how God let me go

"Walk with God" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Walk with God” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

[GET THE PRINT OF THIS CARTOON!]
(***  Every week I write a letter to the members of my online community, The Lasting Supper. I wrote this one in March, 2015. I warmly invite you to join us. I offer a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not happy with it. No one’s claimed it yet! Pull up a seat to our table!)

Here’s the letter:

Lisa and I went on a much-needed vacation last week. We haven’t been on vacation since Lisa went back to university seven years ago. We left in a snow storm. I had to use the snowblower to get ourselves out of our driveway to get to the airport. We went to Mexico. Stunning! I was sad coming back to winter. We’re already talking about our next vacation. I thought of you guys every day. Not because I felt obligated to, but because you are my friends, and I always wonder how my friends are doing.

Today I want to write about an aspect of my own personal spiritual or theological journey. I want to explain how I’ve come to a place where I’m reluctant to use the word “God”, or even express “belief” in this “God”. I prefer to say, “That Which We Call God” to speak about what some might call “the Divine”. I want to describe the process of how I’ve come to a place where many assume I’m an atheist, even though I wouldn’t use that label to describe myself. I didn’t come from firm believer to where I am now overnight. It took several stages and years. It took my idea of “God” gradually allowing me to go until I got to where I am today.

I want to sketch with words my journey to where I am now: in complete theological peace devoid of the anguish I experienced for decades.

Please understand that this is my journey. This is my story. I do not expect anyone to believe it or apply it or adopt it. This is my personal journey that I’m sharing, hoping that maybe someone might benefit from it, get clarity from it, or even comfort from it.

These are the stages of belief in “God” that I went through:

God is Jealous: This was my first presentation of God. He was jealous and would have no other gods before him. He demanded my complete, undying loyalty. I had to think about him 24/7 and, if I didn’t, I would be a disappointment to him. He required my all. He demanded everything of me and about me and anything that was mine. It was all his. I could not think outside the parameters that had been set by him and his bible because it meant certain spiritual death. I was to read only the bible and orthodox theology and nothing else. It was complete 100% domination and slavery. At times it was pleasant, but at other times it was miserable. My life wasn’t mine, but his.

God as Open: Then I came to a stage where God was open to other ideas. He admitted that he revealed himself to others, to people of other cultures and even religions. He invited me to read about similarities to him, to Jesus, and to the bible in other religions, spiritualities and philosophies. Oh, God was still jealous because it was him he wanted me to see in all these other religious and spiritual expressions, not someone else or another god. This was God inviting me to recognize traces of him and his work throughout the world and down through time. This was a season of intense exposure and learning while I tried to integrate these other expressions and ideas.

God as Gracious: This was a period when, now influenced by recognizing God throughout the world and throughout time, I started to see that God was gracious. God was a god of love, not malice. It was through my reading of Paul and Pauline theologians. The letters of Romans and Galatians, were incredibly influential during this period. Barth’s famous commentary on “Romans” rocked my world. I started to wonder if I was a universalist. Barth was and still is accused of that, but he tried to avoid using that word to express his belief that God really does love the whole world, and that somehow through the work of Christ the whole world was reconciled to God. I came to understand that God was so gracious that he would even allow me to question, doubt, and change my beliefs. God invited me to explore his expansive mystery.

God as Releasing: There is a cheesy saying I saw on a poster of a butterfly being released from someone’s hand: “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” I started to believe this about God. If God would allow me to question my beliefs, then he must be willing to allow me to question my beliefs about him too. I somehow absolutely knew this to be true. I no longer believed God was an insecure lover. He was very secure in himself and could handle my questions. He could even handle me questioning him! I came to understand that my ideas about God were not actually God. But I knew God already knew that. I realized ideas about God were like graven images… idols. So I was allowed to question the ideas I had in my mind and even reject them as not God, fully confident that God not only permitted it but encouraged it. He knew that when I finally hit rock bottom, whatever remained of him that was true, I would be faithful to this. God was so gracious he let me go.

