God Does Not Work That Way!

IMG_1243

Since the dawn of man, people have looked for ways to explain their world. Comets were once thought to be bad omens. To have a mental illness or epilepsy meant you were possessed by demons. A bad harvest meant that the goddess, Demeter, was displeased with you. The creation of the Earth was, (and still is, for some people) explained by a poem written around the 6th century BC. And today, people explain illness and tragedy as God’s will. When people can’t explain why a child died, they say, We can’t understand the mind of God. If people are suffering, whether with a chronic illness or becoming overwhelmed by life, others will try to comfort them with, God will never give you more than you can handle. When that doesn’t ring true, they add on “without Him”. Some proclaim that God allows you to suffer because your faith is great, so you may be an example to others, like Job. The flip side of that is that you haven’t been healed because you haven’t prayed enough or your faith is too weak.

YOUR LOVE IS LIKE BAD THEOLOGY
IMG_1244

We’re going to assume, for the same of argument, that Jesus was/is who He said He was/is. The Son of God traveled, not only preaching the Good News, but also healing the sick and raising the dead. I can certainly understand why people may glean from the Gospels the idea that God allows people to suffer.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents have sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
John 9:1-4 NIV

I think plenty of people stop at verse 3 and hold it up as proof that God made or allowed this man to be blind so that God may be magnified and glorified. They completely miss the actual point, which is to do God’s work by helping others. Add on verses where Jesus asks people who are asking for healing whether or not they believe in Him, and it’s no wonder where this suffering theology comes from. But I find it telling that, while Jesus may have asked people if they believed, (and for all we know, it could have been something the disciples slid in there while writing the Gospels) He didn’t make them go through a checklist or faithfulness song and dance to prove themselves before healing them. In one case, Jesus found it more important to forgive a man’s sins, rather than physically heal him. It was only after the Pharisees pitched a fit did Jesus add in healing the man’s paralysis, just to shut them up with a resounding So’s your face! (I may be paraphrasing.)

Sometimes I think we forget and only look at the words of Jesus. We forget that His actions are every bit as important. Jesus healed the sick. When someone asked Him for healing, He didn’t say, Nah. Imma sit this one out. But you can head on out from your leper colony and tell everyone how awesome I am. Hosanna, y’all! To claim that God only heals those who call upon His name and are deemed worthy enough is to call God a capricious asshole. It completely contradicts what we see in God through Jesus. What is revealed is a loving God who mourns with us. We don’t see a God who brings suffering. And we certainly don’t see a God who’s concerned about getting credit for good works. (“Go and tell no one…”)

I think, too often, we are like the Pharisees. When we don’t understand or something doesn’t fit in nicely with our worldview, we cling to what we know, (or what we think we know.) Sayings and beliefs, and even superstitions, are passed down from generation to generation. When we use them to explain things in our human experience, we are looking to our own understanding, (and explaining it as God) rather than to what Jesus actually showed us long ago.

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘Theses people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Mark 7:6-8 NIV

STOP IT! YOU’RE NOT HELPING!
IMG_1245
Image source

Phrases like, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” has made me want to reach through the computer and shake people many a time. (Especially when it’s thrown out flippantly when someone is clearly suffering.) This time, I was set off by the “helpful” comments that people in my chronic pain support group shared. All of these were things that were said to them about why they are made to suffer.

Jesus suffered pain so others would not suffer much more in hell. Your suffering makes you like Jesus, and it draws you closer to Him.

IMG_0667

(An ability to create a massive fish fry out of two fish and to form my liquid metal body into anything I want would also make me like Jesus, but you don’t see that happening. Or was that T-1000?)

I was once told by a Christian therapist that God wouldn’t heal me [be]cause I made him mad.

(So He took his toys and went home, or…?)

Our church said that our family [was] suffering with many illnesses so that the rest of the town doesn’t have to suffer.

IMG_1248
(John Coffey? Is that you?)

Look…those of us with chronic pain and illnesses appreciate your concern and support. But, like most people, we just want to vent or have a shoulder to cry on. Some things are just shitty, horrible, and unfair. Trying to have a simple, pseudo-spiritual answer to make sense out of something that doesn’t make sense isn’t helpful. And think about this: how many peoples’ faith are you possibly destroying by saying such things? When people have suffered for years without relief, saying these things leads people to the logical conclusions that they, 1) Aren’t good enough for God, 2) That God doesn’t care about their suffering, 3) That God is oblivious to their needs and tribulations, and 4) God is a capricious jerk with sadistic tendencies. And this is assuming that they don’t give up belief in a god altogether.

Please, just tell us I’m sorry, or That sucks, or What can I do to help? Those go a long way. If you want to pray for us and healing, that’s great. But also pray for our families who suffer with us, for comfort, hope, and strength. Because, as Jesus so often pointed out, the non-physical is just as important. Just be there for us. SHOW us you care.

Admission

I feel like my first few weeks of blogging were easy. I had so many things stored up to write about. Once I had gone through those, I had things which presented themselves for the written word. Lately, though, I haven’t had any strokes of culinary “genius”. I haven’t felt the need to write anything down. Nothing terribly inspiring or funny has happened. Days have been filled with play dates, grocery shopping, choosing between peeing and household chores, and repainting our front door.

