These 5 Lies About God Are Killing Your Faith

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

My earliest memories of God and my faith come from Sunday School, and from listening to my grandfather preach every Sunday as a kid.

I became a Christ follower at the age of nine. Growing up, I gained what most would consider a fairly traditional belief in God, the Bible, and my faith. Those experiences gave me a filter–a lens, if you will–through which to view the world.

We all view life and God through the filter of our experiences and what we’ve been taught, it’s impossible not to. I wouldn’t even say that it’s a bad thing.

My childhood experiences built a foundation, and gave me a filter through which to see my relationship with God. But no relationship is very alive if it doesn’t grow, expand, and change.

Let’s be honest. Life happens. We go through things that reshape who we are. Through all of my experiences — the good, but especially the bad— the way I understand, relate to, and communicate with God has grown and changed over the years.

But examination and even testing of our faith is what makes it stronger. As James says in his New Testament letter:

Dear brothers and sisters when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2–4 NLT)

Since I’m not the same person I was a few years ago, my understanding of God isn’t the same as it was.

As I’ve grown, my filters have changed. I had to let go of some of the ways I understood and related to God–even just a few years ago–because they were killing my faith.

I may not be right about all of the changes, but God’s grace is enough to cover me where I’m wrong. The beauty of faith is that it should always be growing and expanding. Sometimes, the most growth happens when we don’t feel like we’re growing at all.

I am offering these as observations, not full fledged theological arguments. After all, this is an article and not a textbook.

Here are five lies that are killing your faith. When I stopped believing them my faith grew exponentially, and so will yours.

1. God is Out to Get Me

Throughout its history, the Church has often used fear as a means to bring people to faith.

It works because if you play on people’s fear, then offer a solution to help them avoid that fear, people will naturally accept that solution.

But even a bad politician can play at that level. Still, the Church has played to fears such as death, shame, guilt, and uncertainty about life, and offered Jesus as a type of magic pill to all of that.

We’ve justified it by saying things like, “Win the lost at any cost!” After all, the Apostle Paul said:

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22b NLT)

But there’s another common saying among pastors: what you win people with is what you win people to. Bad grammar aside, if we win people to faith in Jesus with fear, we win them to a faith of fear.

If people come to faith out of fear, they are more likely to view God as harsh, demanding, and angry. When we relate to God primarily out of fear, as if he’s always watching, waiting for us to slip up so he can say “Gotcha!” we become fearful and superstitious Christians. God may love us, we reason, but he’s really out to get us.

Jesus teaches us to relate to God as a parent. As a parent of two small children myself, I find the image of God as a parent more and more accessible as my kids grow older.

I don’t set out to find my kids doing something wrong. To the contrary, I look for the things they do right. Sometimes they make the wrong choices, and those choices have consequences.

Sometimes I allow my kids to experience the consequences of their choices because it’s the only way they will learn, but I don’t ever enjoy watching them endure the consequences of their actions. No good parent gets joy out of seeing their child suffering.

I’m an imperfect human and a fallible parent. If I’m only seeking the good of my children, how much more is God seeking my good?

Sure, I do dumb things, I sin, and I’m sure I do things that disappoint God. But I am not a disappointment to God. God doesn’t punish me for messing up. Still, He often allows me to deal with the consequences of my choices. I’m also aware that, by his grace, there are many consequences I deserve that I haven’t had to suffer.

2. God is an Old Man in the Sky

Most Christians have a pagan view of God.

These days, the word “God” can conjure up all kinds of images depending on who is using it. A fairly common image of God is an old man in the sky with a flowing white beard sitting on a throne surrounded by angels and rainbows.

That puts him somewhere between Gandalf, and Santa Claus–and maybe a unicorn.

I call this a pagan view of God not because I don’t like Gandalf or Santa Claus, but because it comes from ancient Greek images of Zeus, which were adopted by Renaissance artists like Leonardo DaVinci. His portrayal of God as an old man, so famously painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, has become part of our collective consciousness.

But the Bible doesn’t paint this kind of picture of God.

In the Old Testament book of Exodus, God told Moses that his people were not to make any physical image of him (Exodus 20:4). No statues, engravings, or figurines. This was radically different from the way the Egyptians had worshipped manmade idols.

God can’t be confined to a statue or image, and that includes any image of him we create in our own minds.

Reading the New Testament, I see Jesus call God “Father,” which might add to our Western image of God as an old man. But if we read carefully, Jesus also says “God is spirit,” (John 4:24) and in 1 John 4:8 the author says simply that “God is Love.”

Both of these describe God’s nature, and in my opinion indicate that his nature is more important than his image.

“But wait,” you say, “Jesus was God in the flesh. God in physical form.”

Yep, you’re right about that. So, why do we still hold on to this image of God as an old man in the sky?

