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The One We Want to Believe In but are Afraid to Embrace
By Lucas Miles, Clara Doti
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2016 Lucas Miles
All rights reserved.
The Answer Is in Our Hearts
SITTING SIDE BY SIDE on the decade-old sofa in my office across from my desk, Emily and Janelle couldn't have appeared more uncomfortable. Though in many ways opposites, neither of these high school students had been in a church building for quite some time. Emily was popular, pretty, had a bubbly personality, received good grades, and had a steady boyfriend. Janelle, on the other hand, was entrenched in Gothic subculture, seemingly trying to make herself less attractive with dark makeup; long, thick, unkempt hair; and a solemn stare that gave off an effective "don't look at me or talk to me" vibe. Despite her tremendous intelligence, Janelle was failing several of her classes.
These two girls were in court-ordered counseling as a consequence of smoking a joint outside of their high school a few weeks prior. Because of our church's reputation in the community, the judge felt that Oasis would be the place best equipped to try to reach them. As they sat silently pouting across from my desk, I couldn't help but wonder if their twelve weeks of court-ordered counseling sessions weren't also going to be equally as punishing for me.
"So let me get this straight," I said, breaking the silence. "You have to meet with me for twelve weeks in order to complete your probation?" That's a long time, I thought, to talk with two students who show absolutely no interest in anything I might have to say. "So what do you want to talk about for the next twelve weeks?" I asked in my best counselor voice. My question was predictably met with shrugged shoulders and blank stares. The remainder of our forty-five-minute session continued with more of the same. At this rate, it was going to be a long twelve weeks. As they exited, I knew I was going to have to get creative if I really wanted to help the two.
The next week, before the delinquent duo arrived, I set up a whiteboard with markers next to the couch. As they walked in, they took notice with curious glances.
"What's this for?" Emily asked.
"Today we're going to do something different," I responded. "Think of it like an experiment."
"Whatever," Janelle muttered. I obviously wasn't winning any popularity contests among my court-appointed pupils.
As they sat staring at the whiteboard, I began to explain to them that I had been thinking about their counseling and, instead of spending our sessions talking about the dangers of drug use as the court had suggested, I would rather talk about something more interesting — namely, "Who is God?" This caused Emily to giggle, appearing uncomfortable with the thought of talking about God for the remaining eleven weeks.
Janelle, much more bold with her disdain for the topic, proclaimed, "Just so you know, I don't believe in God."
"I thought you might say that," I responded. "So, for next week, I'd like for each of you to make a list of what you think God should be like if he did exist. I want you to describe a god you would want to believe in."
"You want us to make up a god?" Emily questioned.
"Exactly. I want you to invent a god you would believe in," I said.
As the session closed, I handed each girl a notebook and reminded them of their assignment. Little did I know how seriously both of them would take it.
When the following week rolled around, I couldn't help but be curious as to what this next counseling session would hold. Would they complete the assignment? Would any of this make sense to them? In a desire to help, I was banking on the truth found in Romans 1:19: "What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them." Before the session I said a quick prayer with this verse in mind and, just as I finished, I heard a knock at my door.
"Come on in," I welcomed them. "Did both of you bring your assignment?"
Both girls held up their notebooks. It was the first bit of enthusiasm I had seen in either of them since we began. As the session continued, I had the two of them write their lists on the whiteboard. Here is how they read:
If I could invent a god I would believe in, this is what he'd be like:
My God would be really good.
My God would always forgive me for messing up.
My God would heal people who are sick.
My God wouldn't be boring but fun.
My God wouldn't allow bad things to happen.
My God wouldn't send people to hell.
My God would give his people superpowers to fight evil.
My God wouldn't get mad at me if I failed, and he would always love me.
My God would get rid of death so that people could live forever.
When the girls finished compiling their lists, which were almost identical, I asked them, "So, if God was like this, like everything on your list — you would believe in this God? You would give your life to follow him?"
They thought for a moment but seemed sufficiently confident that their god was far superior to my God — thus there was no danger of actually having to commit to follow this imaginary god. They both agreed: "Yeah, I would believe in a god like that."
From that session forward, the characteristics on the whiteboard were all we discussed in our counseling sessions. With each characteristic, I shared with the girls verses in the Bible that showed the god they thought they had invented was really the true God, the One and Only. My Romans 1:19 instinct was correct — what may be known about God was plain to them. I realized that their "invention" of God came so naturally because it was based in reality.
