I came of age listening to Evangelical pastors who repeatedly told congregants that EVERYTHING happened for a reason. God is in control and has a purpose and plan for your life! they said. I began my official ministerial work in the spring of 1979, at the age of twenty-one. Married — all of seven months — and with a child on the way, I believed that everything that had happened in my life up to that point occurred for a reason. I grew up in a dysfunctional Fundamentalist Christian home. My mother suffered from mental illness my entire life, ending with her successful suicide in the early 1990s. Mom had tried to commit suicide numerous times before. As a fifth-grade boy, I got off the school bus and walked in the door of our home thinking it would be just another day to play with my friends. Instead, I found my mom lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, Mom survived. She always survived, that is until she didn’t. A year later, Mom was raped by her brother-in-law. I was home from school sick the day of the rape. Nothing was ever done, and years later the rapist received a fine Christian funeral at a nearby Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. He hadn’t been to church in decades, but Praise God he had walked the sawdust trail as a teen and was wondrously saved! Or so said the preacher giving his eulogy. (Please see Barbara and Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell?)
Dad moved us repeatedly during my school years. New schools, new houses, new friends. I hated my dad for constantly uprooting me and forcing me to attend new schools and make new friends. The longest I attended one school was two and a half years — eighth grade to halfway through tenth grade at Findlay Junior and Senior High in Findlay, Ohio. My parents divorced in April of my ninth-grade school year. Shortly after, Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a toddler, and mom married her first cousin — a man who had recently been released from Huntsville Prison after serving time for robbery.
Needless to say, the first twenty-one years of my life were less than optimal. What kept me from losing my mind through all of this was the belief that everything happened for a reason. My God, the one true Christian God, was sovereign over all. He was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the supreme ruler of Heaven and Earth. Holding the world and my life in the palm of his hand, Jesus had a perfect plan for my life. I may not have understood his plan — after all his thoughts were not my thoughts and his ways were not my ways — but I knew in my hearts of hearts that God only wanted what was best for me. I loved Jesus with my whole heart, soul, and mind. Saved at age fifteen and called to preach a short time later, I set my sights on preaching the gospel to anyone and everyone would listen. In 1976, I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to train for the ministry. While there, I met my future wife, an IFB preacher’s daughter. We later married, embarking on a twenty-five-year journey that took us to churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. No matter what troubles, problems, or circumstances came our way, we believed that God had a purpose and plan for our lives, and everything that happened was for a reason.
Thinking that everything happens for a reason messes with your understanding of life. Every time something happened, good or bad, I saw God working behind the scenes. I resolutely believed that God had some sort of divine plan for my life and that everything that happened in life happened to further that plan. Even when it seemed God was shitting on my head and setting me on fire, I still humbled myself before him and trusted his divine providence. And then, one day, I stopped believing that everything happened for a reason. I was still a Christian at the time. As I pondered the arc of my life, I found it harder and harder to see God’s invisible hand working on my behalf. It seemed to me that life was an admixture of good choices, bad choices, choices made by others, luck, being at the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time, biology, environment, and psychology — to name a few.
I have made some good decisions in life, bad ones too. Now that the God who allegedly told me “everything happens for a reason” is no longer a part of my life, I am in a position to openly, honestly, and thoroughly examine my life. I can look at my parents’ lives and see how their experiences and upbringings affected me as a child. I carried these things into my own life, including my marriage. The difference now, of course, is that I no longer think that God has a purpose and plan for my life; I no longer believe that the path of my life is exactly what God has ordered for me. Making an honest accounting of life painfully leaves one with a lot of regrets. Alas, there are no do-overs in life. All any of us can do is learn from our pasts and choose to do better going forward. That’s the only plan I see for my life: striving to do better than I did yesterday.
Did you at one time believe that everything happens for a reason? How did this belief work out in your life? How did life change for you after you deconverted? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.
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