The Problem with Christians and God

I’ve been on a quest the past year or so to understand God.  Having been raised a Christian, religion and faith have always been part of my life.  The greatest challenges to what I believed came from other denominations where I would simply have to defend why I worshipped differently.  It hasn’t been until the past couple of years where I have felt the compulsion to delve deeper into the belief in the existence of God itself, not just religious doctrine.  My book pile grew faster than I could read as I dove into this God thing.  I was reading books by Christian greats such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer along with ancient scripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic Gospels.  It wasn’t until I picked up a book titled A History of God that a I finally realized what Christianity’s problem was with God and how off I was in my quest.  Christians want God to be simple and explainable, while there is no possible way to do so.

In A History of God, Karen Armstrong walks through the 4000 year history of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in their quest for God.  In discussing the early Christian concepts of God she shares “Since religion was directed toward an ineffable reality that lay beyond normal concepts and categories, speech was limiting and confusing… certain questions were ‘improper’ or inappropriate, since they referred to realities that lay beyond the reach of words.  Western Christianity would become a much more talkative religion…this would be one of it’s chief problems with God.”  I like how Gregory of Nyssa put it in his Life of Moses, “the true vision and the knowledge of what we seek consists precisely of not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.”

Take for example the human characteristic of love.  Can you describe the love you have for your spouse or parent or child or dog?  Can you describe and put into words the compassion you have for them?  The peace they give you just by seeing them?  Songwriters, poets, and authors have tried for centuries to describe the depths of their love.  It’s deeper than the sea, higher than the mountains, more beautiful than a thousand sunsets.  All things that are unfathomable, immeasurable, and unattainable; and at first glance rather silly.  Yet we insist on using that same quality to describe God, from whom love emanates since before our existence.  Now compound that with peace, grace, beauty, and justice and all of a sudden what was already uncategorizeable becomes even more infinitely complex.

I believe this is the problem that many Christians are having today and what is driving people away from the church in droves.  It’s why an increasing number of people call themselves spiritual, but not religious.  Christianity is responding the the challenge to explain the unexplainable.  We are hung up on preaching doctrine; interpreting what humans while utilizing 10% of their brain, believe the being beyond all reason intended.  Makes a lot of sense when you put it that way doesn’t it?  Yet we want to give you a checklist of who God is and what he does and how we can live like him.  And we screw it up every single time.  Then people say “this doesn’t make sense” and leave to choose a life in which they don’t have a god any longer.

As Bryan Adams put it “look into your heart.  Look into your soul.  And when you find me there you’ll search no more.”  That analogy makes perfect sense for newlyweds who play that song at their wedding.  There comes a point when logic and reason fail.  And if it’s perfectly acceptable for it to fail when describing my love for my wife, how then is it considered a failure when I cannot describe the God of the universe?  I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never win an argument with an Atheist regarding faith and religion, because at it’s core I believe in the existence of a God whom words cannot contain.  That doesn’t mean I should give up and rest my defense.  It simply means the tactics are different.  And that I cannot stop searching and longing to know my God for myself, not for what I’ve been taught.

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6 thoughts on “The Problem with Christians and God

  1. Hope you don’t mind me commenting.

    Is it really the case that “Christians want God to be simple and explainable,” or are we just trying to make sense of what God has revealed about Himself, not just in the created world, but even more specifically in His word? I fully agree that God is ‘ineffably sublime’ as one of the hymn writers put it, and that human efforts to neatly fit God into a box will always sell God short. However, I don’t think we can overlook the fact that God has communicated with us, using human language, through the Scriptures.

    If God has spoken to us in this way, then surely he wants us to understand certain things about Him and that therefore these things must also be knowable. I think where many Christians err, is that we think we have got God all worked out, but are you in danger of pushing the boat too far out to the opposite extreme of suggesting we can’t really utter anything about who/what God is/means…?

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    • I appreciate the comment and maybe my post wasn’t as clear as I would have liked. I fully agree with you that God reveals himself through the experiences and reflections of those who have come before us, particularly the scriptures. And I don’t believe that concluding that the indescribable intricacies of God should lead us to give up in our search to know him better. I believe it is the opposite, to seek to know God without simply limiting him to what we’ve been told through our respective denomination’s doctrine. The early Christian and Greek philosophers were more in tune with this, allowing conversation and debate to illuminate their path to knowing God. It wasn’t until Constantine tried to unite his kingdom under Christianity that strict definitions of God appeared.

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  2. If you’re truly trying to figure out why so many people are abandoning your religion I suggest that you take a step away from deep philosophical questions and start taking a look at your fellow brothers and sisters and Christ. There’s a reason that church attendance in my home has gone down from nearly 48% to 16% in a generation. It has nothing to do with not being able to answer ‘the big questions.’ It’s that too many of us have been on the wrong side of the walls of Jericho.

    As a youth minister, I’m surprised you haven’t noticed that yourself.

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    • I appreciate your response, but in this post I simply wanted to take the time to reflect on man’s vain attempt to confine and explain God as they try to endoctinate others. It is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reason’s why people leave the church. You are correct, and I’ve written about it previously (here’s one link http://wp.me/p21Eej-6C), that people don’t leave the church because of God. They leave because of the poor reflection of God and the hypocisy of Christians who acknolwedge Christ with their lips yet deny him with their lifestyles. Few churches are a place of refuge and community anymore. I don’t believe that Christianity is the scourge that many non-believers make it out to be, but I do believe that it is increasingly failing to live up to the life-changing promise Jesus envisioned.

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      • I can understand you wouldn’t believe that Christianity is the scourge many non-believers make it out to be, but then again, why would you. By your own definition of yourself, you’re a middle class successful white youth pastor with a family in America. The Christian church envelops and blesses people like. Why would you turn on the hand that feeds you?

        Then you have people like me, who grew up in a nation overrun with Christian terrorists and witnessed the slaughter of my people at their hands. You have people like the LGBT community in America who have suffered horrendous things at the hands of your church. You have hundreds of children raped at the hands of your clergy and the families who were denied justice for it. And you have a holy book that condones most, if not all of these things.

        I’m just suggesting that your eyes may be in the wrong place.

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  3. I like this part : “I’ve come to the conclusion that I will never win an argument with an Atheist regarding faith and religion, because at it’s core I believe in the existence of a God whom words cannot contain.”. That’s why Jesus said they will know you are mine by how much you love each other(John 13:35). And the best Hebrews in the OT could do to explain him was to share characteristics of him after they experienced it: “The Lord who provides(Gen 22:24)”, “The Lord who heals(Exodus 15:26)”. I think you understand God.

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