How God’s Love Changed Me
For those who don’t know me, here’s a set of fun facts:
- My name is Joshua (Hebrew root of the name Jesus) Issa (the Arabic translation of the name Jesus), so my name can be translated as Jesus Jesus
- I like reading a lot
- Finishing up my last term of Physics and Astronomy
- Been in CCF since my 1B term
- I’ve run SWORD three times (2019 Fall, 2022 Fall, 2023 Winter)
Chances are if you’ve known me for any amount of time then you probably know some of these facts. Something you likely don’t know about me is that I went through a severe crisis of faith over the past couple of years.
Yeah, it may be surprising to hear, but it’s true. Starting in early 2020 until early 2022 I was struggling quite a bit with Christianity and whether it was a good fit for me. Scientifically, politically, and theologically I was having a lot of big questions and spent two years in a state of limbo not sure of what to do. I was raised Christian, and it was something that was clearly important to my family and friends, but it was losing its significance for me. Throughout all the changes I went through, God was faithful to preserve me. I hope that sharing this experience will be helpful for you <3.
Issues Upon Issues
There were a lot of things going on all at once that started to break apart the faith I had before. I had become extremely prideful, arrogant, and harsh during my 2A term in Fall 2019 under the guise of being more spiritually mature. Then I moved to Ottawa for co-op, where I spent almost all my time alone and began challenging my beliefs because I thought I could show how right I was. Reflecting on it, there were three major points that stick out to me: (1) the Bible (2) politics (3) God.
Bible: The biggest issue for me was definitely losing any sense of trust in the Bible. Growing up all the pastors I trusted told me that you must believe the Bible is perfect in all things no matter what — but this was based on the face-value reading of the text. When I started to delve into questions of the origins of the universe and evolution, the historicity of events like the Exodus, and contradictions in the Bible, I quickly found out that this way of approaching it was wrong. Because of the emphasis on taking the face-value meaning, I increasingly saw the Bible as full of flaws. Not only was the Bible at odds with scientific and historical knowledge, but it didn’t even line up with itself! Comparing any account in Matthew, Mark, and Luke easily showed the ways the text of Scripture diverged from itself. To make matters worse, any academic-level text I turned to not only argued for this, but took it as an obvious truth. The face-value approach had caused me to no longer see the Bible as anything more than just a book.
Politics: During this process, I found a lot of my political beliefs started to change. In addition to losing trust in the Bible, I no longer wanted to be associated with the label of Christian because of the political implications. Heightened by the events of 2020, I was very distraught when I saw churches I trusted stand against those advocating for racial justice and profess an increased hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community, among other things. This caused me to distance myself from the Christian community I had grown to trust, and to look inward to myself.
God: Finally, I was having a lot of issues with God. It was becoming increasingly unlikely that God was worth worshipping. The picture that God was going to destroy us with His wrath, but that Jesus stepped in the way to shield us from it with His blood, stopped making any sense to me. Further, it made even less sense to me that if someone would reject this, that God would torment them forever.
I spent many days in turmoil over this, many nights walking the streets of Hamilton, and a lot of talks with Tim He in my car. However, I did not see that a lot of the reasons behind this were rooted in my pride, arrogance, and harshness. Because of my pride, I had agreed with a doctrine of Scripture that put me as the highest interpreter and authority. Because of my arrogance, I had aligned myself with self-righteous politics that feared the other rather than loving them. Because of my harshness, I believed in a God who was equally harsh and vindictive. Although I was right to reject these beliefs, I turned my frustrations onto Christianity rather than looking at myself to see why I had thought these things. At this point in the journey, however, I was finding what I thought Christianity was to be increasingly unsalvageable.
I don’t want to imply that somehow I have it all figured out now, but I’ve definitely figured out a few things about myself in the process. I spent about two years realizing more and more how I needed to be more humble, loving, and gentle. This process was painful emotionally and spiritually, and I didn’t know where I was going, nor what I was doing. Looking back, I can see that it was all a work of the Spirit guiding my stubborn heart into deeper sanctification. In response to the three problems I brought up, there were three things I had to learn: (1) rediscovering passion (2) relearning to read (3) trusting God’s love.
