A Guest Post by John
Do Christians really love God?
I was thinking about this recently and wondered, when I was a Christian, did I really love God? At the time, I believed that I did. But on this side of things, I realize it was a pretty weird and one-sided relationship. It certainly didn’t start out with me loving God. I was a 12-year-old at a YMCA summer camp in 1980. Most of the camp counselors were either Bible school students or just really devout Christians. One night towards the end of the session, all the campers assembled around a huge fire. It was during this time that the gospel was preached to us; a gospel that basically said because of Adam and Eve, we are all sinners; Jesus came and died and was resurrected to pay for our sins; if we believe this and confess him as Lord, we get to go to heaven instead of hell. Hell was described in Evangelical language: eternal burning in torment kind of thing. Well, shit! When they asked if we wanted to pray the prayer of salvation so we would go to heaven, of course, I prayed the prayer! I entered into this relationship with God not out of love, but out of fear. I can’t say that I ever thought about loving God until after college when I started hanging out with some Bible school students that I worked with.
And then there is the whole thing about being commanded to love God. In Mark 12, people are told to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” What does that mean, exactly? I’m not sure that I love anyone to that extent. What is the difference between heart and soul? And how do I love with all my mind and strength? What kind of strength are we talking about? And, can you love someone just because you are told to? I don’t think you can. Can you love someone that you’ve never seen or heard from? Mmmm . . . again, I don’t think so. I thought many times in my Christian days that God had communicated with me about something. But now, I realize it was just me talking to myself, or it was just my natural human intuition. It was all a one-sided relationship. I do remember being thankful, and thinking I loved God because he saved me from hell. But he saved me from the hell that he created. That sounds suspicious! I don’t believe in hell anymore, but you know what I mean.
I try not to think of all the money and volunteer time I gave to the church. Of course, the main reason I was told that this is what I was supposed to do is because I loved God. And, God loved me so much that he would reward me in this life and the one to come because of my love and dedication to him in the present. Yeah, still waiting for some of that. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed most of my time as a Christian in the churches I attended and my days in ministry. But looking back, there was a lot of manipulation and brainwashing going on. Think about the worship songs we used to sing. How many songs did we sing about how much we love God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?
I love you Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship you,
Oh my soul rejoice.
Take joy my king
In what you hear,
Let it be a sweet,
Sweet sound in your ear.
And there is no shortage of songs just like this one. And don’t forget all the songs about how much God loves us. It’s like we had to keep this in front of us all the time so we wouldn’t start questioning God’s love or if we really loved him. Or was I really just trying to avoid hell and some kind of punishment while I’m on this earth? Again, at that time, I would have told you that I loved God and was doing my best to love him more all the time. But when I really re-visit the things I did and believed, there were selfish reasons for doing so. Number one, I didn’t want to go to hell — thus my initial salvation and many rededications through my teen years. I tithed and gave because I loved God and my church, but I also was taught, and preached, the prosperity gospel. You reap what you sow, right? So if I sow money, I’ll reap money. It might be raises at work, or a better job, or my car wouldn’t break down, or something like that. But I can’t honestly say there was no thought of that in my giving. I wanted to know and live God’s plan for my life. Yes, because I loved him and wanted to do what he created me to do. But part of that was I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I figured if God really had a plan, surely I would enjoy it more than how my life was at the time.
Interestingly enough about that last part — God’s plan for my life — I’ve found life much more fulfilling now that I’ve left the faith. When I was a believer, I was always waiting for some kind of divine guidance to get me from where I was to where I thought I’d be happier. So I was never really present in the life I was living day to day. And the fact that I couldn’t seem to figure out God’s plan for my life only made it worse. Now, I’m present in my daily life, doing what’s in front of me to do. I’ve benefited greatly from secular Buddhist and Taoist philosophies regarding mindfulness and all that goes along with that. Is life perfect? Of course not! I work a pretty stressful job, I’m dealing with stress at home, I have some health issues I’m working through, etc. But I have tools to help deal with life that I never had as a Christian. And they are much more effective than prayer ever was! And I can say that I’m much healthier mentally and emotionally than I ever was chasing after God and his plan and working on loving him more.
So to answer my initial question, do believers really love God, especially the way the Bible says we should? I’d love to hear your thoughts and about your experiences with this.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.
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