Every Christian, regardless of what denomination they are a part of will answer both of these questions with a resounding YES.
Sonrise Community Church, a nearby Evangelical church, uses this little ditty in their worship services and has the first part of it plastered on the front of their building:
God is Good all the time. All the time God is Good.
If God is good all the time and God expects human beings to be good, then it seems to me that God should at least as good as the humans he expects to be good.
Is the Christian God as good as good humans?
Do we see a good God in the Bible? One would be hard pressed, after reading the Bible, to conclude that God is good all the time. The Bible does show God doing good, but the Bible also records violent, murderous, capricious acts done by God that no rational person would call good.
Christians will object and say God is not bound by the same standard of goodness as humans. So, God expects humans to live by a standard he is unwilling to keep? God, because he is God, can do whatever he wants even if it means acting in ways that no human would call good?
Humans judge goodness based on actions. Good people DO good things. Good people ACT good. Good people live lives of goodness. Sure, they fail from time to time, but, for the most part, they try to live good lives. Wait a minute, the Christian says, the Bible says all humans are dead in trespasses and sin. According to the Bible, they can’t do good. The only way a person can ever do good is to become a born again/saved Christian. Then the person will have the Holy Spirit living inside them and they will be able to do good.
If goodness is the domain of Christians alone, why is it that so many Christians aren’t good? If God saves and lives inside the Christian, shouldn’t the Christian have the power to always do good? The Christian has free will, someone is sure to say. Yes, God lives inside every Christian, but the Christian has free will and they can choose how they want to live. This kind of thinking necessarily leads to the conclusion that Christians are, in some circumstances, more powerful than God. God can not overcome the Christian’s free will and force them to do good? God then, is not as powerful as Christians claim.
This whole scenario is quite strange; A good God that doesn’t do good because he can do whatever he wants. If God doing what he wants is not an act of goodness, then I must conclude that God does evil. As the stories of the Bible clearly show, the Christian God can act in ways that rational humans would call bad or evil. God requires all humans to be good and he empowers them to be good by living inside of them, yet there are times they are not good. I must conclude that God is stymied by Christian free will and is unable to force them to do good. Is such a powerless God worthy of worship?
I think that the God of the Christian Bible is a myth. No God of goodness, who acts according to a different standard than what he expects humans to follow. There is no God that lives inside of Christians influencing them to do acts of goodness, acts that God himself is not required to do. Good people do good. I have said many times that, fortunately, many Christians are better than the God they worship. Millions of Christians go about their lives every day trying to do good. What they fail to realize is that they are doing good because they are good, not because a God made them good. Theists and non-theists alike do good. Their acts of goodness have nothing to do with a God.
The next time someone does good and you benefit from it, thank the person who did the good. Don’t shoot a prayer to the heavens thanking a not-so-good fictional God for the goodness in your life. Good people do good things, and they are the ones who deserve the praise.
When I write posts like Leaving the Ministry: Dealing with Guilt and Regret, I am always concerned that someone might conclude that I was unhappy while I was in the ministry or that felt I was trapped in a job I didn’t want to be in. Neither of these conclusions would be an accurate assessment of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry.
I was fifteen years old when I went forward at Trinity Baptist Church, Findlay, Ohio and informed the church that I thought God was calling me to the ministry. A few weeks before, I had made a public profession of faith and was baptized. I had no doubts about God’s call on my life. In fact, my desire to be a preacher went all the way back to when I was a five-year old boy in San Diego, California. My mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a preacher. Not a baseball player, not a trash truck driver, or fireman. I wanted to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never wondered about what I wanted to do with my life. God called-preacher, end of story.
In the fall of 1976, I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, a small fundamentalist college in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly Shope, my wife to be, started taking classes at Midwestern in the spring of 1976 while she was finishing her senior year at Oakland Christian School. At the age of fourteen, Polly went forward at the Kawkawlin River Baptist Church, Bay City, Michigan and let the church know that she believed God was calling her to be a preacher’s wife. When Polly enrolled at Midwestern, she had one goal in mind, to marry a preacher.
Polly and I were immediately drawn to one another. She was quiet, reserved, and very beautiful. I was outspoken, brash, with a rebellious spirit. According to Polly, I was her bad boy. We started dating in September of 1976 and by Christmas we were certain that we were a match made in heaven. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents thought we were a match made in hell. My parents were divorced and Polly’s mom thought that divorce was hereditary. Though she did her best to quash our love, in the spring of 1978, we issued an ultimatum: give us your blessing or we will get married without it (a few weeks earlier, we had seriously considered eloping). On a hot July day in 1978, Polly and I exchanged vows at the Newark Baptist Temple, Heath, Ohio. As Mark Bullock, the soloist for our wedding, sang the Carpenter’s hit, We’ve Only Just Begun, Polly and I had thoughts of the wonderful life that awaited us in the ministry. Little did we know how naïve we were about what being in the ministry really entailed.
