Something that’s always bothered me is why some humans believe in God and others don’t. Where did it go wrong? We are I believe mostly good people, trying to raise our families and live our lives well, so if God was so instrumental to this why aren’t the churches packed with worshippers?
Since diving full on into a life with Christ, my Bible reading has ramped up and I relish learning more about God and Jesus. It really is true that the more you read, the deeper your faith grows. But… if someone told me this a few years ago, I would have been more than a little sceptical.
Like many, I would have thought:”Yeah right, they only want to brainwash me with their religion. Who has time to read the Bible when there is so much else to do? Give me OK magazine any day! And why go to church? If God loves us all, He’ll know I’m fine as I am and will love me whether I bother or not. We’re not all meant to be pious martyrs!’
Yep, pretty cynical and, if I’m honest, I was brushing it off because I didn’t have time in my life for God, I didn’t find church very exciting, I didn’t understand much of it, I’d had some bad experiences and I simply wasn’t ‘holy’ enough… so I just didn’t go there.
I considered myself, for most of my life, to be a Christian (of sorts), someone who (mostly) believed in God and felt a sense of something special when I went into a church (which became more as a tourist or spectator). I’d look at Christians and feel a bit envious that they had something I didn’t, that depth of faith that I seemed to be lacking, yet also I’d be very wary of them….
But all that changed when my daughter died and I found God waiting patiently for me.
Just as an atheist struggles to understand why anyone would believe in God, once you have experienced God you look at people who haven’t and wonder why. Why don’t they feel this? Why don’t they see what you see? They are missing out on so much deep joy! It really does make you want to spread the Word!
But the thing is, people don’t want to be saved.
Right from the beginning, Genesis, since the Fall (yes, I totally believe all that about Adam and Eve) we have turned away from God. God gave us free will, which in the main we love and make use of, but it means He won’t interfere to turn our hearts towards Him. He’s no wish-granter, but it’s a bit like the idea of a genie where you can have whatever you wish for but he can’t make you love someone, including himself.
And early in Genesis, we start doing our own thing and losing touch with the creator. So much so that God sends the flood to wipe the earth clean! Then, in Exodus, God is obviously involved with his people and communicates to them through Moses and others and numerous signs. Time and again they go to him then it’s not long before they seem to forget. Forget how powerful and loving he is. Forget the creator! If he’s not there, right there, performing miracles or some other wondrous act, he’s forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind! And just like children, once we are left to our own devices we usually get up to no good!
I imagine it to feel, to Him, the same way we do when our children grow up, gain independence and not need us any more. Some children stick around and keep in contact with their parents, often or occasionally. Others don’t. In God’s case, many of his children have said, ‘See you later Dad, we can do it by ourselves, that is, until we need something so we’ll pop back just in case you can help, or we’ll blame you for everything and never speak to you again!’
Later in the Bible, in fact almost on every page, there are wars and struggles as the followers and chosen ones fight to defend God and bring peace and love back to the broken world. Even Jesus struggled to get anyone in his home town, Nazareth, to hear him!
And I thought why? Surely this was the time when God’s presence would have been more deeply felt than today? The people had not much else to do except get up and survive, unlike today when we have loads of stuff to occupy and entertain us, as well as endless knowledge (now, I realise that’s not entirely true, God is just as present presence today, it’s just we are more distracted).
I found it odd that the book of our faith, which is supposed to be ‘religious propaganda’ to sway us all to a Christian way of life, was so negative and frank about people’s lack of faith. It’s a very real struggle for God to get us to listen to him, it always has been. That’s why I find it so believable, it’s not had the bad bits edited out!
I know that if I write about my children on social media I tend to write about the good stuff. I don’t write about the time they shouted at me, the million times I get ignored when I ask them to do something or the tantrums… I write about the lovely stuff. The stuff, which sometimes is just 10 minutes of a frustrating, weary day, that takes all those bad times away and makes me feel it’s all worthwhile.
God is exactly the same in His love for us. He forgets the sins and bad stuff instantly as soon as we turn to and focus on Him. And while the Bible shares this message time and again I still wonder why He had such a struggle.
However, the answer was closer than I thought… in my own home!
