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Not My Will, But Yours, Evangelicals Say to Their God

free will

Evangelicals, regardless of their peculiar theological beliefs, all believe that the Christian God is the one true God, and that he, as the creator of all things, is the giver of life, and is sovereign and in control of all things. While some theologically ignorant Evangelicals will argue that humans have unrestricted free will and are thus totally responsible for their own actions, a careful reading of the Bible makes it clear that God rules and reigns over all, and there is nothing that happens apart from his will. Calvinists and Arminians love argue about free will and whether once a person is saved he can ever fall from grace, but both agree that God determines who is saved and what happens in our lives. It is God, through the merit and work of Jesus Christ, who saves sinners from their sins. No one can save themselves. Evangelicals deny that there is anything such as luck or circumstance. Things happen because God wants them to happen, and no amount of work or objection can change God’s plan. From the election of political leaders to the very air we breathe, God is in control.

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus commands his followers to pray in this manner:

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Christians are to pray for God’s will to be done in earth as it is in heaven. Jesus illustrated this command in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed:

O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:39)

O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matthew 26:42)

Those of us raised in Evangelical churches have heard people say countless times, not my will, Lord, but yours be done. Such utterances are statements of faith rooted in the belief that God has a perfect plan for everyone’s life; and Christians are duty-bound to fully and passively submit to this plan. God’s machinations are never to be questioned or doubted. The apostle Paul in Romans 9 told those who would dare to question God choosing to only save certain people (the elect):

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Simply put, Paul is saying the critics of God’s purpose and plan should shut the fuck up; that God is the creator of all things and he has the absolute right to do whatever he wants.

Throughout the New Testament, Paul reminds Christians of the importance of dying to self; of crucifying the flesh; of giving oneself totally, completely, and without reservation to God. Christians are commanded to give themselves as living sacrifices to God. In the Old Testament, God’s people are reminded that Jehovah’s thoughts are not their thoughts and his ways are not their ways. In other words, Christians might think that a certain action is right, when in fact it is not; that God has a higher purpose, plan, and agenda that cannot be understood by mere humans. Instead of trying to understand why this or that is happening in their lives, followers of Jesus are commanded to blindly believe that their God is working out everything in their lives according to his purpose or plan. No matter what happens, believers are told, God only wants what’s best for you. A church not far from my home has emblazoned on his building the words, God is good all the time. For these believers, God’s actions must never be questioned. Romans 8:28 says: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

How do Evangelicals know what the will of God is? Generally, the sources for determining God’s will are thus:

  • The Bible
  • The leadership of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of every believer
  • The counsel of mature followers of Jesus
  • The alignment of circumstances that are such that there is no doubt that God is behind what is happening

I was a part of the Christian church for fifty years, and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. I know a good bit about submitting oneself to the will of God, and I watched countless Evangelicals suss out God’s will for their lives. I found that in almost every circumstance, God’s will coincided with what people wanted to do. Christians love to gussy up their decisions with spiritual sounding statements such as; yielding to Christ, following in his footsteps, etc., but no matter how the picture is painted, one fact remains: God’s will and human desire are one and the same. As a pastor, I made numerous decisions that I believed were the result of God’s leadership. I stood before church congregations and told them that I believed this or that — buying property, starting a new program, stopping an old program, buying a copier, purchasing a bus, starting the school, to name a few — was the will of God. How did I know that these things were the will of God? Because it seemed the right thing to do at the time; or it was something that I wanted to do.

I wish Evangelicals would be honest about their decision-making process. It’s evident to anyone who is paying attention that Evangelicals make decisions just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world do. Whatever the factors might be that affect and influence our decisions, the fact remains that we do what we want to do. Think of this post as a sermon. Thousands of Evangelical pastors will stand behind pulpits on Sunday and preach what they believe God has laid upon their hearts. Some of them might even tell parishioners that they wanted to preach a different sermon, but God commanded them to preach this sermon. These preachers will lead congregants to believe that their sermons come from God, and that they are preaching their sermons because God’s will demands it. Thus, any objections to what these preachers are saying are viewed as challenges to God’s will. All of us have had social media experiences with Bible thumpers who dump a bunch of Bible verses on our wall. When we object to their proof texting, they respond, your problem is with God, not me. God said it, I didn’t. As an atheist, I delivered this sermon (post) because I wanted to and I thought it might be helpful to people with questions and doubts about Evangelical Christianity. When Evangelical preachers deliver their sermons, the small print says: I, God, approve of this message. When Bruce the atheist preacher delivers his sermon, there is no small print. The words I write and speak our mine, and mine alone. While certainly my writing is influenced by my past and present experiences, I claim no higher authority than self. I write, say, and do what I want. And so it is with Evangelical Christians, whether or not they are willing to admit it. The reason I know this to be true is that the Christian God is a mythical being, and so talk of God’s will or God leading is — how do the British put it? — poppycock. The only voice whispering in the ears of Evangelicals is their own. No God, no Holy Spirit, no Satan.

