What you believe about God is the most important thing about you. More important than the decisions you make. More important than the spiritual disciplines you practice. Your image of God shapes who you become.
A.W. Tozer said if we could extract from any man a complete answer to the question, What comes to mind when you think about God? we could with certainty determine the spiritual future of that man. What does your spiritual future look like? Sit still. Close your eyes. Use your mind to paint God on the canvas of your consciousness. Who is he or she? No, not the Sunday school answer. Correct answers won’t help you. We’re talking about your actual life here. Honesty is the only policy.
Is God a long-bearded crank who walks with a limp and a stick he uses to pop those blasted kids every time they come on his porch?
Is God a wrath-filled father who’s unyielding anger ignites fear in your soul? Is God a gun-wielding, Republican-card-toting American who supports the troops? Is God a distant father who seems apathetic about the problems in your life.
Who is God to you, really?
Until you allow this question in the front door of your heart and mind, your life won’t change. You will continue doing the same things and feeling the same ways because your image of God is the cause of everything you say, think and do, not the effect.
If you want to grow spiritually, in other words – and I hope you do – you need to ask yourself what you believe about God.
That’s what I’m going to do here, in this post. I’m going to expose some lies I used to believe about God, lies that kept me small and angry, shackled to the chains of apathy and comfort. What follows isn’t the correct answer to the question Who is God? – as if such a things exists. It doesn’t, and if you think it does, you have a solid place to start in your quest for a better image of God (Lie=God loves certainty). These are some lies I’ve wrestled with and tried to move past. And I’m a healthier Christian for it.
Here are 7 lies Christians believe about God.
1. God is in control.
God isn’t in control because God doesn’t care about control. We do. Control is a word we throw onto God because we need certainty. We need answers for every terrible thing that happens on this terrestrial ball.
Thinking God is in control creates a lot of problems, both for us and for God. The biggest is this: if God is in control, then he doesn’t care about the suffering of actual people. If he did, he would do something. He would intervene.
What if God can’t? Not because he’s doesn’t have the power or whatever. Let’s move beyond that. What if God can’t because control isn’t a word in God’s lexicon? What if God is something more than our response to all the unanswerable tragedies in our world?
Hint: he is.
God doesn’t want to eliminate suffering and tragedy. He wants to dwell with us through it. Is this not the message of the cross? Of course it is. And this is the message we need. Desperately. God isn’t distant or absent. He endured the worst pain this world has to offer, so we know that no matter how hard our life becomes, God is with us.
2. God created me for a unique purpose.
Thanks, Rick Warren. No disrespect. I’m thankful for Purpose-Driven Life and the awakening it created. But bright lights cast a long shadow. And the shadow of the purpose-driven life movement is the belief that if you’re not doing something special, spectacular for God, your life is a waste.
God didn’t create you for a unique purpose. He created you for relationship. You exist to live in relationship with God. God’s love is the reason you’re here.
Another big problem with this lie? It makes us believe God loves us only for what we do or accomplish. And the more someone accomplishes, the more God loves him or her. So, you spend your life trying to earn God’s approval instead of resting in the approval you already have. This is an exhausting way to live.
There’s not a single thing you can do to earn God’s love. You have it right now, all of it, an eternity’s worth of divine acceptance. So, rest in it.
3. God loves me, but he doesn’t like me.
I fancy myself as someone who loves everyone, but that doesn’t mean I like you. For example, I love politicians, meaning I recognize them as men and women created in the image of God, just like me. But I’d rather someone club in the nuggets than spend time with any of them. I don’t like politicians. Or anyone who watches the Bachelor (Hello – nothing on that show is real. Why romanticize fake love? Go find the real thing.)
Many Christians believe God sees us the way I see politicians. He’s fine with letting us into heaven and all, but he would never enjoy our presence.
This is a lie, one-hundred percent false. God loves you, yes. But he also likes you. He longs for intimacy with you. He is fond of you.
This lie is the firstborn of American Christianity, where believing the right things about God equals relationship with God. The problem with this – you probably see it – is your relationship with The Maker of the Stars is based on your actions and behaviors, which will never be good enough.
God is fond of you, longs for relationship with you, because you’re made in his image.
4. God is a Christian.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Ask 1000 people and you might get hundreds of different answers. So, if you believe God is a Christian, what you mean is you believe you’ve cornered the market on correct theology. When you believe this, two things happen, both are bad: you take the Creator of the Stars and place him in a box and you believe God is now confined to your box.
