The God I Don’t Believe In

The God I don’t believe in wrote the Bible through verbal plenary inspiration. What God wanted to be in there, word for word, is in there.

The God I don’t believe in is accurately represented in the Bible.

The God I don’t believe in controls the weather.

The God I don’t believe in sends sinners to hell for doing things he doesn’t like.

The God I don’t believe is definitely male-gendered and is best described with the pronoun, “he.” Preferably, “He.”

The God I don’t believe in is an autocratic dictator. What He says goes, whether it’s morally right or not.

The God I don’t believe in makes everything happen. For a reason, of course.

The God I don’t believe in sends LGB people to hell for having sex with people of the wrong gender, TQ people to hell for being “confused,” and intersex people for having sex with anyone because they’re “defective.”

The God I don’t believe in lives up in heaven, which is in the sky, or somewhere in outer space, in a shiny golden city in the clouds.

The God I don’t believe in makes sure good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Kinda like karma.

The God I don’t believe in determines moral right and wrong purely on divine fiat.

The God I don’t believe in created the universe in six literal 24-hour days.

The God I don’t believe in guided evolution to make sure the world turned out the way it is today.

The God I don’t believe in was so angry at human beings for being sinful because of the sin nature they were born with that he had to have his own son Jesus brutally executed in order to justly forgive us, because he loved us so much.

The God I don’t believe in answers prayers about parking spots and let six million Jews die in the Holocaust, those Jews’ prayers for salvation notwithstanding.

The God I don’t believe in commanded his people to commit genocide.

The God I don’t believe in wants us to do whatever the hell we want with the earth, but God forbid(s) we have sex before we get married.

The God I don’t believe in is very nitpicky about how he is to be worshiped, going so far as to personally execute people who get it wrong.

The God I don’t believe in sends (or allows) people to (go to) hell because they believe the wrong things about him.

The God I don’t believe in was heavily mediated by the Apostle Paul, and shared many of Paul’s prejudices.

The God I don’t believe in is omnipotent, able to cause tornadoes to pass over the neighborhoods of some believers and destroy the neighborhoods of other believers.

The God I don’t believe in cares a lot about whether you believe in the Trinity, and precisely how you describe the Trinity.

The God I don’t believe in cares a lot about communion, or the Eucharist, and whether you think it’s a symbol of Jesus, actually is Jesus, is with Jesus, or Jesus is spiritually present in it, or God knows what other options now exist. Pick the wrong one and you’re headed straight for hell.

I’ve been engaged in an ongoing internal debate about whether I believe in God for a while now. It seems like an awkward meditation to be engaged in, especially while I’m in seminary and considering ordination, but if you can’t ask hard questions about God in seminary, where can you?

I’ve been going back and forth for a while now – around four years, I think. Some days I believed in God, but a lot of days I was pretty sure I didn’t, but I didn’t want to admit it – even to myself. I labelled it “doubt,” or uncertainty, or unknowing, but the reality – the truth – was that I didn’t believe in God.

Here’s the thing, though: The God I didn’t believe in (and still don’t) looks more or less like the depictions in the first section. And over these past four years, I’ve engaged in probably hundreds of conversations about what God is like. Maybe God didn’t exist, but I would defend God’s righteousness against all comers.

I would have discussions about how I didn’t think God was there, and to quell my despair I would reach for the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

I didn’t think the Bible always portrayed God rightly (and I still don’t), but when a friend recently challenged my argument that God wants economic justice for poor people, I was on him with so many Bible verses faster than if a fundamentalist was trying to prove the Bible is the word of God.

I’ve been working on this post since Saturday (today is Tuesday). Saturday, I wrote everything above the fold, and I felt good about it. Later I went back and read it and realized I hadn’t written anything that would have been problematic for me if I did believe in God!

I think the problem, then is the way I imagine God. Because even though I find it impossible to believe in the God I described earlier, I also find it almost impossible to imagine God otherwise. No wonder I keep thinking I don’t believe in God!

So I’m trying to retool how I think about God.

Sometimes I start my prayer, “Mothering God.” That just flips everything I imagine about God upside-down.

I did a google search for the phrase “what do you mean when you say God” that led me to all sorts of fascinating and exciting content. It’s not enough for me to say I believe in God in a way that is not the way I imagine God, because I’m going to keep right on imagining God the same way as before, and I’m going to keep thinking that I don’t believe in God!

We can’t speak of God and not have some notion of what that word means – what God is like – even if it is wrong. If we say “God” and don’t mean anything by it, then “God” is a nonsense word, like Iyfilteringlut.

I’ll post some thoughts I’ve been considering for how I might imagine God and what I might mean when I say God tomorrow or the day after, but until then, I have a question for you:

How do you imagine God?

My thoughts that I posted later

Please refrain from making nonsense-comments like “I believe in the God of the Bible.” I will immediately ask, “Which one?” because the Bible depicts God in so many interesting and incompatible ways that this statement provides practically no information at all, and barely more than if you had said, “The one true real God.”

