What if Christian teachings fill me with feelings of guilt?

No one left the presence of Jesus feeling worthless. And any sense of guilt was immediately healed with his loving acceptance.

I read the Bible and try to follow what scripture tells me to do. Why aren't things working out for me?

Written by Lowell E. Grisham

I was in a conversation with someone the other day who was brought up to believe in the Bible literally. She was a person who had suffered deeply and experienced much loss. She felt an anger toward God and was plagued by questions such as…"If there is a God, then why have so many bad things happened to me? I thought if you followed God, bad things weren't supposed to happen to you so much. If bad things are going to happen anyway, what help is it to believe in and follow God?"

She was stuck in circular thinking that comes, in part, from reading literally passages such as Deuteronomy 11:13-19: "If you will only heed his every commandment…then he will give the rain…" And if you disobey, "…then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain…then you will perish quickly…"

If…then. Religion reduced to a transaction. Essentially it is a self-interested transaction. If I do right by God, then God will take care of me and prevent drought and other bad things. But when bad things happen, then it must be somebody's fault. The nearest place to look for blame is probably the one who is suffering. Therefore victimize the victim.

"What good is believing in God?" she asked me, wanting to put down the anger that is a byproduct of her suffering. We talked.

I believe that life with God does go better, truly, than life without God. But not in the sense that we get a pass on suffering, tragedy and misfortune. Christians say that when we look at Christ, we see the face of God. The picture we see declares that God is with us in suffering, tragedy and misfortune. And it says that such things will not be the last word. God brings resurrection. But Jesus did not experience resurrection until he had died. It is that way for us sometimes as well.

When we choose to accept the relationship that God offers us, it can change our experience of life, including its suffering. And here is the offer— God loves us and God is with us. God loves us unconditionally even before we have responded to God. God is with us so we can live with a new energy of presence and confidence, even in the times of suffering. The worst that can happen can be united with the cross. It is given meaning and hope, even though it may not disappear.

So in some sense, things do go better when we believe in and follow God. But "going better" doesn't mean that we won't experience drought and bad things. And when bad things happen, it doesn't mean someone has to be blamed, especially not the one who is suffering. If the cross can happen to Jesus, then tragedy and injustice can happen to us as well. Experiencing our lives through a relationship with Jesus can change its meaning.

That's what Paul continually talked about. If you are living "in Christ," he says, you are "a new creation." It involves dying to that old way of living. The old way includes believing that we make a project out of our lives—the righteous earning righteousness, deserving blessing; the sinner earning condemnation and misfortune. Paul has died to that way of thinking.

Now he experiences everything "in Christ." God loves us and God is with us. Therefore, whatever happens is new. When good things happen, rejoice that God has given us more than we can deserve. When bad things happen, rejoice that God has let you share in Christ's sufferings. It is Christ's sufferings which are healing the world. That is reconciliation, says Paul.—

—The Rev. Lowell Grisham