals run the gamut)

        Many sects claim to be the ‘True’ church, but if there were any objective way to determine that, we could surely eliminate many sects. Hence…religion seems purely subjective and is whatever an adherent wants it to be

        • Diana A.

          Okay. I'll buy that.

        • http://dianer.blogspot.com/ DR

          I don't entirely agree. People would agree that humanity is the act of special creation, we just may not agree on the process of creation was, if it was via evolution or part evolution or just dropped in a big God theme park of Creation.

          Additionally, I'd say a number of "abominations" are very clear, as clear as anyone this side of a broken world will get to. I think you're approaching "clarity" in a rather absolute form which is just entirely unrealistic, even within the Christian framework. It's already stated that we see through a broken, cloudy glass – that's a stated reality of what it means to be Christian. Things may be 80% clear and then perhaps over time and with education and evolution they become 99% clear or even 87% clear, but I think you are applying a very rigid expectation on clarity that doesn't exist for anyone when it comes to very nuanced, complex human behavior and states of being.

          • Old Stuff

            People would agree that humanity is the act of special creation

            Yeah. I guess the monotheists are obliged to not let go of this nugget (not entirely sure of other religions). Removing this would, to my mind, remove the most fundamental supporting structure for their faith.

            we just may not agree on the process of creation was, if it was via evolution or part evolution or just dropped in a big God theme park of Creation.

            Theistic Evolution never ceases to fascinate me. It seems some can embrace what science shows as an ancient earth in a more ancient universe where humanity was the intended end-result of the 13 billion year game of jacks. This requires one accept that God let 99.9999999999% of all life live and die (typically horribly) and go extinct to result in us about 200,000 years ago. He then let all of those people live and die in ignorance (and typically horribly) for 99% of their time here so that he could reveal himself to an illiterate, isolated desert population. Aaaaaagh! What torturous reasoning!

            Theistic Evolution = God of the Gaps

          • Ace

            Since when does humanity necessarily have to be the only or ultimate purpose of the universe?

            We’re probably just a little side-project for sh*ts and giggles, really.

          • DonP

            @Ace, "We’re probably just a little side-project for sh*ts and giggles, really."

            Ha! Ha! or LOL whatever, now that is funny and I think it's quite possible you've stumbled onto a profound truth.

          • Old Stuff

            I recently [re-]heard the fact that there are more stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world. Imagine all those planets that would be circling those stars. Maybe he tried it here and realized what a mess he made and started over somewhere else. :-)

          • DonP

            @ace, Now, I wouldn't doubt that He has made other worlds and beings but, the really cool thing about this place is; He realized the mess He made, became man and let man (His own creation) beat the crap out of Him, hang Him on a cross and died just to pay for that mess. Is that cool or what?

          • Diana A.

            "…but, the really cool thing about this place is; He realized the mess He made, became man and let man (His own creation) beat the crap out of Him, hang Him on a cross and died just to pay for that mess. Is that cool or what?"

            This.

    • http://leiashotfirst.wordpress.com Natalie

      I couldn’t agree more. Having been raised Catholic and attending Catholic school for all of my childhood, their constant defining and re-defining of God seemed to push me farther from faith than bring me to it. While science is okay with saying “we just don’t know, but we’re working on it”, in religion everything is “you just have to believe it’s true”.

      I’m not criticizing anyone. My family is Catholic, and my husband’s family is devout Catholic. I respect John and his beliefs a lot, and I think that if there were more Christians like him in the world, there would be a lot less fighting and a lot more tolerance/acceptance. But we have seen religions take advantage of people (Jonestown, Waco, and more recently Scientology) all in the name of “God” or “faith”. I’m not sure that the older religions have any more merit than these do. I had to sit through a Catholic wedding the other day and listen to the priest’s gospel about how a submissive wife is a wife that will be rewarded in heaven, that a good wife is one who caters to all her husbands needs.

      Maybe these old religions need to learn to evolve like humans did. But instead of evolving, many religions are devolving in order to maintain the control they have over their congregations – or perhaps it’s just Catholicism that’s doing this. They are moving backwards instead of forwards, insisting on traditions that are outdated and do nothing but perpetuate an attitude of hatred, prejudice, injustice, bigotry, and fear that dates back to the early days of Christianity. Why haven’t we gotten closer to discovering who God is, or what God is? Are people afraid to look more closely because they are afraid of what they might discover? The author of this letter to John did something similar – there was a discovery that God couldn’t possibly be cruel and unjust. These questions are important, and should be encouraged, but sadly most religions quash such questions by dismissing them as “crises of faith”.

      I don’t necessarily dislike religion. Perhaps what I dislike is organized religion. Humans as a species need to feel connected to something – to the universe, to their destinies, to each other – and religion fills that emptiness inside us by saying “Look at all these people that believe the same thing you do!” It gives our lives purpose, and meaning. But why can’t we just band together under “humanity”? Why can’t we just accept Jesus as a smart man ahead of his time who preached some of the best teachings that have ever been proclaimed? Why do we have to elevate him to God status, when really what makes Jesus so remarkable (as well as Buddha and Mohammad) was that he was just a man. A man who changed things, a man who wanted to see the best in humanity, and who was punished for challenging the status quo.

  • Angel Hudgins

    Wow. This post brought me to tears. I feel the same way, and it’s so hard to get past.

