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Don’t Hate God Because You Hate Church

August 8, 2011

I talked to an old friend on the phone today.  We hadn’t spoken in quite some time, and amidst the new jobs and new marriages and new cities we’re living in, we landed on a most heart-breaking topic.

He doesn’t believe in God anymore.

He doesn’t believe in God anymore, meaning he once had faith and has since decided it’s no longer there.  I took some deep breaths and gave him a shy half-smile as if we were talking face to face.  I dared ask the inevitable question – “why don’t you believe anymore?”  I braced myself for impact.

He started talking about his church.  Well, several different churches in fact.  And his grievances against the churches he had been a part of were honest and haunting and put me, as a fellow Christian, to shame.  His history over the past year was wracked with judgement and fear and pain, and how desperately I wanted to throw my arms around him and cry with him as he spoke.  He was angry.  He was hurt.  And quite honestly, I was defenseless.  If I had had a year like him, I would be questioning my God too.

But as he and I talked and processed and grieved – the simple fact remained that he was angry with the church.  He was angry with doctrines and ideologies and prejudices that all came from (I think) well-intentioned people, but they were not expectations that necessarily came from God.  I found myself stuck in our conversation.  I could validate the difficulties and the hardships and the leper-like feelings he experienced within the church walls, but yet, he let that stop him from pursuing God as God made sense to him.  He succumbed to the idea, the very idea that he hated, that God is only who the church says he is.  I found myself questioning if my friend really gave God a fair chance.

The church plays a hugely important role in defining and making sense of a life of faith.  It is a place for guidance and community and encouragement.  But it is not God.  Just because the church has created, and ascribed to, a popular perception of what a faith life is supposed to look like and who a Christian person “really is” doesn’t mean that is what God wants or expects.  Just because people you meet on a Sunday morning don’t respond with compassion to your troubles or worries or inner-most being, doesn’t mean God won’t.  Just because you don’t pray eloquently or worship with hands raised or talk with the same lingo as the churchies do, doesn’t mean those are the things God is looking for.  And those are just the simple and easy surface-level differences.  Never mind being straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, pro-life or pro-choice.

But if you have done the work to build a life with Christ that is honest and real and genuine, and it is not one that fits within popular church culture – why get bullied away?  Why use church as an excuse to not live faithfully with God?  God and church are not one in the same.  Why cop out?

I sympathize with those who find church culture so off-putting.  The contemporary church has a culture of its own that, personally, I can find quite damaging at times.  Heaven forbid we do away with our vernacular of “quiet times” and “dates with God” and the ever-so-popular “God moments” and just let ourselves talk normally of our lives of attempted faithfulness and guaranteed struggles.  Heaven forbid we acknowledge that, very often, our culture is an all-inclusive one where the doors are open wide to anyone who wants to act like us, look like us, and view God in the exact same way we do.  If only we saw how harmful that mentality can be to people like my friend.  If only we saw that we are often not promoting a healthy self-propelled knowledge and intimacy with God, but one dictated by the convenience of popular mentality.  If only we could find ways to acknowledge the incredible mysteries of believing and understanding God’s heart and his grace without feeling like our core values were being threatened.

I am not writing here to say that church is bad, because it is not.  I am not writing here to say that God is whoever people want him to be, because I don’t believe that is true.  I am, however, writing to challenge the root of my friends’ struggle with God.  I am writing to argue that it is a church-battle he is fighting.  I am writing to encourage him to actually look for God, the real God, on his own – in his room, on a path that winds through trees and small lakes and berry bushes.  I am asking him to look for God in lines of poetry and conversation with friends.  To see him in the way the sun rises as he drives to work and the way a co-worker puts her arms around him in support.  To see him in the doubt and the struggle and all the unanswerable questions that a life of faith brings.  I am asking my friend to see God apart from the church because sometimes, for some people, that union needs to be broken for a little while.  Sometimes some of us need to be separated in order to fully come back.

God is not the church, my dear friend.  He is so much bigger than that.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. mom permalink
    August 8, 2011 6:32 pm

    well said honey

  2. August 9, 2011 3:14 pm

    So true, my friend. I’ve found God more in my struggles in the past year than in church. This actually inspired me to write a future blog post on the topic, so thank you!

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