Sometimes we make assumptions about God that lead us to frustration with Him or, in some cases, rejection of who He really is. Some of these assumptions are so deep-seated that we actually believe them to be the truth. We may wonder then why we struggle in drawing close to God. Our expectations are messing with our relationship. We want a God who conforms to our ideas. But when He doesn’t, we get into a spiritual funk.
Untested assumptions are the material about which God is often challenging us as we journey with Him. We think we know Him well enough to know how He will act. Yet He surprises us.
So, check your assumptions against this list of expectations. Could some of these be reasons God seems distant to you?
1. God promptly punishes all immoral and unrighteous people. Since these kinds of people are supposed to get what they deserve and since God punishes sin, then do the math. Yet in real life and in recorded history, we find counter-examples to this assumption. Remember Jonah who reluctantly took God’s message of mercy to a wicked people whom he thought deserved God’s punishment? This assumption drove him to run from God. Yet, God’s mercy prevailed when punishment was deserved. Think about Job. He was richly blessed by God and blameless. Yet, this did not exempt him from suffering as if he was the worst of sinners (an argument his “friends” used).
This assumption makes a person judgmental towards others, impatient with God, and frustrated with true justice. God’s goodness and forgiveness are questioned. Our relationship with God gets messed up when we think God’s actions are not “fair” according to our definition of fairness.
2. God heals all diseases. Common sense should teach us otherwise. But so-called “faith” often blinds us to reality. Christians die like everyone else. Christians get colds, cancer, Alzheimer’s, kidney stones, and headaches. No amount of spiritualization chases these physical ailments away.
This assumption makes us question God’s will and hinders our ability to deal with suffering. We blame God when healing does not occur. We’re confused by the place of suffering in our lives since God is only supposed to bring us comfort. We don’t like a God who allows us to suffer.
3. God fixes every problem. We forget that problems are God’s way of driving us to Himself. Suffering is the way of sanctification. To assume that God will remove all obstacles and provide a trouble-free life is to set ourselves up for major hang-ups with God.
For example, this belief makes us see God as a providential psychotherapist before whom we layout our problems hoping he will help us find a solution. He’s a heavenly handyman coming to our aid when things break. Otherwise, we don’t need him.
4. God loves the righteous more than the unrighteous. Even though God sends the rain on the just and unjust, we feel God favors his children above those outside his family. We read about the sinner-woman who kisses Jesus’ feet with tears, wiping them with her hair, and anointed them with oil in an expression of love (Luke 7.36-50). This unrighteous woman was forgiven and honored by Jesus while he rebuked the righteous Pharisee in whose home he ate.
This leads to pride, self- delusion, and judgmentalism. We are privileged while others are damned. The idea that God rewards me and punishes “them” can lead to a distasteful superficiality in our relationship with God.
5. God must meet my timeline. We forget that God is never surprised. His timing is always perfect. We would like to control God, convincing him to “jump when we say jump.” When hearing that Lazarus died, Jesus remained where he was for two days. When he finally visited his dear friends, Martha wondered aloud about the timing of Jesus’ arrival. She struggled to grasp what God was really up to when his timing seemed off. We often do the same.
This assumption harms our ability to trust God. We wonder if he cares. In the perceived sluggishness of God’s schedule, we often take matters into our own hands ruining the ambiance in which God’s mercy thrives. We manipulate and take control leaving the Caretaker little room to show himself able.
6. God will overlook bad choices. Since He is merciful, He’ll let us off the hook. We’ll be “the exception to the rule.” We can take advantage of his grace and mercy. This assumption ignores Paul’s teaching on sin and grace in Romans 6: in union with Christ you are not enslaved to sin but alive in Christ. Learn to live this new life by considering yourself dead to sin and able to live in righteousness. God has provided all you need to make good choices. Yet, if you follow your own ways, there are consequences.
In relating to God, we imagine Him as soft, wishy-washy, easy; an old, bearded man in heaven. He observes us and says, “Whatever!” We forget that in His kindness He is also our judge. We are accountable to Him for our thoughts and actions. There are spiritual, physical, and relational consequences to the choices we make. God knows all. We need to acknowledge Him (a true understanding of Him) in every choice we make.
