The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Interpreting God: Recognizing Errors in Your Method

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

Joe is a man who carries around a bag that is well-stocked with medical supplies.  Inside of his bag are all sorts of surgical tools, syringes, and drugs.  With the components in his bag, Joe could really help a lot of people.  But he could also use the same components to do horrible things to people.  Joe is well equipped to do great good, or great harm.  If Joe should set his bag down in your presence, open it up, and start selecting certain components, what would his intentions be?  Would he be planning to help you or hurt you?  Just looking at the specific items Joe pulls out of his bag won’t give you the answer to that question, because the same items can be used to accomplish drastically different goals. 

So what factors affect what Joe’s motivations towards you will be?  Well, Joe’s basic character is one important factor—is he the sort of man who gets more joy out of helping people or hurting them?  How Joe perceives you is another important factor: does he like you or dislike you?  What is your value to Joe?  How much does he care about your well-being?  What kind of relationship is he interested in having with you?  How Joe answers these questions will reveal whether he is getting ready to help or harm you as he pulls certain components out of his bag.

Now if we think of Joe as a metaphor for God, and if we think of Joe’s medical bag as a metaphor for God’s complex Personality, then we can start to understand an important aspect of spiritual development.  You see, God has many components to His Personality, and many of those components are not good or bad by themselves.  For example, God is all-powerful—what does this tell us about God’s intentions?  It doesn’t tell us anything.  God can use His great power to do wonderful things, or He can use it to do terrible things.  He can use it to help or harm, to bless or torment.  If you know that God’s intentions towards you are very positive, then the fact that He is so powerful becomes a source of great comfort and relief.  But if you suspect that God’s intentions towards you are very negative, then the fact that He is so powerful causes you great angst and terror.

God does not need you in any way.  If you know that God deeply loves you, then His needlessness can make you feel quite safe and secure because you will be freed up from the overwhelming task of trying to take care of your own Creator.  But if God hates you, then His needlessness becomes quite distressing, because if He doesn’t need anything from you, what can you try to withhold in order to get Him to treat you better?

God is all-knowing.  If it turns out that He loves you in spite of knowing everything about you, then His love for you would far surpass any love you could hope to find in this world.  But if God hates you, then His complete understanding of you only equips Him to hurt you in the worst possible ways.

God is the One sustaining your existence.  If He loves you and wants a positive relationship with you, then the fact that He chooses to keep sustaining your existence becomes an exciting invitation for you to continue interacting with Him.  But if He hates you and delights in seeing you miserable, then the fact that He sustains your existence becomes a terrifying thing because it means you have no way of escaping Him.

Like Joe and his well-stocked bag, God is well-equipped to cause you to thrive or languish.  The critical question now becomes: which is He interested in doing?  Forget about all of those general mantras like “God loves the world.”  You’re not the world, you’re one little creature.  How God feels about the general human race is beside the point.  How does God feel about you personally?  This is the question that matters most for you.  Is God interested in helping or harming you?  Did He create you for the purpose of developing a positive relationship with you, or did He create you out of some sadistic desire to have someone to torture?  Are you just a toy to God—some worthless, disposable object?  Or are you more than that?

God’s personal intentions towards you, His view of you, and His value of you are the issues which define the whole point of your existence. This is what’s strange about being Someone Else’s creation: you can’t define your own worth.  It’s your Creator who defines your worth.  Because His opinion trumps yours, whatever He says about you cancels out whatever you say about yourself.  If you say you’re worthless, but God says you’re worthy, then you’re worthy because God says so.  If you say you’re a success, but God says you’re a failure, then you’re a failure, because His judgment overrides your own.  So you see, for all the stressing we humans do about how other people view us, it’s really only God’s view of us that we should be concerned about, because His view trumps all others.  If God loves you and wants you—if He’s creating circumstances in your life to draw you closer to Him and to help you thrive as His creature, then you’re in a fabulous place no matter how crummy those circumstances might be.  But if God despises you or if He’s rejected you, and if He’s creating circumstances in your life just to lead you into harm, then you’re in a terrifying place no matter how wonderful those circumstances might be.  It all comes down to God’s personal intentions towards you.