Rediscovering: I had to distance myself from Christianity for a time and consider the options available to me, whether it was atheism or another religion. I didn’t read the Bible, but found prayer (to a God I wasn’t sure I liked) and music (non-Christian, but spiritually meaningful) as helpful ways of staying connected to spirituality. As I spent this time away, I ended up being drawn back into the Gospels and rediscovering who Jesus was afresh. I saw His love and concern for the poor, outcast, and marginalized. I began reading the Old Testament and seeing God’s special concern toward those who were oppressed and the foreigner. Because of this, I started to see how God is not some wrathful monster, but instead a loving God who stood up for those being harmed. By providence, I heard of KW Redeemer and their emphasis on the importance of Christians working in the world to bring justice and reconciliation to those suffering. Pastor Paul’s sermons were a beacon of light in a storm, showing how we can show love to people who we might be quick to hate. Because of this community I found, I began to grow in the fruits of gentleness and kindness, two things I deeply lacked and needed. It was simply not possible to see the importance of loving those who are being marginalized without recognizing that. I had to be critical of my actions and attitude to others, to go out of my way to be softer and more empathetic than the callous person I used to be.
Relearning: Although I was finding myself drawn back into Christianity, I wasn’t really sure what to do with the Bible anymore. By sheer chance, I became interested in church history. Through the many Christians in the past (and some in the present!) I learned that Scripture was complicated and that we can read it allegorically. I found out the Bible isn’t a newspaper reporting the facts on the ground, but rather is a theological poem about the love of God and what He has done for us in Christ Jesus. The theologians and pastors and leaders I was finding grappled with the hard questions with nuance. I saw that my concerns with questions of scientific and historic accuracy simply miss the point of what the Bible is doing: pointing us to Jesus Christ as the only one who loves us. However, in this, I had to dismantle a lot of my pride in interpreting Scripture. I couldn’t move from one type of harsh dogmatism of face-value to another of allegory, but I had to learn that Scripture is too complicated for any one stream of interpretation to be correct. Most importantly, I had to learn humility when approaching it and determining what it meant.
Trusting Love: Despite all this reworking, I was struggling with jumping back onto the Christian train because it seemed to fail me before. Despite learning of God’s love more generally as caring for us, it still didn’t register that the core of Christianity is God’s Love. Up to this point, I was still seeing that our purpose on this Earth was to glorify God so that He doesn’t hurt us. This was something that needed to be changed. One day, I stumbled upon 1 John 4 and found out the truth: God isn’t some scary monster that Jesus saves us from. Instead, God is a God of sacrificial love who shows that to us in Jesus Christ.
(1 John 4.7–11, NRSV): Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
It clicked all of a sudden: God is Love. And not just in some abstract way, but God is truly and deeply Love and showed us in human history that He does. He actually paid a deep and personal cost to show us how much He loves us, and asks us to join in loving one another. When I came to this realization, and it really settled in my heart after months and months of thinking and rethinking, I found that I really did want to be Christian so that I could experience and share this love with other people. Our purpose in this life is to know God’s Love, and any separation from that would be suffering.
Although the process hurt a lot, God has worked in my life to bring about a deeper sanctification than I ever thought possible. I praise God that I have begun moving from the prideful, arrogant, and harsh guy I was (and still somewhat am) to growing in humility, love, gentleness, and kindness through the Spirit. Although I still struggle quite a bit with problems I had, God’s Love has been an anchor through it all. In Christ’s death and resurrection, we are called to die to ourselves and be raised with Christ anew. We are dead to ourselves, and now Christ lives through us.
(Song of Solomon 2.4, NRSV): He brought me to the banqueting house, and his intention toward me was love.
(Song of Solomon 8.7a, NRSV): Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
(Philipians 2.5–8, NRSV): Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
(1 John 3.16, NRSV): We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters.