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Tag: God’s Chastisement

Is Life a Test?

It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:10)

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)

Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel. (Amos 4:12)

From my earliest days in Evangelicalism in the 1960s, until I deconverted in 2008, a common theme I heard from the pulpit and later preached myself as a pastor, is that life is transitory; an almost imperceptible blip on the radar of eternity. Life is the time given to us by God to prepare to meet him in eternity. Everything we do and experience in this life is secondary to meeting God face-to-face. God steps into human existence to test, try, and correct Christians. Why? To prepare them to experience the eternal, everlasting presence of God after death. Everything in this life — the pain, suffering, heartache, and loss — are preparatory, minor inconveniences, that when endured, lead to life everlasting.

Jesus told his disciples in Mark 13:13: And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. James said in James 1:12: 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. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3: Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Much like Jesus endured suffering in his thirty-three years of life, his followers are to do the same. And if Christians patiently endure suffering, there awaits eternal reward for them — mansions, streets of pure gold, and McDonald’s on every corner — after death.

This type of thinking permeated most of my life, from my teen years until the age of fifty. I have experienced a lot of trauma and upheaval in my life; things no child should have to experience. Yet, I survived. Why? No matter what came my way, I stoically embraced it as God preparing me for the life to come. All the pain, suffering, heartache, and loss were minor inconveniences when compared to what awaited me in glory. This life was offloaded to the life to come. It mattered not what happened. Heaven awaited me the moment I drew my last breath.

Of course, I have no idea whether what I had been taught and what I later, as a pastor for twenty-five years, taught others was true. There’s no evidence that any of this is true other than the Bible says it is. By faith, I endured hardness as a good soldier, believing that no matter what I experienced and endured in life, there would be a divine payoff in the end. Jesus said in the Gospels, that if Bruce endures to the end, he will be saved. This explains why I stoically, resolutely, dare I say passively accepted whatever came my way in life.

This was my life and way of thinking for almost five decades. And then, after more pain, suffering, and deep reflection, I came to understand that I had been sold a lie; that there was no evidence for the existence of God; no evidence for Heaven; no evidence for an afterlife; that all any of us has is this present life, and death is the period on the end of our lives.

For a long time, I was angry about how “preparing to meet God” thinking had made me passive not only about my own life, but that of my partner, Polly, and our six children. This doesn’t mean I was passive when it came to the work of the ministry, studying the Bible, praying, and evangelizing the lost. I was on fire for Jesus! Why? Because these things “mattered.” They prepared me for what awaited me after death; my commitment, zeal, and passion showed God, the church, and the world what really mattered to me.

Today, I am an atheist and a humanist. I am convinced that this life is the only one I will ever have, and the moment I die — that’s it. End of story, other than the stories told by those who knew me and live on.

Yesterday was my sixty-seventh birthday. I wish there were do-overs in life, but there are not. We get one crack at life. I can’t undo the past. I can’t fix the harm caused by the church; the harm I caused to not only myself, but to others — all water under and over the proverbial bridge. What I can do is live as if this is the only life I have; as if life is short and then I die; as if there is no promise of tomorrow, so I must live for today.

My counselor has expressed concern that I am pushing myself too hard; not pacing myself, conserving my strength for another day. She knows I’m sick, my body racked with unrelenting, pervasive pain. She also knows that I am headed for a permanent seat in a wheelchair (or worse) if nothing can be done about my spine. (I see a neurosurgeon on Tuesday.) While my therapist encourages me to embrace life, she also cautions me to not overdo it. The thing is, I don’t know if I am overdoing it until I do “it.” 🙂

People often say “we only live once.” No, actually, “we only die once.” And this is what drives me to continue to embrace life as it is; to do as much as I can on any given day, not because I am preparing for eternity, but because I intimately know and feel in my bones that I am on the short side of life; that all too soon I will be dead.

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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Rebellion and How an Authoritarian God Deals With It

rebellion

Rebellion is a common word in the vocabulary of Evangelical Christian pastors, church leaders, husbands, and parents.

Here’s what the Bible says about God’s view of rebellion:

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Samuel 15:23)

Those who practiced witchcraft were to be put to death (Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:9-11), so it is clear that God considered rebellion a serious matter.

God commanded a harsh punishment for a rebellious son:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them; Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

The Old Testament is the written record of how a thrice Holy God dealt with a rebellious people, Israel. Page after page details God’s judgments against his people and those who got in his way.

When we get to the New Testament, the word rebellion is not used. Does this mean that God has changed? Of course not. How is it possible for a perfect God to change? Malachi 3:6 says:

For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.

The Bible says, speaking of Jesus:

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)

It is clear, from the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God that God is immutable. He doesn’t change (though there are a few texts that seem to suggest otherwise).

