The Problem with having a God

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I offer a little personal observation today (there is usally some everyday even when I am writing about something else). But today I am thinking about the problem of having a God.

The problem with God is not the same thing as the problem with religion. Many people have a religion but do not have a problem with God. Many people have a Church but have no problem with God. Many people have a spiritual life but have no problem with God.

In a nutshell, I would say that if you have no problem with God, chances are you do not have a God.

Imagine someone who is Lord of Heaven and Earth and He is involved in your day to day existence. How is that not a problem? It certainly doesn’t mean you get to have your own way all the time, or even much of the time.

I frequently find in discussion of the Orthodox faith with others – the final rub – the unspoken difficulty – is God. He is almost never described as the problem (very few admit to having a problem with God – and that itself, I think, is a problem).  Many people like certain aspects of Orthodoxy and would gladly add certain ones to their life or even to their Church – but the givenness of the whole thing – the take it or leave it aspect of Orthodoxy creates almost insurmountable problems. And I cannot say anything other than “take it or leave it” because of God. It’s not my Church, nor my invention. I am not free to fudge or spin. Indeed, if anything, as a priest it is my task to be sure that we do not avoid the problem with God.

God, of course, is not a problem. Sin is the problem and God is the solution. But they do not easily coexist. God will destroy sin, or sin will attempt to destroy God.

There really is a God. If that is a problem for you, then you have begun your journey of salvation. If God is not a problem for you, you may be living in delusion. Get real.

The good news about the “Problem,” is that He is God – Who finally is not a problem, but the only solution to our problem. And that is not a delusion.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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25 responses to “The Problem with having a God”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Photo is the wonderfully open sky on a windy day by Lake Meade (just behind the Hoover Dam). I wanted something that made me look small.

  2. Meg Lark Avatar

    My priest once told me about a conversation he had with an Athonite monk about struggle. “So, who do you struggle with,” asked my priest, “the devil?” “The devil? No, he’s easy,” replied the monk. “I struggle with God.” I know what he means, and I know what you mean. I keep saying, “‘It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ but at the same time, where is it better?”

  3. Tia Avatar

    It is precisely the fact of that “givenness” that Orthodoxy was attractive to me. Our culture (or longer than that even? humanity?) has tried to make God in our image and the result is a christianity that requires nothing of it’s followers. I see little point in living the “christian” life if I make all the rules, I adapt everything to my own will, or seek to emulate my environment more than the the one who’s name bears the label “CHRISTian”. I fall far, far short and thanks be to God for it! Not that I’m glad that I seem to do poorly but I am grateful I can see a contrast, things I need to work on. To me, that means I recognize “greater is He”. Alas, the words I was about to type must be cut short for a small man wanting his momma’s lap. Perhaps that’s just as well ;-).

  4. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Excellent post.

    My problem is with God. The God who asks me to love in spite of having a broken heart. The God who humbles me by allowing my whole world to be upended. The God who hears my prayers and still seems to be slow in answering them. The God who is more interested in changing my heart than in relieving the excruciating pain I live in. Yes, my problem is with God.

    Peace,

    Alan

  5. Fatherstephen Avatar
    Fatherstephen

    Our culture will blithely sing, “Love is the answer,” and run away for all it’s worth, when Love becomes incarnate and seeks to enter their world. Indeed God is the problem for sinners such as we.

  6. Benjamin Avatar

    He was such a problem that we promptly managed to crucify him.

  7. handmaidleah Avatar

    The issue for me is that I want and need to be humble, loving and obedient to something much greater and “my buddy Jesus” of Protestant fame who expected nothing from me, was ultimately very hurtful. I have enough pride to go round for everybody ten times over; so as Mark said, It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God”
    I sadly had an email exchange with my very Protestant cousin when I asked her about her beliefs; I was forcefully told to read scripture more and basically shut-up. Thank God I didn’t engage, I just begged her forgiveness and shut it down before it got messy, prior to knowing the fearsome, Living God, I would have debated. Now I seek my own salvation and PRAY for others. Lord have mercy on me and teach me better manners!
    Perhaps, it is because we are still very stiff-necked people. We don’t want to be obedient, loving of neighbor and following the Law of God; His commandments. Orthodoxy has its requirements; provides a tool-box, if you will to help.
    Just some thoughts on a really nice post.
    the handmaid,
    Mary-Leah

  8. handmaidleah Avatar

    Oh BTW, having re-read that its not that I don’t think God loving, I do. Its just that the Fearsom Living God side of the The Trinity gets lost in the Protestantism I came out of…
    Handmaid
    Mary-Leah

  9. Jonathan Avatar

    Amen and amen. It is so frustrating to hear so many people talk about the ease of the Christian life. Balderdash! In all the warm fuzzies of the age, all people talk about is giving your life to Christ. That’s a good start, but they frequently leave out the part about taking up a Cross along the way. This is a major problem I have with the prosperity Gospel (aside from than the fact it’s totally false). They give so much attention to Jesus wanting to make you rich so you can serve Him, but they don’t mention that to serve Him you have to suffer. In fact, He said to His disciples that they would be hated on account of Him. What’s easy about that?

