I wish I could feel God

questionsGot this in:

So I’m filled with a lot of questions. You probably get these all the time. I honest-to-goodness wish I could feel God. I feel as if something’s wrong with me since I’m unable to feel him. How can we be certain that Christianity is the correct religion, since all religions claim to be the right one and claim the other religions to be wrong?

Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? I don’t want to see people die. Why did God create sin? Does God really love me? I feel like he probably hates me. What should I expect from God? Am I expecting too much if my relationship with God feels somewhat one-sided? Why does he let tragedies occur? It upsets me how so many innocent people are murdered and abused, and also how we have a roof over our heads yet there’s some people out there homeless and starving. Why does God let these things happen? It’s hard for me to fathom how the worst things happen to wonderful people. The Bible can be confusing; how do I believe something that’s confusing? It’s fine with me if you want to post my questions on your website, don’t include my name though! Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer me!

Wow! It’s like The Riddler Goes to Seminary!

Riddle me this, readers: What’s exactly the same, but with lines newly broken, with answers not lame, in blue words bespoken?

Wait.

Did the Riddler rhyme?

No, right? The Riddler’s obnoxious—but he’s not rhymingly obnoxious.

But … did Batman have a nemesis called the Rhymer? I seem to recall one of his bad guys compulsively rhyming.

Well, if Batman didn’t have a Rhymer, he should have.

There’s the Dark Knight, reloading his utility belt. But what’s this folded-up piece of paper he discovers stuffed into one of the belt’s compartments? As he reads the note he feels his blood running cold:

Cries out damsel fair:

“Oh where are you, Batman?!”

When (finally!) he’s there,

She sees he’s now Fatman.

See? Now that is an evil nemesis.

You know who I think used to while away his lonely, candle-lit nights writing poetry? Robin. I think that on rose-scented parchment paper Robin penned many a love sonnet. To Batman. Which he never sent. How sad. I think he would have written:

The Robin’s Song

We descend through the night sky

Evil quakes as we arrive

And every moment I feel so alive

Barely do I breathe, as we (so nearly!) fly

For now it is on; now the action is nigh!

Straight into the fray do both of us dive.

In the midst of the battle we slap hands: “High five!”

But later, alone, I dream of you and sigh.


 

Sorry about all that. I’m just in a mood. Consider everything above the line a whole other blog post—separate from this one, in which, as I often do, I reprint below the letter above, with my responses in the bracketed blue hue that I do just for you:

I honest-to-goodness wish I could feel God. [You can feel God; being aware of the presence of God is the birthright of every human. You know that voice inside of you that tells you the difference between the truth and bull [bleep]? That is the voice of God talking to you. For a bit more on this, see my The Only Language You and God Share.]

I feel as if something’s wrong with me since I’m unable to feel him. [You feel God all the time. You just don't recognize that deeply grounded/inspired feeling that sometimes comes over you as God. See also my Where is God? THERE is God!]

How can we be certain that Christianity is the correct religion, since all religions claim to be the right one and claim the other religions to be wrong? [Who cares what other people say about other religions? The only thing that matters is what (if any) religion works for you. Show me a person who believes that because their religion is right for them no other religion can ever be right for anyone, and I'll show you a person further from God than they think they are.]

Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? [He didn't. He's God. If he wanted to, he could have danced a happy jig on the top of that cross. Jesus chose to die in the horrific manner he did, in order to demonstrate the point that he wanted to make in a way that no one would ever forget. See my Once Upon Atone.] I don’t want to see people die. [Who the heck does?]

Why did God create sin? [S/he didn't. God allows for sin, because to do otherwise would be to violate the thing that most makes us human: free will. If I want to mug an old lady—if I want to violate her free will because I'm bigger and stronger than she—then God will not stop me from doing that, just as God will not stop another person from stopping me from doing that, or stop the old lady from pulling out a handgun and shooting me, and so on. We are all free to make whatever choices our conscience, capabilities, and will power allow—including utterly dominating another person if that's what we want to do. Out of his love for all of us, God will violate the free will of none of us. See my "Born into Sin" just means BORN, period.]

Does God really love me? [Yes, absolutely.] I feel like he probably hates me. [God does not hate you. God loves you. If ever you find yourself feeling that God hates you, you can trust that you're only projecting onto God feelings that you have about yourself. That's normal; everybody does that.]