What if God is infinitely more than you can imagine right now? What if God is greater than your little mind can fathom at this point? Or here’s one: what if you’re wrong about your beliefs about God?
I don’t believe God is a Christian.
I believe God is love, which means I might find God among my church friends or I might find God in the slums of India. I might find God in my safe, suburban neighborhood or I might find in the mansions of Martha’s vineyard or the projects in downtown Chicago. I might find God in a conversation with my pastor or I might find him in the words of a Buddhist or Muslim.
God isn’t confined to your box. Or mine. Go ahead place him in there if you want. Reinforce it with correct theology and loads of Bible verses that support your beliefs. And God, in his grace, might reveal himself in your box. But he’s not confined to it. And if you don’t believe this, I’m not sure you understand God (or the Bible).
5. God sends people to hell.
If God is a father, I struggle to understand how he sends people to hell. “Well, Frank, he doesn’t send people to hell. People choose to go there.” With all due respect, do you think I’m dumb? That’s the same thing, using more digestible words.
This theology is problematic for a lot of reasons. First of all, what about mentally disabled people? “Well, they can’t choose. They go to heaven.” Okay, what about the ones with mental disorders like PTSD. One of my good friends killed himself after serving two tours in Iraq. He had PTSD. You want me to believe he’s in hell, after loving God his entire life? He wasn’t a bad person. He saw things no human should see and a mental disorder hijacked his rational brain. I believe he’s with God now, as I scribble these words.
The bigger issue here is our absolute obsession with hell. We need hell, I’m convinced, because we need to know people pay for their sins. We need a tit-for-tat God. Until it comes to our own sins, then we want an infinitely gracious God.
I mean, really. We need to know Hitler paid for his sins? And an appropriate amount of payment is what…eternal torment and agony. C’mon, you can’t really believe that.
“Well, Frank, that’s just the way it is.”
Is it, though? What if that’s not the way it is? I don’t know if hell exists or not. Maybe there is a form of separation that occurs when someone consciously chooses evil. But I hope not. I hope every living thing abides with God for all of eternity. Except cats. And mosquitos. I’m fine if they don’t abide with God in the next life.
If God is Love, I think somehow, in ways we can’t yet understand, this Love overcomes all evil and hatred, and all living things dwell with God for eternity.
6. God doesn’t care about my ordinary life.
God cares about the dailiness of life, not the greatness of it.
Because the church has made Sunday morning the apex of Christian life, and because Sunday mornings are about professionals and performances and spotlights and emotional highs, many Christians believe their ordinary life doesn’t matter. What’s worse, many Christians believe God doesn’t care about their ordinary life, that there’s nothing godly or redeeming about going to work or paying bills or cleaning the house or going to Walmart for the fourth time in two days. There’s nothing worse than going to Wal-Mart. If you can leave that cavernous smorgasbord of excess with a smile on your face, you’re a saint of the highest order.
Remember when God revealed himself to Elijah in 1 Kings? How did he do it? Not through a strong wind. Not through an earthquake or a fire. He revealed himself through a whisper. A whisper!
Modern-day translation: when God wants to reveal himself to Frank (or Suzy or fill in the blank) how does he do it? Not through an emotional Sunday morning worship. Not through a powerful Bible Study at Starbucks. He reveals himself through the meaningless banter of my children or a workout at my gym or the folding of clothes.
God cares about the dailiness of life, not the greatness of it.
7. The cross was God’s idea.
My entire life I heard Jesus died on the cross for my sins, meaning God poured out the wrath on Jesus that I deserved. Without the cross, I couldn’t have a relationship with God.
This creates so many problems. First, it paints God as an angry, wrathful deity, and it’s hard to come near to an angry, wrathful deity. Second, it creates a transactional faith, one where your focus is doing the right things so God will approve of you.
You can’t transform inside of transactional religion. Write that down.
The cross wasn’t God’s idea. God didn’t send Jesus to the cross. Man did. Jesus willing went to the cross to expose the powers and principalities, to reveal all the false, destructive ways we deal with Truth. To show, once and for all, that evil has no power over Love, that violence will never heal the world.
God is far more than our minds can fathom. That’s why we can never settle for the image of God we have right now. We must remain curious. Ask hard questions. Lean more and more into Love.
May you have the courage to examine your own life, to let go of any lies. Be patience. There is no end goal here. Only the journey.
Grace and peace, friends.