“Jesus does not change God, Jesus reveals God.”
Those words saved my faith, because in an instant one of my main issues with Christianity was put to rest. God and Jesus seemed like such opposite personalities. On the one hand I loved Jesus. I read the New Testament and fell in love with the healer I saw depicted there. But God was different. Needlessly harsh, even at times disturbing. The idea that God could actually be like Jesus was shocking to me.
And yet the Bible confirms this idea over and over again. “The Son… has shown us what God is like” [John 1:18]. “Anyone who looks at [Jesus] sees the one who sent [him]” [John 12:45]. “If you really knew me, you would know my Father also… Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father” [John 14: 7,9] “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me“ [John 5:39].
So instead of trying to extrapolate from vague passages, how God could be good and still do seemingly horrendous things, I began to look at Jesus. Jesus, who loved so deeply, who healed so freely, who came to save, not to condemn. And I began to see God inside Jesus. And slowly, I began to return.
“When you have returned, strengthen your brothers.”
We need good, Godly, spirit filled Christian homes. But in our effort to raise children who believe the right things, we must be very careful not to impose on them an image of God that is ugly and damaging. We need to teach the importance of conviction, but also the humility it takes to admit when we’re wrong. Our beliefs are going to have flaws, but since God inherently doesn’t, it’s OK to read the Bible differently than we did the first time. It’s OK to find God in things we didn’t think He could be part of before. And it’s OK if we make mistakes along the way, because God is still going to be bigger than we perceive Him to be.
I fully believe that God reveals himself differently to different people. This is not an attack on conservatism or fundamentalism, or Christianity at all. This is an appeal to Christian leaders to allow Jesus to reveal himself to individuals and give spiritual structure without hard limits. Don’t distort the gospel by chaining it to non-essentials. Don’t drive us away by smothering our questions. Let us voice our doubts. Advise us, yes, but also encourage us to find our own way.
And to my friends, who are still in that place of doubt, keep searching. I ask nothing of you except that you keep searching. There is beauty in Jesus; there is love without condition or qualification, salvation without strings attached, healing in the nature of a savior who is not tied down by theological ambiguities.
But sometimes we really fail miserably at portraying that. So if you need to leave for a while, leave. Run. Get out and find the answers you need. Get away long enough to heal. When you come back, we will be here with open arms. Despite what perhaps you were taught, or came to believe growing up, there is no room for shame or guilt in the gospel. You are not weak or sinful for leaving. Jesus’ love for you is not dependent on the amount of faith you can scrape together. His presence is not something you have to earn or work for, and if there is anything true in Christianity at all, I believe God will bring you back.
But that process will take time. Maybe even years. That is OK. Maybe you don’t think you’ll ever come back. If that’s the case, I’m sorry. I’m sorry people gave you such a poor view of God. I’m sorry people ruined the name of Jesus for you. I understand. There is no shame in saying so. There is no shame in admitting you don’t think you can come back. There is no shame in admitting that perhaps you love Jesus but need to heal from the church.
If, however, like me, you can find it in yourself to start again; to throw the false versions of God you’ve been handed or have created, on the trash pile, there is no shame in that either. This too, will take time. You won’t know how to approach some things. You won’t have solid answers to many questions right away, or maybe never at all. Start with Jesus. When you are rebuilding, always start with Jesus.
“Strengthen your brothers.”
Though it has been so twisted and tarnished in today’s church, there is so still so much hope in the Gospel. And if my generation is going to come back, that hope is going to be the thing that brings us back. Not moral codes, or sets of doctrine. It’s going to be Jesus. The hope of Jesus is what brought Peter back. That hope is what brought me back. He gives us that hope so we can return, and strengthen our brothers.
“I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you have returned, strengthen your brothers.”
~~~~~Last year I started attending an incredible church here in Clearwater, where I started to experience the true love of Jesus via a body of believers who let me safely voice my questions while I was still on the brink of running. They helped me rebuild my faith, and for that I am beyond grateful. Thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus when I was too disillusioned to see him any other way.