So what does God really think about you, and what is His real agenda for doing what He’s doing with you?  How do you even begin to answer these questions?  When it comes to trying to understand how God views them, many humans decide that the questions what and why must always have the same kind of answer.  This means that if what God is doing to them feels negative, then the reasons why He’s doing it must be negative as well.  Here’s where people send messages to us through our website in which they tell us how convinced they are that God is impossible to please, monstrous, indifferent, or getting off on personally tormenting them. They’re quite convinced that they’ve got God all figured out because when they look back over their lives, they see years of misery and heartache.  And yet is circumstantial evidence really enough for us to draw accurate conclusions about what God’s intentions towards us are?  Do years of silence really mean that God has no interest in personally relating to us?  Should perpetual heartbreak really be interpreted as evidence that God hates us or that He cares nothing about our pain or that He enjoys watching us suffer?

If you were to walk in on a heart transplant surgery without understanding what was going on, you would feel like you were witnessing a horrifying scene of cruel experimentation.  The fellow on the table would have all sorts of tubes jammed into his body, his sternum would be cut in half lengthwise and pulled apart to expose his heart, which the surgeon would then proceed to cut out of the man’s body.  How can such brutality possibly have good motivations behind it?  And as you watch the surgeon pick up some other cast off organ from a corpse, cut it to shape, and then sew it into the patient’s body, only to then electrocute the whole organ, what kind of conclusions would you be drawing? If you knew nothing about surgery, there is no way that your mind would think, “All of these people must be trying to help the man whose body they have torn open, and surely they’re only cutting out one of his most vital organs with good intentions.”  The only way you can possibly hope to arrive at the correct interpretation of what you’re seeing is if you go into it already understanding certain things.  Without prior education, your logical mind will instantly rule out good intentions and decide that the people operating on the man must have very evil motivations.

As a human living in this world, you haven’t existed very long at all, nor do you begin to understand all of the things you need to understand in order to recognize the difference between God being cruel for cruelty’s sake, and God being cruel for the sake of helping people.  The surgeon who is ripping apart the skeleton of his patient is working not only to save the man’s life, but also to massively improve the quality of that life.  While the surgeon’s methods look truly heinous, his motivations are quite positive.  If you understood human anatomy the way that he does, you would appreciate the brilliance of the methods he is using.  But if you understand nothing, and if your head is full of wrong beliefs and superstitions, then you’re going to totally close your mind to the truth.  When people involved in the procedure try to tell you that they’re really helping the patient, you won’t believe them.  You’ll see them all as members of some evil conspiracy or some wicked organization.

When Christians and non-Christians write to us, laying out their grim assessments of God, we certainly understand why they are so upset, and we understand why the conclusions they are drawing about God seem like the only conclusions that are possible.  Surely if God makes your child die in some slow, torturous way, He must be sadistic in nature.  He must be a callous Monster who is getting some perverse pleasure out of seeing your heart shattered to bits.  If He rips the love of your life away from you, and silences the only voice who ever said you were worth something, then how can you not conclude that He hates you?  From where you’re sitting, there is no other conclusion possible.  You’re standing in that surgery bay, horrified by what’s going on in front of you, and you’re much too upset to listen to anyone trying to put a positive spin on the situation.  As far as you’re concerned, some things are simply too horrible to justify. This is how we all feel at first, and we’re not going to feel any differently until God starts to educate us.  As long as we think we know what is possible, we will not be open to learning anything new.  But once we start to see that what we know is just a drop in the ocean of all that there is to know, then we will finally stop screaming accusations long enough to actually listen to what God is whispering to us.

