forestwater87 asked a question:
I’m really struggling to love God. I don’t feel Him, so people say to read the Bible. But when I open it, I see stories of slaughter—often of children & innocents—& God hardening people’s hearts, & I find it really hard to love Him. Why does He create people just to destroy them? Are our lives so insignificant that He can end them just to prove a point? If faith itself is a gift from God, why doesn’t He give it to everyone & not send anyone to Hell? Most important, how do I love a God like this?
Hey dear friend, thank you for your honesty and may I simply say: I totally feel you on all this. I have so much love in my heart for you right now, really. I wrestle daily with some of the tough parts of the Bible, and I’ll probably ask those questions until my time on earth is over. I wish I had a more adequate intellectual answer for you, but I’m certain I’ll fall short of explaining away some of these things. There are also so many different interpretations that I couldn’t claim to be the one who’s unlocked all the mysteries today.
Here’s an attempt to offer a jump-off point for some of your concerns.
1) The Old Testament is pregnant with anticipation for rescue.
The OT is certainly problematic, full of genocide and misogyny and polygamy and adultery. But I don’t believe that God ever condoned these things. The OT was descriptive and not prescriptive. It shows a conflicted humanity apart from the love of God and what they would naturally do on their own. God intervenes with prophets, priests, and kings, but almost none of this works — because they’re still flawed people.
This all culminates in the perfect person of Christ, who carries out what we couldn’t and offers us this grace on a cross. It’s the surprise plot-twist of the human story. I can completely understand God punishing us for our cruelty, but to become one of us and die for us and to bring healing in a tomb — I have more problems with grace than anything else in the Bible. But that’s who He is.
2) The Old Testament is retroactively answered by Jesus.
When I see Jesus, I can retroactively trust everything else that God did in the Old Testament. I hold the entire Scriptures up to the lens of Christ. Sometimes it’s a hard stretch, but our bias will either see the OT as bloody X-rated mythology, or as a set-up for a savior to redeem us from ourselves. The Bible takes a huge patience to wade through the hopelessness until we get to the gospels. But because of Christ, the OT is no longer the same to me. It shows a work in progress reaching towards the work finished.
3) Paradox: God is the author and people choose.
When it appears that God “hardens hearts” or God puts a “lying spirit” in false prophets (1 Kings 22:22), I hope we can see the nuance here. God is in control, but we also have the human responsibility of free will. The Bible often describes both within the same breath.
Let’s say J.K. Rowling decided that Harry Potter killed Voldemort. This is true: Rowling decided it. But Harry Potter, in the context of the story, decided it too. Both did. It’s a silly analogy, but the paradox remains: the author writes but the person still chooses.
4) Hell is a consistent self-chosen act against your own will. Salvation is not a one-time act, but a slow awakening to the God who is pursuing us.
I know that in church, we’re taught, “One mistake lands you in hell!” — or, “Pray this prayer and you’ll get into Heaven!” Besides the fact that these are false motivations for a relationship with God, this also belittles the journey of knowing Him. It turns faith into a contest instead of recognizing that Christianity is about the God who beckons us towards Him over a lifetime.
I no longer believe faith is some kind of one-shot decision. I don’t believe that God can just “inject” us with faith, or else He would be infringing on what makes us human: to decide for ourselves. I also don’t believe that there’s some blanket measure that God uses to thin the crowd — I believe that our salvation is on a case-by-case basis, taking our individual upbringing and trauma and history into account.
The bottom line is always loving Jesus, knowing his love, and loving others. Yet no two people will have the same faith-journey. God pursues each of us through different avenues, events, and longings. In the end, we’re each accorded grace by how each of us experienced Him. In other words, a five year old child who loves God is just as valid as the eighty-five year old pastor who is barely hanging on to the single mother who has prayed herself to sleep.
Faith is the slow awakening to the God who has been pursuing us all along. When I see the cross and the empty tomb, I can love Him. Yes, it’s incredibly difficult some days. But even when I don’t know where I stand, I can know where He does. I don’t have to look further than His Son.
Here are some other posts on these questions, some of which showed up in my first released book. Please feel free to skip around or skip them all.