Friday, October 4, 2013

3 Reasons I Don't Believe in Jesus (and 3 Reasons I Do)

I don't always trust Jesus to come through for me. That's not saying he isn't trustworthy. If you looked at my life as proof, it's pretty clear that he is. But try telling your heart that. My heart isn't always in the game. There's always that chance that this time he'll drop me, let go of me, let me fall...

There are always reasons I don't believe. Three main reasons that pop up again and again. I think they are the same three reasons we all keep using to help ourselves believe or to help ourselves pass it off. And whatever you say or believe, you'll encounter these reasons too. Whether you want to believe and you find that right now it's really hard, or you just plain old don't believe at all, I bet one of these three things has something to do with it.

1. It's too good to be true. Life is never perfect. Life isn't fair. So when someone offers you a picture of a God who is perfect and just and loves everyone and is going to make the world perfect, that's just too good to be believable. We know better. We know the world's too screwed up for there to be a good God out there. We know that those stories of rescue and riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after were never real. Neither can this one be.

2. I've never seen him act in difficult situations in the past. I don't see the evidence. If there's a God, and one who loves me, why didn't he do anything during that particularly hard time? If he's about justice, why didn't he send someone to stick up for me when I was the only one trying to do the right thing? 

3. I don't want to be dependent on charity. The thing about God is that he's bigger and better. You quickly realize that you do things wrong and he always gets them right. You'll screw up and hurt him, and he'll always help you out of it. It's like he's the friend who's always loaning you money, but you can never pay him back. I hate depending on him like this. The problem is, if for once he didn't forgive me, I'd be very, very stuck. I need God. Like, really need him. Which means he has to pull through for me. That kind of dependence is scary. And to most Western adults, it feels wrong. We were brought up to believe that you make it on at least 51% of your own gumption in this world. So we always think there's a catch and that God will fire us if we don't at least try to pay him back.

If you want to follow Jesus, you need to familiarize yourself with these doubts. You'll face them a lot. Following Jesus does not immunize you against mistakes or problems or pains or disbelief.

When I'm having a hard time believing in God, I've learned the three facts that I've generally forgotten that make these three reasons for disbelief legitimate. I have to remind myself of the things I conveniently excuse to justify myself or the things I accidentally buried beneath the other things of my life and just can't remember right now. Such as:

1a. Just because I've never seen anything like it before doesn't mean it isn't real. Ironically, this is a mistake the church has made a lot throughout history. Science will prove something utterly amazing and previously believed impossible that goes against all the ways we thought the world worked, and the church says, "that can't be right." The thing about life is that there are always surprises. We have to be willing to let what we think of as truth be stretched and grown. Not by just anything--there are reliable sources and unreliable sources. Some things won't ever change and you know it, like how much you love your kids. But sometimes things we thought were impossible end up being not only possible but real. My husband likes to say, "Presume nothing. Imagine everything. Expect anything."

1b. Maybe the reason that the ache in my heart has never been filled by anything is because this is the only thing that can fill it. Some things are too good to be true because we stopped believing in them, because we just hadn't found that one thing yet. Girls who are rescued out of sex trafficking and prostitution don't believe in love. That's my one thing against the movie Moulin Rouge: some guy who comes along singing about true love isn't going to win a prostitute's heart like that. She's been forced to give sex to men all her life who tell her they love her, use her, and then leave once they've gotten what they wanted. Real love doesn't exist. When--if, hopefully, the proper channels are in place--they are welcomed into a real home, they don't believe it. They don't understand why people are supposedly "taking care of them." They mistrust everyone, waiting for the family's "real" motives to be unveiled, for the family to finish using them and go away. It takes years for them to realize that love is real. Love is too good to be true...or maybe I've suffered too much to believe in it. However painful it is when hopes are dashed, my greatest strength is to believe in the thing that I'm searching for. Only then will I find it.

2. How can a good God let evil happen in the world and not step in and stop it? God allows evil not because he doesn't love us, but because he loves us too much. In the Bible God says over and over again how he longs to end the suffering and oppression that reign on the earth; how he hates violence and murder and rape and just wants to sweep in and save the day. But he gives us a chance to come to him first. God loves us so much that even when we're screwing things up and human hurts human, he doesn't step in because he believes that we have to learn to make our own choices. A good parent sets rules and lets the child choose to follow the rules or not. They may have a suspicion that the child is once again stealing a cookie from the jar, but if they keep the cookies within sight at all times and watch the child like a hawk, that expresses no trust in the child and just says, "I think you're a bad child and I won't give you a chance to prove me otherwise." When the child makes the wrong choice, they are called to account and punished, but not before. I believe this world is full of violence and despair not through God's neglect, but through our choices and the choices of others. God gave us the world, and this is what we've done with our cutting corners and avoiding looking at the collateral damage. I just have to remind myself of that sometimes and stop pretending we are not at fault.

3. God is not human. Taking charity from God isn't like taking it from another person. Nor can we hope to be good enough for God. I can repay humans; I can't repay God. First of all, he doesn't do evil to me that I can forgive him for. He doesn't deny me respect that I'm due, since I'm not due anything from him. He is due all my respect and he alone offers forgiveness. I'm always going to be on the receiving end. But if there's anything I learn from point #2, it's that God loves us too much. He gives us the world, but even then he can't stop reaching down and helping us where we don't deserve it. God's charity is a good thing. Without it, the world's a mess. Maybe it's our pride at refusing to be dependent on God that has us in such a mess in the first place. If I just let it go and agree to be a happy, messy, dependent kid, things will go a lot better for me and inside of me.