    Yes, our culture has lost sight of the “problem” of God. Mary Leah said it so well, that the Christ of Protestantism so often asks nothing of us. That isn’t a loving God. Love does accept us where we are, but love also demands that we constantly change for the better, that we seek the good of those who hate us, and that we forgive wrongs even unto 70 times 70. But the culture is dead to these ideas. Or, so it seems.

    I don’t like these things anymore than the next person. but, I know they’re for my good, even when I don’t want them to be. Yeah, I have a major problem with God. He won’t let me be. 🙂

  10. Jack Avatar
    Jack

    I don’t think its wrong to say that even Christ permitted his humanity to have “a problem with God” in the garden and on the cross when he allowed himself to experience our resistance and feelings of forsakenness. He had to in order to untie the knot. The struggle seems to be to learn how to accept our participation in this painful experience without falling into blasphemy. The cross is a terrifying blessing.

  11. Jack Avatar
    Jack

    Note that when I say that the cross is a “blessing” I still do not believe it to be so. I have a serious problem with God. I hope my resistance ends someday.

  12. Fellow Sojourner Avatar
    Fellow Sojourner

    Another wonderful post Father.

    I usually don’t comment because I don’t want to distract from your posts. Sometimes I disagree with some of the specifics of what you write, and at that point it would be most inappropriate to chime in.

    Today, as usual, I loved your post and I couldn’t resist.

    Maybe the best comments, and those most worthy of contemplation, are those said with the least amount of words. You’re right on, Benjamin, with your comment.

    Here’s my comment, hopefully worth something (although off the top of my head, spoken in ignorance, and far too many words).

    I couldn’t help but think that that which (or whom) we have the biggest problems are those things (or persons) that we fear the most. The only object worthy of our fear is God himself. We should fear nobody (or nothing) else. We are instructed to fear God.

    The problem we have with God should (but often doesn’t) lead us to true worship. We fear that which we don’t understand. God is mysterious, therefore fearsome, therefore problematic. Maybe for these reasons some are repelled, but some, for these same reasons are drawn to worship (or drawn by God in spite of themselves?)

    A side note:
    I think, Handmaid Leah, you are on the right track with your cousin. I believe, maybe wrongly, that her reaction is based on fear and that she is fearful of Orthodoxy because she does not understand (and has no desire to understand). However, approaching her with genuine interest and a desire to understand her (although you may understand her and her beliefs more than she does) is the more excellent way. Of course I know nothing of the situation, so please don’t take this as being preachy. It is not intended in that way at all – just an observation about fear and that which, and why, we have “problems” with things (people).

    btw, I am a “protestant” (and this may be my most ignorant comment yet) but consider myself to be a Christian brother of yours.

    Grace and Peace
    Fellow Sojourner

  13. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    “Many people like certain aspects of Orthodoxy and would gladly add certain ones to their life or even to their Church – but the givenness of the whole thing – the take it or leave it aspect of Orthodoxy creates almost insurmountable problems.”

    I was at a lecture given by Frank Schaefer (Orthodox writer) where he made the analogy that the Orthodox Church was like the Marine Corps (his son is a Marine). It’s not like the Army that says, “Be all you can be”, or like the Navy, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure”; instead it is like the Marine recruiting slogan, “Maybe you can be one of us.” Orthodoxy doesn’t ask you what you want or need, the Church tells you. What we feel we need, and our true need, aren’t always the same thing.

  14. Jack Avatar
    Jack

    Sojourner,

    From my own personal experience, we tend to deeply fear the negative opinions of other people about ourselves. I think we do this for both good and bad reasons. One bad reason is our desire to lord it over others, to use others in an attempt to be seen as powerful or right. (This is a danger in religious polemics.) Another bad reason is that we often don’t want to know the truth about ourselves. One good reason is our desire to escape being lorded over by others. We don’t want to be lorded over by someone who is self-serving. Nobody enjoys being treated as an object or, worse yet, a statistic.

  15. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    FellowSojourner writes,

    “btw, I am a “protestant” (and this may be my most ignorant comment yet) but consider myself to be a Christian brother of yours.”

    Amen. Don’t confuse the facts that we see the Church as visible and one with how we look upon you personally. You didn’t cause the schisms of Church history; we inherited them.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sojourner – lots of us on this site have been Protestants at one time or another. It’s where I first heard about Christ. I think a lot of your observations on fear are correct and I agree. The odd thing, for me, is getting past every false delusion to the place (fearful though it be) where you are actually wrestling with God. In my personal journey it took coming to the Orthodox faith. The encounter with God was not just the “demands” of the faith, but also, on the existential level that it cost all that I had and placed myself and my family at a place of risk we had never known. I was standing in the place where were there no God we would never make it. But I knew that it was what He was asking of me. I grew a lot that year, but I know that He’s not through with me yet. God have mercy on us all. Thanks for reading, and very much for sharing.

    I enjoy writing the posts, but I deeply enjoy the various responses. Many of the day’s best blessings are here.

