One of the hardest things for me to do as I went through the deconversion process was to give an honest accounting of the God sightings or God moments in my life.
For 50 years I was a card-carrying member of the Christian Church. With gusto I sang songs like “Oh How I Love Jesus” and “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.” Jesus and his Church was EVERYTHING to me. I ate, drank, and slept Jesus. If there was a 110% Club for Christians I would have been a charter member. There wasn’t anything I wasn’t willing to sacrifice for the sake of the call.
I believed I was a God called, Spirit anointed preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I “felt” God when I preached. I “saw” God work in the churches I pastored and in the personal affairs of my family. 20 years ago I would have told anyone who asked that I bumped into God everywhere I went. Like David, no matter where I made my bed God was there.
After I left the ministry and began to deconvert I had to give an honest reckoning of the times and circumstances that I called God sightings or God moments: unexpected money in the offering plate with my name on it, mysterious food baskets left on our porch, getting thousands of miles out of old, junk cars. preaching sermons where dozens of people came to the altar to be saved or get right with God.
Over the course of my Christian life I accumulated thousands of anecdotal stories that proved God and I were on a first name basis. We were best buds. God and I were friends. I sincerely believed God was but a thought away from me. When everyone else abandoned me God was there . After all, he promised to never leave me or forsake me. (evidently God didn’t count on me leaving or forsaking him)
As I began to carefully and honestly look at these things, I came to the conclusion that what I thought was God being God was actually the work of other human beings or myself. I found no proof, no circumstance where there was no other answer but God.
It was a hard place to come to when I finally admitted that all my prayers were nothing more than Bruce talking to Bruce. It wasn’t easy to admit that my spirit powered sermons were nothing more than the work of a man who knows how to craft a good sermon and deliver it. Virtually everything I accomplished during my life as a Christian could be explained without a deity entering the explanation. The few unexplainable things that have happened in my life are not enough proof to me that God exists or that there is a God who is intimately involved in the affairs of the human race.
Recently, I saw the following sign at a nearby Christian Church::
No One is Hopeless Whose Hope is in God
I pondered for a bit the hopeless times in my life, those times when I really could have used a God moment or a God sighting. In those difficult and dark times God was silent. God was AWOL. The God of the Bible was no different from the God named Baal that Elijah mocked in 1 Kings 18:21-39:
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under. And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.
Elijah mocked the god Baal. The Bible says:
Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.
Elijah had a fun time mocking the worshipers of Baal. I suspect Elijah had a smirk, a mocking smile on his face, when he said that perhaps Baal was not available because he busy talking with someone else, on vacation,using the bathroom, or taking a nap. (or busy shooting an episode of SG-1) Funny guy, that Elijah!
Yet, as many Christians turned atheist can attest, the absence of Baal in 1 Kings 18 is not much different from the absence of the Christian God in their life. When all of our supposed God sightings and God moments are rationally and exhautively investigated, we must conclude that what we thought was God was actually other humans being or self. Sure, there will always be things that happen that we can’t explain. But, do these rare unexplainable moments rise to the level of believing the Christian God of the Bible is behind everything that happens in our life?
While God’s presence, according to praying Christians, is seen in grilled cheese sandwiches,water towers, weeping statutes, game winning scores, and being elected to congress, when it comes to the things that matter, things like sickness, disaster, starvation,and abject poverty, God is nowhere to be found.
God was able to get an extra 20.00 for me in the offering plate but he couldn’t do a thing for me when my health began to decline. God was able to get my family an extra bag of groceries but he couldn’t do a thing about my mom’s suicide, my dad’s untimely death, or my way-to-young sister in-law’s death in a motorcycle accident. In the things that mattered, God was AWOL.
I know all the arguments that Christians might give at this juncture. Perhaps they will accuse me of arrogance. How do I KNOW God wasn’t there for me? I have no doubt some well-meaning Christian is sure to say “Perhaps things could have been worse for you but God stepped in and made things easier.”
Imagine a man beating the hell out of his girlfriend in broad daylight on a public street. Imagine me seeing this and doing nothing to stop the man from beating the hell out of his girlfriend. After he has beaten her into a bloody pulp, I rush up to her and offer her my handkerchief to wipe the blood from her face. Most people would rightly chastise me for doing nothing. What the girl needed was deliverance from her attacker. She needed someone to stand up for her. She needed someone to put an end to the beating. What kind of man am I if I do nothing? (and BTW this is a true story except for one difference. I stopped the man and then reported him to his parole officer and they threw his degenerate ass in jail)
If God can do something and doesn’t, what kind of God is he? I find no comfort in Bible verses and preacher talk when what I really need is deliverance from the pain and suffering I face every day. It seems, based on all the available evidence, that God is never around when it matters. God is like the absentee father who can’t understand why his children call him by first name and think he is a prick. No matter how many trinkets the absentee father gives his children, what they really want is the one things he can not or will not give them……..his presence and help in time of need.
My wife and I raised six children. Our oldest son turned 35 this year and our youngest son just turned 21. My kids don’t need me much these days. They are all grown-up. But, there is one thing they know for certain, WHEN they really need me, no matter the pain and agony I am in, I will be there for them. I won’t put their call through to voice mail, nor will I pick up the phone and give them nothing but silence. They KNOW I will do all I can for them. Why? Because that’s what a good father does. (and let’s be honest, God the Father’s behavior towards the human race, (found in the Bible) and even those who are Christian, is hardly stellar. He should not expect to get a Father of the Year award anytime soon)
Some days I am sad that my God died several years ago. I miss him now and again. I miss that warm, fuzzy feeling I used to get when I sensed that God was near. Reality doesn’t give me that warm, fuzzy feeling, but I know when I really need help in time of need I will know where to turn: my wife, my children, my sister and brother, and my friends. They are the real gods of my life. When I cry out in pain, when I desperately need help, they are there for me. They expect me to handle my own grilled cheese God sightings, but if I need help buying a house, putting in a new bathroom, fixing my car, planting trees in the yard, or getting a ride to a specialist in Toledo, I know I can count on them. They have promised to never leave me or forsake me and so far they have kept their promise.