“Are you listening?” he roared.
She was. She sat on the edge of her seat; hard plastic glued her thighs in place. She listened so hard to her pastor’s bellowed words—true words—about the serious nature of sin and the necessity of Jesus coming as a mediator, she didn’t even hear the deeper truth.
According to her budding understanding, God was fundamentally an angry God, yelling at humans, demanding enough faith, demanding a proper understanding, demanding enough trust in Christ—were you listening hard enough yet? In that pew, my younger self formed her idea of God.
Dear Younger Me
Dear younger me, you don’t know how much you don’t understand about God yet.
Dear younger me, you sit there trembling, knowing there are moments you are so wrapped up in life that you don’t think about God, and worry you’ll somehow be cast into Hell.
Dear younger me, you pray a prayer telling God you believe in Jesus’s redemption over and over. Is it enough? Why does it feel like nothing changed? So you pray again.
Your imagination, shaped by people older and wiser with understanding on their side, forms an idea of God so incomplete it nearly paralyzes your ability to trust Him.
But I know something you don’t.
“God is Always Angry with Me.”
Dear younger me, you see your pastor’s sincere grief over sin and his genuine anger. Do you understand it? His grief is directed at unrepentant sin, but you wonder if you’ve repented “enough” to turn away God’s wrath. You feel your pastor’s anger, and in your naivety, you attribute his emotion to God.
What you do not understand is that the wrath of God is not like the wrath of man. God’s wrath is not borne of pride or arrogance or a desire that one’s rights be respected.
In some ways, you will perhaps never fully understand that a wholly compassionate God can still hold wrath for sin.
Do you want to understand God? Look at the Cross. Ask yourself why He chose to die, to be humiliated, to bear millennia of sin and suffering in six hours.
This is what you will need to reckon with: God did not simply die to fulfill a legal agreement. He died because He loved those creatures fashioned in His image, even after they went astray.
I want you to know that God’s wrath doesn’t proceed from hatred for you or for any other human, but out of love and His consistently good character (James 1:17-18). He wants us to do well. He is sorrowful when we go astray, but He must respond with justice toward human rebellion. He is not quick to pass judgment, but slow to anger (Num. 14:18).
“. . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Romans 5:8–10 (ESV)
“My Sin Is Too Great for Forgiveness.”
Dear younger me, you worry that the time Jesus spent hanging on a tree couldn’t possibly be long enough to cover the sins you’ll commit in your lifetime. When your Sunday school teacher tells you that everyone sins every five minutes, you think you might be sinning all the time and never be aware of it. And beyond that, you consider the astronomical mountain sin you do remember. Then you compare all of this to the Cross.
Could the Cross be enough? Is my sin too great for God to simply blot it out?
When you began to comprehend your own pride, anger, and selfishness, when you first realized the gravity of sin, your idea of God drifted even further. Awakened now to your own sin, you look back at the Cross, and a new fear blooms dark within you.
Answer these fears by seeking out the truth. First, who are you to judge whether Jesus suffered enough to cover your sins? Little girl, rest in the goodness and justice of the Perfect Judge. Realize He set the price of redemption at the highest possible value: the life of His Son.
But in doing so, you forget the Love of God. He wants to forgive you.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7 (ESV)
Believe that it is enough. God is for you. Jesus is pleading your case. Do not worry about whether your sin is too great or the Cross too little.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
If you stepped back, you would see the enormity of the Cross. Jesus’s death can atone for not only the sins you’ve committed, but the sins you will commit.
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1 (ESV)
“Am I Trusting Hard Enough Yet?”
Dear younger me, you will soon face even greater turmoil. Trusting will become near impossible. And if you do not shake off your false beliefs about God, how will you learn to love and trust and depend on Him?
In the early days, you developed an idea of what it felt like to have faith. An inward push of your heart heavenward made you feel at peace with the status of your salvation. Now your emotions shift, your attention is necessarily diverted by life, and you begin to feel guilty.
Dear younger me, your emotions about God do not affect your place or your salvation.
Your life will fluctuate. Your feelings will fluctuate. Even your faith may fluctuate—though you will learn to build it on a firmer foundation than your feelings. But God will never move, for His steadfast arms are holding onto you.
If you do not learn that it is not your feelings or your inner strength holding onto God, but it is Him who clings to you, you will never find the peace you crave (Philippians 1:6).
You think that to trust God, you have to clutch Him tight enough. But trusting is not some kind of emotional clinging. It is rather more like a letting-go. It is saying, “I know I cannot muster the strength to save myself, either by the power of my emotions, the shininess of my good deeds, or my ability to follow the laws of God. I know that only in Jesus’s life and death I am saved. I choose to fall into His arms. Only that will save me.”
You do not have to feel a sensation of trust to know you are saved.
Imagine a God of Love
Dear younger me, you have grown up.
You realized God can handle your questions and doubts. His love is not fading away. He still holds onto you. His words are still true, and even if you encounter more people like your old pastor, you know you can trust His heart.
I have been thinking a lot about imagining God lately. There is a real danger of making God into someone He is not. So many people keep a false idea of God in their back pocket like a little idol. They form an idea of a god who lets us do whatever we want and never requires change. An idea of a god who provides all the luxuries we insist we need, who never allows His children to face sorrow or grow. An idea of a god who never challenges our misunderstandings.
There is, perhaps, no way for any human to truly look into the face of God and know it. Even Moses had to turn his face from the holiness of God. That, too, was commanded by God’s love, so Moses would not be consumed.
But, dear younger me, as you seek to know God, may you find the true God, who has always been the lover of your soul. Do not neglect some real and true part of Him in favor of a softer, easier, more human God.
For the true God is worth knowing.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”
Isaiah 1:18 (ESV)
Article Written By
Bethany’s name means “bright city on a hill.” This is her mission in life, to illuminate the beautiful things and shine God’s light where there was darkness. Bethany leads The Wilting Rose Project, a ministry of encouragement for young women who feel their struggles make them worthless. She writes tales inspired by her love of the forest, where she spends many of her mornings, soaking in the uniquely Minnesotan beauty. Her blog includes more personal documentation of her journey the last few years with Lyme disease and Toxic Mold illness and the journey of healing she is now on.
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