20130918-163957.jpg
Ancient Druid symbol for “We’re coming for your young!”

20130918-164103.jpg
Rather than peeling and cracking paint, we now have peeling coating on the lock and handle from the tape we covered them with to protect them. Because, of course we do.

But the truth is, I have had something to write about, I just haven’t been ready to share. I feel certain it will cost me or hurt others, but I don’t feel like I’m being entirely honest about myself until I do share. To put it simply, I’m agnostic.

Okay…and?
To some, what I’ve just revealed is a giant anti-climactic ball of “so what?”. To others, like my family, it’s a heart breaking admission. To me, it’s freeing.
I’ve wrestled with this for the past several years. It began with doubt, as these things tend to do. I started taking a harder look at my faith and things slowly stopped making sense. So much of what I had “known” when I was younger was wrong. The more I read and studied the Bible, the more I realized that the “faith” I had was not my own. It was as if I had borrowed a coat many years ago and still had it. It may be hanging in my closet, but it doesn’t belong to me. So I tried to build a faith, convinced that it was something I needed. I immersed myself in Bible study, prayer, going to church, and surrounding myself with others who called themselves Christians. But as time went on and I put myself through the motions, I found myself gripped by anger, fear, and guilt, rather than released by peace. Every time I came to gather for worship, I felt out of place and heavy hearted. Easter was particularly depressing for me. Rather than responding with, He is Risen, indeed! every time someone proclaimed He is Risen!, I wanted to dully quip, Yeah…maybe.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do
I can’t say that finally letting go was like a death, because that would imply there was something worth mourning forever. No, it was more like a breakup. Like a toxic relationship with your college boyfriend, I realized that trying to stick with it was doing more harm than good. I needed to let it go. It wasn’t easy at first. Old habits die hard. I would remind myself as I cried for help during those desperate nights as ZoĆ« screamed that I didn’t believe that anymore. (Incidentally, I felt a lot better once I stopped waiting for the cavalry to arrive.) I did go through the classic stages of grief: “fear, denial, horniness, wisdom, sleepiness, and now, depression.” (You always learn something from 30 Rock!) Now that I’ve let go, I feel so much better. The angst is gone. I finally have the peace I’d been craving.
I kept it from Mike for awhile because I didn’t want to hurt him. Fortunately, given our conversations and his knowledge of my struggle, I think he knew it was coming and has handled it well. At least, I think he has. I usually find out he hasn’t handled something well a couple of months later because of a meltdown over something completely unrelated.

How You’ll React
I tend to have conversations in my head with other people when the subject is stressful. I imagine how they’ll react based on what I say and what I know of them. So, here we go.

1) Agnosticism is just a poor man’s atheism.

Maybe.

No, seriously, swinging from one faith extreme to the other doesn’t make sense to me. Just as I am not confident in declaring there is a God, I am not confident in declaring that there is no God. I’m open to either path, so long as it’s one I choose. For right now, I’m settled and content in the “I don’t know”.

2) I’ll pray for you.

If you would like to do that, that’s fine. Maybe yours will work out better than mine ever did. But if you do, please don’t tell me, I’ll pray for you. Even if you mean well, it usually comes across as condescending. And the times it doesn’t come across as condescending, it comes across as dickish. It’s the Christianese version of Bless her heart. Ooooh, and then there’s the mash up of, Bless your heart, I’ll pray for you.

20130918-171740.jpg
I was kinda sad when they canceled this show.

3) You’ll go to hell and be separated from God forever!

Fear had always been a motivator for me when it came to being a Christian. While I certainly drank the Kool Aid for awhile, (Oh, yeah!) the main reason I held on for so long was a fear of hell. Growing up evangelical, the fear of hell and Satan was drilled into you. I used to be tortured at night by the fear of demons engaging in spiritual warfare for my very soul as I prayed to God to help me fall asleep and keep me safe. So you can imagine my relief when I came to learn that the devil didn’t enter into Judaism until their captivity in Babylon. The devil was an aspect of Zoroastrianism that they took into their faith and lore. Gone was my fear of hell, demons, a devil, and eternal torture. So you can say I’ll go to hell, but my reaction will be shrugged shoulders, an Mmkay, and something about Pascal’s Wager.

4) Scripture! Arguments! Reasons!

I’m not trying to convince anyone to believe there isn’t a God. So I’m not going to argue with you about it.
Ah ha! You don’t want to argue because you know you’re wrong!
Nooo….. That’s kind of the point of agnosticism. I don’t know. I’ve just argued it with myself for so long that I’m kind of done. I’m not about to waste breath (typing power?) in a war of attrition.

5) But the children!

I was raised in the church. For the first several years of my life, my father was a pastor. So we see how well that turned out. I have no intention of discouraging faith for the girls. I still let Rachael say a prayer at bedtime, but I let it be her choice. I will do my best to answer and encourage questions. If they come to faith, great! I feel one of the best things I can do for them is, if they come to faith, to let them have a faith that is authentically theirs.

6) But more scripture and arguments!

Dude, apologetics with clobber verses make you sound like a dick. Seriously, let it go.