This past Sunday at church I borrowed an idea from another clergy friend of mine, and instead of having a typical sermon I asked people to write down questions they had on index cards and hand them in for me to answer.
We do this at camp in the summer on occasion too. We call it “ask a priest” and we give the teenagers a chance to ask any question they want to. The same was true for the congregation on Sunday – they could ask about God, scripture, the church – anything. I always love the questions that are asked, and the conversation that results.
I enjoyed answering the questions on Sunday, and thought they were wonderful. But there were a couple that I didn’t have time to get to – in fact, I didn’t even see the questions until after the service was over. And they are really important questions. So I wanted to take a few minutes to address those questions in this blog, in hopes that whoever asked them will see this!
Here are the two questions I missed, and my attempt at answers:
I’m not even sure if I believe in God, and I’m embarrassed to admit that…what do you have to say about that?
Well first, I am SO impressed that you asked this question because I think it takes a lot of courage. Especially when you are sitting in a church surrounded by (potentially) a whole bunch of people who believe in God. So I’m really impressed with your bravery, because even though this was an anonymous question, it’s still a really hard one to ask.
Second, I have had experience after experience in my life where I have felt God’s presence or action SO CLEARLY that I can be nothing but absolutely sure that God exists. I mean – I’m a priest – so obviously I’m on board with the whole God thing.
But even despite all of that – despite that I believe that I am where I am because of God, despite that I work for God, and despite that pretty much my whole life is based on God… I’m also still a human. With a brain that loves things that are logical. So I still find myself in certain moments (usually when I’m alone in my car) wondering:
“What if this is all a sham?? What if we made up the idea of a God so we would feel better/have a scapegoat/convince people to be good/convince people to give away their money/etc, etc, etc… WHAT IF MY WHOLE LIFE IS BASED ON SOMETHING THAT’S COMPLETELY FAKE??”
Then I just turn on the radio really loud and start singing really loud.
All of this is a long way of saying: I think it’s completely normal and perfectly ok to not be sure if you believe in God. It just means that you have a brain that you are good at using. And for what it’s worth, I think it’s a lot better to question and wonder and be skeptical about God than to jump on the bandwagon and believe in God just because that’s what everyone is telling you to do. What good is a belief in God if it doesn’t come from your own experience and from your heart being touched or changed?
That said, just because you don’t necessarily believe in God doesn’t mean you can’t pray, or be open to the ways that God (if God exists) might work in your life. In fact, that might be a way for you to clarify what you believe – by inviting God into your life and seeing what happens. I’d also encourage you to talk to different people and ask them about their experiences with God – I think having a broad understanding of the way God works in people’s lives will help too.
That said – if after all that you just firmly decide that you can’t jump on board with the God thing, I totally get it. And you are still more than welcome to come to this church.
How does God know when I need help?
When I was in college I shared an apartment with my friend Rachel (you might know Rachel, she comes to our church.) Rachel had a cat that became a regular part of our lives in our apartment. I’d never been much of a cat person but I remember getting used to having her cat around. It was a pretty great cat.
One day the cat was walking along the coffee table and he slipped and fell off the table. It took us both by surprise – he didn’t ever do anything like that. We kept paying attention to his behavior and we realized that he was just acting off. Something wasn’t quite right. Rachel took him to the vet and sure enough he had an ear infection that was causing him to lose his balance. A little medication and he was back to normal.
It’s hard to know when something is wrong with our animals – especially cats (who can be kind of stand-off-ish) because they can’t exactly tell us what’s wrong. But if we spend enough time with them, and we know them well enough, we can tell when something is wrong. Even if it’s just a subtle change in their behavior.
I like to think that’s how it works with God and us. I think that God spends so much time with us, and knows us so well, that God knows when something is wrong with us and we’re a little bit off.
Sure, it’s great if we are aware that we need help and can ask God and the other people in our life to give us a hand. But sometimes we don’t even know that we need help ourselves – we’re so lost or stuck or upset that we can’t even see clearly. But I think that God knows us completely, and sees when we stumble – even when it’s so subtle that maybe we don’t even notice ourselves.
I think that God is helping us all the time, and sometimes we just don’t even see it. I hope you can trust that God knows when you are hurting, or in trouble, or just a little bit off. If you realize that you need help, there’s no harm in asking for help as well. Being able to verbalize our prayers helps us sometimes to figure out what we need. But I don’t think God needs words. I think God knows us, and notices us, and sends along help before we even know we need it.
Thanks for asking your questions, friends. It’s an honor to hear your thoughts!