As another Sunday comes around, I am keen that my husband and children go with me to church, but I simply know they will grumble. I know they’d rather use their free morning of the week to rest, and not have to get up and go out and sit in church. I know they’d rather be distracted by their stuff, and I agree that we all need time to zone out for a bit. I am tempted to go alone, as it saves the hassle of arguing, and I also don’t want to force them, as that’s not how it should be. What encourages me is that I know that ultimately this is one of the most important things they will do this week and that they enjoy and benefit from it while they are there.
Yet as I considered how to approach the invitation, and work out if I have strength to argue with my little people, I realized that this is exactly how we move away from God. One by one, we simply say we don’t have time, we have better things to do, we don’t want to, it’s boring… a little bit at a time we push Him out to make more time for us.
It made perfect sense. Free will. We have literally being exercising our free will since the beginning!
How I’ve been getting to know God better
Sundays are busy days now, especially for parents or those who work all hours and look forward to their precious day of family time or a peaceful walk. Many people have to work Sundays. Not everyone can get to church all the time. But going to church is obviously one way we can get to know God better, even if it’s occasionally.
Being with people who all have different experiences and different depths of knowledge is incredibly helpful. For example, at the Palm Sunday service today, I knew why we celebrate Palm Sunday and that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was welcomed like a king by the crowds, who by the end of the week would call for him to be put to death… It’s the start of Holy Week which will end with Easter Sunday where we celebrate Jesus’s resurrection.
However, the sermon at the service wasn’t about that. It was about the donkey. That’s right, the humble working animal that carried Jesus into Jerusalem. What I didn’t know was that Jesus specified he rode on a colt (a young, unbroken donkey) one that had not been trained in ‘human ways’, one that would not walk because it was told to or forced to, but one that was so untainted by human standards that it would allow itself to be led, without doubt or fear. This then led into a beautiful message of how we could consider being ‘colts’ for Jesus too, and not allow the distraction of human ways to take us off the path to Him, and to use ourselves to carry the message of Jesus. Deep stuff, all from the donkey!
I never would have even considered that had I not heard that perspective. So being in church today really helped to deepen my understanding of that one small but significant verse in the Bible. And that is just one example, there has rarely been a service that hasn’t revealed something to me.
Reading the Bible has been another way to deepen my faith. It really does sound much harder than it is. I read a lot of the Bible when I was about 12 or 13. I don’t know what edition it was. Some of it went in, a lot of it didn’t.
Later, I dipped into the Bible again but found it hard to follow and understand. Particularly when I went through a stage when I decided to become an atheist (ha!). I looked at what the Bible said and all I could see was fear, dread, blood and judgement. Fire and brimstone! I didn’t see anything of the love that God has for us. It was all so confusing that I simply switched off.
What I’ve learned is that, yes, the Bible is pretty ominous but it is also the book of life that demands respect. It is not a novel to be read carefree, but the living, active word of God where the beginning relates to the end and everything links up in between.
It’s something that needs slow, careful reading. A passage or two at a time. Even each word needs to be considered for its depth of meaning. It needs to be studied as well as read for pleasure.
We need to give to it, in terms of our focus and attention, just as much as it gives its wisdom and truth to us. A two-way relationship.
Having the Bible explained in detail has opened my mind up to the real truth not the half truth. The fear, blood, dread, judgement take on a whole new – and positive – meaning.
But I can’t keep knocking on the vicar’s door every time I want something explained so I turn to the internet to help when I need something explaining. There are so many resources out there.
I have been using the free You Version Bible app which has a ‘Read the Bible in a Year’ feature provided by the Alpha organisation. You read a little bit of the Old and New Testament and then a psalm or a proverb and the leader, Nicky Gumbel, provides a short but thought-provoking written commentary on the day’s verses. It takes around 20 minutes a day to read so isn’t hard or time-consuming, and as its mobile can be done anywhere.
I’ve also ordered a Study Bible, which has notes within it, as I ultimately prefer reading in hard copy to on-screen. I like to learn about the times the Bible was written and the people who wrote it. I like to put the text into context as well as see how I can apply it to my life.
I also keep a prayer journal whenever I feel compelled to write, when I feel God is speaking to me or if I am praying for something in particular. It’s a good way to reflect on how God is working in my life.
Last year I attended an Alpha course where some of my questions were answered and I learnt more about what Christianity is all about and what it means to others. It was a challenging and eye-opening experience. I even encountered the Holy Spirit (post to follow)!
There are so many ways to learn a bit more about God and I have so much to learn, but that suits me just perfectly. I never want to stop learning about God’s love for us and drawing nearer to Him.