As I’ve been reading various blog posts over the past few months, I’ve been running into something that makes me feel sad. It’s hard to pinpoint or nail down. I recognize that a few years ago I wouldn’t have been bothered by what I read at all. I would relate, I would empathize, I would say “I know how you feel.”
What am I reading? Agony over decisions made, fear of falling short as a parent, guilt over not being a good enough parent/spouse/friend/(dare I say – Christian?), struggles with insecurity, fear, worry, stress.
It’s not that I don’t empathize, that I don’t relate, that I don’t know how they feel. I do. I guess the biggest difference is that my perspective has changed. How I view the world, how I view people, myself, and God has fundamentally changed over the last few years.
How has it changed? Through experience, through revelation, through relationships with others, through the wonderful transforming work of my loving God.
So what has changed? Here are some of the areas where my perspective has shifted:
- My view of ‘the Judgement’ has changed. I no longer believe that the final Judgement of God is to throw everyone who didn’t ‘say the prayer’ into a lake of fire to suffer agonizing torment for all of eternity – this does not align with my belief in an overwhelmingly loving God. There are few references to hell and a lake of fire in the Bible and I’d say the references are a bit ambiguous, certainly not enough to base an entire theology upon. I’ve come to rely more upon this passage as a reference for ‘the judgement’: “This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). If you take this perspective, it is a person’s choice to hide from the Light (ie: God) that is the judgement – because a person is used to living in darkness, the glorious Light of God will be torment in and of itself. It is not God’s choice to inflict torment on His child, it is just the natural result of rejecting the Light (ie: the very nature of God).
- With this change in perspective, my view of God has completely changed. There is a subconscious disconnect with the traditional belief that God is Love AND would willingly condemn the majority of mankind to eternal torment. How can God love unconditionally and still have that ‘limit’ on His love? It must mean that God is not unconditionally loving. Because actions speak louder than words (I know for myself) there were certain things I couldn’t ‘believe’ as long as I subconsciously believed that God would actively create torment for His children (I don’t care how much you tell me ‘God loves me’ He can’t love enough not to condemn my friends to excruciating pain). With that belief gone, I am free to view God as truly unconditionally loving – there are no limits to His love. “The Lord is… not wishing any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He never desires torment for His children, nor does He have to punish His children.
- I think the traditional belief in ‘the judgement’ fosters striving, guilt, and fear as opposed to a reliance upon God’s grace. We see God punishing those who don’t measure up and we must strive (consciously or subconsciously) to make sure God does not feel compelled to punish us!
- This shift in belief away from the traditional view of ‘judgement’ has helped me to understand and experience the work of God’s grace that much more. God recognizes that we are weak, broken, imperfect. And that’s OK. I don’t have to beat myself up for not being ‘good enough’ because God’s not going to punish me (and I don’t have to punish myself so God doesn’t have to punish me). He has no desire to punish me when I ‘fall short’. His grace is so much greater than my weakness. As I come to understand this truth more and more, I have less fear, less guilt, less stress. There is way more freedom in relying on God’s faithful love and grace to walk me through Life’s journey.
Let me interject by saying that by no means have I ‘arrived’. There are numerous areas of weakness in my life where I continue to function in fear and I’ll have my bad days (and weeks), but my shift in perspective means that fear has much less of a hold on me. I don’t wallow in self-guilt and loathing nearly as long as I used to. There is more freedom. There is more peace within myself. There is more acceptance and grace for others. There is less comparing myself to others. There is less striving to live up to unrealistic standards – although I still have a lot of unrealistic standards (I have less than I used to).
This leads me to my opening comments in this post. I feel saddened because I believe there has been far too little emphasis on God’s grace and love in the evangelical church (the church that I have grown up in and is my Christian point of reference). And I see the results of this lived out in Christians around me.
It’s almost like we think everyone knows the ‘basics’ – God loves us and His grace is for us – but now we need to focus on the ‘more important stuff’ like daily Bible reading, prayer, faithful attendance, overcoming our weaknesses so we can be ‘better’ Christians, etc. The problem is that without God’s love (and grace) as our lifeblood, we can’t truly be freed from the things that bring us down. If we don’t really know God loves us, we will continue to live in fear, we will continue to be insecure, we will continue to compare ourselves to others, we will continue to feel that we’re not ‘good enough’, we will continue to strive. God’s love is the answer to transformation in our lives. I firmly believe this. Nothing else will set us free.
Yet I see many Christians running around in circles striving to improve themselves (with God’s help), striving to free themselves from (insert sin here), striving to overcome the Enemy’s grip on their lives. It won’t work. Not without God’s love.
But in order to understand God’s love and grace we need to experience it (at least I found that for myself – I could read about His love and grace but it wasn’t until I experienced it that it started to make sense). And that’s a topic for a whole other blog post.
I’ll leave you with one other verse (which makes more sense to me now from the point of resting in God’s love rather than trying to ‘will’ myself to not be afraid):
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18).