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Tag: Love of God

Christian Syrup for My Existential Pancakes

Today, I received the following card from someone local to where I live:

jesus syrup

I am not sure why the sender would feel “anxiety” over sending me an anonymous card. The “worst” that thing that could happen is that I would share the card on my blog, exposing the sender’s words to critique and, perhaps, ridicule.

The sender did list a street address (no city or zip code) on the envelope. A cursory Google search revealed two local locations for this address: Bryan and Bowling Green. This doesn’t mean, however, the sender lives in one of these communities. Local mail is processed through the Detroit, Michigan processing center. So, the sender may live somewhere farther away from my home. Or, she could have had layovers at the Detroit or Toledo airport and mailed the card from there. I say “she” because the handwriting seems to be that of a woman.

The sender calls me “Mr. Bruce.” This usage is somewhat odd: perhaps the person has never met me face to face, is an immigrant, from the South, or believes in using proper form. My grammar Nazi grandmother and I traded numerous letters when I was a child. Her letters to me were always addressed to “Master Bruce Gerencser,” and later in life to “Rev. Bruce Gerencser.” (Man, do I miss Grandma’s letters!)

The sender signs her name saying, “In Christ’s Love.” I assume from that that she is a Christian, and I will use that assumption for the rest of what I say about this card.

The sender believes her God has laid something on her heart that she wanted to share with me:

  • I pray for you
  • I pray for your heart
  • I pray that you may know you are a blessing
  • I pray that you may know that you are loved

I have been told thousands of times over the years by Christians that they are “praying” for me: praying that I will get saved, praying that I will come back to Jesus, praying I will get right with God, praying God will kill me, etc. Lots of praying, but as of the writing of this post, not one Christian prayer mentioning Bruce Gerencser has been answered — not one. Either God ain’t listening or doesn’t care, or there is no God, and all these prayers made it as far as the ceiling before bouncing back to earth.

The sender says she is praying for my “heart.” I assume she is using the word “heart” in a spiritual sense; that my “heart” is lacking or defective in some way. I reject the idea that humans have spiritual “hearts.” The same goes for us having “souls.” But, setting that aside for a moment, how could the sender possibly know the true condition of my “heart”? The Bible says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the “heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) I assume the sender is judging my heart’s condition based on what she sees and knows about me outwardly: that she has concluded, based on her external observations, that I need a “heart” transplant.

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. By all accounts, my “heart” was in the right place for most of my life. I slavishly and devotedly loved and followed Jesus, the eternal, virgin-born, miracle-working, crucified, resurrected, coming-again-in-power and-glory Son of the one true God. My “heart” yearned to be filled with the Holy Spirit. My “heart” ached for those dead in trespasses and sins. I diligently preached the Christian gospel and evangelized sinners, hoping that none should perish and that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). I wasn’t “perfect,” but tried to be, walking in humility, truth, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. And when my “heart” felt conviction over sin? I repented, applying 1 John 1:9 to my life.

Yet, at the age of fifty, I walked away from Christianity. I am now an atheist, one who opposes the religion he once believed and practiced. By Bible standards, I am a heretic, an apostate, a reprobate, an enemy of God; one who has spit in the face of Christ and done despite to the spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29). What changed? Did Satan secretly in the night remove my Christian “heart” and replace it with an “atheist” heart? Of course not. What changed was my “mind.” I once believed, and now I don’t. The only thing wrong with my mind is that I don’t remember things as well as I used to. Other than that, I am the same Bruce post-Jesus. I have weighed Christianity in the balance and found it wanting. What once made perfect sense to me no longer does (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.)

The sender says that she is praying that I know I am a “blessing.” A blessing to whom, exactly? I am most certainly not a “blessing” to Evangelical Christians. Everything I write is in opposition to their beliefs and practices. Quite frankly, I am not sure what the sender means by this statement. I am the village atheist, well-known for my opposition to Christianity. More than a few Evangelical zealots wish I would stop being such a “blessing” to others. 🙂

Finally, the sender is praying that I will know that I am “loved.” This is where the proverbial pancake becomes slathered with syrupy Christianese. I suppose I should be glad she didn’t use the word “unconditional” to modify the word “love.” (Please see Does God Love Us Unconditionally?) Perhaps the bigger question is whether Christians should love me. After all, I am leading people astray, causing countless people to walk away from Christianity. I know the Bible says Christians should love their enemies, but what does the sender really mean when she says she’s praying that I will “know I am loved?” By God? By Jesus? By Christians?

God is a myth, Jesus is dead, and if I had to judge Christianity based on how I have been treated by the supposed followers of Christ over the past thirteen years, I would conclude that Christianity is a morally bankrupt religion. Mahatma Gandhi was right when he said: I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

To the sender I say this: I am fine just the way I am. There’s nothing wrong with my “heart.” I am loved by people who matter to me, and they know I love them in return. I am “blessed” by having them in my life. I don’t want, need, or desire to “loved” or “blessed” by Christians, especially anonymous senders of cards. (I do have several Christians in my life I deeply love.) If the sender truly wanted to connect with me, she would have let me know who she was. Instead, she sent me an anonymous cryptic message that God allegedly laid upon her heart. If she knows me at all and has read my writing, she surely knew how I would respond to her “message.”