Evangelical churches and pastors generally believe that both Testaments are authoritative (especially those Old Testament verses about tithing). Granted, Evangelicals are quite contradictory in their interpretations of the Old Testament, picking and choosing what they want to believe, but they do say all sixty-six books of the Bible are authoritative.

The key word is AUTHORITATIVE.

Evangelicals take seriously the matter of rebellion because they believe that the Bible is an authoritative text, and from that text they deduce an authority structure.

It goes something like this:

  • The Christian God is the supreme authority over everything. He is the sovereign King and Lord over everything. He is the creator. He is in complete and absolute control. Even with salvation, no one can be saved unless God permits them to be saved. Both Calvinists and Arminians alike believe God is the final arbiter when it comes to salvation.
  • The Christian God has established an authority hierarchy in the church. Under Jesus Christ, pastors (elders, bishops) are the head of the church. They have been called by God to teach, correct, lead, and direct the church. They are to initiate discipline when necessary to ensure the church is a pure, holy body (though many churches have a pretty low standard for pure and holy).
  • The Christian God has established authority hierarchy in the home. Again, under Jesus Christ, the husband is the head of the home, and his wife is to submit to his authority. Children are to obey their parents, and submit to their authority.
  • The Christian God has established an authority hierarchy for nations. All nations are to bow to the authority of the Christian God. Their laws should reflect God’s law. Better yet, theocracy, God rule, is the best form of government.

Evangelical Christians believe God rules over everything. There is no King but Jesus, and no God but the trinitarian deity of Christianity.

The problem here, of course, is that Evangelical Christians are human. Contrary to all their talk about being saved and sanctified, Christians are pretty much like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. For all their praying and confessing sin, they live and talk just like everyone else. Simply put, like all of us, they do what they want to do.

And that is a big, big problem.

You see, the authoritative God of the authoritative Bible demands absolute obedience. God expects Christians to implicitly and explicitly obey his commands. All of them. God will have none of this picking and choosing that American Christians love to do.

So everywhere you look you have Christians in some form of rebellion against God, their pastors, their parents, or their husbands. No matter how much they pray, read the Bible, go to the altar, and promise to really, really, really obey God this time, they continue to lapse into sin and rebellion.

This is what Jesus told his followers in Matthew 5:48:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

It seems “nice” Jesus didn’t lower the standard when he came to earth. God expects and demands perfection. God will have none of this “I am not perfect, just forgiven” cheap grace Christianity. Jesus expects his followers to walk in his steps. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they have been given everything they need pertaining to life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)

The difference between atheists and Evangelical Christians is guilt. Evangelicals live in a constant cycle of living right, rebelling, feeling guilty, repenting, and going back to living right. This cycle can go on numerous times a day. Atheists can feel guilty at times, but since they are not encumbered by a long list of Biblical laws, commands, rules, regulations, precepts, or standards, they are less likely to feel guilty. With no God hovering over them and no pastor preaching at them, the atheist is pretty much free to enjoy life. Generally, atheists try to live by the maxim: don’t hurt or cause harm to others, and when they fail they are likely to make restitution and ask for forgiveness from the people they hurt. No need for a God, Bible, church, or pastor. As humans, atheists have all the faculties necessary to be a good person.

What makes it worse for Evangelicals is that when they go to church on Sundays, their pastors remind them, from the Bible, of course, of how rebellious they are. These fallible, frail, sinful men of God point out the sins of their congregants, reminding them that God hates sin. These whitewashed sepulchers call on rebellious church members to repent. You would think that people would get tired of all this, but each week they dutifully return to church so their pastors can remind them of their sinfulness and need of repentance.

Children, especially teenagers, get this same treatment from their parents. When children don’t obey their parents, they are chastised and reminded that God hates rebellion. But kids will be kids, as every parent knows, and in most homes, it seems that children are either starting into rebellion or coming out of it.

Parents are commanded by God to beat the rebellion out of their children (Proverbs 13:24). God provides himself as a good role model to follow.  Hebrews 12:5-10 says:

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, 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, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

The Bible records how God goes about chastising rebellious Christians. He maims them, makes them sick, kills their families, takes away their possessions, starves them, and, if necessary, kills them. God goes to great lengths to make sure a Christian seeks after the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Here’s how God expects Evangelical Christian parents to respond to the rebellion of their children:

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13,14)

Let me tie this all together.

A divinely authoritative text from an authoritarian God establishes authority structures (hierarchies) for the church, family, and nations. Disobedience to God-ordained authority is to be punished.

For those of us raised in this kind of Christianity, we well know how this works out practically. The Bible, in the hands of God’s man, the pastor, is used to dominate and control people. Individuality and freedom are discouraged, and, in some cases, severely punished.