  17. handmaidleah Avatar

    Thank you for the good thoughts on fear, Fellow Sojourner, that is a powerful response, one that comes from the gut.
    I learn something from Fr. Stephen’s blog just about everytime I read it, whether from the initial post or the reader comments, I really agree with Father about some of the day’s best blessings being here…
    It is easy to accept (love) individual people as brothers and sisters in Christ; fellow sojourners on the way, it is difficult to speak of dogma & doctine and the all or nothing of Orthodoxy with those who are not ready.
    the handmaid,
    Mary-Leah

  18. fishcracker Avatar

    I am a Protestant, and Jesus is my buddy. 🙂 But he really does bum me out sometimes. So many times I’ve been tempted to just drop Him– my life would be so much easier.

    There’s that bit about sitting low and washing the dirty feet of disciples, for instance, because obviously, in that position, odds are high that you will get kicked in the face. It’s even worse when you turn out to be right, you do get kicked in the face, and you yell to say “I told you so! I told you I was going to get kicked in the face!” and He more or less tells you so what, at least they didn’t crucify you.

    Yeah. I do have a problem with him sometimes.

    Okay, all the time. But I love him anyway. 🙂

  19. Fatherstephen Avatar
    Fatherstephen

    Orthodox are not stuffy, but we probably would not say that Jesus is my buddy. My Lord, my God, even Friend. But I know what you mean. May He bless you.

  20. fishcracker Avatar

    I’m sorry, father, if that was rather facetious. Thank you. My only excuse is that (aside from the fact I am Protestant, and in advertising) is that difference in nuances, i.e. Friend vs Buddy, tend to be a little lost where I’m from.

    And He is, to me, Lord first, before anything else.

    I have read somewhere that people tend to view (and relate to) God based on their experiences with their daddies, and I suppose, it is true of me as well. I used to kid around with him a lot and never noticed I was overdoing it until I got the stern speaking-to and the gentle-yet scary–rebuke.

    As an immature believer who used to be quite the spoiled child, the fear of God was then something I had to relearn gradually, and on occasion, still forget, until I get to the place where again, I am rebuked, toughly, yet lovingly.

  21. Fellow Sojourner Avatar
    Fellow Sojourner

    Thank you to everyone that responded to me. I am tempted to share some of my own wrestling with God in my journey, but will resist the temptation.

    Suffice it to say that I appreciate being able to walk this journey toward home with you all. Some of us are farther down this road than others, and some of us lag far behind, but this road is narrow and often it is not easy. We need each other’s perspective. Thank you all for sharing it with me and letting me share some of mine with you. I look forward to walking with you some more.

  22. Mark Avatar

    From Metropolitan Anthony Bloom’s “Beginning to Pray:”

    “And when we can say to God ‘O You my Joy!’ or when you can say ‘O You the pain of my life, O You who are standing in the midst of it as torment, as a problem, as a stumbling block!’, when we can address Him with violence, then we have established a relationship of prayer.”

    Amen. And Lord have mercy!

  23. Roland Avatar

    “Many people like certain aspects of Orthodoxy and would gladly add certain ones to their life or even to their Church – but the givenness of the whole thing – the take it or leave it aspect of Orthodoxy creates almost insurmountable problems.”

    Actually, the givenness of Orthodoxy is one of the things I’m looking forward to! Because there are so few givens in Anglicanism, being an Anglo-Catholic takes a tremendous degree of intentionality. Not only does one have to try to live as an Anglo-Catholic, but one must sometimes struggle to determine just what that means and to establish or maintain its validity in the context of a broader church that is indifferent (at best) to the things we think should be givens. As an Orthodox Christian I will enjoy the support of a community where certain things can be taken for granted.

  24. Mary Bethany Avatar
    Mary Bethany

    I remember the first time I thought “Orthodoxy may not be optional for me. It may be the TRUTH.” Truth is not optional, it simply IS. I was reading “Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells.” I was looking for those ways that I could “add” to my prostestant life some of the riches of Orthodoxy, because my daughter, who had recently become Orthodox, showed so much peace, joy, stability. . .
    The author described his own journey, and said in leaving protestantism that there were 4 things that he found true of each of the denominations he had participated in, and found to be generally true. The one that got my attention was, “the freedom for each believer to re-invent the church”. The truth of that statement along with its heresy struck me forcefully. In my experience of church, if I didn’t like the one I was in, go down the road to the next one, or start my own.

    The truth that the Church was God’s idea, God’s design, and not subject to my likes or dislikes was both frightening and somehow comforting. I have lived long enough to distrust my own concept of truth and to find GREAT security in a truth that stands alone, apart from my defense of it.

    There is a God, and it is not me. That is a GOOD thing.

  25. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    This reminded me of the time I used to go to a house church on an island nearby. One Sunday we were discussing Psalm 138 (O Lord, You test me and know me … ) and the guy whose house we were at asked, “How does this make us feel?” I promptly said, “Claustrophobic.” People laughed, but I didn’t mean to be funny.

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