Ask AJ #5: God

by humanmama on August 12, 2011

Ask AJ #5 has to do with God, and is about me.
A friend of mine asked:

“AJ, were you ever serious?” (Well…) “About your faith?”

Helena had the stomach flu two days ago. It began (as all horrible things do, just to confuse and disorient parents) in the middle of the night. I thought she had a night terror, but instead she was crying and yelling “my tummy hurts!” and when I finally decided we should go to the bathroom it was right on time. She spent the better portion of 12 hours throwing up, and her fever got to around 102.5 degrees before she drifted off to sleep.

It only lasted for a day, but I still haven’t recovered. From worry. From losing sleep. From having children.

I am so thankful that my children are healthy. I moved here to work with autistic children and I’m not kidding, I spent the entire of Helena’s first year demanding sign language and eye-contact. Which is probably why she won’t do it now. A tiny part of me that first year felt that there might just be some kind of gigantic cosmic conspiracy that said “Oh, okay, she knows what to do! Give her kid autism too.”

Luckily that’s not what happens in life.

I know so many friends with autistic children. And I have also met (actually more than a few) parents who say “I could never have an autistic child. I think God knows I couldn’t handle it.” I don’t think that’s how it works. My dad is a very faithful person, and recently told me he thought “God only gives us what we can handle.” I don’t agree with that either.

In my experience, you often get what you can’t handle, and you learn to handle it or it breaks you. I have seen people learn to handle things amazingly well–death of a spouse, unplanned pregnancy, disease, and horrible financial burdens.

I’ve also seen people let these things break them. Or maybe that’s too harsh. I’ve seen people get broken by these things.

I don’t believe in a kind and empathetic God that looks down on us with love. I know that’s a little scary. My version of god is a little different–a little like Outer Space. Something that can create, and destroy. Something that isn’t like a human. Maybe something that doesn’t have human traits. Definitely something that isn’t a man, or a woman.

I was raised Christian, of several different (and some non-) denominations. I went to a Catholic high school, and a Christian college. I spent many a late-night hour lecturing (and cheering on!) friends and roommates about God, and Jesus, and our relationship with them. But as I got older, and got more into the Bible, I found many things that disturbed me. And I know the usual answer: “that verse is there to teach us…” or “that’s how it was back then…” I even heard that “some of this isn’t relevant today,” but I still found people dismissing things (homosexuality, birth control, feminism, even logic) with contextual verses and evidence they took from the Bible.

If some of the things in the Bible aren’t relevant today, who decides which things those are? And if many of the things in the Bible are open to interpretation, why are a choice few things still upheld as “Biblical Truth?” This is scary for me. It’s very scary for me to put it out there, in the world, in the internet, because it’s something I don’t like to talk about too much. It’s something I was raised with (THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD IS), and I still feel guilty to this day missing church on Sunday. But I can’t go anymore. I haven’t found a place that says “the best things out of the Bible and any text is to love your neighbor as yourself and do the best you can.” And that’s what I would be looking for in a church.

I had a very deep and very personal relationship with God at a point in my life. I felt moved by the Holy Spirit and like I could cry out to God and be heard. But as I read more, and looked at other world religions, I realize that many people feel this way. I hear some Christians talking about how evil Islam is, and imagine a bunch of Islamic Muslims sitting around talking about how evil Christianity is. It’s all in how you’re raised, folks, and I just so happened to be raised in Michigan in a conservative church meeting in a high school.

So what is God? In my opinion Allah and Hashem and God are the same being. Something no one understands, a combination of the space between the stars and the very matter that makes up the stars. Some force which created the cosmos and also the very same thing that implodes a galaxy at the right time. I think we, as humans, have made up a whole lot of ideas and notions about what God is and what God might think about certain things, but all of those are human traits and emotions. And God is not human. Right?

When I look into my kids’ faces late at night, on the bathroom floor, with sweat on their brow, I see God. But I don’t pray that God has my sister wear a white wedding dress when she gets married.

Why do people think they can control God? That God is this big White Man in the sky? (Or something–that’s how I grew up knowing God, thanks SuperBook.) That if they pray enough, or hope enough, or “have enough faith,” that something will be given, or something won’t be taken away? To see God like that is, to me, like saying “look at that cute squirrel smiling at me!” I don’t think squirrels smile. And I don’t think God is constantly thinking about each individual in this earth. Why not? Because if God was a person-like being, how on earth could God allow the kind of suffering that goes on in this world? I’m not just talking about cancer and abuse–I’m talking rape of children, mass starvation, hatred. Yes–you can dismiss these things by saying “there is also Evil in this world.” But how, if God truly loves us, could God let those things happen? How could God live with Godsself? I just don’t think that’s how God works. And honestly, I don’t know how God works.

I know a mom who recently said to me “I like to live in my own little bubble.” And I admit: it’s much easier to live in a bubble. It’s a lot, lot easier to just do and not think too much about what you’re doing. It’s much easier to quote “lean not on your own understanding” than to really work to understand. I’m not saying I’m right about any of this, but I am saying it’s a constant subject of discussion, thought, and research in my house. It’s not easier, but for me, it might be true-er and more real than not thinking about things. (Remember you’re at now: I’m not gonna judge you.)

In the Catholic church, there is a response in the Mass where the Priest says “Let us proclaim the mystery of Faith,” and the response is “Christ has died/Christ is risen/Christ will come again.” I don’t that is the mystery of Faith, though.

I think God is the mystery.




