How do I draw closer to God when...
A reader from Lower writes, “My mother has pushed God on my brothers and I in an unhealthy way our entire lives. How do I suppress my resentment towards having religion and God pushed on me in a negative way yet still grow in my faith without doubting it from time to time? What's the best way to recapture my faith and know that God is with me?”
In the last few years of pastoral ministry, the essence of this question comes up frequently. The reality is that many who struggle with faith are not, necessarily, upset at God or something the Bible says about God. Most have been turned off due to people claiming to be Christian, who don’t behave like Christ, yet demand that others do and then hide behind walls of piety when they need an escape plan.
I love my kids, but they make bad gods. If I look to my kids to get a perspective of what God is like, it’s going to mess up my faith really fast. I love my wife, but she’s a bad substitute for god. I love my mom, but she’s a bad substitute for god. The only one who can stand the test of being God is God. One of the most dangerous mistakes that we can make on our spiritual journey is to think that if the mirror is broken (people), the object being reflected must be broken (God). People make lousy representations of God because they aren’t God. I share this because I don’t want your mother, who isn’t God, to hold you back from pursuing God, who is God.
I heard a pastor once say, “Faith is a journey, not a guilt trip.” For many of us, we have experienced the exact opposite. There have been times when I felt stupid because I didn’t know what I believed, didn’t have the faith others had and so on. Those feels of pointed inadequacy as you grow in your faith aren’t coming from God. When we experience those times of belittlements, they are often coming from the false piety of other people, unhealthy religious institutions or from our own insecurities. I share this because it is helpful to know the root of these resentments. Once again, often God is not the one we are resentful towards because he is not the one truly to blame. Instead, we need to take the broken mirror (a person, a church, ourselves) with a grain of salt and strive to look towards the true object, God, instead.
This leads me to the third part of your question and my response: God is big enough for your doubts and isn’t frustrated by them. Many of the Psalms record the author’s own fears and doubts. He argues with himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation!” (Psalm 42:5). The picture is of the Psalmist’s mind, which knows some truth about God arguing with his soul (the root of his emotions) which doesn’t feel what his mind thinks to be true. So often this is the internal wrestling match that accompanies our spiritual journey - the great battle between truth and emotion, between what we hear and what we have yet to truly embrace and believe. Personally, I find the wrestling truth to be quite refreshing. The old saying, “Dead men don’t wrestle” is spiritually true in this case. The very wrestling that we engage in shows that there is spiritual life in play - that we are engaged in growth and the pursuit of truth. God can handle all your doubts! Continue to seek him and wrestle!
So, what’s the best way to recapture your faith? Truly, it is by you being recaptured by it (not the other way around). Pastor John Piper explains, "My seven decades of experience with the Bible have not been mainly a battle to hold on. They have been a blessing of being held on to, namely, by beauty - that is, by glory. I have stood in front of this window all these years, not to protect it from being broken, or because the owner of the chalet told me to, but because of the glory of the Alps on the other side. I am a captive of the glory of God revealed in Scripture." How do you draw closer to God when people have driven a wedge? I know that not everyone will agree with my perspective on the Bible, but I believe you overcome those struggles by fixing your mind on the truth of God revealed in the Bible and by replacing those lies in your mind with his truth. Replace what people have told you about God (or modeled) with what he has said about himself and modeled on the cross.