What should I expect from God? [That s/he will deepen your life and enrich your experience if you only give him/her a chance to.]

Am I expecting too much if my relationship with God feels somewhat one-sided? [No, I think that means you're not expecting enough.]

Why does he let tragedies occur? It upsets me how so many innocent people are murdered and abused, and also how we have a roof over our heads, yet there’s some people out there homeless and starving. Why does God let these things happen? [Again, because God will not violate the free will of any person. And people with power often bring suffering down upon those with less power, because they are deeply afraid of the same thing all people are terrified of: death.]

It’s hard for me to fathom how the worst things happen to wonderful people. [Why is that hard to fathom? Terrible things happen all the time to all kinds of  people, "wonderful" or otherwise. Life is gruelingly difficult. Much of it makes people crazy, if only temporarily. Crazy people do crazy things that cause all kinds of people all kinds of pain. There's no mystery there. Again: life is so daunting that people are afraid of it—for the very good reason that all of us are certain to one day die a death unlikely to be pretty. The certainty of croaking engenders in each and every person a lot of deep seated fear. And in the fight between compassion and fear—which is to say between compassion and self-preservation—compassion sometimes/often loses. See my How can I believe in God, when so many innocent people suffer?]

The Bible can be confusing; how do I believe something that’s confusing? [Not all of the Bible is confusing it; much of it is not. Go with the parts that sing to you; you can always sweat the rest later. See my The Bible's Two Big Problems.]

It’s fine with me if you want to post my questions on your website, don’t include my name though! [I won't. I never do.] Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer me! [You're welcome. Thanks for writing.]

10 Tips for Becoming an Amazaballs Husband
The tragedy of Christian fundamentalism strikes again
God didn’t hurt me, and God doesn’t hate me.
My novel approach (and … update thing re: comments)
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. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • http://brmckay.wordpress.com brmckay

    Well said. The moment has been served.

    Jesus has a good friend in John.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    These are deep and important questions–questions that speak of pain and distress. I think you answered the questions very well!

    I would like to respond further to: “Am I expecting too much if my relationship with God feels somewhat one-sided?” Often we have a feeling of alienation from God, and that it totally one-sided. The Father does not feel that alienation, and he desires to remove it.

    The Father loves each of us and wants us to experience a loving relationship with him. If we do not feel his love, it is yet there for us to discover.

  • Jill

    :)

  • Elizabeth

    “If ever you find yourself feeling that God hates you, you can trust that you’re only projecting onto God feelings that you have about yourself. That’s normal; everybody does that.” So true. That’s… everything. Basically.

  • Tioli

    There are a lot of unacknowledged assumptions about God both in the question, and in the response. When friends tell me they don’t believe in God, I say “describe the God you don’t believe in.” When they do, I say, “What if God isn’t like that?”

  • Allie

    It makes me a little sad that a grown man could share a bedroom with a boy in the 50′s with no sexual connotation whatsoever, and now the assumption would be that he’s a pedophile. Of course, that same blind spot led to a lot of real little boys being molested by priests and so on, back in the day, since no one asked the right questions. But it’s still sad that it’s much harder for men to form friendships with children without falling under suspicion today.

    Re: feeling God. John’s right as far as it goes, but I think the letter writer was probably referring to what is commonly called a “religious experience.” As someone who has had religious experiences, all I can say is, be careful what you wish for. It’s my personal experience that those feelings of being close to God come at the worst, most terrible moments of your life. At other times, your ego is too strong. Think of an ocean, and a cup full of water dipped out of the ocean. Your self is the water that’s in the cup. God is the ocean. For all that ocean to be in there with you… well, that cup has pretty much had it before that can happen.

    I was reading an article just yesterday about a scientist studying people who have had religious experiences. Apparently about half of all people report one, and they mostly have several things in common: a feeling of oneness, a feeling of being loved – and coming at a time when the person was emotionally overwrought and just at the end of his or her rope. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blessing to hear from God when you’re in such dire straits, but in general you can be grateful you’ve got a little more rope than that.

  • Harrisco

    Dear Letter Writer: What great questions you ask. There is a good mind at work there–and a good heart. God loves both, I do believe.