(It’s also terrifying to not know about God, since that means not knowing about so many things. Julia Sweeny of SNL fame and writer and performer and actress wrote Letting Go of God, a monologue about how she went from Catholicism to confusion to atheism after attending Bible study. Many Christian religions sort-of look down at Catholics for not knowing the Bible, but it’s interesting what she learns once she really gets into studying the “Good Book.” She also advocates for teaching the Bible in schools. She recently wrote that if she were in charge:

The Bible is mandatory reading in school.  Are you shocked?  I do believe we would have much less fanaticism, fundamentalism, and influence by the religious right if everyone were forced to just simply read the Bible as literature, as a historical document, as a window into religion itself…. (July 5, 2011.

Take a listen to her monologues at This American Life #290: Godless America. Hers is the last act, maybe the last 45 minutes if you have the time.)


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin August 13, 2011 at 12:33 am

I give you tremendous credit to post about your faith. Many of us may question our view on God (and go through these periods at different parts of our life). Sometimes it’s just nice to know that there are others who take the time to find their religious views for themselves (whatever they may be). Keep the posts coming….I enjoy reading your blog!


MommieBonnie August 14, 2011 at 7:50 am

Perhaps you are nearly right?
I think it is time, maybe long past time, to stop listening to everything other people tell you about God. Time to just ask God who God is, and listen carefully.

Welcome to the spin society, where everybody has their own interpretation and defines God to be like they themselves are. If they are unloving, God is stern. If they are weak, God has no discernment and no judgement. If they are lazy, God is only interested in the poor. If they are rich, God prospers those who love Him. They are all nuts.

The Bible? It is the most remarkable book ever compiled. I believe that many of the articles and chronicles in it are just what they are–a narrative of what occurred. I believe God wants us to know just how ugly humanity can be, and to remember that as we work to create in our own world a space that is full of love and light. Something like a reminder from God saying “Can you believe what they did? I had to watch this! They’re insane!” I believe, as you know, that that is precisely why God had to send His own child to intervene.

God does not send cancer, autism, whatever into people’s lives. The world is broken, and the world does that quite well on its own. What God does is give us the where-with-all to live above the #### the world hands us. The world system is not what any of us in our deepest heart wants. That space in our deepest heart that says “this is not right” is the space that agrees with God.


Dana August 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm

I (like Erin above) like that you wrote about your faith. I think there is a lot of fear of posting anything that is too personal, too raw, too honest. Particularly if the thoughts involve God/Jesus.

I also know that I love being a part of a faith community — my Sunday worship experience centers me and gives me energy and focus for the week ahead. I especially like being a part of a Christian community where people are encouraged to ask questions, be honest about their doubts, and it’s okay to be at different places.

The main thought jostling around in my head today comes from something I heard today at church — that too many of us forget the beauty in just knowing God (kind of like how you said you see God in your children or how I can often sense God’s presence in music, nature, etc.) vs. thinking of God as some kind of spiritual genie (who grants wishes or not).

Anyway…love you, miss you — hope we can TALK soon! :)


Becky Loughney August 15, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Long and intense…my eyes are dry as I’m trying to read this at 11:38pm. I hope you feel a relief of some sort after writing this…you put sometime and thought into it!!


Jessica August 16, 2011 at 1:24 am

This is a hard topic. I’ve done a lot of questioning over the years. Every time I thought I arrived at a place that worked for me, something would change and my beliefs would be upended, then, like dust settling, come back to a place of peace. A different place, usually, but still peaceful. But ever since my nephew was diagnosed with cancer, I haven’t found that place. You really can’t dismiss cancer by saying there is evil in the world. If anything, I think that some of what you wrote about – abuse of children, for example – is more easily explained by evil in the world, God’s giving us free will. But cancer? Autism? I don’t get it. Those didn’t come about because someone used free will to make bad choices. They are just part of nature. A nature that supposedly God created. So I’m left swirling, trying to make sense of that. (Not to mention a God who would create us to use free will for the evils you say, which make me sick just to write them.)

I think that so much of what you wrote is what I believe, too, and yet I long for the easier days when my faith was simpler and more solid. Anyway, I think you nailed the important stuff. I especially appreciated your refutation of “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” I despise that expression.

Well done for being brave enough to put this out there!


Rebecca Cooper August 24, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I love the honesty of your website. I especially liked your honesty about a tough subject to broach. I also can’t help but throwing my 2cents into the discussion:)

I don’t believe in a God that would “send” us trials. But I also can’t believe in a God that would create a world as amazing as this and then just sit back and let things happen. I believe in a God who knows that for our growth and development we have to encounter hard things. Even things as hard as cancer and babies who are still born or mass murder. I also believe in a God who stands with open arms waiting to comfort us when we can’t handle one more thing.

When Mason died, I spent the next days and weeks crying and devastated. This baby that I had waited for so eagerly was not mine to have. Through it all, I have felt God lovingly comfort me and let me cry. And I have felt peace knowing that even though I wanted Mason now, if I can just make it through the pain, I will get to have my little boy to raise when I die.

I love how you said that you see God in your children’s faces. That’s where God is-He’s in the trenches with us, rooting for us, hoping we can get it this time. Just like we do for our kids. It’s just harder to comprehend how cancer could possibly be in the same ranks as a skinned knee.

It’s good to ask these questions and to find your own personal answers. Good luck to each of us as we seek God, and find, not the “bubble” of our childhood faith, but the rock of personal conviction.


Elouise September 12, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Stands back from the keyboard in amzameent! Thanks!


Natalie August 30, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Is this friend me??? Heehee. Thanks for sharing your well written feelings on this subject! Love ya


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