Polly’s idea of the ministry was quite idealistic. In her mind, we would have two children, a boy named Jason and a girl named Bethany, and live in a beautiful two-story house with a white picket fence. She saw herself as the quiet helpmeet of her preacher husband. My idea of the ministry was a bit more realistic. Preaching, teaching, winning souls, visiting the sick, all in a church filled with peace, joy, and harmony. No one had prepared us for what the ministry would really be like. I still remember a time when I was standing in a three-foot deep hole partly filled with sewage trying to repair a broken septic line. Polly came out to see what I was doing and I said to her, well, they certainly didn’t teach me this in college. No one told us that the ministry would far different from our idealistic expectations.
Two months after we were married, Polly informed me that our use of contraceptive foam had failed and she was pregnant. Not long after her announcement, I lost my job at a Detroit area production machine shop. Financially, things quickly fell apart for us. We went to see Levy Corey, the dean at Midwestern, and told him that we needed to drop out of college. He told us we just needed to trust God and everything would work out. While I was able to find new employment, it was not enough for us to keep our head above water. In February of 1979, we dropped all of our classes and prepared to move to Bryan, Ohio. Several of our friends stopped by before we moved to berate us for not having faith in God. One friend told us that we would never amount to anything because God doesn’t bless quitters. Years later, at a Newark Baptist Temple preacher’s conference, Dr. Tom Malone, the president of Midwestern, mentioned that I was in the crowd. He said that I had left Midwestern before graduating, but if I had stayed, they (the college) probably would have ruined me. He meant it as a joke, but I took his comment as a vindication of our decision to leave college.
In February of 1979, we moved to Bryan, Ohio, the place of my birth and the home of my sister Robin. After living with my sister for a short while, we found a house to rent on Hamilton Street. I began working at ARO, a large local manufacturer of pumps and air tools. ARO paid well, but I still desired to be a pastor. As with every job, I viewed secular work as just a means to an end — me pastoring a church. My sister attended the Montpelier Baptist Church in Montpelier, Ohio. When we first moved to Bryan, we thought that we would attend First Baptist Church, the church I had attended before enrolling at Midwestern. Though I knew everyone at First Baptist, we decided to go to Montpelier Baptist, a young, growing GARBC church pastored by Jay Stuckey. This decision did not sit well with the people at First Baptist. One of the matriarchs of the church told me, “Bruce you know you belong at First Baptist!” At the time, First Baptist was pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack was married to my uncle’s sister Creta.
I had previously preached at Montpelier Baptist, so I knew a bit about Stuckey and his ministry philosophy. Stuckey was a graduate of Toledo Bible College, which later moved to Newburgh, Indiana and became Trinity Theological Seminary. After attending the church for a few weeks, Stuckey asked me to help him at the church by becoming the bus pastor and helping with church visitation.
The church had one bus route. It brought in a handful of children every week and little was being done to increase ridership numbers. Enter hot-shot, get–it-done, Bruce Gerencser. In less than a month, on Easter Sunday, the bus was jammed with eighty-eight riders. I vividly remember arriving at the church with all these kids and the junior church director running out to the bus and frantically asking me what I expected him to do with all the children. I replied, that’s your problem, I just bring them in. Needless to say, this man was never very fond of me.
A short time later, the church bought a second bus. I recruited bus workers to run the new route and before long this bus was also filled with riders. On the first Sunday in October, 1979, Montpelier Baptist held its morning service at the Williams County Fairground. A quartet provided special music and Ron English from the Sword of Lord preached the sermon. Five hundred people attended this service and about 150 of them had come in on the buses. Less than two weeks later, I was gone. Polly and I, along with our newborn son Jason, packed up our meager household goods and moved to Newark, Ohio.
A friend of mine, a former devoted, committed Evangelical pastor’s wife, wrote me recently and asked:
I’ve been struggling a lot lately. re: all the wasted years, harm my kids experienced, folks I hurt as a pastor’s wife and later a (sic) homeless shelter for women, fundamentalist BS I taught and lived. I know you’ve talked about how you deal with such stuff before. If you can direct me to previous links or have any advice I would be oh so grateful! Thank you!
Over the years, I have corresponded with a number of people who were at one time an Evangelical pastor, pastor’s wife, evangelist, youth pastor, missionary, or college professor. Having walked or run away from Evangelicalism, they are left to deal with guilt and regret . For those who were true-blue, sold-out, committed, on-fire followers of Jesus, their past lives are often littered with the hurt and harm they caused not only to themselves, but to others. The more former Evangelicals were committed to Jesus and following the teachings of the Bible, the more likely it is that they caused hurt and harm.
Literalism and certainty — two hallmarks of Evangelical belief — often cause untold mental, emotional, and physical harm. It is often not until people deconvert or move on to a kinder, gentler form of religious faith, that they see how much damage they caused. I was a Christian for fifty years. Twenty five of those years were spend pastoring Evangelical churches. I think I can confidently say that Evangelicalism made me the person I am today. Every aspect of my life was touched and shaped by Evangelical beliefs. No area of my life was unaffected. Any sense of self-worth was sacrificed at the altar of self-denial. I sang with gusto, All to Jesus I surrender, All to him I freely give. I lived and breathed Jesus. Everything, including Polly, my children, my parents, my siblings, and my extended family, was secondary to Jesus and his call to follow him.