About David M. Schell






22 responses to “The God I Don’t Believe In”

  1. Dierdron Rogers Avatar
    Dierdron Rogers

    I believe in the God that created the Universe; that cannot be described wholly or even mostly by humans; that does not fit into any of the tidy boxes most (if not all) organized religions construct. This God, at this point, is perfectly synonymous with Nature to me.

    1. David M Schell Avatar

      I really find this view attractive, but I’ve been pondering this question: if God is perfectly synonymous with nature, why not call God “nature?” Why use the word “God” if “God” just means “nature?” Or does God mean something more than “the universe?”

      1. Steph Avatar

        Totally jumping into this, just because this thought got my head going. Obviously some people do use “nature” or “the universe” when speaking about the Divine, and that works for them. For me though I think that misses the greatness of God, the “other”-ness of the Divine. We can study nature, we can learn about it and analyse it and set it in stone. We can use and manipulate and master it. I don’t want (at least, not at this moment) to be able to master the Divine. One of the things that draws me to theology is that I can always be wrong (and many times I have been, and there’s ways I’m wrong right now that I don’t even know about) and that’s ok, because I believe in a God that honours the journey and the intent and the desire to grow and understand and learn more. I’m a fan of progressive revelation (but maybe I just like it because it makes things easier on me)

        1. Dierdron Rogers Avatar
          Dierdron Rogers

          Well said.

      2. Dierdron Rogers Avatar
        Dierdron Rogers

        I guess I use the terms interchangeably, often depending on my audience and/or the context of the discussion. Partly, it’s an attempt to honor the sensitivities of dialogue participants who have a more traditional faith in God, as defined in a canon. It also makes sense to me personally since I often stand in deep awe of Nature’s/God’s wonders. The way many describe the feeling of the Holy Spirit, very closely matches what this awe feels like to me; in fact, the difference is often completely imperceptible.

        I share your disbelief in the God you described. An omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and all-loving God who sends His children to hell for not picking the right tidy box constructed by some organized religion, makes no sense at all. If He/She/It possesses sentience and really wants me to know His/Her/Its personal details (like how to pronounce His/Her/Its name — Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu … , or the chronology of the human family and events as depicted in various canons), I’m quite confident I will attain this knowledge. The power of persuasion of the (omnipotent) God you wrote about, leaves a lot to be desired. All evidence so far, suggests God is not that concerned with the details of my beliefs. So I carry on with exploring and learning about this Cosmic creation we exist in, often filled with the aforementioned spiritual awe and deep respect for the vastness and power of the universe.

    2. RednGreen Avatar

      I really identify with this. God feels like so much more than the tiny box the Church tries to cram him into. I’m always mystified when religious people deny science and claim “God” because to me, Science, Mother Nature, Love and so much more than our feeble minds can comprehend all combine together make up GOD. And just think, if we interpreted ‘God is love’ in the literal sense and worshiped the concept of LOVE, every problem in this world would either disappear or be greatly diminished. So have we oversimplified God or made Him/Her more complicated than it really is? I am unsure. But I do know that I also do not believe in the God you listed in this article. And I fear persecution from loved ones if they knew I felt that way.

      1. Steph Avatar

        It’s always bothered me when Christians act like Christianity (especially their own flavour) has a monopoly on truth and ignores the truth and beauty and such found in other sources – other beliefs, science, experiences etc. – as though if it isn’t in the Bible or accepted doctrine it’s somehow contaminated or less. I think looking for truth/God/love/etc outside of the tiny box is what saved my faith and my ability to believe in something when the box I was stuck in started falling apart.

  2. Elizabeth Avatar

    I’ve been fighting with this for about a year now. I want to believe in Jesus, who is the exact opposite of the Evil Fundamentalist God who made me inferior to men but totally loves me just as much, or the Evil Fundamentalist God who made me just smart and inquisitive enough to end up in hell with all my questions.

    God is big enough for all my questions and patient enough for all my anger. (S)he understands why I direct my frustrations about the Church toward the supposedly benevolent being that created it.

    God is big and complicated enough for all peoples and faiths, even though I believe Jesus is the greatest manifestation of his/her love. God knows that my walking away is not a matter of if but when, and (s)he knows why it will happen. And at my lowest, when I hurt and disillusionment have made me cynical and distrustful of the divine, God is the kind stranger who brightens my day, or the wise word of a more grounded mentor. And slowly, hesitantly, I will come back to the God I so desperately want to believe in.

    God is Love. As my view of love changes, my view of God changes. I’m young and have a lot to figure out, but Love will be there even when I’m not.

    1. David M Schell Avatar

      “And at my lowest, when I hurt and disillusionment have made me cynical and distrustful of the divine, God is the kind stranger who brightens my day, or the wise word of a more grounded mentor.”

      I think that is really beautiful.

      1. Elizabeth Avatar

        Thank you!

  3. Timber St. James Avatar
    Timber St. James

    Hola D., long time no see.

    People get uncomfortable when I say I don’t believe in God, especially right before I pray publicly. I’ve found the best way to describe my own experience is that I now blame God for way less.