    In your letter you seemed to doubt yourself a great deal–wondering if God could possibly love you, wondering if there is something wrong with you as you are. I imagine everyone has feelings like that from time to time. I do. They often spring up when we are trying to understand the awful things that other people do to us. Odd the way that happens, but it does. Joe insults us or robs us and we wonder what we did wrong to make Joe act that way. We must deserve it. It must be because we are faulty and inherently deficient in some way. If Joe is someone who is supposed to care for us, we have to have some way to explain why Joe is being nasty to us instead. The blue ribbon for nastiness ought to go to Joe, no contest, but we often pin the thing on ourselves.

    It is an act of grace to take that little prize off ourselves and put it where it belongs–on the nasty Joes in our lives. For you, the Joes are all the people who demean your good mind and good heart and want you to be less than your full, vital, beautiful self. Some of these Joes may speak in God’s name, but they do it for their own selfish reasons. God has a way of speaking to you that only you and God may really know. It may be as quiet as Joe is loud. It may be the tug toward home that is always there, toward your truest heart, toward what God created in you, as you, and called good. God always calls us back there, to what is good in our creation, no matter how many voices would pull us away from that holy place.

  • Anakin McFly

    eh, I’m not afraid of death, actually. In some ways I look forward to it and the rest it promises. I see it as: everyone has to die at some point. Everyone has a finite life. The only difference is how long that life is going to be, and those years – or months, or days – are always going to exist and never going to go away, always there for you to return to in memory. That person will always and forever exist in history, and time travel aside, nothing will ever change that. They’ll always be there. Not at the moment, but there were so many moments when they were, and that’s what’s important.

    I’m far more afraid of suffering.

    Two people I’m close to died this year. I felt more relief for them than anything, because they’d been severely ill and going through lots of pain, and now the pain is finally over. And I wondered if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t feel sad. :/

  • Elizabeth

    I’m so sorry, Anakin. I know that feeling. Personally, I haven’t feared death since my first suicide attempt on my 16th birthday. But the people who teach us in the meantime? They are why we go on. Until we can’t, and that’s OK too. Just hang on as long as you possibly can, and remember the extra years are frosting on your cake.

  • Lymis

    Did you not feel sad, or did your feelings about the end of their suffering weigh in more heavily?

    We do that with happy things – we can know we will miss someone, but be happy for them that they got their dream job or their big break or chance at college or whatever is taking them from us. A parent can be sad to “lose” their child but happy for them that they are starting their own family with their own loves.

    But we don’t let ourselves do that with sad things. If the option had been a healthy happy continuing life as opposed to dying, not feeling sad might be an issue. But if they were sick and suffering, wanting that to end for them, and having the knowledge that the suffering ended outweigh your loss is a perfectly valid and mature response, especially for someone who believes that something else happens after death.

  • Lymis

    And don’t overlook the other common result – a genuine religious conversion, with all the attendant changes in experience, outlook, and perspective, very often causes major life upheavals. Lots of us end up with a live that is in many ways unrecognizable compared to what we had before – even when it was more or less comfortable and trundling along nicely.

    I love Marianne Williamson’s description:

    “So I went through this grandiose, gigantic moment where I invited God into my life. It was terrifying at first, but then I kind of got off on the idea.

    “After that, nothing really felt the way I expected it to. I had thought that things would improve. It’s as though my life were a house, and I thought God would give it a wonderful paint job — new shutters perhaps, a pretty portico, new roof. Instead, it felt as though, as soon as I gave the house to God, He hit it with a giant wrecking ball. ‘Sorry, honey,’ He seemed to say, ‘There were cracks in the foundation, not to mention all the rats in the bedroom. I thought we better just start all over.’ “

    – Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

    Big changes. But God knows once the dust settled, they’re worth it. Or, they were for me.

  • Lymis

    Amen.

    I almost always find that when someone presents me with one of these “either/or” things about God, that my own personal belief is a third thing entirely.

    Like the “if there is a loving God, how could God allow human suffering?” – to me, the point is that, as real, and important, and genuine as human experience is, it’s not the only part of OUR story, much less God’s. The most wonderful, beautiful, effortless, abundant, and gracious human life only lasts about a hundred years or so. Compared to eternity, that’s pretty much negligible. So, if God and heaven are real in any sense, it’s pretty clear that Something More Is Going On.

    It’s not that human suffering is okay, or meaningless, but rather that whether or not someone suffers isn’t nearly as important as how everyone responds to suffering. If the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor and help when they are in pain, then the possibility of that pain has to be built into the system.

