I have a confession: I don’t feel like I’ve been a good Christian lately. The problem I have with asserting this is, in my best understanding, the Christian story isn’t really about bad people becoming good at all; it is, among other things, about dead people becoming alive.
The Gospel of Jesus is about God redeeming and renewing the whole of creation, placing everything and everyone in their rightful place; it’s about God restoring people’s dignity and humanity, making them whole; it’s about eradicating evil from this world and the marriage of heaven and earth that follows.
Why, then, can I become wrapped up in personal piety?
Is it so I can play it as a trump card over others? No; for sometimes I feel like the worst person of all.
Is it because I believe my entire life now and in the time to come hinges on it? No; I believe God’s attributes—like faithfulness, mercy, and love—are eternal because he is eternal.
Growing up one of my biggest aversions to being a Christian was the idea of my life being dictated by a series of dos and don’ts. It left me feeling like God was watching my every move and I needed to walk a straight line at all times while looking over my shoulder. Consequently, I formed a view of a God who was tyrannical and suppressive.
It’s taken years to unravel that view and stitch up the right one, but at times it overcomes me. The old traps are powerful.
Friendships and community and literature have shown me the Christian life is more about connection with God. I long for that connection. Because of our frailty and waywardness, though, that connection can either be strengthened or falter depending on life’s circumstances.
When life is good and going smoothly some of us tend to not be as connected with God, feeling like we have things under control and forget our need for him; and when life is difficult and we’re stretched we return to our connection with him, making it strong again and finding peace in chaos.
If you’re anything like me your experience is a combination of the two. Sometimes even the reverse—when life is good you feel closer to God but when life’s got you down you feel further. You’d be hard-pressed to say it’s strictly one way or the other which speaks to the complexity of life.
Either way, my feelings of being a “bad” Christian often find their source in a loss of connection with God. Sometimes I just don’t know how to make it happen. And if it is happening, I don’t feel it. Prayer feels empty. Reading Scripture feels hallow. Community feels non-existent.
Of course it can’t be all about what I feel, and so my reason kicks in. It kicks in to tell me that even if I don’t feel the fruitfulness of prayer and Scripture and community in my life doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Feelings of the heart can be deceitful and fickle. They can’t always be trusted.
Yet if the reason and the heart don’t come together, how can I truly know and feel God? What follows is almost predictable: fear. I think that our greatest set back that results in a loss of connection with God and with ourselves and with other people is fear.
We fear that everything will fall apart, but if it hasn’t, it’s only a matter or time. We fear we’re alone in this. We fear the story of God’s faithfulness and love is too good to be true. Or worse, we fear it’s improbable. As a result we’re faced with the greatest tragedy: the rejection of God’s love. This rejection happens both consciously and subconsciously.
For some of us, it’s a defining moment; for others it’s a series of moments snowballed together, tumbling and gathering until we’re numb. Before we know it we’ve lost our feeling of connectedness to God.
Oftentimes I feel like I’ve fallen down a mental and emotional well with no way up and out. I need someone to throw me a rope. Do my prayers matter? Does God even listen? Does he care? Why does life feel like one step forward and two steps backward? I believe; help my unbelief!
I have no resolution for you here, no resolve. But I think that’s OK. We don’t always need that, as much as we might want it. We do well when we acknowledge that we will both thrive and feel discomfort. That there will be times of both tranquility and restlessness. The task of the Christian, then, is to accept that tension and embrace it. To live well within it. To respond appropriately to it. By God’s grace this is how we walk the narrow road.
So no, I don’t think I’m a bad Christian. I doubt you are either. Like me, you’re probably a weary traveler. But a necessary step in our travels is to accept that our moods change—our moods about ourselves and about God—and to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
God’s faithfulness to you and to me, and God’s love and closeness, and the value of prayer and reading Scripture doesn’t change regardless of our feelings about it all—not least our feelings about ourselves.