7. God will prosper our faithfulness. Because we are so diligent in serving and loving God, He will give us what we want. Applying “cause and effect” reasoning to God is dangerous: cause – I’m faithful; effect – God will prosper me. But, take a look at many of the faithful cited in Hebrews 11: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised….” We may not like it, but God is not obligated to operate according to our actions.
Yet, we might dismiss or outright reject Him if He doesn’t perform right. We might blame Him for failing us. It’s difficult to maintain a close relationship with someone who has disappointed you.
8. God is too passive and/or weak to deal with our “stuff.” We’re floundering because we believe God doesn’t care enough about us. This is the Martha syndrome: “Lord, do you not care…? Tell her then to help me (Luke 10.40). Like Martha, when we think God does not care we start making unfitting demands of Him. Our relationship is subsequently compromised. Or how about the disciples experiencing the storm in their boat with Jesus: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:35-41). Jesus ended up rebuking them for their lack of faith. They didn’t know how to relate to the One who controlled creation.
We, too, may believe He can’t be trusted with our crappy lives – He is “so other” that He couldn’t possibly be involved in the normal happenings of life. We may think He doesn’t love us; He only tolerates us. How can you be close to someone who can’t be trusted, someone whose love you question?
9. God limits our freedoms. He’s a “killjoy.” One reason we struggle with God in our life is because we don’t want Him to control what we do. We want to be our own boss; no one telling us how to live. However, He actually expands our freedoms. Like rules in any sport, they set us free to play the game. Without the “limits” there is no freedom. St. James describes the scriptures as “the law of liberty” which we are to practice (James 1.22-25). Yes, there are limits. But, they are for our good.
This assumption may lead us to ignore God, acting like He doesn’t exist. We seek to keep Him at a distance so He won’t stick His restraining hand into our business. Obviously, who wants to know someone who is always telling us what to do. Ugh! No thank you!
10. God only works within a particular theological framework. This is a subtle one. You’re most acquainted with your doctrinal framework, believe it because you’re vested in it, and thus, are unable to imagine God working outside it let alone experience anything else. “My denomination or church is the right one. God works best (or exclusively) through us.” Within this framework, we believe we have a corner on understanding and explaining God and His actions.
This assumption fosters prideful narrow-mindedness and squeezes the Almighty into a pitiful pint-size box of paranoid opinion. A God we can figure out is no God at all. He is the Truth. But our understanding of Him, including any systematic explanation, rarely is. He is Mystery never to be mastered. Relating to God as Mystery opens up a whole world of fascinating and glorious realities which are unseen due to theological blinders. I am NOT saying that it doesn’t matter what we believe. I’m saying God is not limited by our ideas about Him. He is infinitely more than anything we can imagine. This is how we can most fully relate to Him.
11. God’s primary purpose for Christians is service. He only honors and rewards those who are busy working for Him. If I am not producing, God is not blessing. Or put another way, only my consecrated service matters to God, not the condition of my soul. He’s happiest with activists, zealots, and radicals. Ordinary, struggling, and/or average Christians are second-class citizens in the Kingdom. Again, Mary and Martha come to mind. Jesus seems to be teaching us that both sitting at Jesus’ feet and serving Him are equally important and necessary in our relationship with Him. Even Jesus got alone with His Father in doing the Father’s will.
This may be the leading assumption of all. We are made to feel guilty if we aren’t “witnessing” to everyone we meet or at at least attending every service, involving ourselves in 2 – 3 church programs, or trying to win the world to Jesus Christ. After all, what else is there to do while we wait for heaven? A commitment to activism can literally destroy our relationship with God because it divides “being and doing,” mistakingly reducing “relationship” to the abyss of irrelevance. We assume we’re slaves of God rather than children of God. Serving the Lord in the context of a deepening love relationship with Him is ideal. Let’s stop making relating to God an “either/or” proposition and make it “both/and.” Learn to love God with your whole being as you learn to serve Him with your whole being.
Are you making any of these assumptions about God?
Take a second look at the ones that got your attention.
Do you need to rethink your understanding of God? If so, you may find new openings into a deeper relationship with Him.
Share your thoughts below.