Gods I Do Not Believe In
Fools think their own way is right… Proverbs 12:15a
When joining the First United Methodist Church in Lawrence, Kansas, shortly after getting married, my wife and I attended an orientation class with the Senior Pastor, Virgil Brady. He explained that United Methodists believe and worship in many different ways. He had a pad of newsprint on an easel and wrote, “God…” He said, “Methodists believe in God, but they believe in God in many different ways.” Then he wrote, “Jesus…” He said, “Methodists believe in Jesus, but they also believe in different ways about Jesus.” In other words, the United Methodist church is united in its belief in God and Jesus, but allows a lot of leeway in what that means to its individual members.
I have thought about those words many times in the decades since that orientation. For me, it is sometimes easier to articulate what I do not believe about God than it is to articulate what I do believe. While I believe God loves us in spite of our beliefs, here are a few descriptors of gods I do not believe in:
- A God who punishes. I do not believe in a God who punishes us for our wrongdoing. Rather, our wrongdoing creates its own punishment. Some may appear to get away with bad behavior because the law of cause and effect does not always bring the effect immediately after the cause. It is the brilliant way God created the world that makes our actions automatically hurt when they are inconsistent with the common good. We learn best by being broken, but God does not do the breaking. Rather, God stands beside us in our suffering, lifting us out of our despair. God does not, however, intervene between us and the consequences of our own choices.
- A God who discriminates. I do not believe in a God who excludes certain groups of people because of their ethnicity, their religious practices, their sexual orientation, their gender, their race, or their choices of profession. We see this very clearly in Jesus, who excluded no one. In fact, Jesus specifically reached out to the outcasts, downtrodden, and forgotten souls of society – the prostitutes, the lepers, the tax collectors, the disabled, and the foreigners. He treated women and children as equals in a deeply patriarchal society. Given the life that Jesus lived, I cannot believe a God who accepted all in Jesus would exclude anyone because they did not say the right words, practice the right religion, or behave according to certain humanly determined norms.
- A God who prospers believers with prestige, power, and possessions. Some Christians believe God rewards good behavior with prestigious positions, lavishing the chosen with luxurious possessions. It is so contrary to the life of Jesus that it hardly warrants mention here. If anything, it is our obsession with power, prestige, and possessions that creates the spiritual obstacles that trip up many of us, particularly in the West. We seek security and riches in all the wrong places because the wealth and blessing of God is not found in earthly materiality. Humility and brokenness are what make God apparent in our lives (see Matthew 5:3-12).
- An old, white, bearded man. This image of God comes more from artists’ depictions of God than from anything written in scripture. It is no surprise that in the patriarchal times of the authors of the Bible God would be portrayed as male, but a God of all must be beyond gender, race, and physical appearance. God loves God’s creation in its entirety (including, but not exclusive to old, white men).
These are a few of the gods I no longer believe in and do not find helpful in seeking the God of the Universe. I respect those who may treasure these and other similar images of God, however. God comes to all of us in ways unique and specific to our nature. The important point is not how we picture God but that we are open to the connection from our end. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts. Email me, or add your comments on the blog.
Note: Life Notes will be off next week, returning on August 17 with the 21st in the series on the Faces of God.
2 thoughts on “Gods I Do Not Believe In”
I joined the Methodist Church in 1954, I was nearly 20 years of age. To me the Methodist Church was progressive prior to the EUB merger, when I saw the beginning of a progression toward becoming more conservative. In the 1960s I remember a church active in trying to halt the Vietnam War, and fight for Civil Rights. Doesn’t Civil Rights mean rights for All of God’s Children? No matter their ethnicity, color, or nation of origin, sexual orientation or gender orientation?
I had hoped that the EUB was merging with us to become more progressive, not change us to their more conservative bent.
I was thrilled to see other nations and the Continent of Africa wanting to join the UMC as diversity is what the spirit of God, that is within all of us, would want us to encourage. However, with that diversity, I had hoped that these nations in Central America, South America and the Continent of Africa would be members of the UMC because they wanted to become more progressive, not make us more conservative.
I am saddened, as are others, that we are becoming more conservative and discriminating against our LBGTQ+ sisters and brothers.
We may well come to the point where we split in to two churches.
The Methodist Church did experience a schism over slavery in the 1850s due to the Southern states interpreting scripture to allow slavery. The Northern states interpreting scripture differently as they felt that slavery was discriminatory, and not what God’s spirit would want us to do.
This schism endured until the 1930s when the Methodist Church “said” that they were, once again, one church. However, they really were not “one church,” as the “powers that be” at that time, deemed that our African American sisters and brothers should be relegated to the “Central Jurisdiction,” no matter where that church was located. This discrimination continued until the late 1960s. I remember in 1964, attending an Ocean Grove meeting, and sitting to have dinner with my husband when a kind, elderly African American Bishop, named Bishop Love, approached us and asked if we “minded” if he joined us. This nearly brought me to tears. Of course we would be honored to have him join us.
I do know why the nations of Central, South America and the Continent of Africa are more conservative. Those new to the Bible, do take it more literally than those of us who have been members of the Methodist, and then UMC for many years. However, it still was my hope that we, in the UMC would continue to be the progressive church that I had joined well over 60 years ago.
Dear Greg, Reading your words are right on the mark! I find it so refreshing to my heart and soul. People who are congealed in dogma and can’t see beyond and call themselves Christians or, for that matter, anyone of other religious faiths too who stay within their own religious closed doors and closed communities.
When all is said and done, and we are no longer alive, I believe, our vibrations will stand for each one of us. And those of higher vibrations to love and light will be seen and truly shine! I myself, do not even come close to the ‘those’ but I surely do try to follow and try to make a waking conscious effort.
As Always with pleasure reading your blog.
Thank you for your nourishing words.
LikeLiked by 1 person