I was, in every way, a fanatic. A fanatic is one who is intensely, completely devoted to a cause. No matter how Christians try to say that I never was a real Christian, those who knew me well in my pastoring days know that I was part of the 100% club. (see You Never Were a Christian and Jose Maldonado Says I Never Was a Christian) My ministerial work ethic put most pastors to shame. While they were busy taking vacations, going to Cedar Point, or golfing, I was working night and day trying to win souls and raise up a God-fearing, Christ-honoring church. I had little tolerance for lazy preachers who gave lip service to their calling, or Christians who thought coming to church on Sunday was all that God required of them.
As I look back on the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I see that I caused great harm to my family and parishioners. I expected everyone to work for Jesus as hard as I did. Polly will tell you that I hounded her about reading her Bible more and spending more time in prayer. Never mind that she had six children to care for and taught in our Christian school. Never mind that I was the one paid to pray and read/study the Bible. Devotion to Jesus always came first.
Setting impossible expectations, not only for myself, but for my family and the church, resulted in a constant feeling of failure. No matter what I did, no matter what my family did, no matter what church members did, it wasn’t enough. Hell was hot and Jesus was coming soon. The Bible taught that we were to be watchman on the wall, ever warning the wicked to turn from their sinful ways. Since the Bible contained everything necessary to life and godliness, every Christian had a duty and obligation to, without hesitation, obey its teachings. Pity the person who was not as committed as I was.
Guilt and regret are the products of living life in this manner. Let me be clear, I am not saying that this was the wrong way to live life. If one believes the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Words of God, how can he NOT live in this manner? If Evangelicals really believe what they say they believe, how can they NOT give every waking moment to the furtherance of the gospel and the Kingdom of God? If God is who and what the Bible says he is and judgment awaits every one of us, how can any Evangelical idly sit by and let the world go to hell?
Guilt. I had little time for Polly and the kids. No time for vacations. No time for leisure. No time for enjoying nature. No time for relaxation. No time for anything that took away from my calling. I even scheduled the one big vacation we took around preaching for a friend of mine. Road trips were to visit churches or attend conferences. The old acronym for Joy, Jesus First, Others Second, Yourself Last, had no place in my life. It was Jesus first, period. Polly and the children were along for the ride, mere appendages to my ministerial work.
Regret. As the old gospel song goes, wasted years, oh how foolish. I gave the best years of my life to Jesus and the work of the ministry. I worked night and day building churches, winning souls, and preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. While most of the people I pastored and many of my colleagues in the ministry were living the American dream, accumulating wealth, houses, and land, and preparing for the future, I was living in the moment, busily waiting for Jesus to split the eastern sky. Thousands of hours were spent doing God’s work, God’s way, and to what end? Here I am with a broken body and most of my life in the rear view mirror. No chance for a do-over. No chance to make things right. No chance to correct the harm and hurt I caused.
Bruce, you sound bitter. I know this post might sound like the acerbic whining of an old man, but it’s not. It’s just me being honest I know I can’t undo the past. It is what it is. I am simply reflecting on how life was for my family and me. Who among us doesn’t look back on the past and wish they had the opportunity to do things differently? Unfortunately, there are no time machines. All we can do is make peace with the past and try to move forward.
A few years ago, a man who was raised in one of the churches I pastored came to visit me. This man attended our Christian school and sat under my preaching for almost a decade. He had the full Bruce Gerencser experience. This man is gay. I’ve often wondered when he decided he was gay. I preached a lot of sermons on the sin of homosexuality. Thinking about the pain I might have caused this man still grieves me to this day. As he and I talked, I apologized to him for my homophobic, harsh, judgmental preaching. I told him I had guilt and regret and wished I could go back in time and make things right. I’ll never forget what he told me:
Bruce, everyone who sat in the church was there because they wanted to be or their parents made them. The truth is, a lot of people want someone to tell them what to do. A lot of people don’t want to think for themselves . You were that someone. If it wasn’t you it would have been someone else.
His words have greatly helped me as I continue to battle with guilt and regret. As I told someone recently, I was a victim and a victimizer. I was schooled in all things Evangelical from kindergarten to my days at Midwestern Baptist College. I was indoctrinated, much like a cult indoctrinates it members. That I turned out as I did should surprise no one. It should also be no surprise that I then took what I had been taught and taught it to others. How could it have been otherwise?
What my pastor’s-wife friend really wants to know is how to deal with the guilt and regret. If she is like me, she wants it to go away. Sadly, it doesn’t. A person can’t spend his or her life deeply immersed in something such as the ministry and not come away with scars. While I have found atheism and humanism to be transformative, I still bear the marks and scars of a life spent working for the Evangelical God.
Two things greatly helped me post-ministry and post-Jesus. The first thing that helped me was this blog (one of the many iterations of this blog, anyway). When I started blogging, I cared little if anyone read what I wrote. My friends Zoe has written about this, as have many of my other heathen friends. Putting feelings into words is therapeutic. Over time, other former Evangelicals began to read my writing and my words resonated with them. They saw that I understood, having experienced many of the things they were going through. Now, seven years later, the raw, painful emotions that filled me as I walked away from the ministry and God have faded into the background. They are still there and can quickly be resurrected in the wrong circumstance, but my focus is now on helping others who are at the same place I was a decade ago.
