In order to have a healthy relationship with God, Quaker author Phil Gulley says that we must first unlearn some of what we’ve been taught about God.
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It seems to me that when I think of people who are spiritually well and happy–and here I’m positing that happiness ought to be the goal of religion, not only our happiness but the happiness and well-being of others–people who are spiritually well and happy have all gone through a process of unlearning some of the first things they were taught about God.
Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe
My name is Phil Gulley. I live in Danville, about 20 miles west of Indianapolis. I’m the pastor of Fairfield Friends Meeting in Camby, IN which is just south of the Indianapolis International Airport, and I serve as the pastor there. I also write books.
Unlearning Two Major Beliefs
First was the belief that there was a one true church, that a human institution had somehow become the only legitimate community in which folks could gather and worship and learn and grow together. So I had to unlearn that, that there was a “true church.”
And the other thing that I had to unlearn was what I learned and were called the “omni”s. That is–God is omnipotent, God is omniscient, God is omnipowerful (all-powerful), which lasted for a long time, until I grew old enough to start having bad things happen to people I loved.
These were people of faith, wonderful people. It became impossible for me to sustain the belief that God was both all-loving and all-powerful and all-knowing. I just could not continue in that belief. Once I released that, I liked God a lot more.
Being Angry with God
Before I began unlearning the first things I was taught about God, I would have moments in my life where I was very angry at God because the world seemed to me to be a very unfair place. And it is unfair. But I had convinced myself that the reason for that was because of God’s failure to act. When you see evil and when you believe that is a consequence of God’s failure to act, it is very difficult to sustain any kind of relationship with God, because you just have this spiritual resentment.
Growing Into a Healthy Relationship with God
When you no longer have the need to say everything in this life happens because of God, or doesn’t happen because of God, then you are free to have a much healthier relationship, not unlike parents and children.
Children, when they’re young, think their parents are so powerful that they can do anything, which is a good belief to have when you’re young and insecure and need so much. But if an adult child has that opinion of their parents, wouldn’t we say that they have failed to grow? And yet so many adult Christians persist with this belief that God can do anything and that everything that happens is for a reason and that God knows the reason and God has caused this thing to happen. I think that is a patently unhealthy view of the power and personality of God.
It’s hard to like a God who is all loving and all powerful and then doesn’t do something when innocent people suffer. But when you let go of that burden and you no longer have the need to have God be all-powerful or all-knowing, it really liberates your theology.
- What were taught about God when you were young? Have you had to unlearn any of that in order to have a happy, healthy spirituality?
- Phil Gulley says, “It’s hard to like a God who is all loving and all powerful and then doesn’t do something when innocent people suffer. But when you let go of that burden and you no longer have the need to have God be all-powerful or all-knowing, it really liberates your theology.” Do you think that God is all-powerful and all-loving? How does holding (or not holding) that belief change the way you live?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.