When I was younger, I had a lot of answers. Now I’m older, and I have a lot of questions. The few things I feel like I know, I know with more confidence than before. Here are things I know from experiences I have had that have radically changed my view of God over the years — my real game-changers.
Most people who get diagnosed with terminal cancer are almost certainly going to die.
No matter how much you pray.
If you’re not aware of this on some level, I’m so, so sorry to bear the bad news. But it’s critical that you know this.
There will be exceptions, of course, and I’ll pray as hard as anyone, but if your theology depends on God healing some particular person, this is probably going to get harder.
Most people who are diagnosed with other terrible chronic diseases are not going to get better either.
Prayer is valuable and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s even fine to pray for healing. But it’s usually not going to happen.
It can be extremely difficult to know if we have a relationship with God or if we are deluding ourselves.
However bad we may be at this, we are probably still far worse commenting accurately on the actual spiritual condition of another person than that person him or herself. This is true no matter what religion you follow or what it says.
Nearly everything religion tells you about other people is none of your business.
It makes absolutely no difference to your own life, spiritual pursuits, or the kind of person you are becoming.
You cannot serve God if you do not love God, and you cannot love a God you fear and think intends bad things for you, for those you love, for humanity.
I understand the scriptural/theological questions this may raise, I really do. But you must make peace with the idea that God loves you and you have nothing to fear from the person who loves you most. Do whatever is required with your theology to come to this place.
I have no control over the things I care most about.
I cannot keep my friends healthy or alive. I cannot keep from being diagnosed with (another) disease. I cannot keep my children from being sad or discouraged or unhappy. I cannot keep the economy moving. I cannot make my clients better or my students do well in class. I cannot make my parishioners grow. I cannot even expect that, in writing these posts, I can make much of a difference in the world.
The more my happiness, peace, and stability in this world depend on my need to control things I cannot control, the more unhappy I will be.
The less space there usually is your heart between something happening to you and you feeling a strong negative emotion, the more you are a slave to your circumstances.
Mindfulness and meditation are the only way out of this. Sometimes medication can help a little. Other things can help slightly, but only meditation gets at the root of the issue and helps us learn to stop being so reactive.
You will never, ever have a consistent theology.
If you think your current theology (way of understanding God) is consistent, you are deluded. The harder you feel you must work to convince yourself or anyone else that your theology is consistent, the less your religion is ultimately about God.
By the way, the only reason it’s not completely wrong and judgmental for me to write this right now is because I’m using a plural, non-specific “you.” I have no business (nor do you) telling any particular individual any of this. The beauty of writing is you can address things that way that you could and should never tell an individual, and each reader gets to decide for him/herself whether it applies.
If you believe in an afterlife, the person you will be in that life is almost nothing at all like the person you are now.
Most of what you currently understand to be you is connected to your body and/or brain, and neither your body or your brain are going to survive death, we know this for sure. Your sense of yourself as a professional, as someone educated to a certain level, someone who feels and thinks strongly about certain things, even someone who takes pride in believing good and moral and right things — all of that will be gone.
The funny thing is, this may sound like heresy, but it may be the most orthodox point I’ve made in this post.
Colossians 3:3-4 (MSG)
3 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life.
4 When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
The real you? That is, you, but REAL.
All of these have been game-changers for me. They are discoveries that, as I came to them, I realized I could not continue believing what I believed about God up to that point. They each forced me to completely reevaluate my faith.
Because these things have happened so often, I know they will keep happening. This means I know that in a few years there will be things I no longer believe about God that I deeply believe now.
This is the root of humility — the realization that, as the Buddha said, life is impermanence. My whole life has been an unfolding journey and I have never remained in one place for long. In my humble moments I live from this core reality. In the others, I start thinking my beliefs, opinions, theology, ego needs, and accomplishments have substantive reality.