    1. David M Schell Avatar

      Sorry, homework / seminary / break and stuff! I love this response. Just love it.

  4. Steph Avatar

    I’ve experienced a similar season – going back and forth in belief and doubt. Some days I’m still there. My way of expressing it was “I’d be ok if God doesn’t exist” – which is still true, but at the same time there’s a burning in me to learn and seek and grow and experience connect with the Divine. So there’s that.
    Having kids has taught me a lot and helped me change my frame for God. I stopped believing in a God that would reject me or punish me if I questioned too much or pushed too far (I was trained in Arminian theology, losing my salvation was one of my biggest fears). I guess I don’t really have a full answer for this question, except that I think God has much more grace and love and forgiveness and wisdom than I think we give credit for. Greater and more awe-some and at the same time more invested in the world and who we are and how things should be. I believe in a God who restores and renews, but I’m still learning what those things mean.

    1. David M Schell Avatar

      I love this.

  5. Morgan Guyton Avatar

    I’ve been wrestling a whole lot with how to understand God. I really want to believe that God has my destiny in his hands because it’s terrifying to think that I’ve got to figure everything out myself since I’m such a mess. But campus ministry has really challenged my deus ex machina conception of God. I’ve had to come to grips with the way that I can have amazing spiritual encounters, but that God won’t make it rain for me in terms of the size of the crowd on Sunday or a viral response to a blog post. The God that I connect with seems impotent to stop assholes from dominating the conversation in the body of Christ. I feel like he keeps on letting himself get crucified by the fundamentalists and it makes me mad at him.

    I definitely believe in God because I’ve had mystical experiences where I cannot deny God’s presence. Specifically, my preaching makes me believe in God because I am the suckiest sermon planner in the history of sermons and somehow God gives me what to say in the moment. I can’t explain how it works and it’s a little bit embarrassing to admit how little I know what I’m going to say ahead of time, but somehow it’s been working. I used to get all tied up in knots when I was trying to do a manuscript every week. I spent so much time agonizing over it. Now I just have a running conversation with God throughout the week which kind of includes my blog posts and facebook dialogues. I usually have a rough outline with some illustration ideas but not a whole lot more. And the marinating of all that somehow translates into what I say on Sundays.

  6. Kate Schell Avatar

    “I find it impossible to believe in the God I described earlier, I also find it almost impossible to imagine God otherwise.” SAME. Which is why, for now, I’ve stopped trying to imagine him at all, stopped looking everywhere for a new face of the same god. If I stumble across a god I can believe in, I’m open to that, but I can’t keep trying to unsee the vision of god I was taught. Faith just doesn’t work like that, not for me.

    I admire you for wrestling so fiercely and hope you find who you’re looking for.

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  8. Eleanor Katherine Skelton Avatar
    Eleanor Katherine Skelton

    Wow. This is very much where I’ve been at this last year. Just… wow. *feels all the feelings*

  9. Eleanor Katherine Skelton Avatar
    Eleanor Katherine Skelton

    I imagine God as light. All good things, but strong. I am also deeply attached to Jesus, have been ever since early childhood.

    Also, this describes me almost perfectly: “I didn’t think the Bible always portrayed God rightly (and I still don’t), but when a friend recently challenged my argument that God wants economic justice for poor people, I was on him with so many Bible verses faster than if a fundamentalist was trying to prove the Bible is the word of God.”

  10. Ivy Willow Avatar
    Ivy Willow

    This was a very interesting read for me. I’m an agnostic atheist, and I’m quite solidly set in my atheism, so this was a very interesting read for me. The comments have been intriguing as well. I’m always intrigued by the way that belief functions in people. I left my faith at 15, so the way I thought about it is a little funny at this point, 13 years later. Eleanor Skelton brought me here (thank you).
    To me, God, as he’s written in the Bible, which for myself is the only thing that I can go off of, is a finicky, dangerous, fickle and controlling individual, who’s terrifying in his power and wrath.
    On the other side, it intrigues me how religious individuals can take such a figure as that portrayed in the Bible, and turn it into something that allows them to do better for others. It fascinates me that so many people can look past the genocide and many other horrors that were committed by, and commanded by God in the Bible, and manage to separate that from the good, and only go by the good.
    This is not said to get under anyone’s skin, but rather to answer the question. I have no qualms with religious people, and hey, if it allows you to do better for yourself and others then *shrugs* I don’t see why I should argue about it. Y’all are my allies in fighting the negative sides of religion.
    The only time I ever really butt heads personally with people is when they utilize the negative aspects of religion to be able to harm people and use it to excuse themselves and wipe their hands clean.
    Again, thank you for the fascinating view points (both OP and comments), and have a beautiful day sunshine ^.^

  11. regina Avatar

    I converted to Islam in August, I was very happy because it felt like something I should have been doing my entire life. But recently I’ve been doubting gods existence and his motivations. Why create us with so many desires than curse us when we act on these desires. Why even create us at all? What’s the point if you already know everything we will do? So confused.

  12. […] if the god I don’t believe in is a graven image? Something I made a long time ago in my heart and in my head so when I visited it […]

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