One of the questions I am often asked is: did you have a “relationship with God” ? The implication is that since I am now an atheist I did not have a real relationship with God. If my relationship with God had been the real deal then I would still be a Christian. In their mind, once someone finds Jesus they would never, ever want to walk away from him. (even though the Bible says people do)
Such conversations or accusations leave a bitter taste in my mouth. It is as if I am not permitted to have my own experience with God or that I am not permitted to control my own storyline. Every Christian, it seems, has their own idea of what it is to have a relationship with God. They judge every other persons experience by their own, directly contradicting the Bible they say they believe. (2 Corinthians 10:12)
Over the course of 25 years in the ministry, I pastored or preached to thousands of people. Ask any of them, at the time I was their pastor, did they think I had a relationship with God? 100% would answer yes. I was NEVER accused of not having a relationship with God.
What constitutes a relationship with God? I loved Jesus, studied the Bible, prayed, lived according to the teachings of the Bible, gave tithes and offerings, and tried my best each and every day to be a good example of a follower of Jesus Christ. I selflessly gave myself to the work of the ministry. I was zealous in witnessing, hoping to win as many people as possible to Jesus.
I realize this post won’t keep self-righteous, arrogant Christians from “judging” my past relationship with God. As long as I write about Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity, I am going to have Christians react in hostile, negative, and hateful ways. While I no longer believe there is a God, for almost 50 years, I prayed to God and believed he was speaking to me. I believed God gave me the sermons I preached and that God used my sermons to change people’s lives. I believed that I could see God’s presence in my life and in the Church I pastored. God was every bit as real to me as my wife of 36 years.
My grandchildren have great imaginations. If they are left to themselves long enough they will begin to have conversations with imaginary beings. Barbie’s come to life. Stuffed animals live. In their mind, these are real relationships. Of course, adults know they are not.
That is how I look at my 50 year relationship with God. It “seemed” real to me and to everyone who knew me. I benefited from my relationship with God and so did the people I pastored. Yet, as I now know, the God I was in a relationship with was a fictional being.
The Bible says, when I became a man I put away childish things, and that is how I look at my past life. I am in no way discounting the relationship others have with their God. While I do not believe God exists, I do know that people find great comfort, hope, and purpose from believing in a higher power. Myth doesn’t need to be real for it to be of value.