What to Do If “God” has Become a Bad Word for You

When you think of “God,” what is your internal experience? Are you afraid, wishing you could hide behind some fig leaves? Do you feel angry, imagining you’d give Him a tongue-lashing if you could see Him? Perhaps He’s more like “out of sight, out of mind,” and you find yourself a functional agnostic. Or you’re ambivalent and your feelings are pretty confused. If “God” has become a bad word for you, it’s likely you need a new God.

Now I don’t mean you can pick and choose your God; far from it! But as A. W. Tozer said, “What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” This is far more than intellectual knowledge. And we now have scientific studies showing that your mental picture of God is directly correlated with your mental wellbeing.

Your internal picture of God develops before you know it’s developing. You can’t escape the impact of your relationship with your earthly father on your relationship with God. And then your experience with those who are acting in God’s name makes a real impact. Church hurt is real. Women especially have had some unique fallout from God-talk being mixed with harm.

As Dr. Diane Langberg said in a recent conversation we had about spiritual abuse of authority, “Such a person needs a new God.”

I hope and pray your experience in relationship with God is secure, strong, and resilient. But if you need to “find” a “new God,” how do you do that?

The Biblical Perspective

Throughout the Old Testament God interacted with His people in many ways. Some of God’s best friends knew Him well. Abraham was known as a friend of God (James 2:23). Moses had a face-to-face relationship with God (Exodus 33:11). Isaiah saw Him, and was forever changed (Isaiah 6:1-7).

But most of the people didn’t have an accurate picture of God. They didn’t see God as completely good. “God” had become a bad word to many of them. And God had extremely harsh things to say to those leaders who treated people badly in God’s name (see Ezekiel 34:1-10). God is not surprised at human beings having a harmful distorted picture of Himself. It’s been that way for centuries.

So Jesus came as a demonstration of who God really is. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.

So let me ask you, based on what you know of Jesus, is your view of God the same as your view of Jesus? If not, why not?

Yet even this does not fully address the problem. The Biblical picture of God is important, and sometimes helpful. It’s not that the Bible is “wrong”; it’s not wrong! But I know people personally who recoil internally at Biblical references to God as Father, about Jesus being God with us, or with any invitation to take the Bible’s picture of God as good. The Bible has been so used as a weapon, God-talk has been so intertwined in the harm they have experienced, that their heart trauma creates an almost insurmountable obstacle. “Relationship with God” sounds like a relationship with the worst person(s) they’ve experienced.

How Brains Change

Intellectual knowledge only goes so far. You didn’t develop a distorted internal picture of God by logical linear arguments, and your internal picture of God won’t change by a different set of arguments. Your internal picture of God changes by having different experiences, by getting under the surface, by feeling felt by God, and by these things happening over time.

Your internal emotional feelings about God developed “reasonably.” You had good reason to feel that God is distant, or a tyrant, or powerless, or hurtful, or selfish, or disinterested. You experienced things, and developed beliefs about God–and life and the world–as a result. Those beliefs are not necessarily true, but you came to them for a reason.

If “God” has become a bad word to you, if you need a new God, it will be important to give your brain opportunity to develop new beliefs. And if you’ve experienced harm in the name of God new beliefs don’t come through an intellectual Bible study.

The neural pathways that fire in your brain when you hear or think “God” need to be rebuilt. You can’t stop old pathways from firing; you’ve got to build new pathways that over time become stronger and stronger. That may sound daunting, but we know it’s possible. Recent brain science research actually proves this is possible. And here are some important ways to help that happen.

Open to Change

If you need a new God, a good place to start is considering the possibility that what you believe about God and what you feel about Him may not be completely true. Deciding to question your own thoughts and feelings about God is a measure of openness to growth. That’s a good thing.

Ask Honestly

A common false understanding is that you’re not “supposed” to question God. (Perhaps you were required to unquestionably accept what your parents or other authorities said. That creates a template in your brain about God too.) The true God, the God I know, loves you to bring your questions to Him. When you’re ready, it’s OK to bring your questions to Him. “Where were you when . . .? How could You let . . . happen? Why aren’t You helping me?” God is honored by your questions.

Connect with Someone

Your brain changes when you feel seen, when you feel someone really “gets” you, when you feel felt. There are wise safe people who can be that for you. Reaching out to find such a person is likely to make all the difference. Ideally you’d have a handful of such people in your life. It may take more energy on your part than you believe you have, but there’s no better place to invest what energy you do have.

And if you know and care about someone struggling with such hurt, be that person to them. Listen. Don’t try to fix them; just be a safe place.

Keep Walking

It takes as long as it takes. Deep wounds take longer. No one can judge how long another person’s journey should take. And know that God is patient also. Take breaks and get some rest. And then just take the next step. There is another God to be found.

Your Turn: Has “God” become a bad word to you? Have you been harmed in such a way that you need to find a “new God?” Where are you in this journey now? Leave a comment below.

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Being hurt in the name of God creates deep wounds that need care, tending, and time. It is possible to find connection, growth, and healing regardless of how difficult things have been.

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