You cannot accurately interpret God’s intentions towards you just by studying His actions.  Certainly you will try to do this—we all do.  It’s instinctive for humans to make hasty judgments, and to try and assess God’s motivations by their experience of His methods.  But no matter how sure you are, the fact remains that your confidence is not what defines reality.  Feeling certain that God is evil in nature does not make Him so.  Desperately wanting God to be good doesn’t cause Him to become so.  God is who He is, and He is the only One who can accurately define Himself to you.  God is the only One who knows what His personal intentions are towards you.

In this world you can find scores of Christians who will insist that God loves you, and you can find scores of atheists insisting that God is a myth.  So where does the truth lie?  It doesn’t lie in any hearsay, theories, or human desires.  If you want to know who God is and how He feels about you, you need to ask God Himself to educate you, and then you need to be willing to hear something that you don’t like, don’t expect, or that you think is too good to be true.

You cannot know God until He wants to be known by you, but if you want to benefit from God talking to you, you need to be willing to listen to Him.  God is the only Authority on God. On a site like ours, we put out a lot of teaching about what God wants, how He perceives things, and why He does what He does.  But since we’re not God, how do you know if we’re representing Him correctly or not?  You don’t know until you ask Him.

Your relationship with God is a personal, private affair which no other human can manage for you.  We can’t force you to seek God, nor can we block you from finding Him.  How God relates to you is based on what His personal intentions towards you are—it’s not based on what other humans think about you, what they’re praying for, or what they wish God would do for you.  If you want to go far with God, you need to realize what a unique situation your relationship with Him is.  This isn’t just another human who you’re trying to commune with—this is a totally alien Being who perceives things very differently than you do.  God is so vastly different than we are, and yet those differences do not mean that He cannot be known by us, nor do they mean that we can’t experience rich communion with Him.  There is no limit to how far God can take you, but you need to get out of your own way and stop pretending that you know more than you do.  You need to be willing to wait for God to explain Himself to you in the order that He chooses.  Is He going to talk when you want Him to?  No, He’s not.  Is He going to address your concerns in the order you want?  No, He’s not.  In this relationship, you’re the follower, and God is the Leader.  You are the responder and He is the Initiator.

In our line of work, we see a lot of humans focusing on a just a few components of God’s vast Personality and then leaping to simplistic and erroneous conclusions about who He is.  Some people focus on God’s wrath, His sovereignty, and His power, and then they conclude that He is a terrible Monster.  Others focus only on His great love, His gentleness, and His vast patience and they conclude that He’s a gracious Pushover who they can easily manipulate.  And yet just as visiting a few websites doesn’t begin to expose you to all of the information available on the internet, being introduced to a handful of God’s Characteristics doesn’t begin to give you a complete understanding of who He is and how He thinks.  He is infinitely complex and full of mind-boggling contradictions, and yet He is quite knowable.  The key is to be content to let Him control the pace of your education, and to remember that what you know today is only a tiny fraction of what can be known.

While you’re waiting on God to teach you more, realize that many of the assumptions you’re currently clinging to about Him are nothing more than unconfirmed theories.  Sometimes it just takes one new insight to vastly change a perspective you’ve been carrying with you your whole life.  The firmest beliefs can crumble in an instant.  Unanswerable questions can be resolved in a moment.  So don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t know God or that you shouldn’t ask certain questions.  There’s no limit on what you can grow to understand, and asking questions is always the first step to gaining new insights.  The pursuit of God is the greatest pursuit that there is, and when it’s driven by a sincere desire to know and please the Being who made you, it is sure to end in a fabulous place.

FURTHER READING:
Relating to an Alien God
Getting to Know God: Understanding the Process
How do we know that God is good?
Sticking It To God: What Every Really Angry Soul Needs to Know
Returning to the God You Divorced: Guidance for Christians
Soul Before Earthsuit: Understanding God’s Priorities
Growing Close to God: The Critical Role of Choice (The Mountain Metaphor)
Identifying God’s Limitations: Why It Can’t Be Done
Practicing Dependency: Appreciating the Wisdom of God
God Told Me: The Only Valid Basis for Faith
It’s Biblical: God Talks to People Without Using the Bible

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