NOTE: I’m referring to God as “they/them/their” throughout this post, which might read a bit strange to some, but makes the most sense to me.
“When a church rejects you, it does not mean that God has rejected you…People should never be collateral damage for theology.” Sarah Bessey
I’m not sure what I believe about God most days. The study of God feels like a fruitless endeavour at times. No matter how much I think I know, someone always seems to know better. We’re all so far apart in belief and how it informs our practice. Who even knows what God is really like? In the midst of my doubt, I’m thinking about the state of my faith and how I relate to God and church.
Is God even real? Assuming God is real, is God good? If God is good…and so on and so forth. You get the picture. The unravelling feels never ending at times once you start pulling that thread. And it’s hard to answer the next question in line when that primary question still holds you up. Is God real?
I interviewed an amazing guest earlier this month. You’ll get to hear it this fall. He’s gay and grew up in an evangelical church until he was outed at the age of 25 and left to fend for himself. In the midst of our conversation, I wondered how he could still go to church. Even an affirming church. How he could still believe in God. After all the damage people in the church had done to him, why would he still want to associate with that body and with God? That entity. That supposed representation of God on earth. If God is for THAT, I’m not sure I want that God or the body that comes with it.
His answer was wise and guided me to a realization about myself. Whatever I believe about God, they are not necessarily who I think they are. Whatever the church believes about God isn’t necessarily who God is. Even if the church takes the bible at its word…sarcastic eye roll. So he can still cling to God, because while the church is supposed to be the hands and feet of God, God is not necessarily the church.
We seem comfortable to collectively say “God is bigger and better than we could ever hope or imagine!” Preachers say it every Sunday in churches world wide. But we all mean different things when we say it, depending on the church you’re in. It’s usually referring to our one way ticket to heaven. But when I imagine a God so good that they love and accept LGBTQ2S individuals just as they are, people want me to suddenly pump the brakes on my imagination. So I get frustrated with them, and they grow frustrated with me. The disconnect seems too far to bridge at times. So whose side is God on?
I have to acknowledge that much of my lack of faith in God has revolved around my relationship to the church. It’s often been said that you can’t be a Christian without the church. At least in more conservative leaning circles. Others may not believe this, but it’s common among evangelical churches that detest the whole “spiritual but not religious” moniker. So church and God are supposed to go hand in hand. Theoretically. And theoretically, I think it makes sense. I’d even like it to be true. But I’m just not sure it always is.
All too often, I conflate the church with God. If the church acts in a way that frustrates me, rather than maintaining the love for God I used to feel, it was all too easy to just give up on both them and the church. It’s hard to trust in a God you can’t see when the representatives you can see don’t look like them. Maybe that makes my faith weak. After all, just because I get mad at my brothers and sisters (get bent, Mark), I don’t disown my mother and father. But maybe I would if I believed my mother and father were supporting them at my expense. Maybe I just can’t see the forest for the trees.
Is it possible that maybe God looks different than what I think? Obviously, yes. Maybe the picture of God that disillusions me so much is less about God and more about my inability to recognize them at work in their followers? Does me distancing myself from God really make sense in this case? Is walking away from God because of bad theology or frustration with the church kind of like yelling for help underwater, unable to come up for the very breath of air you need to survive? No one really hears you anyway, and the more you rage, the quicker you drown. Also, you’re in a kiddie pool, so it’s kind of your own damn fault.
Is my lack of belief all just a self fulfilling prophecy?
So I still don’t KNOW what I believe about God. I know what I want to believe. And I choose to believe in no God before choosing to believe in the idol which Franklin Graham and most of his white evangelicals would call god. Of course, I could be wrong about all this. I might change my mind tomorrow. But what I do know is that the church is not God. The bible is not God. God can be seen in both these places, but they are not one and the same. I’m going to err on the side of hope that this God really is able to accomplish more than all of us could truly hope or imagine. If God is true, our boxes won’t hold them. That my conflation between the two is not true representation. I know there’s good in the church. I’ve seen it. But it’s hard to see the good in the mess right now.
So for now, I’ll try not to let my overwhelming frustration with the faults of the church determine my belief in God. I’ll give God a fair shake and not blame them for how wildly wrong others have misunderstood them. Like Jacob wrestled with that badass angel and gained God’s respect, I hope that my struggle to believe is seen the same way, even in the midst of my irreverence. I’m not sure I want to be in this fight. But I know I can’t bow out, either. One way or another, I will see this through. Whether it means getting my ass kicked by God or it turns out that I’ve been kicking my own ass all along, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.