Pastors remind their churches about “pastoral authority.” Parents remind their children that they are to be obedient, and threaten them with punishment if they don’t. Husbands remind their wives that they are the head of the home and their word is f-i-n-a-l. Collectively, Christians warn government officials that Jesus is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and God demands they submit to the authority of God, the Bible, and his people (this is the essence of the theocracy movement in this country).

Some readers are likely weeping by now. Their minds go back twenty years or more to a time when they were teenagers. Their parents considered them rebellious. Often their rebellion consisted of things such as listening to rock music, smoking, getting pregnant, talking back, having sex, or smoking marijuana. Their parents, needing to show them that they were in charge, sent them off to group homes to get their “rebellion” problem fixed. What really happened is that they were cruelly misused, abused, and debased. Years later, their lives still bear the marks of the Godly “rebellion” treatment they received.

It is hard not to see cultism in all of this. I am sure Bible-believing Christians — people of the book — will scream foul, but the marks of a cult are there for all to see if they dare but open their eyes. Millions of people attend churches that believe the things I have written about in this post. This is what Bible literalism gets you. How could it be otherwise?

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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Christian Explanations for Why Bad Things Happen

why

Life is filled with good and bad experiences. Good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. None of us is exempt from the travails of life. Live long enough and you will face some sort of adversity in your life. Recently, my wife, Polly, spent 18 days in the hospital. This ordeal was the most stressful thing we have faced in forty-one years of marriage. I suspect it will not be the last trial we face before we die.

Christians, of course, are not exempt from bad things. “Life” happens to one and all, even if Jesus is your friend, lover, and physician. Faith does not exempt anyone from facing pain, suffering, and loss. Now, Christians will say that Jesus helps them through the bad times of life, but I found as a pastor that what helped people through adversity was not Jesus, but having a pastor and friends who cared about them. Remove Jesus from the equation, and you will find that atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers have the same need for human love and compassion. One need not believe in Jesus to love and care for others.

Go to the local Evangelical church on Sunday and you will hear songs, testimonies, and sermons extolling the awesomeness of Jesus. Jesus, according Evangelicals, is the bestest e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Yet, come Monday, the Jesus-fix is in the rearview mirror and the realities of life lie ahead. Evangelicals love to say Jesus is their co-pilot or sing Jesus take the Wheel with Carrie Underwood, but truth be told, their day-to-day lives reveal a far different story; that life can be and is hard, and that bad things can and do happen. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. As a pastor who deeply cared for his flock, I traveled hand-in-hand with countless congregants as they walked through the “valley of the shadow of death.” (Psalm 23) I witnessed untold suffering, sorrow, and grief. I stood by weeping family members as they disconnected their loved ones from life support. I stood by the bedsides of the dying, knowing that they would soon be no more. I conducted the funerals of children and seniors alike. I helped congregants move to new homes after losing theirs through bankruptcy or foreclosure. Through it all, I promised them that Jesus was a friend that would stick by them no matter what; that he was closer to them than their flesh and blood family. I will admit that, at times, these words seemed superficial and hollow.

Christians who say their life is different from or superior to that of unbelievers are not being honest. Whatever faith may impart to believers, one thing is for certain: shit happens — both to Christians and unbelievers.

When asked to explain WHY bad things happen in their lives, Christians give several different reasons or explanations.

All Things Work Together for Good

The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

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.

As a pastor, I explained Romans 8:28 this way: To those who are called according to God’s purpose and love him, everything turns out for good. Not everything is good, but everything works out for good. God throws good and bad things into the bag of life, and when everything shakes out, the end result is for our good. God loves us, has a purpose and plan for our lives, and only wants what is best for us. Or so I thought at the time.

God has a Purpose and Plan for Our Lives

Jeremiah 29:11 says, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. In Hebrews 13:5, God promises to never leave or forsake Christians. As a teen, I was encouraged to choose a “life” verse from the Bible; a verse that would be the governing principle of my life. I chose Proverbs 3:5-6:

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.

The aforementioned verses and others say to Christians that God has a perfect plan for their lives; that everything that happens to them is according to his divine purpose for them. While it may seem that God is either AWOL or not working in Christians’ best interests, they are reminded by preachers and teachers that God is behind the scenes making sure everything works out as planned. God knows everything, sees everything, and is present everywhere, so Christians can rest easy — the triune God is on duty 24/7.

Above all, Christians are told to not question God’s plan. The Apostle Paul made this clear in his treatise about divine election. Romans 9:20 says:

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?

Simply put, God can do whatever he wants, end of story. God says his plan for you, dear Christian, is perfect. How dare you question his sanity. Just keep on believing until reason and common sense depart and faith takes their place. Once faith rules your life, well anything is possible. Is this not exactly what the Bible says in Mark 10:27, with God all things are possible, and John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing?

