Chapter 1—“Unboxing God”
In Chapter 1, John Pavlovitz tries on a pair of pants he wore as a 20-year-old and finds himself so helplessly stuck that he has to call on his wife and children to help get him out. Our faith journey can be like that, he says. If we’re still wearing the same religion we wore as 20-year-olds, chances are it doesn’t fit. In fact, if our faith doesn’t change and grow as our lives change, we are putting God in a box. “I think most honest people of faith. . . are looking for a bigger God,” he writes. “We all want something unbelievable to believe in.” In examining his own faith, including over 25 years as a pastor, he has come to learn that people outgrow their theology as their life experiences change and grow. If we’re going to find a bigger God, we have to admit that 1) small religion is a problem; and 2) all religion is small religion. Most of us need a bigger God to accommodate our needs; in fact, “the more someone tells you they have this spiritual life figured out, that’s a red flag that they’re lying to you or someone else.” He encourages us to look for the thin places between humanity and divinity (such as his watching the hatching of turtles on the beach) and suggests that if we pay attention, we’ll realize there are thin places all around us. If this all feels like betrayal of our childhood religion, we should remember that very little that we believed in childhood has remained the same.
Chapter 2—“Scary Bedtime Stories”
Pavlovitz doesn’t hold back in this chapter centered on the “character and agenda” of the God we have created to believe in. Is our God benevolent or punishing? Assuring or conditional? Angry or loving? This depends largely on the traditions that have been in place before us and are passed down to us. Most early-life Gods provide a degree of certainty—if you sin, you will be punished; if you believe, you will be rewarded; and so on.
Life—which is anything but certain—happens, and when bad things occur that don’t “fit” the world as we know it or the God as we know “him,” our faith falters. The pandemic was this moment for many people. Suddenly, the life they lived from day to day shut down, and even churches were no longer accessible. This was a period of uncertainty like few living today have ever experienced. When all we thought to be true no longer was, the foundation crumbled beneath us, and most of us needed to rethink our faith or lose it. On pages 27, 28, and 29, Pavlovitz shakes his fist at the toilet paper hoarders while at the same time understanding their sheer terror at the unknown (still, he says, they should share their bounty). So much of what is left when certainty leaves us is fear, which can be crippling. This is when faith, religion, and God must show themselves, says Pavlovitch, and we must muster the courage to move forward into the unknown.