- by Catherine Joy
Whispers of Faith and Doubt
Lean in and listen as I whisper a few thoughts about God. I’m speaking quietly because I’m still a little lost and confused. The foundations of my faith have been shifting and rolling beneath my feet for the past few years so I’m not making solid claims you should stake your own life upon. I’m merely sharing part of my journey with you in the hope it might resonate and have you thinking about your own beliefs.
Whispered thought no. 1: Breaking the rules does not lead to ruin. God is not a genie in a bottle granting every wish. I grew up fairly and squarely within a solid Bible-believing, church-attending family. I was raised to believe every word of the Bible but somehow missed the message of grace. I never doubted God’s existence. I was obedient. I kept my thoughts pure. I turned the other cheek. I was even a virgin when I got married at 21. Second only to making my parents happy, I wanted to make God happy. I was a bit like that rich young ruler - kind of self-righteous and annoying. I did experience real moments of connection with God but my faith was more about trying to stay on the ‘right path’ for fear of what might happen if I deviated. Any miss-step felt dangerous. I questioned God when my plans fell into ruins. How come I had done (almost) everything by the book yet couldn’t get pregnant? What was wrong with my prayers? My soul was nearly destroyed by the religious formulas I resorted to and the deep shame I developed because it took so long for my prayers to be answered. My thoughts ran counter to what I knew about God’s grace but my sense of being punished felt so strong.
Phillip Yancey’s writing kept me hanging in by a thread… In essence he taught that hardship and suffering are random, serving to point us towards our creator, and showing us life isn’t about a series of checks and balances. I came out from under the cloud of confusion once I adopted my daughter, and gave birth to my eldest son, but it cast a long shadow. Lots of questions and issues were still lurking in the darkness waiting to re-emerge. Whispered thought no. 2: We care more about the rules and regulations than God does. God sets people free. A few years later I was a mother of four little ones living in a marriage that felt like a life-sentence. I asked God, “How can I keep going like this?” I would never have left my husband if he hadn’t committed adultery and then I found myself asking why had God allowed such things to happen when I’d tried so hard and done so many of the things I thought a good wife would do? I didn’t blame God but I wondered about the bigger picture.
Life as a single mum was not what I had planned or imagined. I spent months wrestling with big issues like forgiveness, broken trust, reconciliation… and amidst this, God spoke. There were signs and whispers, then finally, a clear message that I didn’t have to return to my marriage. That time was marked by desolation and despair interspersed with moments of optimism where I heard an inexplicable call to freedom, independence and a future of my own. Whispered thought no. 3: Sin is not measured on a sliding scale. It’s not my place to judge (or yours either). Nothing about God (or people or life) turned out to be as simple as I used to think. Wasn’t God all about commitment and hanging onto marriage with grim determination? Yet he’d clearly set me free. Suddenly there were a million shades of grey and a new understanding of God’s flexibility, love and grace. I realised it was not my place to judge others because I hadn’t walked in their shoes - as they hadn’t walked in mine. My views on divorce, homosexuality, sexuality, lying and gossip all changed.
My faulty view of sin and righteousness, which had various behaviours positioned along a kind of sliding scale, was turned on its head. Whispered thought no. 4: One God with “many professions” Part of my new life as a single mother involved the opportunity to travel. This gave me the chance to observe other faiths close up and to speak openly about God with people outside my own tradition. Some special conversations with a Balinese taxi driver helped open my mind further to greater truths about God. I was inspired by the devotion of the Balinese as they prayed and placed their banana leaf offerings and incense in every gateway, driveway, doorway, and at the feet of their statues and within their household temples. I watched them praying and was delighted to find that their prayers were exactly the same as mine. My driver explained, “They’re saying thank you, thank you, thank you to the one supreme God,” then, “Please, please, please for all I need…. But not my will but yours.”
At Terta Empel, the Water Temple just outside Ubud, I saw people seeking God’s blessing by bathing in waters that bubble up from deep beneath a nearby volcano. I could feel God’s peace there. My faith slipped sideways as I realised he was working in these people of another culture and another religion. Once again, my driver offered an explanation,“One God. Many professions”. I could no longer deny this was the truth.