God as Not-God or All: On a night in May, 2009, I had a dream of a waterfall. The dream was a picture of reality, including “That-Which-We-Call-God” and All-That-Is. I understood that above the rim of the falls I cannot see. This compares to God. God is invisible. An infinite source. Never-ending supply. But we cannot see it. We can only guess what God is from what comes over the falls. So the falls falling is the Incarnation, or the manifestation of the Mystery. Christians would call this Christ. It is a picture of what may be over the rim of the falls. Then when the water hits the ground and spreads, this is the Spirit, the application of the Mystery, the assimilation of the Mystery, into the affairs of the world and humanity. The Spirit is about love, justice, joy, and peace.

When I awoke from this dream I suddenly knew that the All really is All. “God” was gone. There was only Reality. Reality rules because that’s all there is. I saw that we are all one, connected at a deep level, unified and not separate. Separation and division is only an illusion that impresses our eyes and minds. I suddenly realized that the only thing that seems to separate us is language. Thoughts. Words. Ideas. Beliefs. That’s all. We all feel the rain as it falls on us, but we all have different experiences of this rain, thoughts about it, words for it. Same with reality, the universe, the mystery, or God. It’s just words. Believer or atheist or anyone else. We are the same. God as Not-God or as All. It is the same. I saw this as clearly as anything I’ve ever seen, although it is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to articulate. But this has given me a peace that passes understanding. And it has lasted for years now.

My new theological (or perhaps I should say “philosophical”) framework is strangely trinitarian (above the rim, the falls, the spreading water). But it is so open to be all-inclusive, all-consuming, like a unifying theory that applies to everyone from atheist to believer in any religious or spiritual tradition, that most wouldn’t accept me as a part of their club. Including Christians. You see, most believers in most religions are exclusive. This theory is universally inclusive. That creates political problems for most believers. Not for me, but for them.

It was the “God” in my mind that eventually and gradually let me go. It took, as I said, so many stages and so many decades for my idea of “God” to get to a place where I rest in Reality, what is True. I went from believing in a jealous God to a completely open idea of What-Is that is joyfully all-inclusive.

All-inclusive! Just like the resort we went to in Mexico!

I hope this helps.

Love you guys!

David

Again, if you want more of this and would like to hang out with others who “get” this, join The Lasting Supper! I will personally welcome you.

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12 Responses

  1. David Waters says:

    its ALL between the ears. We all find what we need there. We all rationalize an acceptable ideal. We’re all right and we’re all wrong. There is no reality, only perception.

  2. Ducatihero says:

    There’s a lot in that David.

    I’m not quite sure I understand what it is you want to say, but that’s OK.

    What I do get it the beauty of the vision you have had as you describe here and in your video of the waterfall with the metaphors of the river water fall and lake for Father Son and Spirit and the peace that has accompanied that surpassing understanding. So in that sense God being above the waterfall, what we cannot see, something beyond understanding, welcoming to all, inclusive.

    So if we try and make “God” then whatever we do it’s not going to be God in because we have fashioned that by our understanding. This being what happens when excluding others, not having the welcoming to all.

    Where I don’t get what you are coming from is the sense that we are all connected. Forgive me I don’t wish to be insensitive but that sounds to me like an advertisement for a mobile phone network. Surely by excluding others that means that some have become disconnected to others and the extent to which we can connect be about the extend to which we are connected with the source and then connect with others from that.

    The other thing I don’t get is something that you have mentioned a couple of times about labels. You say “I’ve come to a place where many assume I’m an atheist, even though I wouldn’t use that label to describe myself.” Yet you have also commented “I am part atheist and I’m proud of it.” Nov 14 2013. It seems that you have used that “label” to describe yourself at least couple of years ago if not now.

    So putting the labeling and connection aside I’ll go on to the jealous God thing. I don’t think that is a bad thing if understood in a different sense to the way described. This is where I think there are so many false teachings that are unhelpful. When I think of the book of Hosea, it helps me to think of his wife being with other men and then him taking her back as a metaphor for God with Israel and how Israel had gone after other gods. I think in that way it speaks of God’s vulnerability and right anger at times. Just as we all are vulnerable and can get angry with what those closest to us in any real relationship can do. I don’t believe anyone who says they have never had that for their spouse!

