Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Love of God Part 1: Doubting God's Love

As far back as I can remember, I have struggled with the idea of God loving me. I firmly believe if I could have gotten a handle on it early in life, I would not have had the struggles, spiritually, and otherwise, that I have had. I spoke on this issue a few years ago at my church, and need a refresher course, and decided to put it on here, since I actually kept my notes. Not that I feel I have a way with words, but there may be someone who reads my blog that can use a shot in the arm. Disclaimer: Just because I mention something in this and any blog that follows it, does not mean I have dealt with it personally.

Why do we doubt God's love? So many people seem to dive completely in without ever doubting, yet others have a lifelong struggle to believe that God loves them. Personally speaking, that makes having a true relationship with God pretty difficult.

1) Childhood events. Things that happen to us as children can stay with us forever. I couldn't even begin to list the things that can happen that could cause children to wonder if God really cares about them. With me personally, it was several years of getting bullied and picked on, of always being the last person picked for anything, and knowing that they only picked me because they had to. By the time I hit my junior year, it had died out, but the damage had been done. Getting more of the same in college, though not on the same level, only drove the belief deeper. No one really liked me, not even God, and I wasn't worth much of anything.

2) Wrong image of God. A lot of things can lead to this, but having a wrong image of God can cause a person to doubt God's love. People have many wrong different views of Him: a jolly grandpa who will smile when they do wrong, a cruel tyrant just waiting to punish us for doing wrong, a robot who will do what we tell Him to do, and more. The views are as varied as the people who have them.

3) Bad things happen. There are people who believe in a health and wealth gospel, and they are definitely wrong. Bad things do happen to good people. Just because we are trying to do right does not make us exempt from bad things. Loss of a job, spouse, home, children, health. The list could go on forever. And it can be rough to have faith and believe that in spite of all that is happening, that God does love us and still has a plan. It is so easy to thank God for the good things in our life, and when all is going smooth and well, but when the opposite happens, it is tempting to wonder the opposite: If God is good when good happens, and that shows He loves me, then when bad things happen, is He still good, and does He still care?

4) Religion: The type of church we attend can hurt or hinder us in this area. There is more than part to God. He is a God of love, and He is love, but He is also a God of justice. I think the church is rare that gets the balance just right on those two parts of God. All too many churches go with love, love, love. It doesn't matter what you do, God will love you. They never mention sin, and what will happen to those who sin. They never talk about God being a God of justice who will punish sinners. They want to live under grace, and ignore the rules, and overlook the fact that you still have rules while living under grace.

And then you have the opposite extreme. Those churches who emphasize a God of justice. They practically drive people by fear. They emphasize the rules, not the love and grace. There are many things I like about my church. I do believe Christians should dress differently than the world, live differently, talk differently. Keep all of the commandments, but among it all, God's love needs to be emphasized.

I don't mean this as a criticism of my church, if so, then constructive criticism. Looking back, I can't remember many messages I heard preached on God's love. I am sure there were some. I can remember many messages on hell, missing Heaven, sin, etc. It seems that all too many revival and camp meetings ended with an altar call where the preacher tried to scare people to the altar. I like neither long altar calls, nor ones where people are scared into going to the altar. My personal experience is, if people are scared into going to the altar, or the preacher hangs on til more people go, there is a large percentage who will not truly get help, and if they do, they will be back where they started in no time. I am sure it is easier to get people to the altar by talking about hell, and it should be preached about, but a balance is needed. A balance I don't think we holiness people have.

5) Sin. The further a person goes into sin, often the harder it gets to believe that God could love them, especially if that person grew up in the church. The worse the sin, the stronger the doubt can be that God loves them. It's easy to believe God can forgive the liar, and even the thief, but those who venture into sexual sins, drugs, and worse, all too often find it difficult that God could love and forgive them.

6) Anger at God. Life can be so unfair, and sometimes we lump life and God together, and become angry at God. Why doesn't He do this? If He really loves me, then He would do that. I have read people who say you can be angry at God, yell at Him, tell Him how you feel. I think we should be careful in that area. Being angry with God cannot be good for the relationship, and can lead to doubting His love.

7) Unanswered prayers. Why does God choose to answer some, and not others? It seems that the things we need the most, He never answers, and we are left hanging in the breeze, wondering if He really cares for us, then why doesn't He answer? If you are like me, you start doubting His love, and even your own spiritual condition. It isn't always easy to just chalk it up to the fact that He knows what is best, and has our best interests in mind. It can be all too easy to doubt. Doubt His love, His sovereignty, and sometimes even His existence.

8) Past disappointments. This could go hand in hand with the last one, but can also stand alone. Disappointments can come because of unanswered prayers, but can also come from expectations. We can't put God in a box. Sometimes He does the exact opposite of what we think He should do. He asks us to do what we think we can never do. He seems to sit idly by while our world crashes around us. As we sit in the ruin of what was our life, we wonder where He is. Does He care, and if so, why this? Why me?

9) Bad parental relationships. Our view of our parents can be transferred to God. If a child was abused as a child, often that child will fear God, and not in the healthy sense, and feel like God doesn't love them either, and never could. All too many kids are abused physically or verbally, and even worse, sexually. Those kids will most likely have an extremely difficult time trusting God, and believing in His love for them.

10) Misconceptions of relationships with others. Some people didn't have bad or abusive parents, but their parents didn't act the way they needed them to. They needed more demonstrative love, and their parents weren't demonstrative. Or they needed physical affirmation, and their parents weren't the type to hug. They needed verbal affirmation, and their parents weren't the type to say "I love you" very often. Did their parents love them? Most likely, but we can grow up believing the opposite because they didn't do what we felt we needed to feel loved. That view goes onto God, and He also doesn't do as we expect He should to make us feel loved, so we decide He doesn't love us either.

The misconceptions can come from other relationships besides parents. Siblings, other relatives, friends. Since I have struggled with believing anyone likes me, it is all too easy for me to start thinking someone doesn't like me anymore if they don't seem as friendly as they were, if they answer an email too slowly. That too can rub off on how we view God.

This has already gone longer than I thought it would, so I will continue with my next point another day: What people do to feel the void when they don't believe in God's love.