Second, I sought out professional, secular counseling. When I left the ministry and later left Christianity, I burned the house to the ground. Now what? All I have is a heap of ashes, the sum of a life that no longer exists. It took seeing a counselor for me to rebuild my life and rediscover who I really am. Self had been swallowed up by Jesus and the ministry. After I deconverted, I had no idea who or what I was. My entire being was wrapped up in being a pastor. The same for Polly. She spent most of her adult life being a devoted pastor’s wife. Now all of that was gone. Bit by bit, my counselor helped me reconstruct my life. That process continues to this day.
As I answer the emails of those who were once in the ministry, I encourage them to put their thoughts and emotions into words. Even if it is just a journal–write. I also encourage them to seek someone to talk to, someone who will listen and not judge. If nothing else, correspond with someone who will let you vent. Over the past seven years, I have entered into email discussions with hurting former Evangelicals. Some of them still believe in God, others are not sure what they believe, and still others have lost their faith. Their letters are filled with mental and emotional pain and anguish. Writing me provides them with a sounding board, a secular confessional. Sometimes all a person needs is to know someone cares and is willing to listen.
Are you a former pastor or pastor’s wife? Are you a former on-fire, sold-out follower of Jesus? How did you deal with guilt and regret? What advice would you give to my friend? Please leave your wise thoughts in the comment section.
The next-to-the-last church I pastored was Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. I was there for seven years. It was at this church that I seriously began questioning how I had done things in the past. Bit by bit, I became like those lazy pastors I once condemned. I learned to take a break, go on vacation, and enjoy spending time with my family. What pushed me in this direction? Getting sick. It’s amazing what sickness will do to a person’s priorities.
If you grew up in the Evangelical church, you’ve likely heard quite a few sermons on texts like:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. I Corinthians 10:13
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. James 1:2-4
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. James 1:12
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: I Peter 1:6,7
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 1 Peter 4:12,13
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 2 Timothy 2:3
And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Matthew 10:22
Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. James 5:11
…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content Philippians 4:11
These verses, and others, are used to teach that no matter what happens to a Christian they must endure and stay faithful. God sends trials, temptations, and adversity to punish the Christian for sin, teach them a lesson, or increase their faith. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:5,6:
My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth…
No matter what happens in the Christian’s life, God loves them, has a plan for their life, and promises to never leave or forsake them. No matter how severe the trial, God will give them strength, promising to never give them more than they can bear.
If a person fails to endure, fails to bear the burden God has given them, then it is their fault. They lack faith or are spiritually weak. Perhaps there is some secret sin in their life that is causing them to fail. Repent, trust God, and all will be well.
Couple this belief with the notion that the Christian must patiently wait on God to do his perfect work in their life, is it any surprise that many Evangelicals go through life facing onslaught after onslaught of pain, suffering, sickness, and loss. Hold on, Christian pastors tell their flock, Jesus is perfecting your life. Don’t quit now. It darkest just before the dawn. On and on the exhortations go, encouraging Christians to passively and piously endure whatever comes their way. (please see Does Evangelicalism Encourage Weakness and Passivity?)
Over the years, I heard a few preachers says that the Christian church could use some persecution; that persecution makes Christians stronger. According to an article I read years ago in Christianity Today (no source but my memory), persecution has, in some instances, totally wiped out Christianity in some places in the world. Instead of passively enduring persecution, perhaps it would have been better for Christians to live to fight another day. The reason they don’t is because they have been taught that not passively enduring persecution means they aren’t a true Christian. Jesus endured pain, suffering, and death on the cross, and the least that a Christian can do for him is be willing to die for their faith. Jesus stood meekly before his accusers, allowing himself to be beaten and spat upon. The Christian should be willing to do the same.
Most Christian sects believe God is sovereign. This means God is in control of everything. Both the Calvinist and the Arminian agree that God has a purpose and plan for everyone, that he is the first cause of everything. Since God is running the show, the Christian must play the part of the suffering saint. No matter what comes their way, the Christian, because of what Jesus did for them, must hold on and endure. As I told many a congregation, if you feel like you are at the end of the rope, tie a knot and hold on.
But what happens when you don’t have the strength to tie the knot? What happens when you free fall and hit the ground with a splat? Is God to blame? Of course not. God is never to blame for anything bad happening in a Christian’s life. Only in Evangelicalism is bad renamed good. Let a woman miscarry, it’s for her good. Let a couple’s child die, it’s for their good. Let a tornado destroy a church, it’s for their good. Let a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami maim and kill thousands of people,including Christians, it’s for their good. I suppose there will be a preacher somewhere that says, after an asteroid hit kills a billion people, that God meant it for good. Just remember, God is good all the time. All the time God is good. Praise the Lord, where’s the body bags?
Evangelicals convince themselves that no matter the circumstance God is always with them. He promised to never leave or forsake them and he is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. They pray, pray, and pray, and God answers not, yet they still believe. Why? Because they have been taught that silence from God can be a means of testing and strengthening one’s faith. Again, God is ALWAYS exonerated.
