Despite an upbringing in the church and a few worn out Bibles, I have never considered myself a theologian. According to R. C. Sproul, though, I am one. In Knowing Scripture, he states, “No Christian can avoid theology. Every Christian is a theologian. Perhaps not a theologian in the technical or professional sense, but a theologian nevertheless. The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.” I’ve realized that it’s easy for me to be a bad one.
The first few days of my sabbatical this summer, I took long walks with my dog every morning, feeling like I was trying to put the brakes on a freight train. As I slowed down and let myself become aware of the state of my soul, I realized I was swimming in anxiety.
The anxiety stemmed mostly from my role as a mom of teens: will we get him to college? Are we missing opportunities? Will she be okay in high school? What if she doesn’t make that team? What if? What if?
As I pondered it more, I realized my fear was rooted in a belief that it’s all up to me to take care of them. It’s fueled by the thought that no one is coming to help me, no one will fight for me. It is a belief that I am left to fend for myself, and for those who depend on me.
But wait. Those are lies. When I take the time to consider what my fear says about who God is and how he relates to me, I see that my theology is off, and that affects everything.
Dr. Bill Bright, who founded Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), said, “Our view of God determines our view of ourselves and the world around us.”
Too often, I get that backward. I let the world tell me who I am and who I should be, and I let that distorted view inform my actions and, worst of all, who I think God is.
Growing up in church, I learned from an early age who God was (I thought) and what he wanted for me and from me. I was the quintessential good kid, the one who didn’t cause worry, the kind of kid who impressed adults. I found the attention I needed in performing well at school, church, and extra-curricular activities.
Since my behavior led to parents, teachers, and other adults praising me, it naturally translated to believing God was proud of me too. I thought I was doing him a favor with my self-sufficiency, so he could focus on the people who needed his help. On the flip side, I suspected any failure on my part to measure up meant his disappointment. He was the watchful parent, proud of my success, frowning at my flaws.
In my early 20s, God used the book The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning, to open my eyes to this distorted view of him and, consequently, myself. Through it, he called me to see myself through the lens of his unconditional love and grace.
Changing how I understood who he is changed my perception of myself. I began to loosen my grip on performing well, knowing in a new way that his acceptance of me would not change. Picturing his delight in me led to a deeper ability to love myself in my weakness and failure, and in turn, to love others in theirs.
I wish I could say my view of him has been right ever since, but it has been a continual process of God reminding me what is true and showing me where my actions demonstrate my tendency to forget. My sabbatical experience this summer revealed yet another place where I can operate from a misguided view of him.
As we grow, we tend to create an image of God that conforms to the significant people in our lives. An absent mother may lead us to see God as distant. An angry father makes us believe God is someone to fear. A perfectionistic teacher or coach makes us think God holds us to the same standards. These beliefs can be so deeply rooted they are like the ruts formed by a wagon down a dusty trail. It takes time and intentionality to blaze a new trail based on the truth of who he really is, and not who we have thought him to be.
Even when we have come to know God as he is, it is so easy to let the voices of the world become louder. We wander too far from the truth and allow the world to skew what we know to be true of him. So many of my struggles stem simply from forgetting who I know him to be. Either way, he patiently calls us back to remember who he is and who he says we are.
Every time I find myself in anxiety, doubt, frustration, despair, I have an opportunity to examine my view of God and how it might be influencing my actions. I begin by asking, “What do I know of God’s character?”
And in light of who he is, “What does that say about how he sees me and relates to me?”
Finally, “What does that mean about how I am to relate to the world?”
So I remember that he is in control, which means I don’t have to be. Whatever happens in my world is in his hands. I tell myself he’s the one who fights for me, and it invites me to lay down my weapons. I know he is the Father calling me to be the child, to let him care for me and those I love. I see his delight in me, and I see myself as loved for who I am, which encourages me to be my true self with others. I see his grace, so I relax and let myself off the hook for not being all I feel I must be. It opens me to give that grace to others.
Let us invite God to heal our view of him, and in turn, our view of ourselves. Let us examine where we have allowed the world to shape our view of God instead of the other way around. Let us immerse ourselves in Scripture that reveals his character until it become the lens through which we see ourselves and the world. Let us be good theologians.