In my favorite poem by Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay, he reminds us that like the seasons of nature, life is one season melting into another, and quickly fading away. This is my attempt to document each season in my life and my family.

A God Better Than Me

Filed under: Bible,Faith,Me — Rachel at 11:22 am on Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One of the things I struggle with the most lately in regard to God and religion is a sense of justice. I am a compassionate person. I feel like this is one of my best qualities. I am very empathetic. Maybe too much so at times. This is how I end up with pregnant teenagers or addicted young adults living in my basement. This is how I end up giving large (for me) sums of money to homeless guys. This is how I find myself washing the walls in the home of an elderly man I had never met before. I think to myself, what if it was me? What if it was my child? They need help. Generally, I try to help people if it is in my power to do so.

I struggle a lot with the idea that everything is within God’s power to do so. He could heal every cancer, fill every hungry belly, and defeat every evil power. He could. Why doesn’t he?

This “why” torments me. Why does he allow such suffering. I know the party line, Christian answer. Sin, free will, etc. etc. None of that can explain away the part about God being the author of all. If he is omniscient and all powerful, he knew what his creation would become. He had the power to alter that. He wrote the whole story! Why? I also know the part about the desire to glorify himself. I just don’t understand it. He made up all the rules. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it is. And I dont’ understand how a compassionate God could allow it to be this way.

As a small child, grappling with the ideas of an eternal hell and a God that created it and sends people there, I had a lot of questions that were too big for me. I remember asking, “How could God send someone to Hell who had never heard about Him? How could he be punished for not choosing to follow a Christ he never knew existed?” The myopic answer was, “Well, dear. He told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel. It’s our job to tell those people about him. That’s why it’s so important.” I’d like to go back in time and say, “Bullshit!” I want to say, “That’s not fair.” Maybe they would have tried a little harder with me. Maybe I could have jumpstarted my questioning earlier in life. Because that is a really effed up system. It’s not that bad if you are on this side of the equation. We just have to pray about our part in “God’s will” for evangelization. If we don’t feel personally “called” to go tell the poor schmuck in the darkest reaches of Africa that Jesus exists and will send him straight to Hell after they starve to death at the end of a miserable life fraught with violence and poverty, well, we can just pray for those who are called and send some money when we feel so led. Maybe a couple of times in our life we can raise money to take ourselves on a two week mission trip. We just need to be earnest and passionate about doing what we can in our own little worlds to share the gospel. This side of the equation is no big deal. Plug  yourself into the other side, though. How would you like to be that mother in Darfur? You’re only seventeen years old. You have two children. They’re both slowly dying of malnutrition. You can no longer nurse the baby because you are starving to death yourself. Oh, and, you don’t know it, but you are HIV positive after that time you were raped walking to get water last year. Death seems almost like a relief to you. Except for, oh,  yeah. You’ve never heard the name of Jesus before, and no one has of yet felt “called” to put their own life at risk to trek over here and tell you that you have to confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Son of God. So, you slowly and painfully exit a life of misery to lift up your eyes in hell?

What kind of God is that? What kind of God comes up with such a broken system? This is what I have been taught to believe. I reject it, though! I do! How can a loving God punish people eternally for not knowing him? I would not do that. I would not hold people accountable for something they had no awareness of. I wouldn’t do that because I have compassion for them. I hear a story about them and my heart breaks and I love them. If I can feel that way…me…a mere mortal who has proven to be selfish and foolish and even mean…how can the God who claims to actually be love do that? I need a God that is better than I am.

Do you hear what I am saying? I am going crazy over this. I need a God who is good and kind and compassionate, infinitely  more so than myself. I need to know that God. I don’t like this God who punishes the innocent because of some inborn sin nature. Not when he was the very one who created the whole scenario.

I don’t know how my theology needs to change for me to be able to love God again. Believe that Hell doesn’t exist? Believe in some sort of universalism that says we all get Heaven in the end? He created us with the capacity to know and value justice and righteousness and compassion and love. I have to believe that He is all those things, and that what I feel is a reflection of that. I have to believe that I was just taught something that is not true. Because it can’t be true.

It can’t be true because I need a God who is better than me.

 

More On The Bible

Filed under: Bible,Faith — Rachel at 7:21 pm on Saturday, August 17, 2013

First off, thank you all so much for commenting on my last post. I’ve really been thinking a lot about some of the comments you guys left, and I would like to maybe have a conversation here about them. I appreciate the different insights people from different parts of my life have to offer as I struggle with this topic. It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one who is wrestling with the topic. It is also good to hear that people who have wrestled in the past have found peace. That is, I believe, the heart of what I am searching for…peace.

