It happens from time-to-time...
Blue skies, and 5-star Bible Studies. All the planets align and woodland creatures begin singing perfect 3-part-harmonies of The Doxology. Queue sunset and distant sound of laughing children. Your walk with God couldn't get any better and you've got this being Christian thing down pat.
And then… from absolutely nowhere.
God crushes the paradigm.
Upsets the system.
Hits the brakes.
He takes all that you thought you knew about Him and throws it, line-drive, to the graveyard - right next to copies of “Blab It, Grab It” and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. Jesus the Lamb becomes Jehovah the fire-eyed Lion out to turn your smug theology into toilet paper.
Perhaps its not always that dramatic, but it stands that when we begin to think of God as less than He is, He gets pretty riled up about it. Put Him in a box and His divine-claustrophobia is liable to burst your theological bubble. The book of Ezekiel is all about God addressing Israel’s bad theology. God makes dozens of promises to respond to Israel’s lack of knowing Him rightly, and caps 72 of those promises with the phrase, “... and you will know that I am the LORD...”
We’re all guilty of owning some strain of imperfect theology. I have yet to meet a person who just popped out the womb singing Latin Hymns and reciting the Apostle’s Creed. And yet in the midst of God's jealousy for our affection, He is kind and faithful. So for the cynics out there: lay off the church, okay?! Do you really believe that God expects Believers to have perfect theology?
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. - Phillipians 1:6 (NASB)
Let me just paraphrase that verse really quickly: “I am confident that even though you and your theology will be messed up till the day you die, God won’t stop working on you - because He’s jealous and faithful.” - Philippians 1:6 (KDV - Kyle Donn Version©)
But really… HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN? How does bad theology happen to well-intentioned people? At different intervals I find myself believing things that are just WAY off.
- Have you forgotten that God is gracious?... well (surprise, surprise) that’s not the God of the Bible.
- Have you forgotten that God is jealous?... *gasp* ... it’s possible you’re worshipping someone else.
- Have you ever thought God was okay with your sin?... dun, dun, dun… that’s not God.
We are often drawn to a God that we can have figured out after reading a couple C.S. Lewis classics or after a couple of solid theological lectures… a God of Black & White. And often, when we can’t wrap our heads around Him, we start to fill in the blanks with all sorts of garbage… with our upbringing, our baggage, and our ideals. We end up with a god that looks different than the great I AM. Someone or something that isn’t God at all. A god that exists for our glory, made in our image, created to please us.
Here are the 3 most basic ways that bad theology happens to good people.
1.) Start living in un-rebuked sin.
When you start nurturing your sin, eventually you’ll start believing that God is okay with it. You come up with ways to keep your pet-sin breathing. You distance yourself from accountability partners to hide it, come up with really ridiculous and convoluted theological arguments to defend it, or (my personal favorite) tell yourself "I can stop whenever I want" to at least pretend like you're in control of it. It’s like the horror-version of “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” and it goes something like this:
“If you give the Devil a foothold, he’ll probably want your soul to go with it…”
Eventually sin makes a mess of you and you wonder how you got so far away from God.
2.) Withdraw from the Church.
This one is especially easy to do because there comes a point in the walk of most believers where they say, “I know I am deeply committed to Jesus, but I’m not sure about His Bride.” Let me put it this way:
The further away you are from the church, the more ugly it looks. The more ugly it looks, the more you’d like to believe you can walk with Jesus alone. The more you walk with Jesus alone, the slower you'll walk. The slower you walk, the more you'll get distracted. The more you get distracted, the more likely it is that you'll stop walking all together.
But the closer you are to the church, the more beautiful it looks. The more beautiful it looks, the more you come to believe that you need to walk with Jesus in community. The more you walk with Jesus in community, the faster you’ll walk. The faster you walk, the less you’ll be distracted. The less you’re distracted, the more likely it is that you’ll never stop walking.
3.) Stop Reading your Bible & Praying.
Really? It circles back to this? Yes, your parents and/ or overly-conservative youth pastor were right… When you want to cut ties with someone, you stop talking to them. Stop talking to God and you will soon find your faith in and love for Him shrivelling. Stop reading your Bible and your hunger to know Him will be placated by a desire for garbage that doesn’t satisfy half as well. Marvin & The Puppets have this one figured out.
It’s honestly really easy to lose sight of God in the mess of life. We’ve all had to wrestle through finding out that God is different or bigger than we thought He was. Abraham, Moses, Job, and David all encountered God at different moments and realized that His nature was in contrast with the way they saw Him. He walks into our theological jungle with a blow-torch and hollows out our opinions - faithful to guide us out of the tangled undergrowth…
Finding out that God is different than you once believed is OKAY. In fact, it's GOOD. It's good because He who started a good work in you is faithful to complete it.
So with specks of embarrassment and heaps of humility we sweep our broken bits of theology towards the trash can. Then, with a new sense of awe and confidence, we rush head on at God. We call back with every tendril of strength in our lungs - “Your face I seek” (Ps. 27:8).