I’m sure more than a few Evangelical readers will be outraged over what I’ve written here. For those upset over this post, I ask you: how do you know that it is God leading or speaking to you? What evidence do you have for your claim that you are following the will of God? What evidence do you have for the voice your head being anything other than your own wants, needs, and desires? And if everything happens to God’s purpose and plan, does that include me writing this post? If God really is the sovereign of the universe, does he control what I say and do?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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    I comment sometimes about being fundy for decades and never daring to confront the many dissonances I secretly felt. One was this ‘God’s perfect plan for my life’. I thought, surely my every trivial prayed-over decision can’t be of the major importance I was told it was. If I applied for 2 jobs stacking supermarket shelves, got them both and chose one, but it was the wrong one in god’s eyes, how would I know? Should I ask for forgiveness just in case? How displeased was he? Then of course, an ‘opportunity’ to have a ‘conversation’ with a heathen workmate would signify god had been operational in my choice ‘for his glory’. I really never felt that important and the bad things that happened, also happened to non-believers who didn’t pray, so it maybe wasn’t god orchestrating them for my sanctification, for his ‘perfect plan for my life’. They were just part of being human, tragedies and suchlike strike everyone.

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    Just Mic

    Thank you! Thank you for your blog and facebook page. I was raised in church, I’m not sure if you
    would call it evangelical or what, but we were like the Church of God, but crazier. People talking in “tongues” and getting “slain in the spirit”, the whole nine yards. Unlike you, I was more of an observer than a participant. All I knew was all of the trusted adults in my life believed it, and they terrified me of going to hell. So I ignored my rational brain and believed, or at least acted like I did. They gave me a tract when I was about 8 years old that had graphic drawings of people burning hell and it gave me nightmares. So when they told me the story of Noah’s ark and my brain said “that makes no sense” or “boy, god is really scary and mean-he killed all the animals and little babies”, I just shut that down cause I didn’t want to burn in hell.
    Anyway, now that I am older I realize that none of it makes sense and I have left religion all together. My family is still deep in, but unlike you, I am not brave enough to challenge them. I don’t like confrontation. I just want everyone to be happy and get along. So they don’t really know that I am an unbeliever and I hope my mother never finds out. She will cry and cry thinking her baby is going to hell. (I can’t even “like” one of your articles on facbook. I am afraid my sister will see “justmic liked bruce gerenscer’s article” and check it out- thus blowing my cover -haha)
    That’s why I wanted to thank you for your blog. You articulate so well what I have felt all along.

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      Just Mic, your story is alot like mine… I am the son of a Baptist preacher and had to hide most of my youth in lies and deception because I could not face the truth openly and I suffered nightmares of hellfire and burning flesh. I am in my 66 years old now and have to tell you that I do wish I could have told the truth sooner. It took me several decades of life to find the strength to be honest. Lying for Jesus makes you sick inside, Just Mic, and it holds you in a position that is against human life and not for it. Nevertheless, I do understand your wish to remain safe by hiding out. Still, if it was someone else writing that they could not even comment and like a Facebook post, wouldn’t you feel terrible for them that their lives were such a prison of fear? I hate fundy evangelical religion because it ruins freedom and creates so much fear. When you are able to allow your mother to have her feelings and cry if she has to because you have chosen to tell the truth, then maybe the world will be easier for you as it was for me when I told them I did not believe. I am so sorry your mother wants you dead and that you have to hide from people ‘preying’ for you.

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    As an evangelical, I still didn’t want “God’s perfect plan for my life” and knew this was a result of my rebellious nature. I didn’t care though because I had plans for my own life. Of course, I couldn’t admit that among the fundies, though. Instead I had to say, “God led me to apply to this university.” At 18 I had decided that if my life was going to be crappy, it would be crappy based on decisions I made, not on decisions by God. Besides, I didn’t see a single example of a Christian at my church or among faculty at my fundy school that led me to believe that following god’s plan would give you a great life. Their lives all looked pretty regular to me, filled with ups and downs like everyone else.

    I think the “let go and let God message only resonates with those who have trouble making their own decisions. If something goes wrong, it must have been the will of god.

  4. Pingback:Living His will | Civil Commotion

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    A few years ago when I was really struggling to figure the faith out, I could not understand how all of these people who claim they are listening to the Holy Spirit are coming to vastly different conclusions. Of the many chinks in the armor, this one made me the most suspicious. It ties in to the post here, people derive their doctrine from what they conclude is true, as an act of will power. If anyone is not privy to the absolute, knock down fight over whether or not God approves of Christmas, it is a prime time example of conflicting messages from the “Holy Spirit.”

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    I like sports, but I find it funny when teams pray before a game. Is it God’s will that one team beats another? If so, how did he/she/it decide who to favor?

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Bruce Gerencser