I Want To Believe But - Week Four
Today we are going to conclude our sermon series for the month of October entitled, "I Want To Believe, But..."
This series addresses the fact that many of us struggle with our images of God, and some of us struggle so much that we find that it's hard to believe in God altogether.
I recently read something from Anthony de Mello that spoke to me about this:
The fact is that you're surrounded by God and you don't see God, because you "know" about God. The final barrier to the vision of God is your God concept. You miss God because you think you know.
Some of us may have said: "I want to believe, but..."
I can't believe in a demanding God.
I can't believe in an angry, joyless God.
I can't believe in an absent God.
I can't believe in a heartless God.
My hope is that as a result of this series, we'll be able to discover together new ways to think about God that are free from these kinds of boxes.
Let me ask you a question...
Have you ever had a moment when you wondered...
WHAT THE HECK IS GOD UP TO?
Seriously, have you ever asked, "What is the rhyme or reason to what just happened?" "Why is this going on? Is God just not at the wheel any more? Was God ever?"
Or maybe you asked the all important question, "Why did this happen to me?"
That's the one that I'm especially good at asking. I tend to get pretty whiney about it, too. God and I have some really good one-sided conversations when I'm feeling especially put-upon by whatever seems to be going on in my life.
Most of the time, I tend to rail at God for the fact that I'm constantly shilling for him, busting my butt out here in the fields and stuff. And the least God could do, at least in my mind, is to give me a freaking break, and keep the tires on my car from going flat.
I had to replace four tires last month, and then right after I got a nail in one of those new tires. For real?
But truth be told... the moments when I've struggled the most have been when the things I'm railing at God about are horribly hurtful and wounding. Like when friends have abandoned me... Colleagues stabbed me in the back... My mom died...
There was a point in my life where I decided there was no rhyme or reason, there was no Supreme Being behind everything... I mean, how could there be considering all of the bad things going on?
Because the pat answer that most Christians give to all of those bad things that happen to us, or that happen in the world is simply to say that "God is testing us."
"God is testing us..." Really? That's the best you got? Out of all the things going on in the universe that the God you believe in has to attend to, and you think that God pauses all of that stuff just to see if you've got what it takes to believe in God?
But that's what we say, isn't it? God is testing us... training us... preparing us... by killing our relatives, causing us to lose our jobs, giving us cancer... What would you say about a God like that?
Today I want to take a different point of view. And I'm going to say something now that I've said here before, but it bears repeating once again, because we need to hear this multiple times before we finally get it:
God doesn't cause all things, but God is present in all things.
Our conversation partner today is the Apostle Paul from his letter to the Romans, chapter 5, verses 1-5.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our LORD Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.At this point, someone may have a question... And the question that someone might have is, "How is this different from last week?"
Last we talked about embracing God in our brokenness... and realizing that God isn't absent, and is closer than we think.
This week Paul helps us to do something with that knowledge.
This is what Paul is essentially laying out: Suffering happens. But it doesn't define you. Your self-talk matters.
Paul doesn't say that God sends the suffering, but that through suffering we learn perseverance, and through perseverance we discover character, and character enables us to hope, and when we hope we have the confidence to love.
It's logical right. But what is Paul's ultimate lesson here? I think it's this: God didn't do this to you--but God is not going to waste the moment.
Let me speak to some particular people today...
I'm speaking to the person who has lost their job and feels like they've also lost their identity along with it...
To the person who has been dealing with debilitating illnesses...
To the person whose marriage is a shambles...
To the person who has suffered unimaginable loss...
As you sit here today I want you to think about the person you love and respect the most in the whole world, and imagine they are sitting here next to you today... What would you tell them about this time in your life?
Would you tell them... "God cares about me enough to put me through all this torment just to teach me a lesson."
No, you would tell them: "I can't take this. I don't know what I've done to deserve this. I don't see God in this. I am dying inside..."
So, instead of imagining the person you love/respect the most in the world, imagine that the One who sits next to you is the One whose Divine DNA is coursing through your veins, permeating your spirit. This One is the One who loves you beyond all ideas of love--who sacrificed everything to be with you.
You can say whatever you want to this One. You can let all of that out. You can speak it into the universe without fear.
Because your mistakes... your broken relationship... the accident... THAT thing that happened... the loss... the One, God didn't make that happen to test you. God doesn't work that way.
But God will take the brokenness, the loss, the pain, the heartache and restore it, resurrect it, and return it all to you... As experience, milestones, signs and symbols of God's faithfulness and presence even in the worst things.
For those of you who need some actionable items in order to make this a reality... let me share with you a simple two-step process:
1. Break apart the box of the heartless God once and for all. This God doesn't exist. And for some of you... you have been living with the heartless God in a box for a very long time.
And for others, you put God into that heartless box and thought you walked away from it... but you didn't really. Because every single time you face a challenge, a trial or a tribulation that you just... don't get. You bring that box back out again.
It's time to break that box apart.
2. Begin to see yourself as you long to be, as God sees you.
Whatever has happened... it didn't happen because you are bad person that needed some punishment. It didn't happen because God decided to be your personal trainer and put you through it to make you better.
It happened. But you are more than what happened to you. You are here. You are alive. You have today. God has more for you--a future, a purpose that only you can live into.
None of what happened to you will be wasted, or lost. It can be resurrected, made new, given new life and meaning. But you have to see yourself as beloved in order to experience it fully.
And you are. You are beloved.
And you can trust that God isn't heartless.
Because God doesn't cause all things, but God is present in all things.