Rarely does a Christian think through the belief that God is sovereign, yet not responsible for the bad things that happen. If God is in control of everything, how is it possible for him to not be culpable for the bad things that happen? Using Evangelical voodoo to make bad appear good doesn’t change the fact that bad things happen. No amount of Good Gawd Whitewash® can cover over the fact that there are bad things that happen that have no redemptive value. Christian children starving to death in Africa has no redemptive value. Neither does a child dying of a cancer or a Christian family being smashed by a falling concrete barrier. Pray tell, what is redemptive about a plane crash that kills everyone on board? Everywhere I look I see needless suffering and death, yet according to Evangelicals God means the suffering and death for good. Since he can’t do anything other than good, and he is the sovereign Lord of all, everything that happens is good. In any other setting this kind of thinking would be considered lunacy.
One of the reasons Polly and I deconverted was because we came to the conclusion that out of the thousands and thousands of prayers we uttered, God never answered one of them. Yes, some of our prayers were answered, but we traced the answers back to human instrumentality. Out of all the prayers we prayed, morning, noon, and night, those that had no human explanation could be counted on two fingers. Is this the best God can do? For some Christians, this is enough. They are the ones that praise God when a plane loaded with a hundred people crashes and there’s only one survivor. Isn’t God awesome? One person survived, praise Jesus! If a psychopath went to a shopping mall and killed ninety-nine people, yet saved a little baby, would anyone be praising the psychopath’s name? Of course not.
The beliefs taught from the verses I mentioned at that start of this post often keep Christians from asking for help or expressing normal human emotion. I spent 25 years in the ministry, passively enduring everything God sent my way. For many years, we lived in abject poverty. Why? Because I believed God had called me to pastor full-time and operate a Christian school. I worked day and night, burning the candle at both ends, ultimately ruining my health. But even then, I told myself, better to burn out for God than rust out. Since the Apostle Paul spoke of early Christians enduring horrific trials and extreme poverty, I thought God was calling me to do the same. (Romans 8:31-39) If God wanted me to stuff a family of eight in a dilapidated 12×60 trailer, so be it. If God wanted me to drive $200 cars, my children to wear clothing from Goodwill or Odd Lots, and our family to do without the basic necessities of life, who was I to object? Look at all Jesus did for me. Look at how the early church suffered. Surely, I should be just as willing to forsake and endure all for Jesus.
Instead of suffering for Jesus, I should have told him thanks, but no thanks. I should have thought, I have a wife and six children to care for. I have the future to consider. Some day I will be retirement age and I need to start preparing for that now. Polly and the children deserve a better life. All of things should have been at the forefront of my thinking, but they weren’t. Jesus and the church came first. I passively and resolutely followed God’s will for my life. Everything that happened was because God wanted it that way. Remember, God is good all the time. All the time God is good.
If atheism has taught me anything, it has taught me that I am responsible for what happens in my life. Most of the time, anyway. Things can and do happen that are beyond my control, but most of the time I am in control of my destiny. While I can’t undo the health problems I have, I can make the most of what life I do have. Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed and the pain and suffering is winning, loving and kind people have extended a hand and said, let me help you. Since there is no help coming from God, each of us do what we can to deal with the bad things that come our way. And they will come. Live long enough and you’ll likely face severe trial and adversity. Life can be cruel and heartless. All we can do is hold on and hope tomorrow will be a better day. Most often it is, but not always. No matter how good of a person we are, sometimes bad things happen to us. Live long enough and there will come a day when a doctor says, sorry, you have cancer/heart disease/kidney disease and it is going to kill you. It sucks, but even then we have the power to face death with dignity.
How about you? How did the Bible verses mentioned above affect how you lived your life as a Christian? After you deconverted or left Evangelicalism, how did your approach to life change? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Some Christian argue that the belief God won’t give you more than you can handle is a perversion of what the Bible teaches; that it actually says that God won’t give you more than HE can handle. However, this is nothing more than semantics. Since the Christian purportedly has God living inside of them and he is only a prayer away, God is always there. So, when the Christian is going through adversity that levels and incapacitates them, God is supposedly still right there with them. Otherwise, if a Christian is hit by a car, lying in the ditch with both legs and arms broken and their cellphone battery is dead, shouldn’t the Christian expect God to start handling things? Except, he never does. Let a Christian find themselves in the middle of the desert with no water and no hope of getting any, what will happen? This is definitely more than they can handle. Does God show up with a bottle of Evian? Of course not. They die a miserable, horrible death, waiting in vain for God to deliver them.
There seems to be no end to the sermons printed in the editorial section of the Crescent-News. Intractable warriors for the Evangelical God preach against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, and the evils of socialism, humanism, secularism, and atheism. Letter writers claim to know the mind and will of God on every matter, warning that failure to heed their preaching will result in God pouring out his judgment and wrath on the United States. They warn that two people of the same sex marrying will bring an end to Western civilization. Yet, it seems that their preaching is falling on deaf ears.
Several months ago, St John’s United Church of Christ came out of the closet and declared themselves to be an open and affirming church. This means gays and same-sex couples are welcome at St. John’s. When I read the news report, I could hardly believe it. I thought, have I been beamed away to an alternate universe, to a county where people are not judged for who they love or how they express intimacy? No, right here in Defiance County, a church that is not ashamed to welcome one and all.
