By Patrick Miller
God is against me. God is unreliable. God doesn’t care.
Would you call those true statements? I might.
Of course, it depends on what you mean by true.
They may not be true in an objective sense—in reality, God is for us, God is reliable, God does care. But they may be true in a subjective sense. You may truly believe that God is disinterested, capricious, and distant.
What we know to be true about God and what we feel to be true about God can be wildly different. In polite Christian circles, we often hide what we feel, opting for the good Christian answers instead of sharing what’s true on the inside.
That’s why one of my all-time favorite characters in the Bible is Naomi. Why? She’s not a faker.
Naomi says exactly what she feels about God. After her husband and two sons die, she cries, “The Lord’s hand has turned against me! … Do not call me Naomi! Call me Bitter, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” (Ruth 1:13, 20-21)
I’m sure she could have given Sunday school answers, but she doesn’t. This leads to an interesting question:
What actually shapes our deep-down, heart-level view of God?
Naomi’s answer is true for us as well: experience.
Your Experiences Shape your View of God
In Naomi’s case, it was her personal experience of profound tragedy. If you asked her why she thought God was against her, she would laugh and point at the graves of her entire family. That’s how she knows.
Do you know how your experiences shape your view of God?
A few years ago, I knew a woman who served the church constantly. She led small groups. Served with children. Made meals for the homeless. But one day, she burned out.
I asked her what happened, and she told me, “You have to take responsibility for anything or anyone that God puts in front of you. That’s what he expects… and he just put too much in front of me.”
Of course, that’s not objectively true of God. But it was her subjective experience.
We kept talking, and she shared a story from her sixteenth birthday. She went to the DMV with her dad to get her driver’s license. After passing the test, he unexpectedly gave her his car. She was ecstatic. She didn’t expect it.
But her dad stopped her cheering, and in a somber voice, told her that he had been unhappy for the last ten years. He’d stuck around to take care of her and her sister because her mom wasn’t stable. But now that she could drive and was responsible, she could take care of herself and her sister. Then he got out of the car, walked away, and disappeared for three years.
Now, as an adult, she believed that God, like her father, was asking her to take responsibility for everything.
She’s not alone. Our experiences are like a carnival mirror. They distort our images of God. And no one escapes the circus.
The Secret of Thankfulness
You might be surprised to learn that Naomi’s view of God changes as her life goes on. Despite her earlier outcry, she later tells Ruth that God “has not forsaken the living or the dead.” (Ruth 2:20)
What happened? Experience.
Naomi experienced God’s love through the sacrificial love of Ruth and Boaz.
The same thing happened to my friend. During her breakdown, a group of people banded around her. They took responsibility for her and asked for nothing in return. Eventually, she saw that God was actually like her friends, not her dad.
Of course, no one can control what they experience. But we can control our gratitude.
What allowed both Naomi and my friend to hear God’s love was thankfulness.
We can choose to be thankful for the good that we see around us, allowing that to shape our feelings more than the heartache.
Do you want your deep-down, heart-level view of God to align with your mind’s view of God?
A daily practice of prayer and thanksgiving promises the highest return on investment.
What if you spent two minutes at the beginning and end of each day thanking God for how he loved you through others? Your life would change.
Why You Need a Brain and a Heart
Ask yourself this key question in your walk with God: How is my heart-level view of God out of alignment with my mind?
God gave you a brain so that you could know objective truth about him. Where your heart disagrees is precisely where you need to focus your thankfulness exercises.
What falsehood does your heart believe about God?
- God is not for me.
- God is ashamed of me.
- God is angry at me.
- God doesn’t like me.
- God is too busy for my life.
- God wants me to suffer.
Focus your attention on that falsehood and find ways to give thanks.
If you think God is not for you, make an intentional effort to give thanks when anyone works for your welfare, even in the smallest way. If you think God is ashamed of you, give thanks for people who enjoy spending time with you. If you think God is angry at you, give thanks for the ways people have forgiven you and shown you grace. If you think God wants you to suffer, give thanks for all the comforts in your life.
You will be surprised how quickly your heart and your head come into alignment. When that happens, you will experience God in fresh and life-giving ways.
Another part of believing what’s true about God is knowing what’s true in the first place.
Join Dave Cover twice a week for his podcast, A Bigger Life. You’ll receive guided meditations on what the Bible says is true about God, along with opportunities to cement those truths in your heart through prayer.