I’ve been reading some of your texts, searching for information and help, but I still can’t find the peace I need.
I think it’s safe to say I have always been a Christian. But I never really feel good enough to be one. It’s almost as if I—and also a great many Christians online, for sure—have turned the love of Jesus into a Big Rule Book of what to do and not do. Who’s right and who’s not. And searching for answers to my main question, “How can I feel free, and still be perfect enough for God?” has almost made me want to turn into an atheist. Or, if not an atheist, the sort of Christian who believes that God’s love is not something I simply have, but rather something that I must constantly earn.
I know in theory that God loves me. But is that love really mine, no matter what? Because it seems to come with so many rules. Don’t be gay, don’t get drunk, don’t lust for someone (whatever that means), etc., etc. There is this feeling of guilt that I always have, that comes from thinking I basically hurt God whenever I want to do something crazy, like get drunk, party, lust for someone, curse, and so on.
Because of God I lack that feeling of freedom that seems so … human.
It’s getting so that I feel like believing in Jesus is mostly for me an exercise in pain, agony, and stress. It’s starting to feel as if the whole idea behind Christianity is that I don’t have a free will anymore—or, rather, that I do, but that I better use it carefully, and not do anything that I actually want to do: that I better do only what God wants me to—or at least what I think God wants me to. Nothing else. Nothing that I might want to do.
So my question for you, John is this: Do you have any tips or ideas on how to change my view of Jesus and “The Rules”? Is believing, in and of itself, enough? Or does believing come with all these stipulations that must be obeyed? How can I be free? I really appreciate it if you have time to answer. Best regards.
Best regards. I love that. (And also the exclamation point of the salutation. The best.)
Dear Letter Writer!
You’ve put your finger directly upon the primary problem of being not just a Christian, but a human. Everyone—Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, agnostic, New Ager—is forever being torn between what they want to do, and what they know they should do.
Life would be sooooo awesome if the only things we ever wanted to do were things we know we should do.
Raw broccoli would be so delicious! Alcohol would be a health tonic! Braining our boss with a stapler would get us a raise!
But, alas, that’s not the system we’re in.
Pffft. God. You think he’d make us a system we could actually enjoy.
Here’s my short answer: Do what you want. God, I promise you, will continue to fully and in every last way love you, no matter what you do. God’s love is one hundred percent unconditional; it does not depend upon anything you do or don’t do. Okay? You’re in. You’re safe. God’s not tracking your behavior or thoughts to discern whether or not you’re worthy of his love. It’s already been decided: You are.
But you know who is tracking your behavior? You know who, on a moment-by-moment basis, is deciding if you’re good enough—worthy enough, honorable enough, decent enough, smart enough … everything enough?
You, that’s who. You, you, you.
And we’re all exactly the same way. Every single person in the world is constantly internally monitoring and evaluating their own moral worth.
We’re all just … stuck doing that. It comes with having a conscience.
Having a conscience is, in a word, a bitch. It just … hurts, all the time. Because we’re always doing stuff that we know we shouldn’t: we’re forever lusting, and being selfish, and greedy, and small-minded, and intolerant, and rude, and just … acting like a petulant, spoiled child, basically. At best.
But that’s … the game. That we must forever suffer a conscience made freshly guilty from something we’ve done, said, or thought is one of the Big Rules of being human. And it’s one that no one escapes. Plebeian, pastor, prophet, Pope: everybody is automatically strapped into their seat on that lifelong roller-coaster.
You’re just human. And that means you’re destined to constantly do things that leave you feeling unworthy of not just the love of God, but of love generally.
And when you do feel that way, it’s a terrific time to be a Christian. It’s the time to be a Christian. Because then you can just take your guilty conscience to the cross of Jesus, get down on your knees, and beg for the forgiveness that Christ died to make sure you’d never forget was always there for the asking.
And boom—you’re back on your feet again: all cleaned up, and ready for your next fall in the dirt.