3. God Has a Plan for my Life

The first funeral I ever officiated was for a 17 year old.

No, I didn’t mean to write 71, that’s 17.

I don’t think there’s anything that cuts as deep as a life ended before it can begin. In the face of that overwhelming tragedy, I didn’t feel like I had adequate words to say to the family. My seminary professors always warned me that people say the dumbest things to grieving families because they don’t know what to say.

I didn’t have the perfect one-liner or Bible verse to magically make everything ok, but I can’t imagine telling that grieving family, “I’m so sorry you lost your child, and I know this is hard, but God has a plan.”

A plan? My child just died and you want me to believe this is part of God’s plan?

God has a plan for your life.

It’s a popular saying among Christians. It comes from Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”(Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

God, who is all seeing and all knowing, sees and knows exactly what I’m going through. If God is all powerful, that must mean that this (insert your problem here) is part of his divine plan for my life. And he must have a plan because he’s in control of everything. It works because it sounds right.

I know this might mess with your beliefs, but over the years I’ve learned that God’s plan for my life can be more accurately described as God’s purpose.

If I subscribe to the idea that God has a blueprint plan for my life, and something devastating or evil happens, where does that event fit into God’s plan? Did God plan for this to happen?

I’ve come to believe that God’s purpose for my life is more important than a plan that I’m supposed to uncover as I go along.

I believe that God has a purpose for every life, and that purpose is to honor him in the way we use our gifts and talents and in the life we build. That’s why it’s more compelling to me to discover and build on my purpose rather than search for plan.

A plan creates anxiety: what if I miss God’s plan for me? Purpose creates meaning. What if we worked to develop our gifts and use them to for God’s purposes instead of stressing about finding a plan we’re supposed to follow?

Bad, unfortunate, and possibly even evil events — while never caused by God — happen. For reasons beyond our understanding, at times God allows them.

A plan goes off the rails when its thwarted by obstacles. Plans aren’t very flexible and quickly run out of contingencies.

But purpose is power. Purpose finds a way in spite of whatever obstacles it faces. Even the bad things can be turned to serve God’s purpose if we allow him to work on us and transform us through Jesus.

If I’m hung up on trying to figure out a plan that God has mysteriously kept from me, I might just end up fighting against the purpose God is trying to bring out of me.

4. God Wants to Restrict Me

I remember my grandfather–who was a pastor for over 50 years–telling a story about how as a teenager he didn’t want to become a Christian because he thought he wouldn’t be able to have fun any more.

I don’t remember the exact details, but apparently in the 1950s dance halls were all the rage and where all the young people hung out. In his late teens my grandfather didn’t want to become Christian because he didn’t want to give up dancing.

He feared that becoming a Christian would restrict his fun. It’s funny to think about, but I think a lot of us can identify with that fear. When a relationship with Jesus is reduced to rules or a list of dos and don’ts, faith becomes stale and suffocating.

I used to feel this way to a degree. But in truth I’ve learned that my faith doesn’t take away fun, it creates focus.

Faith gives me a framework to live my life by — a North Star of sorts. It becomes a filter through which to view my life, and creates structure. With so many people struggling to find their identity today, it’s a shame that we haven’t done a better job presenting our faith to the world.

Following Jesus is about transformation. It’s about dying to our old selves and seeing a new self resurrected just as Christ was resurrected.

That’s hard to do, because change and growth can cause a lot of pain if we don’t approach it with the correct mindset. But as we grow and are transformed by the power of Christ in us, our desires and habits change as well.

A faith based on rules is about restriction. But a faith based on relationship is about resurrecting new life inside of us.

5. I Shouldn’t Question God

When things go wrong, I think it’s human nature to ask “why?”

God why did this happen to me?

We may have questions about our faith that we’re afraid to ask. Maybe when we were young we were told not to ask certain questions, or make certain observations about the Bible or our faith.

There are some faith communities in which questions aren’t permitted because they’re seen as a threat to God. Usually that means they’re a threat to whoever is in charge — but that’s a different issue.

Questions are a natural part of life, and the Bible is filled with people asking and even demanding answers from God. And God doesn’t seem to mind.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Habakkuk demanded that God answer his questions about the oncoming destruction of Israel (see Habakkuk 2). There’s no shortage of questions in the Book of Psalms, and no shortage of anger at God either.

Jesus’ early followers, his Disciples, didn’t mind asking questions. In fact, they asked so many questions that on occasion Jesus replied: “Are you being willfully stupid?” He was probably being sarcastic, but his Disciples still asked for clarity about his teaching when they needed it.

Asking questions is how we grow. When we think we have all the answers is when we’re in trouble. I don’t think God gets angry when we ask the hard questions, because it gives him an opportunity to show us more of who he is.

If you ask the question, just be ready for the answer.

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