God’s Ways are not Our Ways

The Bible says in Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

When God’s purpose and plan seem to be out of sorts with expectations and reason, Christians are reminded by their pastors that God’s thoughts are not their thoughts, and his ways are not their ways; that his ways and thoughts are higher than theirs. In other words, when everything in your life is telling you that God doesn’t know what the Heaven he is doing, just remember God doesn’t think or work as humans do. Come on, dude, he’s God, the ULTIMATE party planner.

Again, when Christians have doubts about what God is up to, they are encouraged to faith-it until they make-it. Since God is perfect in all his ways, he can never be at fault if your life turns to shit or you find yourself sitting in a pile of ashes scraping pus from sores as Job did.

What I am Facing is a Test From God

According to Christian preachers of every denomination, sometimes God brings adversity into the lives of believers because he is testing them. Read the book of Job. God turned Satan loose on Job, a righteous man, to see what kind of faith he had; whether he would break under pain, suffering, and loss. Thus, when Christians face Job-like adversity, the first question they should ask themselves is this: is God testing me?

What I am Facing is a Trial Meant to Make Me Stronger

Isaiah 41:10 says:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness

James 1:2-4 says:

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.

According to the Bible, God brings trials into the lives of Christians to make them spiritually stronger; to increase their faith; to toughen up their metaphorical hide. So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test or is this a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger?

What I am Facing is Chastisement from God

The Bible says in Hebrews 12:6-8:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Sometimes, God uses bad things to chastise (punish) Christians for sin in their lives. In fact, a life without punishment is a sure sign that someone is NOT a Christian. God, the Father, punishes and corrects those whom he loves. Just as our earthly fathers beat us when we disobeyed, so does our Heavenly Father.

Proverbs 3:12 says: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

So, when bad things happen, Christians should ask themselves, is this a test, a trial God has brought in my life to make me stronger, or is God chastising me? In other words, which cup is the coin under?

These six statements pretty well cover every explanation Christians use to explain the bad things in their lives. I have yet to hear a Christian say, when asked about the adversity he or she is facing, Hell if I know, shit happens! God’s honor and name must be defended at all costs lest people believe that he is a psychopath who finds pleasure in inflicting pain, suffering, and abuse on fallible, frail humans. Just remember, God created everything and is the sovereign Lord over all, but when things turn to shit, he’s not to blame. Don’t try this at home!

Now, when bad things happen to unbelievers, the explanation is far different. God is trying to get our attention. Bad things happening in our lives are warning signs from God. Warning! Judgment and Hell await unless you, without delay, repent of your sins and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I was somewhat surprised that a Christian zealot didn’t email me and say that Polly’s latest hospitalization was God warning me (us) that I was on a dangerous path that leads to hellfire and damnation. Of course, such a warning would have the opposite effect on me. Giving the love of my life bladder cancer and ulcerative colitis so I will love you? Not going to happen asshole!

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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Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Did God Kill My Baby Because of My Sin? by John Piper

john piper
John Piper

Question: “Pastor John, did God cause, or would God cause, my wife to miscarry our child because I have a struggle with lust and pornography? I have a lot of guilt right now, and I don’t know how to think about God’s discipline and punishment for my sin. I’m very confused, please help.”

May that discipline come in the form of harm, even death, to others that we love, as well as ourselves? And the answer is yes, it may. This was certainly the case with David’s sin of adultery and murder with Bathsheba and her husband. Nathan the prophet said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). And then the next thing, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord” — and surely that is what pornography is — “the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:14).

So, I would certainly say in my own life — now hear this carefully — I would certainly say in my own life the most painful and humbling disciplining from the Lord has regularly been though the pain and suffering and sometimes death of those I love, rather than through any blows against my own body. Oh, that we only suffered in our own body. This has been the way the deepest Christians have always thought about the losses through the death of those they love. Jonathan Edwards preached numerous sermons about the way the Lord disciplines a church by taking away a godly pastor in death. Edwards’s godly wife Sarah spoke about kissing the rod of God in the death of her 54-year-old husband — a rod of discipline that she felt more than anyone. She called it a rod of God on her back. And she kissed it.

Every loss that we endure as sinful children of God have two designs: one from Satan, one from God. Satan designs our unbelief and rebellion and renunciation and guilt and paralysis and loss of faith. God designs our purification and that we would hope less in this world and more in God who raises the dead.

I don’t know whether our friend who wrote this question lost his child in miscarriage as a direct discipline from God because of his pornography. I do not know. He does not know. I do know that in the loss of the child, God wills a new humility and a new submission and a new faith and new purity through the pain of this loss.

— John Piper, Desiring God, Did My Lust Cause Our Miscarriage?, November 14, 2016

Bruce Gerencser