During our remaining counseling appointments, I learned that Janelle's hurt and distrust of God came from praying to him every night when she was ten as she watched her little sister die from a rare form of childhood cancer and that Emily's bubbly exterior was just a facade to hide the pain she felt from her parents' messy divorce. Like many, Emily and Janelle had misconceptions about God that led to their misgivings of him and their lack of desire to pursue him. As each session continued, the girls' hearts seemed to soften, and they started attending our church's youth ministry. A year later, Janelle, the self-proclaimed atheist, gave her life to Christ and was baptized.
I share this story with you to illustrate a point: in our hearts, we all carry an intuitive knowledge of who God is — his nature and his divine attributes. The problem is that most of us also carry with us a belief system about God, formulated through years of pain and religious indoctrination, that suppresses the truth of his goodness. All the while, the reality of who God really is remains sealed within our hearts.
In the case of Emily and Janelle, they knew in their hearts the true nature of who God is, but the pain of their past clouded their ability to embrace his actual identity, which in turn led to false conclusions about why certain tragedies happened in their lives, and what or who was the source of them. They, like most of us, responded in anger and rebellion toward God, which landed them on the couch in my office.
As we continued to meet together, however, I didn't have to convince them about God's good nature. I simply gave them the tools they needed to push past their pain in order to see God's genuine character. As Emily looked deeper, not only did she come to the conclusion that God had not caused her parents' divorce, but she was also able to remember numerous specific moments during that troubling time when God comforted and protected her. When Janelle discovered the truth of God that was written on her heart, she finally came to the conclusion that God did not allow her sister's tragic death. For both of them, the knowledge of God and his goodness was already present; I only helped remove the obstacles.
THE DAY THE WORLD CHANGED
There it was: an isolated tree standing near the center of the Garden. Not particularly handsome as far as trees go, but there was something alluring about it nonetheless. Its bark was gray and, despite being newly formed, it possessed a strange sense of age, old and hardened beyond its years. Its fruit, plump and lively, dangled from twisted branches and hung like ornaments shimmering in the sunset. Up until this day, the two of them had never noticed how enticing it appeared.
"So this is the tree he told you about?" the woman asked the man.
"Yes," he muttered, half embarrassed and half in awe of the mysterious tree. "Do you really think the serpent was right?" he inquired, somewhat hoping she would say no.
"Look at it! He has to be right. Have you ever seen a tree like this?" she said.
The two of them sat motionless, frozen by the weight of the moment, yet contemplating the decision they were about to make. The woman stepped confidently toward the tree and lunged forward on her tiptoes as far as she could to grab the ripest fruit she saw, plucking it from the branch. As she caressed the fruit between her delicate fingers, the man looked at her and said, "You know, after we do this ... things won't be the same anymore."
"I know," she said excitedly. "The serpent said that once we eat it, we will be like God! Can you imagine?" She lifted the forbidden treasure to her lips and bit into the juicy, tender flesh. Then she playfully tossed it to her husband and he did the same. Words could not express the sweetness and flavor. But as delicious as that moment was, its savor quickly faded. Instantly they felt something new: shame. With one act of disobedience, the world as they had known it was changed. Their eyes were opened and they knew good. And they knew evil.
HUMANKIND: REFEREES OF MORALITY
From that fateful day, humanity and this world we call home were forever changed. When our first ancestors ate from that tree, humankind became fitted with an incredible intellect that enabled us to discern right or wrong, good or evil. This ability is a key differentiator between humans and the other created species.
In his classic book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote this regarding our innate understanding of good and evil:
This law was called the Law of Nature because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. They did not mean, of course, that you might not find an odd individual here and there who did not know it, just as you find a few people who are colour-blind or have no ear for a tune. But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was obvious to every one. And I believe they were right.
As we embark on our journey to discover this good God, we must solidify the fact in our minds that, as members of the human race, we have a unique ability to discern both good and evil. We can know and do know the difference. As our ancestors ate from that forbidden tree, their consciences — which prior to their disobedience had been pure, spiritual, and in tune with God's heart — instantly became cognizant of their own nakedness, their immorality. In the blink of an eye, Adam and Eve became keenly aware that they were no longer like God. Theologically speaking, they had gained knowledge of their own depravity. Sadly, this enlightenment was never meant to be. God never intended for mankind to tell the difference between us and him, and as a result, this one act plunged all of mankind into a never-ending cycle of questioning God's nature and his heart toward us, his beloved creation.
