I have this vague memory from childhood, of a man with grey hairs on his ears standing high in a pulpit shouting about hell. I have no idea how old I was but I can still hear his voice and see the vein popping on his crimson neck.
“God is very angry with you so be careful,” bellowed through the church.
When I was 14 years old a preacher yelled at me from the corner of a street, “Son, your soul is filthy, God looks and is disgusted by your sin.”
At Bible College in my early 20s, I wrestled with the theology of sexuality, abortion and gender and came to conclusions that allowed me full access to Christianity but denied it to others. It was God’s will.
In my late twenties, like many red blooded males, feeling a little intimidated by the world I was seduced by Mark Driscoll’s brand of mascuchristianity. I heard him preach, and listened and nodded as he stated three times in a row that, “you’ve heard that God loves you, He doesn’t. God hates you. He only shows you love because of Jesus.”
I’m 36 and I’ve realised that the God of my memory, the God who hides somewhere in the folds of my brain, pieced together from bad sermons, angry preachers, disappointments and my own fears and prejudice is a God who I don’t believe in. Yet, at the very same time, I am worshiping that God anyway. A part of my life is still given over to that God’s service, He still has some of my faith. It’s time to lose my faith in that God.
As I’ve got older I find the border between the black and white of my theology mixing into grey. I find that more of what I held as factual is open to debate; my assumptions were subjective and my bias unrecognised. I’ve found that my ‘choose a side, pick a team,’ theology is wanting and that actually the truth about God and His world hangs mysteriously in the balance between seemingly opposing views; this truth both ineffable and understood.
I’ve found God to be more merciful and gracious than the God I once knew. I’ve found God to be more accepting of people than I am, calling them children and friends. The God I have found is patient and kind. It’s this God in whom my faith should fall, it is this God to whom my service should be given. I’ve found a God who called his creation good and didn’t change his mind.
I want to be as generous as this God who gives so easily this hard-won grace. I want to choose to love and accept people before they change and even if they never do. I want to lose my faith and find it again and live changed by what I’ve found.
If the God of your memory is one in whom you can’t place your trust or who acts in ways you deem horrific or shocking, then seek the God of love again. Lose your faith in that God of your memory and choose the God of mercy and grace.
It may mean I am labelled a liberal or backslider or even worse, a progressive Christian, but that’s okay with me. I’m at peace with this God, he looks like Jesus, he loves like Jesus and he treats people like Jesus did. That’s the God who deserves my life.
They say that if you believe in a single God, that you only disbelieve in one less than every atheist. I’d like to add one to the list that I don’t believe in anymore but hold onto one that I do.