We all assume that we know what we need to about the God we serve, but what if we have some questions that we should be asking?
Christian band lead singer Jon Steingard recently posted, “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life — I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.
“The last few words of that sentence were hard to write. I still find myself wanting to soften that statement by wording it differently or less specifically — but it wouldn’t be as true.
“The process of getting to that sentence has been several years in the making. It didn’t happen overnight or all of a sudden. It’s been more like pulling on the threads of a sweater, and one day discovering that there was no more sweater left.”
When a moment like this happens and someone in the limelight turns away from their faith, a lot of questions and emotions get dumped into the discussion.
This is shocking! This is horrible! How could this happen to a Christian leader? What does it mean for the next generation of believers? Doesn’t he realize that publicizing his fall from faith is going to negatively impact a lot of others who are also struggling with doubt? It’s unkind and unfair of him to thrust his unbelief upon the general public.
So on and so forth.
Here’s a truly shocking thought: What if Jon Steingard is in very good company — our company, to be precise — when he says that he’s not sure his God is real?
When he describes his faith as plucked away over the years, what if he’s describing a process we experience all the time? How do we know that the God we serve is the God of the Bible and universe? How can we be sure about who we’re following? Those may be worthy questions to be asking.
Disappointed and Disillusioned
The threads of our faith are almost always picked out one at a time and slowly but surely, usually without our noticing it at first.
“We tend to suppress certain truths,” Gary Wilkerson mused. “I suppose you've heard this as well as I have: Somebody reads about an attribute of God that they don't like — the wrath of God, for instance — and I've heard these people say, ‘That's not my God. The God of the Old Testament is not my God. The God who sent a flood, that's not my God.’
“Well, then, your ‘god’ is not God. If you don't have the full gospel…then you're not describing God. You're describing your own formation of something that you want to believe is God. You're taking your own nature, projecting it onto God and saying, ‘That's who God is. He's like me.’”
When we try to make God in our own image, it poisons our view of and relationship with our Father.
Keith Holloway, World Challenge’s senior director of mission development, said in a discussion with Gary on God’s character, “Most of the time, I think, that we've supposed God to be as we are. We have brought him down. By elevating one attribute…and highlighting it or exemplifying it above everything else, we make a perversion of who he [God] is. If we pervert who he is, then how can we know him?”
This should come as no surprise. If we were to walk into a marriage believing that our spouse will be constantly attending to our every whim, we’re bound for a rude wakeup call, and not simply because our spouse is a finite and sinful creature too. That kind of perspective is unrealistic and unhealthy for many reasons, not the least of which is because it isn’t loving to that other person. It doesn’t take any of their longings or requirements into account.
While it may be strange to think of God this way because he is love, mercy, grace and humility incarnate, but we must also recall that he has laid down boundaries we have no right to cross. Some things he desires for us or plans for our lives will not make us happy. He punishes evil, even if his justice doesn’t look fair from our limited perspective.
So what do we do when we become disappointed and disillusioned with God?
Where Is the Real God?
In his book Justice. Mercy. Humility., Rusty George lists six questions to help us figure out what god we are serving and redirect to the real God.
Where does your mind drift?
The things in the past that we regret and the future dreams we ruminate on are telling about what we desire most or what we fear.
What scares you?
If someone were to ask you if you’d rather lose your connection with God or your job/spouse/children/enjoyment of life, the obviously correct answer is the latter. Realistically, though, how many of us daily choose family or careers or entertainment over God?
What do you pray about?
“What is it you are saying when you pray?” Rusty asked. “I notice that my prayers often drift to ‘God, help me…God, bless me…God, protect me. God, will you make everything okay for me?’” When we attempt to make God our cosmic bellboy, we run into trouble fast.
What does your calendar say?
Where do you invest the bulk of your time, and why is it spent there instead of other places? Time is more valuable than money, but only just, which leads us to…
What does your bank statement say?
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, ESV). Not much has changed in the last 2,000 years.
What do you look at on your phone?
Our communication with people who are not present or whom we may not even know has reached unprecedented levels. Not only that but we’re constantly entertained, distracted or validated via our phones.
Our answers to each of these questions can point to a god, or a false view of God, that has taken over our mindset.
If social media absorbs hours of our time, is it because we’re being validated by likes or distracted from real-life problems? Obviously, we must spend a good chunk of time working to pay bills, but if work takes over too much of our time, is it because it’s easier than dealing with tricky home dynamics or because our job makes us feel needed? Are we constantly praying for God to do this or avert that because we already have a definite plan for our future and our own greatest happiness?
If so, we’ve almost certainly lost sight of the real God.
The Most Serious Hide and Seek
In some ways, I applaud Jon Steingard’s honesty in admitting that whomever or whatever he was following all those years probably wasn’t really God.
In some ways, he might be leaps and bounds ahead of the vast majority sitting in church today. When what God’s doing doesn’t line up with our understanding of him, honest questions about who God is will be deeply uncomfortable. Most of us, quite frankly, don’t react well.
Look at Saul in the book of Acts. People were saying that God acted in a way that did not square with his understand of the Jewish Lord. Saul was furious, and he did everything in his power to silence those talking about how this Jesus fellow claimed to be the holy, just Elohim even while he touched unclean people and spent time with society’s undesirables.
Jesus shows up in a flash of light on the road to Damascus to confront Saul, and Saul has the humility and courage to admit he was wrong. He was following the wrong god because it was a god who was all anger and merciless judgment just like him.
Admitting that our view of God has become skewed is hard. Often it involves asking tough questions and discovering that we’ve started placing our highest values on erroneous beliefs, other people, activities or plans. Worse yet, we have to turn those alternative gods over to the real God and start examining who he actually is.
As our understanding of God’s true nature grows, though, our confusion is answered and our fears are quieted. This is how a house is built on a firm foundation, and the storms of life will not shake it.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:13-14, ESV).