I never considered myself a theologian.
I mean, those people are like probably really smart and have long beards and write books that end up stocked in the “Religion” section of Barnes N Noble. And I was… well, a white, middle-class, 16 year old girl who donned a cheerleading skirt on the weekends and drove a Jetta to her public high school every weekday.
So I never thought I formed much of an opinion about God. I mean, God is God. Right? He’s just… God. The Untouchable one, the Creator of the world. Being raised a pastor’s kid, I knew every adjective under the sky for the Big Man Upstairs, and I had been raised speaking fluent Christianese. I knew what to wear to church, what to say at church, what to do at church, that I should GO to church.
And it was all good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I have begun to realize that it all created an identity for God in my mind that has nothing to do with God at all.
I believe that one of the biggest influencers of our relationship with God is our relationship with the world. This shouldn’t come as a shock to you, of course. How many times have people been turned off from God because of pain in their life? Losing a loved one? Seeing how people treat each other? We correlate how the world treats us with how God must be treating us because, after all, He controls all things, doesn’t He?
Growing up, the world was one of my best friends. I know that may sound weird, but it worked with me. It held me up, gave me what I thought I needed. I had a clean bill of health, a living and well family, dinner on the table, a prominent position in my social groups, friends… I began to trust that this world would keep it up. I honestly remember thinking that other people suffer, but I never would. Surely if I made it to 18 without anything, I’m good to go, right?
And the theologian in me began to tell God who He was. He was the God that would make all of it happen for me, who would walk me through life without a scratch. He was my “buddy”, my patron saint, the one who would make things good for me in this life.
And oh, how I wish I could tell myself, all those years ago, that God was nothing like I imagined.
Because none of it came true. Life in college did not go by easily, I was not given everything I wanted, I did not come out without a scratch. So many dreams shriveled up and died right in front of me, and I had to learn how to grieve them. So many desires went ridiculously unmet, and I had to learn how to soothe them. The world seemed so against me all of a sudden.
The worst of all were the ghosts. The world didn’t have a lot of leverage on me growing up, but now it did. Memories that wouldn’t go away, lies that I believed for too long, beliefs that would pop up and follow me around. Things people said and did that hurt me more than I thought I could be hurt, and I can forget it when days are good, but once the pain hits they all come haunting back.
And you know what? It made me mad, really mad. Because to some, being hurt by the world is a given, and they learn that early on. The world is a messed up place.
But to me, it seemed a personal betrayal. I had trusted this world, believed that it wouldn’t hurt me, and it did.
The world hurt me… and in my mind God did too.
You see, I never saw myself as a theologian, but I have always been one. My whole life, I have formed opinions about God and decided who He was as regards to who He had been to me. He was good to me, therefore He was good.
But now I know that it doesn’t work that way, and if I could go back and tell myself one thing, this would be it.
God is good, always. This world is fallen, this world will hurt me, but God is good.
God is love, and His love stretches far beyond giving me everything I want. He loves me enough to take it all away, like a forest fire through the trees, clearing it out in a painful blaze so that something new can grow.
God is just, and I deserve His wrath. Every day, that ridiculous pride I’ve carried around is thrown off a bit more and I begin to see, clearer and clearer, Jesus in front of me, taking that wrath in my place. And I am standing, only in the shadow of His pain.
I have learned that sometimes God leads us through fire so that somewhere down the road some fire-scorched human being can take solace in our experiences. I have learned that He did not call us to ease, but to cross-bearing. To suffering. And our sufferings aren’t even for us all of the time, but they are for other people, tools that make us useful in loving those people.
And that my theologian’s mind may try and define the God who made it all, but even my most off-base definition can’t change Him. He is God, and I am not.
He is to be worshiped, and I am not.
He will never change, no matter how much I do.
And He is love – no matter how much this world hurts me, He never will.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you.
Therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.