I’ve been a believer a long time. But I have a confession to make: I no longer believe in the God I used to believe in…

  • I used to believe in a God who was about justice and anger more than He was about love.
  • I used to believe that God was happy to smile on our lives, or at least not visit his fierce discipline upon us, as long as we mostly kept to the rules.
  • I used to believe that being a good Christian meant dutifully praying and reading the Bible, attending church, serving in various areas, being a “good person”, not swearing or indulging in obvious vices, and so on.
  • I used to believe that being “born again” simply meant saying a sinner’s prayer, and that once you’d said it, you just had to do your best to keep to the rules and hope that, come judgement day, that would be enough.
  • I used to believe that God rewarded diligence and obedience with His favour, which might take the form of physical or material well-being.
  • I used to believe that genuinely trusting God meant praising and thanking Him in and for all circumstances, and that if you were unhappy or depressed, there must be something wrong with your theology.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Then, two things happened.

First, I gained a few years. My kids got older, I lived and worked and served and faced challenges and talked to people… and I began to realise that life is complicated and messy, and that when people are struggling with debt, sickness, unemployment, rebellious children, relationship breakdown, or the thousand and one other challenges that sometimes make up the landscape of day-to-day reality, simple formulas and black-and-white solutions don’t help.

Second, I found out that all my high ideas of Christian virtue, service, faith and obedience couldn’t save me from myself. I came face to face with the reality of my own selfishness and sin. On the outside, I had it all together and was successful at work, home and church. But on the inside, I was groping in the dark and living in fear and despair. And thus I learnt that, even when I could manage to convince everyone else that I still fit the nice, safe mould of a good Christian, and that the simple, logical system of beliefs through which I had viewed the world was therefore still valid, I could no longer convince myself of it. I found that even when everything looked nice and neat and black and white on the outside, on the inside I was clawing my way through a swamp and dying a slow but inexorable death. And far from helping me live the victorious Christian life, all those simple formulas and black-and-white solutions just seemed to add to the weight of my oppression.

Thankfully, just when I felt I had tried – in vain – everything in my power to drag myself out of the pit in which I was mired, God threw me a lifeline. In fact, He didn’t just throw me a lifeline – He got in the pit with me and began to clean me up and pull me out. He lavished upon me mercy and forgiveness and compassion and grace and love. And He continued to be those things to me, even though I was still so far from the person He desired me to be. And though I continue to fall woefully short today, and some days seem to take more steps backward than forward, He still beckons me, pulls me, carries me even, and stubbornly refuses to let go.

And so, as I came face to face with both my own wretchedness and God’s never-failing love and mercy, the God I used to believe in began to disintegrate, first splitting and cracking around the edges and then, finally, shattering into pieces. I no longer believe in that God, for He was a God formed in my own image, and such a God could never save me or give me hope or meaning.

So what am I left with?

  • I now believe in a God who does not simply show love, but who is love, who burns with a passionate, fiery, jealous love for all His children, and for whom mercy triumphs over judgement.
  • I believe in a God whose favour is not dependent on performance or circumstance, and who loves us so much that He uses even our struggles and trials to bring us closer to Himself and make us more like His son.
  • I believe that a good Christian is only good by virtue of the righteousness of Christ freely imparted to him and the life of the Spirit living in him. I bring nothing to the table; He brings everything.
  • I believe that being a Christian is more of a journey than a transaction, and that God’s promise is to stay by our side throughout the journey. We can choose to walk away from Him, but He’ll never walk away from us.
  • I believe that physical and material well-being are rarely signs of God’s special favour. We can and should be thankful for them, but to think they are somehow a reward for our obedience is a gross misunderstanding and distortion of God’s character.
  • I believe in a God who is with me and present to me not only when I’m smiling and laughing, but also and most especially when I’m crying, struggling, despairing, shouting and asking “Why?”

I used to believe that “God is with you” meant “God will make your problems better”. I don’t really believe that any more. I think God’s promise is to be with us, to hold us, to love and cherish and walk with us and heal our souls and keep us eternally safe in spite of all the shit we have to walk through.