Whispered thought no. 5: I AM the Way.
I AM is The Way. A work colleague once asked me, “Who are you to think you’re the only one with the right answer? Isn’t that the height of arrogance?” and I started wondering how a loving God could limit himself to a single way and damn the rest. This scared me because I couldn’t reconcile those thoughts with Jesus’ words; “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me”. I prayed and experienced a bit of an epiphany: Jesus was speaking of himself as the great “I am”. He was wearing his human “profession” when he spoke these words but He was, and always will be, the eternal God of the universe.
The fact is, numerous religions identify God as “The Way”. Whispered thought no. 6: God’s story of redemption emerges in different places, at different times all over the world. The Kecak Dance is performed for thousands of tourists in Bali every year and presents a section of an Hindu Epic tale called ‘The Ramayana’. I ended up using the story as the basis for a short novel and one of my most fascinating discoveries was that the hero of the epic, Rama (a human incarnation of the god Vishnu) became mortal to “abolish fear from the hearts of men and establish peace, gentleness and justice in the world”. Rama was even subjected to three temptations which included unsurpassed honours, wealth and power… Rama’s story pre-dates Christ and is located in a text that has been transmitted orally for over 4000 years.
Further reading into this phenomena showed the emergence of certain key ideas and concepts across all people and all places across time. Carl Jung used the term ‘Collective Unconscious’ to explain why we have these underlying beliefs and stories in common despite the diversity of our backgrounds. I believe God has placed his seed in the hearts of all people so ALL can know him. ALL humankind are divinely connected to one another and to God.
Whispered thought no. 7: God can be known. His wisdom flows into all kinds of people in all kinds of places.
As I entered the Life Coaching Arena I met dozens of women with beautiful hearts and a great deal to offer in a whole range of specialities that were previously been “off-limits” because of my Christian faith. I knew in theory that God’s grace was about forgiveness but I was still a bit nervous about brushing shoulders with people who were Reiki specialists or Tarot card readers. I will confess that I was fascinated.
I was lucky enough to meet a girl called Edi Tsang who showed me that God gives spiritual gifts to people outside the four walls of a church building. Her insightful message into a difficult situation made a big difference to my life and I was forced to reconsider my former thinking that God only speaks prophetically through Christians.
Since then I’ve made all kinds of other connections. I’ve realised that the one eternal and loving God of the universe has placed blueprints everywhere for us to uncover and interpret. There’s Chinese medicine with its meridians, Iridology with its map of the body accessed through your irises, the blocks of energy that Chiropractors release through spinal adjustments, answers found via muscle testing in Kinesiology, energy flows in Reiki, the healing vibrations present in crystals, Reflexology pressure points in our feet that can
treat illness throughout our entire bodies, and then there are significant insights we can gain by studying the way the stars were positioned at the moment of our births. My most important whispered question is “Who am I to limit God?” God is bigger than I thought and infinitely more confusing. He’s placed a divine spark in us all and yet so many of us seek to extinguish it if we find it outside the breadth of our own understanding and experience. God is greater than any of us can ever imagine. Our tiny little human brains simply do not have the capacity to understand the one supreme God of the universe but we can acknowledge his Lordship. I admit I am a little lost and confused now that I no longer fit the church’s conventional pattern of what a Christian ought to be. I don’t even particularly like the label or definition… but my heart still belongs to Jesus. He is the great I AM - the one supreme, eternal and loving God who IS ALL and IN ALL. No need to whisper my last line!
Catherine Joy is a teacher, life coach (linedwithsilver.com.au) and single mother of four. She loves trying to keep all of those balls in the air but fails spectacularly at times. Perfectionism and people-pleasing seemed to be written into her DNA but she's slowly releasing expectations imposed by others and settling into a more generous view of a loving God at the same time. Catherine's goal is to experience life in lots of different places and to use every wrong turn as an opportunity for learning. She resides on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Catherine Joy