Young adults are increasingly gay friendly and are no longer interested in the bigoted, homophobic religion of their parents. Some of them join the ranks of the nones, those who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards organized religion. On many of the issues that seem to cause Evangelicals great consternation, young adults show that they think love, fairness, justice, and compassion are more important than dogma and literalism.
When I read the letters from Evangelicals, I see an aging group of people desperately trying to regain power and control over a culture that has little interest in what they are selling. 40 years ago, instead of focusing on personal piety and good works, Evangelicals sold their soul to groups like the Moral Majority and the American Family Association. They traded their place in the community for political power. They abandoned reason and rationality and became the purveyors of ignorance and bigotry. And now they are being weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Come June, despite millions of Evangelical prayers, conferences, rallies, and sermons, it is likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will set aside state laws forbidding same-sex marriage. I wonder how Evangelicals will respond? Will they turn to the heavens and ask God why he turned a deaf ear to their prayers? Will they point the finger at their homophobic rhetoric and bigotry? I doubt it. It will be atheists like me, liberals, socialists, and the Kenyan-born usurper in the White House that will be blamed for their inability to return America to the love, joy, and peace of the 1950’s.
Evangelicals are like the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. They call out to the heavens asking their God to show his power and act on their behalf. Yet, from my seat in the atheist pew, it seems their God is either deaf or on vacation.
Thursday, May 7, 2015 is the annual National Day of Prayer. On April 17, 1952, “President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer (NDP) must be declared by each subsequent president at an appropriate date of his choice.” In 1988, the law was amended, setting the first Thursday in May as date for the NDP. While the NDP is supposed to be a day when people of all faiths come together to pray, it has been co-opted by Evangelicals. While certainly people of various faiths will gather to pray on Thursday, it will be Evangelicals and conservative Catholics that get all the media attention. Instead of following the command of Jesus to pray in secret, Evangelicals will gather at county courthouses and government buildings and metaphorically expose their 13.316 inch prayer penis for everyone to see. On this day, Evangelicals want everyone to know that the United States is a Christian nation, that the one true God is the Christian God, and that they are God’s chosen people.
…whose purpose is to encourage participation on the National Day of Prayer. It exists to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, to create appropriate materials, and to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families. The Task Force represents a Judeo Christian expression of the national observance, based on our understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible.
Shirley Dobson, wife of Christian fundamentalist James Dobson, is the chairwoman of the Task Force. In a recent letter to NDP volunteers, Dobson stated:
“We are contending with threats from those both here at home and abroad who aim to do us harm, and immoral practices and unsound principles run rampant throughout the culture. With this in mind, there’s an especially urgent need for God’s people to ask for His guidance for the days ahead.”
For those not schooled in the fine art of Evangelispeak®, immoral practices=abortion, homosexuality, sex before marriage, and same-sex marriage. Unsound principles=evolution,humanism, atheism, secularism, and socialism.
“This is an American thing; this is not a Christian thing. Congress solidified a tradition of the Founding Fathers, who fought for religious freedom to gather in churches and groups. We encourage Americans to get out and pray for your nation, if you are a person of faith. We realize some people aren’t, and we’re not trying to force it on them.”
Really? An American thing? What section of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights mentions the NDP as an “American thing.” While ONE of the reasons the Founding Fathers fought the British was religious freedom, it certainly wasn’t THE issue that drove colonialists to pick up arms and rebel against Britain. In fact, in many of the original 13 states, anti-religious freedom founding documents and laws were adopted, often enshrining Christianity as the state’s official religion. The notion that the United States was founded on religious freedom is a myth, as any cursory reading of American history will show.
The chairman of the 2015 National Day of Prayer is Jack Graham, fundamentalist Southern Baptist pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, a mega church located in Plano, Texas. Graham suggests that Evangelicals Christians, at 12:00 P.M. EST, recite the following prayer:
We come to You in the Name that is above every name—Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hearts cry out to You.
Knowing that You are a prayer-answering, faithful God—the One we trust in times like these—we ask that You renew our spirits, revive our churches, and heal our land.
We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us. Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You. Forgive us, and in the power of Your great love, lift us up to live in Your righteousness.
We pray for our beloved nation. May we repent and return to You and be a light to the nations. And we pray for our leaders and ask that You give them wisdom and faith to follow You.
Preserve and protect us, for You are our refuge and only hope. Deliver us from all fears except to fear You, and may we courageously stand in the Truth that sets us free. We pray with expectant faith and grateful hearts.
In Jesus’ name, our Savior. Amen.
Why is it necessary for millions of Christians to utter the same words at exactly the same time? Perhaps God has a busy schedule on Thursday and can only spare one minute to hear the repetitious prayers of his chosen people. How will success be judged? How will Evangelicals know that they got through to the Almighty? I guarantee you that there is ONE thing that every praying Evangelical wants under his prayer tree…the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that marriage is between one man and one woman.
According to Randall Murphree, editor of the American Family Association Journal:
The late Leonard Ravenhill spoke these sobering words, startlingly apropos for contemporary America: “The self-sufficient do not pray, the self-satisfied will not pray, the self-righteous cannot pray.”
