Yesterday I had lunch with a new friend and the conversation came around to faith, to how my beliefs have changed since I wrote the book Blue Like Jazz. I thought perhaps I’d blog about it and turn it into a recurring series. My faith has indeed changed. In ways, it’s become more clear, and in other ways, much more indefinable.
I believe healthy relationships change over time, and I think relationships with God change, also. This isn’t to say God changes or is in any way socially unstable, but living things change (as is God’s design) and as living people interact with a living God, the nature of the relationship changes. In an epic sense, we see this with God and the Children of Israel. As you follow the evolution of God’s people, they are born and grow into maturity and ultimately have the law fulfilled by Christ. These are massive changes in relationship. The relationship resembles, at least metaphorically, a father/child relationship. And those relationships change.
This is all dangerous talk because it can easily be misunderstood. God is not like your father in the sense that He makes mistakes and is getting older. But I trust you understand what I mean. As you change, your relationship with God will change.
A faith that does not evolve in time may be something more like a “belief” than a faith, that is an agreeing with a list of truths rather than a dynamic relationship between two living beings.
I do believe in absolute truths that do not change. Even as I believe marriage is between two committed people. That said, I think within marriage, relationships change and evolve and hopefully just keep getting better.
Anyway, here are a few simple ways my faith and relationship with God has changed in the last ten years. I’ll start slow and small and keep the series going with occasional posts this year:
I cling to Jesus more.
I cling to Jesus more now than ever. I don’t know of any hope for my life or for the world apart from Him. Life has been both joyful and painful for centuries, and Christ is my hope there’s something more going on here than what’s obvious. I used to cling to Jesus as an idea or as a good-luck charm. I clung to “right theology about Jesus” more than Jesus, in some ways. I wouldn’t have known it then, but looking back, that’s what I was doing.
I think truth is much harder to define now than I did in my twenties.
That said, I believe I know less now about what is theologically true than I ever have. When I was in my twenties, I arrogantly thought I knew everything. What I realized over time is I was accumulating knowledge with a motivation to gain a sense of control or power. I’d belittle people who didn’t agree with my theology. My knowledge, as the Bible warns, made me arrogant.
I also believe that the Bible nails the essence of truth, in that there is such a thing and it’s difficult for humans to understand. Scientists readily admit there is much about the cosmos they do not understand. I do wish more theologians were comfortable admitting there’s much about God they don’t understand. As I’ve gotten older, I have let go of the illusion that I do, or we can, know everything about God. Interestingly, this is one of the reasons I cling to him more now than ever, because I used to have a false sense of control and understanding but now it has been replaced by trust. I don’t fully understand him, but I trust him. What else can any of us do?
My understanding of the church has radically changed.
Since Blue Like Jazz came out, I’ve sat in many a green room and talked with many Christian leaders and I’ve discovered there’s a lot of competition and power struggle taking place in the church and it reminds me of the world. I’ve taken part in those struggles. I’ve contributed to them and I’ve made some of them happen.
But seeing that, feeling it, and wrongly participating in it has caused me to wonder if God’s view of “the church” is very different than ours. I now believe the church from man’s perspective is an earthly organization, and the church from God’s perspective extends into man’s organization of the church but is not defined by it.
When God looks down at the church, I don’t believe He sees windows and walls and steeples, I think He sees an ethnically diverse, global community made up of children He loves. And I believe they are theologically all over the map, each of them sharing one common characteristic, they mysteriously know Him.
I no longer take the culture of the church as seriously as I did. I don’t fear their judgment. I don’t take their praise seriously. The church is a very, very good earthly organization that almost exists as a “para church” organization alongside Jesus’ bride (even I would have to read that last sentence twice.)
I want to become more and more a part of the church as God sees it, no longer focussing on what divides Catholic from Protestant or Lutheran from Baptist but on what we have in common, and that being Christ.
This thought will likely get a lot of pushback. But let me ask you to think about this: What if God’s view of the church is the same as yours? Who is in and who is out?
I find that question humbling. I think He sees it as much bigger than we do.
What’s interesting about this change in my understanding of the church is I’m no longer interested in helping to build the earthly church, while I’m very interested in helping build the church God sees. And it’s hard to know the difference. But I want to move where God is moving, not where people are “moving for God” if that makes sense.
I believe Jesus likes me.
I’ve written about it before, and even wrote about it in Blue Like Jazz, but the older I get, the more I believe Jesus likes me. I read it in scripture and feel it to be true in how He communicates through His word, the sky, rivers and friends.
I can’t tell you what a freeing belief this is. I grew up in a church with a couple pastors who preached a lot of guilt and shame. Both of them had controlling personalities and wanted to make it clear we were to obey or face both God and their consequences.
It was a long time learning to believe Jesus could like me. Subconsciously, Jesus was a slave driver building a worldly empire. I no longer believe that and I’m grateful. Some of this came from my studies in psychology and what makes up a controlling personality. I realized over time that while God can be a very strict and demanding father, He doesn’t have an unhealthy and controlling personality.
I now know what it means to truly find freedom in Christ, even freedom to sin. I can say that without fear, now, because if God disciplines me for my sin, which I hope He does, even that is done in love and I’ll receive it in love. He is good and kind to forgive.
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I’ve learned lots of other things, of course. It’s been a long and wonderful ten years. I may blog on the topic again as I think about life and where my faith has come.
How has your faith changed in the last ten years?