I’ve been mentioning God from the pulpit every once in a while.
If you met me five years ago, you may be waiting for the punchline. In my hospital work, when another chaplain mentioned praying for healing, I played atheist’s advocate. God, I argued, was a crutch for weak-minded people. I refused to capitalize God in my writing, my way of sticking it to believers in the man upstairs.
After a few years, I figured out I wasn’t angry. I was grieving.
I left an evangelical Christian pulpit in 2007. After slowly losing my belief in God despite prayer, Bible-reading, therapy and regular church attendance, I was sad and ashamed. I was ashamed that I ever believed in a prayer-answering God. How could I have believed that God could heal people without evidence?
I was sad that the God I built and loved and talked to wasn’t real anymore. I was sure the bearded, robed, wish-granting God of Western Christianity, the God of my youth, wasn’t real, but his absence felt like I had lost a dear friend. I expressed my shame and sadness in anger and theological argument. It was easier than admitting I was sad that God was gone. And I figured it kept me from being fooled again.
You have to know a lot, or claim you do, to believe in the God I used to preach about. You have to know that there’s a God up there in the first place. You have to know that the God up there gives a flip about people. You have to know that this God cares so much about people that he sent his offspring to become a sacrifice for everyone who has ever lived.
And I claimed to know all that! One day when someone asked whether I believed Jesus died for my sins, I replied, ‘I don’t believe it. I know it.’ As a reporter, I kept a giant black Bible on top of my desk. To admit I now believed I was wrong about all that was just as difficult as no longer believing in God.
So, for a while, I was an angry ex-Christian atheist-leaning agnostic. I didn’t want anyone using the ‘G’ word around me. In planning worship I excluded hymns with any mention of God, which isn’t hard for a Unitarian Universalist. But over the past few years, as I’ve slowly started to acknowledge my grief, God has crept back into my ministry.
It’s a different God, to be sure. This God is beyond my ability to describe. She (because it’s really hard not to use pronouns, not because I think God is a human) is the God described by Rev. Forrest Church, who wrote, “The power which I cannot explain or know or name I call God. God is not God’s name. God is my name for the mystery that looms within and arches beyond the limits of my being.” God is love is another way of saying it.
The question ‘does God exist’ doesn’t much interest me anymore. It is probably impossible for me to even know exactly what you mean by that question, let alone to answer it. In other words, I don’t know enough to be sure.
Here’s what I do know. The world sings with beauty. From the hills of Southern Indiana, where I grew up, to the Sonoran desert landscape of my new home in Arizona, our Earth is stunning. Anyone who cannot understand why some people attribute all the Oaks and Maples and Saguaro, the chameleons and deer and rattlesnakes, to a creator God could do with a long hike and some quiet time.
And the love! It is sometimes overwhelming. People caring for each other, bringing meals to sick loved ones and family and strangers, helping with shelter in the wake of a hurricane. Such beauty.
But then again, there’s suffering. God, it is everywhere. I have spent nights crying with the parents of toddlers who died of cancer. I hugged a weeping groom who lost his bride when she fell and hit her head on their wedding day. And that’s nothing in the grand scheme. Millions of people are being displaced, hundreds of thousands murdered in Congo and the world hardly notices. A child starved to death today while you ate your lunch. Anyone who cannot understand why some people say there can be no God should spend some time reading the news.
Most answers to the God question ignore either the beauty of the world or the suffering. That’s why I don’t trust answers about God. God is an open question, and I’m ready to engage it again.