    I can see how jealousy can be perceived as God being demanding and 100% domination and slavery but I don’t think that is an accurate interpretation even if that is what is taught. I think it is out of devotion, out of love and this amazing vulnerability that God actually causes himself suffering by choosing to be that way when he didn’t have to being that he had his needs me without doing that.

    So if we do connect with each other we do experience love peace, joy etc but we do also experience suffering at times and the only way to not suffer being to not have connection which if we allow our hearts to harden will happen. Just like the Simon and Garfunkel song “I am a rock” “I have no need for friendship, friendship causes pain”.

    When we love, we are vulnerable.

    Just my two cents worth. I hope that helped in some small way.

  3. Wow! I’m happy for to know that there are other people who think this way! I guess I’m starting on this way. Maybe a little different of the stages of the text, but I am.
    P.S.: Sorry about my English. I’m learning this language.

  4. Thanks Breno. Your English is great. I think there are many on this path.

  5. Nathanael says:

    Beautiful, David. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Melody says:

    I like the way you describe all these different stages. I recognize some of them quite well. For me, it began with slowly openening myself up to a more progressive form of Christianity (even though I had been taught how very wrong it was all my life) very much intending to stay there and never expecting to go any further than that. It was scary and risky enough as it was!

    But that isn’t what happened: it was my intention to stop there but I now feel like I’m definitely on my way to atheism. I’ve always been so afraid of their arguments… and now I wonder more and more if that was because I knew that in my ‘heart of hearts’ I was inclined to believe them, which was sinful and bad and a one-way ticket to hell…. The more my orthodox fear, the jealous God, is stripped away, the more I can relax and breathe. It is as if all these new possibilities have opened up and rather than being afraid of it, I think it’s wonderful: a whole new world of ideas to explore 🙂

  7. Thanks guys. Thanks for sharing your story too.

  8. Ducatihero says:

    Gosh – after reading what Melody wrote, I’m seeing how powerful the idea of a “jealous God can be.

    I guess I come t this form a different angle with being atheist/agnositc for most of my life. I know my postings do tend to be a little lengthy at times but that’s just ’cause l love to discuss at more than a superficial level which is what I think you do a great job of enabling David.

    I never want anything I write to be unhelpful but only to help. Please let me know. I’m thinking ye to try and keep what I write to be shorter and more concise might be the way to go? Please be kind if you are to comment though. I hear what you say David about your daughter being able to sniff out BS and smell a rat.

    I left the last church I was at because events following being vulnerable with someone about difficulty I had experienced with being mistreated. Instead of allowance being made for my dyslexia, she did put it down not to others but to me doing the mistreating claiming that she was being prophetic and that she was acting s such because “God deals with those in power in the first instance and men have the power”.

    I think so much harm is made over interpretation of words like “jealous” or “sinner” without consideration of the context to result in Christian community and worship being unattractive and even repulsive at times. Is it any surprise that it results in difficulty? But then what does the world have to offer?

    I found trying to put my total trust in any human institution or person doesn’t lead to real security. I include myself in that.

  9. This definitely resonated with me. I don’t think I’m as far on the path, but I would say I have been letting God go. There is more to be said but I don’t know how to say it other than thank you. Your blog is safe space and I appreciate your work.

  10. Thanks Benjamin. Welcome!

  11. Patrick says:

    Well, the thing is, we all bleed red. No exception. Is there a God or Creator? I don’t know. I do know that we are all the same and Christians, Muslims and atheists are all capable of loving, but also of hatred. The thing is, we should respect and love one and another, based on who they are. Not their belief, skin color or sexuality. I like the phrase God is love. Love exists, no doubt about it. So, if Love = God, God exists and we have to stop threatening people with fire and brimstone, but flood them with love! And if people don’t get along? The world is big enough. Part ways and find someone you do get along with! Bless all of you in Love!