Killing the Idea of God

I have an acute fear of death. Physical death. I love God more than I can express in words, but when spiritual doubt creeps in, it usually relates to the afterlife. And sometimes, it's altogether paralyzing.

I couldn't have been older than four or five years old when I formed this thought for the first time in my life. I'm sure it was something random I'd read or seen on TV. I don't quite recall. What I do remember--still so vividly to this day--is the overwhelming sense of dread and inevitability that soaked every cell of my mind.

One day, I realized, I would die. I would cease to exist. But more than that, I would stop thinking, stop being cognizant of my own being. I imagined myself in those moments of death after my body gave out of being a mind trapped in an immovable body.

As I grew up in an average, suburban church I was taught that if I just believed hard enough in God's son, that everything would be OK. I wouldn't die. I would get to live forever in Heaven.

Forever? Wow. That sounds kind of boring. Wouldn't I get bored of living forever and ever in the same place (read: bed of clouds with lots of fat babies with wings floating by)? I somehow managed to create a fear out of life-after-death and of death-after-death.

So yeah. My own death freaks me out. Like, a lot.

Recently, though, I've realized that a lot of this fear comes from the way I was taught to think about God: as an idea. God, so the story went, is a really nice feeling I got when I helped at a soup kitchen. God was the annoying voice telling me not to try my friend's cigarette. God was the guilt I felt when I had lustful thoughts about that sophomore who was out of my league.

This mode of thinking permeates, I think, so much of American Christian culture that we forget how often God presents herself to us in things and, most importantly, in people.

One of my favorite ways to pray now is fasting. While fasting, I'm constantly reminded of the physical love of God in the providing of food.

When I reflect on the ways I show love to my wife and my friends, it's usually related to sharing a meal or a drink. Physical presence. Physical sustenance.

When I realize the true impact my community has on me, it's in the moments when they are literally there in front of me, face to face.

When my wife tells stories about the Good News in its purest form in Mozambique, she speaks of clean water.

These are God.

It is easy to be afraid of an idea. Ideas are easily manipulated, overanalyzed, and misrepresented. It's difficult to overanalyze homemade sweet potato fries because you came over for dinner. It's hard to manipulate the goodness of the open ear of a friend. It's hard to misrepresent a family free of disease because of a new well in the village.

Bring God down to earth and find him among us. He did that for us. Why is it so hard for us to do?


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