    The question isn’t how a loving God can allow human suffering. The question is, how can we?

  • Lymis

    Show me a person who believes that because their religion is right for them no other religion can ever be right for anyone, and I’ll show you a person further from God than they think they are.

    This is me, leaping up and down applauding.

  • Petra Bellert

    I’m feeling really depressed for Robin. What if he’d sent it……. what if……..

  • Jill

    I love Marianne too, but dammit, sometimes I hate it when she’s right. Sometimes it’s the relative safety of ego/ “the self” and its attendant denial that keeps God at bay. Letting that fall away is very much a wrecking ball, shattering expectations and assumptions.

    God doesn’t seem to be in the interior design business, more demolition.

  • http://rindle.blogspot.com Lyn

    That last sentence is made of awesome.

  • http://rindle.blogspot.com Lyn

    I don’t follow how anything in John’s post had to do with pedophilia. He imagined a Robin who had an unrequited crush on Batman. Most of us remember a crush we had on an adult mentor– a teacher, coach, minister, camp counselor, scout leader, friend’s parent, etc. To think being the object of someone else’s childhood or young teenage crush in any way implicates you in pedophilia is… well, disturbing.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    God only knows what might have happened. Maybe Batman and Robing could have moved into an even deeper relationship, one in which, for instance, Batman might have sprung for a less dorkier costume for Robin. Anything’s possible.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Ah. I love a bouncing Lymis.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    When I say people fear death, what I mean is that people fear the suffering and illness that comes before death. Nobody minds just … peacefully falling asleep forever. But that so rarely happens. Mostly it’s awful suffering first–and then complete annihilation. Not exactly a holiday.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    One of the first Christians I talked to after I converted was a guy who, like me, had had had an adult conversion experience. Someone introduced him and me in the lobby of a church that, since it was right after a service, was packed. And this huge guy jams out his his hand at me, and booms out, “Oh, so you’re the guy who suddenly converted! So lemme ask ya’ somethin!’ Has your life gone to shit yet?” He was the best.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    (Yeah, I didn’t quite get Allie’s comment either.)

  • Jill

    Oh man, that is perfect! Thanks for sharing that! I’m in good company…

  • Lymis

    Seriously.

    “I’ll lurk here in the shadows wearing my gray and midnight blue outfit so nobody can see me clearly to shoot at me in the night. Here’s your bright red, green, and yellow suit, kid. I’ll avenge you. I swear.”

  • Elizabeth

    LOLOLOL. For real.

  • Lymis

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think fondly of the guy who solved your parents’ brutal murder, took you into his home, and made you the heir to billions. Maybe that’s just me, though. The green hot pants might be an issue, though.

  • Elizabeth

    I’ll raise my hand! For girls, of my generation anyway, the crushes we had on older mentors often led to Dangerous Liaisons. (Look it up.) The men walk away unscathed, and the women are known as damaged goods. I love my intellectual mentors; I’d be nowhere without them. I have several today. But they are, almost without exception, male. That can feel very lonely and predatory.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Right? “I’ll look dark, powerful, and foreboding, and you’ll look like the Grand Prize at the Gay Olympics. C’mon! Let’s go risk our lives!”

  • DrewTwoFish

    There’s an opening if ever there was one. However, I shall restrain myself.

  • Jill

    Ah Drew, you’re SO right. Restraint isn’t my middle name, so good on ya.

  • Soulmentor

    LOL Drew. I suspect it was the same thing that popped into my head. Nuf said.

  • Soulmentor

    Unless you look hot in them, Lymis.

  • LMMH

    I would suggest a Bible word study: Hate.

  • Elizabeth

    Your wish is my command. http://www.openbible.info/topics/hate. Since I suspect you’re pro from your comment, this NALT video is also harrowing, funny, and beautifully edited. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoU9xlwSbL8.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Your point being … ?

  • FishFinger

    This really depends on which Robin we’re talking about here. There are, like, at least three.

  • Lymis

    You’re not the first to say so, and that’s ALL I’m saying on the matter.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Yeah, that’s all you’ll say. But I think we both know what you’ll be thinking.

  • Matt

    Fish: There are/were five. One of them was even a girl! I’m guessing that John’s referring to Dick Grayson, the very first.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X