One comment that I loved was left by my friend, Gretchen, on the link to my post on Facebook. She said that God is too big to fit inside any box…even the Bible. I cannot sufficiently express how much this comment resonated with me. I have been thinking about it ever since. The idea that the Bible doesn’t represent God in all His fullness…or even come close. I was taught to believe that we could learn about God in the Bible. That it held all the answers to life’s questions, in some form or another. As I mature, though, I find that I have all kinds of questions about God that the Bible doesn’t shed any light upon at all. Instead, the Bible’s contradictory representations of God leave me vastly confused. I understand that He is a great and infinite God, and therefore is multifaceted. However, some things seem like they should be mutually exclusive. Like, love and hate. How can you love the whole world, yet condemn the majority of us to an eternity in Hell? The Bible doesn’t answer these questions for me. It is the source of my confusion. I find great comfort in the idea that the Bible is not the final word on who God is and how he relates to us. It’s a relief to think that Religion may have used the Bible to try to box God up but I don’t have to keep Him there.

Mark, a friend of Amy’s, left a comment that I’ve been chewing on. He said, “What if the Bible had a single, primary purpose: to teach us about Jesus. To teach us about how He created everything, how He has a penchant for working with and through families, to teach us about how He was born, lived, died, and most importantly how He rose again? To teach us about how He has gone to prepare a place for us to live with Him?” For the most part, as I have kicked this thought around, I like it. I feel like the one thing I can embrace for sure about the Bible is the teachings of Jesus. When I read them, they feel very true to me. When I think about Jesus as an actual man who walked this earth, I don’t have to doubt that he did. History proves that he was real. I have enough faith to believe the parts that can’t be proven…his deity and his resurrection. The part that is problematic for me is believing that the purpose of the whole of the Bible is to teach us about Jesus. I still have the issues of knowing about the canonization process, the disputes over what was Scripture and what was not, and wondering if man’s best efforts were anywhere near right or complete. Also, what about the parts of the Bible that don’t actually talk about Jesus? What am I to do with them? For the most part, I agree with Mark’s idea of how to view the Bible, but I feel like we are approaching the subject from different starting points. I believe that he is starting from the idea that we have a Bible that is accurate, reliable, and complete. I am unable to set out from the same premise, so this idea doesn’t assuage my inner conflict about how to view the Bible. Mark, if you happen to read this, I would love to hear your thoughts, and know  if I even interpreted your comment as you meant it.

Another comment that meant a lot to me was from my dear friend, Joy. She is my oldest friend. We have been friends since we were babies together. I even named my daughter after her. So, when she started off her comment by saying, “First of all, I love you!” I immediately felt loved. I am so thankful for the people that can hear my heart through what I write. Joy wrote in her comment, ” I just want to point out that the Bible is a book of faith. I truly believe man wrote what God wanted them to (II Pet. 1:21), not just what they thought was a good thing to write. Psalm 138:2 is also very interesting where God says His word is honored above His name! But these things have to be believed…through faith! Think of all the O.T. stories – Elijah on Mt. Carmel, the Red Sea crossing, the fiery furnace. If you tried to research and analyze them, you would NEVER believe them! They are impossible…except with God. Just a few thoughts. I’m sure you’ve already thought of them. The Bible IS God’s Word! But it can never help you if you don’t have the faith to believe it.I love you. Please know that most of all!” Joy, I really appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment for me. I agree with you that you have to have faith. After all, without faith it is impossible to please God. (That part rings true to me.) You may find it interesting to know that I don’t have trouble believing that stories in the Bible actually happened. I don’t have any qualms believing that God can send fire from Heaven or part seas. My issue comes with trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with them, and what they lead me to believe about God. I believe that God can cause a city to crumble after people walk around it seven times and blow their trumpets. He’s God. Of course he can do that. My problem comes when I think about what that means. It means that little babies and old men and the sick and lame of that city were crushed in the rubble of their broken homes. I don’t understand that part of the stories. Why would God do that? Or the story of the dude that rushed to keep the Ark of the Covenant from tumbling to the ground. God struck him down despite the intent in his heart? Or the story of Achen? That one killed me as a little kid. I didn’t have a problem with Achen being killed for his disobedience. It made sense to my little child’s heart. He did wrong; he got punished. The part that grieved me was when the teacher got to the part about where they were to stone his family with him. I have this irritating habit of putting myself into the story and imagining if I had been Achen’s daughter, dragged from safety to be killed by the stones hurled by God’s command. It didn’t seem fair. It still doesn’t seem fair.

So I ask myself, why do I teach my children these stories as an attempt to teach them about God? If they make me feel this bad, why do I tell my children, “This is your God?”

I think it’s pretty obvious that all I have is a bunch of questions. I don’t have any answers. I know I can’t ever understand God fully, but, Lord have mercy on me, I need some peace!

Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts. If I answer your comment with a question/challenge, please know that I am just struggling to see if I can come away with something to hold on to. Please reply and help me understand why you believe what you believe. Not just what you believe, but why you believe it. I need some people to wade in with me and talk about it.