We have become self-sufficient, depending on our own abilities. We hold aloft our trophies, proclaiming, “Look what we have earned!” We neglect the gracious Giver of all gifts. We have become self-satisfied, prideful in our meaningless, material accomplishments. We rest pampered and apathetic in the arms of affluence. We forget the One who offers true satisfaction.
We have become self-righteous, basking in the sunlight streaming through our stained glass windows. We ignore the God of whom Paul wrote, “[T]hey did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own”…
…If we do not confess the sins of our critically ill culture, the illness could be terminal. Time and time again, God has judged nations by the character of His people. When His people failed to repent, their nations fell. America’s believers – preachers and plumbers, janitors and judges, editors and educators, broadcasters and brick masons – must spend time before God Almighty, confessing and repenting…
As you can see, lots of generic theological words hide the real reason for this year’s National Day of Prayer. There will be few prayers uttered about the wars in the Middle East, global climate change, immigration, starving children, or the homeless. Little will be said about most of the perplexing problems facing 21st century humans. None of these things matter to most Evangelicals. What does matter is outlawing abortion, criminalizing homosexuality, and banning same-sex marriage. What does matter is re-instituting government sponsored prayer in public schools, posting the Ten Commandments on classroom walls, and teaching school children the earth is 6,019 years old. What matters most of all is taking back the United States from Kenyan-born, socialist negro Barack Obama and those who are Democrats, socialists, atheists, humanists, pagans, and liberal Christians. Theocracy remains the ultimate goal and they will not rest until the Christian flag is hoisted over the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that Sharia,Biblical Christian law, is the law of the Land.
I wish Evangelicals would be honest and stop couching their agenda in flowery, generic, non-offensive theological terms. Forget Jack Graham’s suggested prayer and get to the point:
Dear God, Dammit, we want our country back and we want it back now. We beseech you oh Lord, please kill all the homos, transvestites, abortion doctors, Muslims, atheists, and anyone else who refuses to bow a knee to Jesus and admit that the United States is one nation under the Evangelical God. As in days of the Old Testament, send a plague upon the heathen and kill them all, sparing the Koch Brothers, Waltons, and all the other job creators. Enrich hell with their flesh, and may the smell of their burning flesh be a sweet Uncle Ray’s BBQ savor in your nostrils. Oh Lord, burn down every house of worhsip except those where the one true Evangelical gospel is preached. You know which one that is, right Lord? I know you kind of got confused when you wrote the Bible. As in the days of the Old Testament, send fire from heaven and burn alive all the false prophets, especially atheist false prophets. Lord, what we really want is a Disney Park country just for true red white and blue Republican Christians. Please Lord, we need your help because no one is paying attention to us. Let the world know that you are still the same bad-ass God who drowned the entire human race in a flood and that we are your oh-so-special children.
God is a lot like Gumby. He can be twisted and shaped into virtually any form a person wishes.
Take the God is Love crowd.
They stop by, read my writing, and are horrified to find that I think God is a God of judgment, wrath, hatred, and violence.Where did I e-v-e-r get such an idea? Perish the thought, Bruce. God is a God of love. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. God would n-e-v-e-r do anything to hurt you, Bruce. He has your best interest in mind. Look at how much God loves you…he sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for your sins. Isn’t that awesome?
No, it is not awesome. Blood atonement is quite violent and revolting and I see no love in the act. What I see is a righteous, holy God who hates sin and those who do it. I see a God quite willing to destroy the human race because they don’t keep his commands. I see a God who, for some perverse reason, sent himself to die on a cross, so his hatred of sin and those who do it could be assuaged.
You see, I have read the Bible. ALL OF IT. I take what the Bible says at face value. Yes, the Bible presents God as a God of love. However, the Bible also presents God as a righteous,holy, vengeful, hateful God who doesn’t think twice about using violence to get his point across. God is the meanest son-of-a-bitch on the block. Cross him and you are dead, right Uzzah? (2 Samuel 6)
As I look at the world today, I see no evidence of this God of love. Look at his supposed followers. Do they evidence love to the world? Hardly. They fuss and fight amongst themselves. They split and divide over the silliest of things. Where is the love Christians? If you can’t get it right, how can you expect worldlings like myself to embrace the God is love notion?
I much prefer a world where God is Dead. I don’t have to look for surreal, existential answers to the issues facing the human race. I don’t have to manipulate a religious text to get a satisfactory explanation for what I see and read with my eyes. Humans are the problem and humans are the solution; no God needed.
I don’t need God to experience and know love. I have a wife, six children, 3 daughter-in-laws, and ten grandchildren. Through them I experience and know love. As a Christian would say of God, they are ALL I need.
It is enough to live and die, knowing that I have been loved by others.
My heart has been hurting a bit these days because I know I have so much inside of me that needs to change. I don’t know how God’s going to work it all out. Things like pride, resentment, and arrogance build up in me, reminding me I’m still so broken.
I have these conversations with God, telling Him I have nothing left that’s any good at all. I probably sound a little like this: “I gave you all I thought you wanted. . . . Wait, what was that? . . . You want everything? Even the worst parts?” I run and hide, sometimes, from the God who made me.
