I brought several books to read while I was in Sanibel. I cracked the first on the plane headed there. It’s the latest by Wm. Paul Young, the author of “The Shack,” which has become one of my favorite books. This one is entitled “Lies We Believe About God.”
The Amazon reviews were all over the place: “HERESY!!” “TRUTH!” “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” “Right, right, right!” I hesitated before buying it. But I have consistently found my deepest self, my soul responding to the ways he portrays God in his books. And I trust myself more now, to winnow out what isn’t helpful.
I know I’ve said this before, in this space: somehow, I don’t know quite why (although I suspect this is generational to a large extent), I grew up feeling God could not/would not love me until and unless I did everything exactly right. This expectation, this falsehood, has flavored my life, at times of difficulty, with a certain underlying despair; because, in spite of trying really hard/being a perfectionist, I just…fail. I fail a lot. As a wife, as a sister, as a daughter, as a friend, as a mom (oh, parenthood: was there ever a more profound crucible?). And I would cry out to God, “please, help me! Help me do this better!” and then I would interpret my continued failures as the obvious answer: He’d left me on my own. Until I pulled up my big girl panties and got it RIGHT, I was alone.
God as the impatient Headmaster, tapping His foot while holding a switch in one hand: “I’m waiting!” I even had a dream one time, about drowning. Jesus was on a passing sailing ship. He reached down and grabbed my hand, pulling me on to the deck. And walked away.
I am moving away from this grace-less mindset (I wrote about grace a few blog posts back), but the journey can be arduous and like a Texas Two-Step. Thank God for good writers (I think, at times, I am simply an Eloquent Whiner) who help light up the runway to freedom.
Here’s what Paul Young has to say to me, and perhaps to you (some of the emphases are mine, others are his):
- (pg 48) [with regard to the decisions we make] [God] “climbs into them, and begins to craft something living and useful and good, even from the worst of my ignorant blunders – even from my overt choices to hurt and harm. Love doesn’t protect me from the consequences of my choices, but it also does not abandon me to them.”
- On page 80, Paul points me to a different way to think about relating to God – away from guilt that accompanies a performance-based mindset – to where “God is not firstbut This is not a flowchart, but rather a mobile where everything is moving and changing as our choices [exercise of free will]…are woven inside the activity of the Holy Spirit.” “This is about living in a relationship [with God, in our human reality] where plans might go completely awry…The interplay of work, family, recreation, personal health, friendship…constantly shifts and changes…[and] God is central to all of it…”
- On terrible, awful things that happen – like Mark’s death: “Yes, God has the creative audacity to build purposeout of [evil, death], but that will never justify what is wrong…” (pg 38)
- Relationship with God is not about “magic” (if I say and do the right things, my life will go well), but about trust in His character, in Who God Is, no matter what we are experiencing.
- (pg 117) “The Gospel [the “Good News”] is that Jesus has already included you into His life.” (Universal salvation, baby: hence, the claims of ‘heresy.’ Everyone is saved. Jesus said it on the cross: “It is finished.” It’s just not everyone knows it or can/will accept it. I’ve struggled with this concept, but I love how embracing it eliminates our “need” to judge or condemn others.)
And now I cannot find the page where he says something like this: perhaps God did not “show up” for you (when you were praying/asking but feeling abandoned) because you were focusing on a god that doesn’t actually exist; I was trying to find a god who would never love me.
Here’s the bottom line: I am left, after reading this book, with more Hope. In spite of everything we’ve been through, are going through, and know is ahead; in spite of all my failings: I am loved, and always have been, because that is Who God Is. This is not about my worth or what I do, it’s about God, who promises to never leave us or forsake us. I am not abandoned. Not alone. And neither are you.
Paul Young’s paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:16 tells me all I need to do with this knowledge (Beth P puts it in even simpler terms: “All I have to do is love people! God does the rest.”):
We don’t judge anyone by how he or she is stuck or broken or lost,
but see each person for who he or she is
the one the Holy Spirit finds and celebrates,
the one Jesus leaves the ninety-nine to go find,
the one the Father waits to welcome home…
we simply celebrate the Good News with each one:
we have all been included.