Courageous Confessions #2: When You Secretly Suspect God Might be a Jerk
I hadn’t been to church in awhile, and when I walked in, I was hit with so much nostalgia and so much bitter disappointment that I stumbled backward and walked out. I walked to another entrance, braced myself, and went in and found a seat. My head was filled with the last decade of how many hours I’d poured into serving that place, and how I thought things would be better in my life BECAUSE of that service. I thought it would give me an edge, because I was “serving the church”.
But the last five years have been filled with disappointment. Things I thought would go one way have gone the opposite way. Mistakes I’ve made out of good intentions, trying to be “wise”, have somehow backfired. Everything I thought was white is black. Everything I thought was clear is now hazy.
All the disappointment has made me re-evaluate what I believe about the character of God.
In modern day evangelical Christianity, we have these little sayings that inadvertently lead to crippling misconceptions.
God won’t give you more than you can handle.
Be faithful with the small things so He can trust you with the big things.
He can do more with 90% of your money than you can do with 100%.
Draw near to Him so He can draw near to you.
Press in to worship and He’ll meet you there.
These little sayings have led me to a view of God that is entirely give-and-take. If I _____, then He ____.
If I tithe every month, He’ll make me rich (or at least not poor).
If I do devotions every morning, He’ll make great things happen for me all day.
If I DON’T do devotions every morning, He can’t make great things happen for me.
If I pray enough, He’ll heal me.
(for men) If I stay pure and don’t lust, He’ll give me a wife who wants sex every time I want it.
What these bumper-sticker statements create is a bunch of people who know they serve a God who’s bigger and more powerful than life’s realities, and that we can have a ticket out of those realities if we pray enough/are generous enough/have enough faith/not suck too much.
But with God, it doesn’t work to bring Him the tally marks of our goodness, or even our “not sinning-ness”, and say,“Is this enough for You to bring me a miracle to help salvage my relationship with my kid?” Or “Have I done enough correctly, prayed enough mustard-seed prayers, sought enough wise counsel and gotten up and read through the Bible in a year enough times, that maybe you’ll exercise all that power you’ve got sitting in your back pocket to help me find a way out of bankruptcy?”
Now, if you’re like me, you might be saying, “Well, bankruptcy is an earthly consequence of making bad decisions with your money.” Yes, there are earthly consequences, but we’ve created a mindset that tells me that those regular earthly consequences that everyone has to deal with are actually a result of me not making God happy enough. We’ve made a link between everything bad that might happen to us somehow being our own fault, and it makes God look like a jerk because we have certainly preached enough about how powerful He is, so when he doesn’t intervene, it just looks like He’s sitting in heaven saying, “Well gosh, I’d love to snap my fingers and get you out of this bind, but my records show that you didn’t tithe in June. It’d be one thing if you just forgot, but it actually says here that you didn’t tithe because you owed a vet bill, so that definitely implies a lack of faith on your part. Wish there was more I could do. Sorry kiddo.”
Then what do we do when something unimaginable happens to us or a loved one or a child, like sickness or disease? Oh no problem, because the Bible says that Jesus is willing AND able to heal. “You just wait for the MRI. Those doctors aren’t going to be able to find anything wrong.” But then what if that beloved person stays sick and the doctors DO find more on the MRI? All we’re left to believe then is that we didn’t do quite enough to get God to unleash all that power He has sitting around. We’re filled with self-doubt and we secretly resent every single story of healing we hear about from then on, thinking we just weren’t good enough for that to be our story.
If God is supposed to be THE ONE BEING who loves us unconditionally, why have we put these arrangements between us and Him?
My confession is: I don’t think those arrangements exist. I think with every single testimony or analogy or one-liner we shout from the pulpit or blogs or Facebook that declares our own self-worth because there’s something we did right and it happened to go the way we hoped, we’re widening the gap between God and those who haven’t been so “blessed”. We’re creating a chasm of disappointment - disappointment in ourselves because we haven’t prayed enough to reach our desired outcome, or disappointment in God who we believe to be omnipotent but maybe not love us or be proud of us enough to intervene in a shitty situation.
What’s the remedy? I think a good start might be 1. Questioning all the one-liners and their many implications, and 2. Strengthening the ties between how God loves us and cares for our souls when we face disappointment and earthly realities. I think if we could begin valuing our soul-health over the outcomes we hope for, we could begin to see how He’s really working inside of us, whether or not we check all the boxes.
Editor’s note: As I read this “confession” I could almost feel the passion rolling off her fingers as she wrote. This is a stream-of-consciousness release born from many years of silenced questions and deep disappointments and trying really hard to be good enough. If you’ve been there, please feel free to share your story in the comments. And if you haven’t been there, please resist offering judgement or advice to those who have. This is a safe space and we are safe sisters. Thank you, dear Anonymous, for sharing your secrets here. -Bo