If you or someone you know is considering suicide, know that resources are available. Text: 741741, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
A couple of months ago, the New York Times ran a fascinating article called “Googling for God.” In this piece, author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz explores recent trends in Google search data specifically related to questions people pose about God. Stephens-Davidowitz notes that the number one God-related question people ask on Google is, “Who created God?” Not surprisingly, number two is “Why does God allow suffering?” However, I was shocked and dismayed to see the question that came in at number three: “Why does God hate me?”
Stephens-Davidowitz then provides an even more troubling piece of information: “What is the most common word to complete the following question: Why did God make me ___? Number one, by far, is ‘ugly.’ The other sad answers in the top three are ‘gay’ and ‘black.’” Although the author of this article does not explicitly link “Why does God hate me?” and “Why did God make me ___?” I couldn’t help but wonder if there might be some connection between the two questions. After all, if you believe God made you “ugly,” it’s not a stretch to believe God hates you, too, since in our culture “ugly” is a very negative term that is used to denigrate people based, primarily, on their appearance. In the same way, given that those who identify as black or gay are often marginalized in our society—or even targeted for violence on the basis of those identities—it’s not hard to imagine that members of those groups might feel that God is, at best, indifferent to their plight, or, at worst, that God has hand-picked them to be oppressed and mistreated.
Reading this article made me deeply sad, because it made me realize just how many incorrect ideas about God are still out there, and how deeply those ideas are hurting people. Although the church certainly teaches that we are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s glory, it also fundamentally affirms that each one of us is created in the image of God and that through God’s grace we are loved unconditionally. Somehow it seems that this crucial message has gotten lost in the wider culture, because as the Google data show, people searching on the Internet for answers to their faith questions seem to assume that God is primarily a judgmental, capricious tyrant who selectively applies oppression and suffering to certain groups, or who makes some people “ugly” and others not.
The problem here is that it’s not God who is doing this labeling and excluding—it’s human beings. We are the ones who have created societies in which individuals are judged based on their physical appearance or on their membership in particular demographic groups, rather than on the content of their character or according to their unique gifts and skills. We—not God—are the ones who have decided that some are “in” and some are “out,” which is in direct contrast to the message we hear over and over again in Scripture: that God has come into the world to reconcile all people, through grace that is freely given to everyone. As the church, we are called to find new ways to spread the message of God’s grace and love far and wide, so that we might challenge and dismantle the erroneous theology that is causing people so much harm. My prayer is that one day, in the not-so-distant future, Google might report their top God-related searches as “Why does God care for me so much?” and “Why did God make me so beautiful and beloved?” May it be so.
The Rev. Dr. Leanna K. Fuller is assistant professor of pastoral care at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and teaches in the MDiv Program. Her ministry experience includes serving as associate pastor of Oakland Christian Church in Suffolk, Va., where she coordinated youth ministry and Christian education programming. She writes regularly on pastoral care and counseling, pastoral theology, and congregational conflict.
In the almost four years since this blog post went live, we have received record numbers of comments and e-mails. We thank you for your interest and engagement with this topic. We are thankful that we have been able to proclaim a message of hope and love to so many who have longed to hear it. We have kept the commenting for this blog active as long as possible, even though we sometimes must disable comments on our older blog posts. Unfortunately, as we approach our fourth year, the commenting feature will no longer be available.
Although we can no longer actively moderate and respond to comments on this article, we realize that the topic is important to many of our readers. If you would like to discuss issues like this in greater depth, we encourage you to connect with a congregation or pastor in your area. If you are uncomfortable discussing this topic with a pastor, consider speaking with a counselor.
If you have struggled with this question or others like it, or if you or someone you know is considering suicide, know that resources are available. Text: 741741, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Thank you for your conversation over these last years! Once again, remember the words of the article above: you are created in the image of God and through God’s grace you are loved unconditionally.