A God Worth Believing In

By Katie McNeal ’15 M.Div., ’16 S.T.M.

“God is love.” I remember sitting in Sunday School as a young child learning this. Repeatedly, although framed in a different story each week, I would hear about God’s love, God’s power, and God’s abiding presence. 

I know that God hears my cries and invites me deeper into belief, deeper into love through my questions. I know that God is in each of these very messy places in life.

However, as I grew older, it became more and more challenging to sustain my young Sunday school student confidence in these concepts. As I learned more about the world, I had more and more questions about God. If God is all-powerful, then why is there so much pain and suffering in the world? If God is always with us, then why do so many people feel lonely? If God is love, then why do hate and prejudice even exist? Why are there so many heartbreaking stories in the news every night? Is God absent? Is God apathetic? And above all, why should I believe in a God who doesn’t seem to be living up to the reputation as an all-powerful God who is love?

Questions As Old As Time

As a divinity school student, then as a youth ministry leader and now as a pastor, I have come to appreciate how prevalent these struggles are. The children and youth in my church wonder these same things. The adults who come to worship and Bible study come with these uncertainties on their hearts. My colleagues wrestle with these questions regularly. Answers seem few and far between. But that really shouldn’t be surprising. These questions are as old as time. Even the scriptures, written to teach us about God’s mighty power and God’s love, are full of them. I think that’s because by asking these questions, we find a God that is worth believing in.

Human beings ask questions incessantly. Throughout the Bible, there are dozens upon dozens of questions about God’s presence, love, and power, even about God’s very existence. And each time, God answers by calling the people back into belief, back into caring for their neighbors, back into God’s unending love. No, God’s love does not magically make the challenges go away. God’s love is not the simplistic kind of love seen in rom-com movies. It’s the stubborn, active love of real life that isn’t afraid of the messiness of life. It’s the kind of love that’s willing to go so far as to experience death on a cross. That’s not an easy love in which to participate, but that’s the love God reveals throughout scripture and throughout the world. 

The World’s Messiness

In the scriptures, God’s story is told across thousands of years and dozens of generations. There are times of peace and prosperity, but more often there are times of strife and struggle, times when people rebel against God, times when people choose to be prejudiced against those on the margins of society. And in their anguish people ask “Why?” In response, God calls out to the people of the scriptures and reminds them of God’s abiding presence. God continually calls the people to work harder to love and care for all of God’s beloved, especially those who are forgotten or who are crushed by systems in society. In their questions, God invites people to stretch a little further in their belief and in their love. And just like in those stories in the scriptures, today God as love is always inspiring us to participate in this love, asking us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves, even when it all seems to be too much. 

The more I dive into scripture, the more these stories reveal their depth and connect with the world we live in today, and the more I want to be a part of God’s love, even as that love pulls me into the messiness of the world and refuses to relent. This tenacious, active, loving God is the kind of God I want to believe in, the kind of God I need, the God who never gives up, always urging us to be better at loving. 

The Love That Persists

We live in a world that seems to give us every reason not to believe in God: trends of secularism, public atrocities, injustices, reigns of terror, and social upheaval. In a culture that seems to have moved away from God and that challenges our faith in so many ways, it is hard to lean into the love of God, to trust and believe in God’s dynamic love in this world. And frankly, I cannot come to that place on my own. 

But in the questions I ask as I struggle with the heartbreak on the news, the prevalence of prejudice and hatred, the loneliness of a world that would often like to forget about God, I lean on the stories in scripture. Just as it has been true for thousands of years, I know that God hears my cries and invites me deeper into belief, deeper into love through my questions. I know that God is in each of these very messy places. I know God is present in the love that persists even when it seems impossible. God is with us reminding us that we are beloved, inspiring us to keep fighting, keep working to be better and do better. And when that task feels overwhelming, I find myself returning to what I’ve known since Sunday school, and what I hear every week in worship: God is love. In the strength of God’s own perfect love I can hold onto my belief in an almighty God of truth, justice, and love, always calling me back to find hope.

God is love that has been around for as long as time and will be around forever, love that is not bound by death, love that offers resurrection and life in response to the worst that the world offers. We aren’t offered answers as to why life is as heartbreaking and painful and difficult as it is, but we are given hope and courage that God will hear our questions and will continually invite us back to belief, back to love, and back to God. 

That’s the kind of love, the kind of God I believe in, especially when I watch the news and feel the heartbreak. And I dare to say, that is the kind of love, the kind of God that we need to be showing and teaching to the world because that’s the God of love the world needs to know and experience.

The Rev. Katie McNeal ’15 M.Div., ’16 S.T.M. is pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Mars, PA. Previously she was director of youth and family ministries at St. James Lutheran Church in Southbury, CT. She is a 2012 graduate of Wittenberg University, where she majored in biochemistry/molecular biology and music.