    Thanks for writing this John, and for writing something with SUBSTANCE. Not just fluff like, “God isn’t your parent. God is better and good.” You actually helped me (us) reason it out a bit.

    :’)

  • melissa

    My struggle with all of this theology is that is disrupts us from the purpose of Christ. Get out there and love on people. No one can deny that this is wrong or shouldn’t be done. Wouldn’t it be nice if we put just as much energy into fighting for that as we do into figuring out the details of something we never really will have the answer to until we die…if that is what you believer :O) We can get close, but NO ONE has the answer.

    I have spent the majority of my Christian years undoing what my father did for my imagery of God. What you say, John, is true, at least in my personal experience. If I love people the way that I really want God to love me, with compassion and gentleness, great things come of that. So I choose to believe, that since God is all knowing, that he would do things that feel right. When my soul aligns with what is around me, I am at peace. That to me is God’s will.

  • Natalie M.

    It’s as if I wrote this letter.
     
    I was raised in the same kind of home and church. Many churches over many years; lots of friendships made and then lost. My parents dragged us from church to church until they discovered that they leadership didn’t cling enough to Calvinism, they would cause a debate in the church over it, and then they would leave. On to the next. Some churches were verging on cults, were chauvinistic, concealed child abuse, and talked about ‘dirty rags’  and women being unclean on their periods. I have lost friends because of my parents’ quest for the perfect church. They never change and never need help, but everyone else needs help; they always say ‘we make mistakes, too’ but never change, never grow, never apologize. I think I have always been afraid of them. Whenever I’m around them, I lose my voice (figuratively) and can’t for the life of me defend the positions I know I deeply believe in. I fear their judgment and rejection. My parents have always loved me for how good I was and how I pleased them with my actions. When I ‘let them down’ I was made blatantly aware of it. I lived in fear of them as well as - perhaps subconsciously – awe of them to the point that I didn’t discover myself, I didn’t grow up (change and growth were called ‘rebellion’ in their house) I didn’t articulate myself as different from them; I WAS them and my purpose was to make them happy. For a long time, I didn’t think there was anything different. They were my gods.
     
    I have always been afraid of god and I never, even now, liked the idea of heaven (though it was better than hell; brimstone? Gnashing of teeth? No, thanks!) because god seemed so towering and commanding and final. He seemed like a jerk. And since Jesus is part of the trinity, aren’t they basically the same? Don’t they have to be ‘on the same page’? and as God the Father, doesn’t he basically trump Jesus? So why should I love Jesus, even though he loves people for who they are and dines with the social rejects? When the rubber meets the road, you’re still not good enough and you still have god to reckon with on Judgment Day. ‘For all have sinned and fall short’….. life was like standing in a hole of sin and just digging and digging; apparently our sin nature didn’t allow for us to do anything good or worthy so basically we were just digging our own way to hell. I was raised with a mom who said it was ‘the end times’ every time it rained or hailed. God forbid we watch the news because ‘unrest in the Middle East’ practically meant the clouds were parting and the trump was sounding in T minus 2 seconds. I was living in constant fear of not only god, but the end of the world; I didn’t want to die, go to heaven, or go to hell (the thought of eternity freaks me out). Honesty, I just wanted to live; I liked being alive and instead of enjoying my childhood I lived in perpetual fear of the here (parents) and the hereafter (god/judgment).
     
    When I was 20, my parents essentially disowned me for my choice of spouse and haven’t talked to us in 7 years. I think I keep waiting for them to make a move, so to speak. I think they are waiting for US to make a move, which is why nothing of value has happened between us. I apologized to them over and over for being ‘deceitful’ and going behind their backs to date this person (I was of legal age when we started trying to see each other – he even asked my dad if he could date me, or just get to the know the family first). They told me I was under an evil influence and knelt in the living room to cast it out. My dad said ‘God spoke’ to him in the night telling him something was wrong with his daughter and he needed to fix it. My mom thought I liked my now-husband only because he ‘made me feel good’ in a sexual way, and made it very clear that the thought disgusted and disappointed her. I wasn’t allowed to drive anywhere, including school every morning. My mom would sneak my phone out of my room at night to check my call record. When I finally just left, they changed the locks almost immediately. I have talked to them about 6 times since then and each time it’s a lecture about how we are ‘living in sin’. My dad even tells my husband how inadequate he is because he’s not working, or not making enough or that he needs to iron his shirt. Earlier this year they found out (through my 30+ year old brother who lied to my husband and said he wanted to get to know him so they got together and the whole conversation was taken back to my parents) that we have a relationship with my aunt and uncle (dad’s brother) and how they don’t talk to them either because they ‘lied to them’ by not telling them (good good and now-obvious reasons) about our relationship. Why would I want to have a relationship with those yahoos?! They are doing nothing to make a reconciliation appealing to me or my husband. I want nothing to do with them. Part of me sort of wants to try – or at least to make it clear what my expectations and boundaries are so we can try to move forward as adults – and the other parts wants to have them wiped from my life ‘Eternal Sunshine’-style.
     
    All that to say: such an articulate response, John and very timely for me so thank you. And you’re not the only one who has recommended a good psychologist. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long, but I intend to get unbiased, educated insights and try to move on. There is really nothing healthy to gain from worrying any more about making my family happy.

  • jodi

    I just found your website today. The title of this article quickly caught my eye right away. This is the exact question I have been asking myself for the past couple of years!


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