Before Adam and Eve gained this knowledge, ignorance of good and evil had prevented them from doubting God's love for them as they lived in blissful naiveté, enjoying unfettered relationship with God without the hindrances of guilt and shame. In their eyes and his, they were acceptable. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve knew they were God's beloved. Now, regardless of God's many attempts to communicate his love toward us, humans are driven by doubt and fear because we are keenly aware that our thoughts, desires, behavior, and nature fall incredibly short of God's goodness.
At the Fall humans became referees of our own morality, blowing the whistle on our fellow man and, at times, even shifting the blame onto God himself in our futile attempts to restore our righteousness and preserve our egos. "The woman you put here with me" and "The serpent deceived me" rang the sanctimonious excuses of Adam and Eve after the Fall (Genesis 3:12–13). As Eve pointed her finger at the serpent, Adam pointed to his wife for offering him the fruit and then to God for giving him the woman in the first place. Because of their awareness of their now fallen nature, Adam and Eve resorted to self-preservation at all costs — even if it meant blaming God. This was and is the nature of the curse and what causes us, even to this day, to cover ourselves in our own self-righteous fig leaves whenever we feel as if we are in danger of being exposed.
JUDGING GOOD FROM EVIL
In our frantic attempts at self-preservation, we have distorted the one unique skill we acquired at the Fall — the ability to judge good from evil. In order to sustain our dignity we have done the opposite of what our nature is inclined to do: we have resorted to calling what is good evil and what is evil good. As the events of our lives unfold, our interpretation of those happenings has caused us to invent a god who is the author of the beliefs we now have of ourselves.
For instance, some people refuse to accept their fallen state and futilely attempt to restore their perfect record by performing good deeds. Those who are guilt ridden embrace negative emotions, such as shame, as a self-imposed punishment for their wrongdoings. And the self-righteous refuse to accept any responsibility for their actions, always making excuses and blaming others for the substandard state of their lives. No matter the tendency, though, one thing is certain. As long as we perceive God as our enemy, we will continuously reinvent his nature in order to justify our circumstances.
Although Scripture clearly displays God's intentions for us to live an abundant life — the kind and quality of life that God himself has — many of us flounder, trapped in doubt, because we don't really know him. In John 10:10, Jesus clarified how we can discern the originator of circumstances in our lives: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." So there it is. In plain terms Jesus was saying, "If you are being stolen from, if your life is at stake, and if you are being destroyed — then Satan is responsible for that. But if you are experiencing the abundant life God intended, then that comes from me. I authored that." So why is it that when tragedy, theft, destruction, and death happen in our lives, we don't know whether to praise the God who gives and takes away or to resist the devil so that he will flee from us? Our theology has become our ball and chain. Our belief system has created our impotence.
But removing the obstacles that prevent us from embracing God's goodness can be challenging. I recently ran into a family friend at the supermarket. After he talked for several minutes about his son's impending death, he praised God for giving his unbelieving son a terminal illness, as he hoped it would finally set his son on a path to knowing Christ. He had been praying for God to use whatever means necessary in pursuit of his son's heart, and he perceived this illness to be God's effort at doing just that. As I quietly listened, my friend honored God for his so-called "goodness" toward his son. Yet I could see the sadness in his eyes at the thought of losing his son.
Even though my friend's heart was filled with negative emotion toward the situation, his theology was telling him to praise God for allowing it. While this man is perceived in the community to be a very godly man, it was clear that his understanding of God's nature had been blurred by his pain and religious indoctrination. His presumptions about God's character and workings were violating his innate knowledge of good and evil, yet he failed to let go of his beliefs. After all, his son's disease seemed to be an answer to his prayers.
Excerpted from Good God by Lucas Miles, Clara Doti. Copyright © 2016 Lucas Miles. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
God Isn't Responsible for Your Pain 1
1 Inventing God 7
2 God Is Not a Criminal 29
3 Sovereign God or Control Freak? 47
4 The Man behind the Curtain 75
5 Wisdom and Foolishness 93
6 God Revealed 125
7 The Purpose of the Law 139
8 Removing the Mixed Gospel 159
9 Better Than We Think 179
A Final Word 199
What People are Saying About This
Not only is God not dead, but Lucas's book shows us that he is even better than we previously thought! --Kevin Sorbo, actor, God's Not Dead
This book is for anyone who has struggled with pain, disappointment, and tragedy, and it needs to be read by the most skeptical among uswhich I have to admit, is far too often you and me. --Phil Cooke, filmmaker, media consultant, and author of One Big Thing
Lucas Miles's Good God will not just change the way you view God, but enable you to fall in love with a very good God. --Jerry Grieser, author, God's House of Mirrors