I still wonder about this: Does He really want to see my brokenness? Does He really want to do something with me? Have you ever felt like that?..
I read God’s Word because I know He’s not going to take my excuses for an answer. I know He’s going to keep reassuring me as He did to Jeremiah . . .
“I know you”
“I have still chosen you.”
“I’m the One who made you this way, don’t you think I know how to use you?”
The way he said it made me laugh, but this truth rang clear to me: God is in charge, not me. Yet my itty-bitty human brain seems to think the Maker of the stars needs my permission to work in and through me.
I read God’s Word because I need to be reminded that He wants to use me, even when it doesn’t feel like that could possibly be true…
My initial response was one of sadness. Here’s a bright 14-year-old girl and she has already lost her ability to think rationally. Not only has she surrendered her ability to reason and think, she thinks the Evangelical God talks to her.
Here’s a girl sitting in her bedroom sad over the fact that she is not the person God wants her to be. She is plagued by pride, resentment, and arrogance, knowing that these things are a reminder of how broken she is. Ponder this thought for a moment. Here’s a girl who already thinks she is broken. That’s what the Evangelical teaching on original sin does to a person. It makes them see themselves as broken and in need of repair. And who can repair them? No one but God. This girl has been taught that she is helpless and hopeless without God, unable to do anything on her own.
Does she really have a pride, resentment, and arrogance problem? Only she can answer that, but I suspect that her angst is fueled by the preaching and teaching at her church and her home school education. Minor character flaws are blown up into transgressions against a thrice-holy God. If she really does have a pride, resentment, and arrogance problem, then she need not passively, obediently wait for God to fix her. She is not weak, nor broken, and it is within her power to change her ways. Prideful? Stop! Resentful? Stop! Arrogant? Stop!
Far too many Evangelicals go through life thinking they are helpless, broken people who need God’s help to do anything. This kind of thinking makes them weak and passive, always waiting for God to forgive them, deliver them, show them a better way, or give them strength. Instead of relying on self, they are taught to rely on a non-existent God who supposedly never leaves them or forsakes them and sticks closer to them than a brother. They are reminded that the Bible says:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5,6)
They are also reminded that Jesus said in John 15:5:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Evangelicals are told, You can’t do ANYTHING without Jesus. He is your strength. The very breath you have comes from him. Don’t trust your own reasoning, don’t trust the reason of any mere human. Trust God, lay your life at his feet, and let him direct your life. Remember, Jesus said we are to deny self. We don’t matter. Jesus is the end all. Jesus taught us to pray, God’s will be done on earth as it is heaven. Not our will, but his.
This is why uncounted Evangelicals are waiting for God to change them, correct them, or show them what to do. Marriage problems? Out of work? Health problems? Job problems? Conflict with children, spouse, coworker, neighbor, or friend? Financial trouble? Just wait and let God show you the way. Just wait and God will return your phone call. Just wait and God will use his mighty wonder-working power to conform your life into the image he wants it to be. And while they are waiting, life continues to move forward. Waiting on God becomes an excuse, a way of sidestepping personal responsibility, a way of ignoring character flaws.
Every one of us are responsible for our own behavior. There’s no God fix coming for what ails us. If it is important to us to be good, to treat others with decency and respect, then we will do what’s necessary to make these things happen. I have little patience for the prayers of the helpless. They have been neutered by religious teachings that have robbed them of their will. Taught to deny self, they trust in a deity that has no power to help them. The only person that can change ME is the person staring at me in the mirror.
I am not against waiting, thinking, or meditating before making a decision. Haste is just as bad as passivity. When I need to make a decision or change something in my life, I try to give the matter careful consideration. But, when I act, it is me acting, not some outside source of power. As a humanist, I recognize that the buck stops with me and my fellow Homo sapiens.
This is the twenty-third installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Has Anybody Seen JC?, sung by Jeff Ollerhead, a singer–songwriter from Liverpool, England. Best I can tell the lyrics are of unknown origin. The song has numerous verses as the lyrics below show.
This is the twenty-first installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don’t Love Jesus by Jimmy Buffett, an American singer–songwriter.
Chorus My head hurts, my feet stink, and I don’t love Jesus. It’s that kind of mornin’, really was that kind of night. Tryin’ to tell myself that my condition is improvin’ and if I don’t die by Thursday I’ll be roarin’ Friday night.
Went down to the snake pit, to drink a little beer. Listened to the juke box, oh, it’s comin’ in clear. All of a sudden I wasn’t alone pickin’ country music with old Joe Bones. Duval Street was rockin’, my eyes they started poppin’! Because there she sat at the corner of the bar, as I broke another string on my old guitar. Someone call a cab. Lady won’t you pay my tab?
Got to get a little orange juice, And a Darvon for my head. I can’t spend all day, Baby, layin’ in bed. I’m goin’ down to Fausto’s to get some chocolate milk. Can’t spend my life in your sheets of silk I’ve got to find my way Crawl out and greet the day.
This is the twenty-first installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Jesus Saves by Slayer, an American thrash metal band from Huntington Park, California.