As I finished up this post, it dawned on me that this card could be from a Christian who is sending messages to random people; I was just one of her lucky targets. The fact that she said she had a “touch of anxiety” suggests that this person does, in fact, know me. She knows that I am an anxiety-causing kind of guy. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Do You Tremble Before God and Fear Him?

fear of God

Christians talk a lot about love. Indeed, throughout the entire Bible, especially the New Testament, we find a lot of verses that talk about God’s love and our love for him/her/it and our fellow man. The most oft-quoted verse in the Bible is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Christians are convinced that God loves everyone. Well, most Christians anyway. Calvinists don’t believe that God loves everyone, According to them, God’s love is reserved for the elect, those chosen by God before the foundation of the world. But everyone else believes in the indiscriminate, unconditional love of God. Most people, at some time or the other, will be told that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives.

Certainly, a God of love is a great idea, but unfortunately when we take time to carefully read the Bible we find that the God of love pales considerably when compared to the God of wrath, judgment, hate, and fury.

While a case can be made from the New Testament for the God of love, when it comes to the Old Testament, the God of love is largely absent. I’ve often wondered if some Christians secretly wish that the Old Testament had never been written. Their case for God being a God of love is much easier to make without the Old Testament.

When I read the Old Testament, I see a God that any sane person should fear. From the very first pages of the Bible, we see a God that hates sin and has little tolerance for the foibles and faults of humans. According to the Bible, God created Adam and Eve and gave them one command to obey: don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So what did Adam and Eve do? They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. How did God respond to their transgression? He cursed them and condemned them to death. Not only that, but every human being after Adam and Eve was also cursed and condemned to death.

Someday, all of us will die, and, according to the Bible, we will die because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit. A piece of fruit? Yes, a piece of fruit. God so hated Adam and Eve’s transgression that he cursed every human being that would ever live on the face of the earth. This God is one not to be trifled with, and one that we should fear. That is, if we believe he exists.

Adam and Eve had two sons named Cain and Abel. I’m sure you know the story well, a story of two wonderful boys frolicking in the woods until one day, in the midst of an argument, one kills the other, After Cain killed Abel, God cursed Cain and put a mark on him. As a boy, I was taught that the mark God put on Cain was that he made him black. Again, a God to be feared.

Six chapters into the book of Genesis we find that God is already sick and tired of the human race. God is so upset that he wishes he hadn’t created humans. How did God deal with the sin and rebellion of the human race? He killed everyone, save eight people. Think about this for a moment. God killed men, women, children, and unborn babies. Kind of hard to make a pro-life case for this God. Again, a God to be feared.

Throughout the Bible, God commands his chosen people to slaughter others. Anyone who got in the way of the Israelites or refused to worship the one true God, God commanded that they be killed. Even among God’s chosen people, God had no tolerance for disobedience. When God had Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he got upset over their lack of faith and obedience. So what did God do? He made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, and he killed everyone over the age of twenty. Again, a God to be feared.

From Genesis to Malachi, the message is clear, mess with God and you die. The Old Testament God is a God to be feared.

fear of god clarence Darrow

It should come as no surprise that some people decide that there are two Gods in the Bible, the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. Personally, I think there are multiple gods in the Bible. These people rightly understand that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are incompatible. Christians have spent two thousand years trying to make the Old Testament God and the New Testament God compatible with each other. Perhaps God has a split personality and that explains the difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. Regardless of the reason, these Gods are dissimilar.

Even in the New Testament, there are events that tell us that the God of love has a real mean streak. What are we to make of the death of Jesus on the cross? According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus died on the cross for sinners. Arminians say Jesus died for everyone and Calvinists say Jesus died for some people, but regardless of the breadth of the atonement, Jesus suffered a painful, awful death on the cross because of the sins of others.

Who punished Jesus on the cross? None other than his father, the wrathful God of the Old Testament. God, the father poured out his wrath on his son, ultimately killing him. Think about this for a moment. Think about a father brutally killing his son because of what someone else did. Would we think such a man to be worthy of our admiration or our love? I think not.

The death of Jesus on the cross at the hands of his father is a poignant reminder that God hates sin and those who do it. In fact, if it weren’t for the atoning work of Jesus, God would pour out his wrath on us. This is a God to be feared.

In the book of Acts, we are told a story about two people who told a lie. Ananias and Sapphira lied about selling some property and God killed them on the spot. The Bible says that great fear came upon the people. I too would fear a God willing to kill over the price paid for a piece of property.

And then there’s the book of Revelation. From start to finish the book of Revelation is all about God killing and destroying. God uses the most deplorable methods possible to prove that he is the meanest, baddest son of a bitch in the universe. I’m surprised that a movie has not been made about the book of Revelation. This movie would make Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ look like a G-rated kids flick.

While many Christians want to focus on the good stuff found in the Bible, things like love and forgiveness, we must not forget that far bigger than God being a God of love is the fact that God is a God of wrath and he should be feared. Hundreds of times in the Bible we are told to fear God. In the churches I grew up in, the college I went to, and in my own ministry, the wrathful God, the sin-hating God, the violent God, played a prominent part. It should come as no surprise, then, that I had a healthy fear of God. In my mind, God always seemed to be lurking in the shadows waiting for me to stumble and fall so he could chastise me or kill me.

I am sure that some readers of this blog will suggest that I have a warped view of the Christian God. I contend, however, that those who preach up the love of God at the expense of the wrath of God are giving people a truncated view of the God of the Bible. Most of what we read in the Bible reveals a God of wrath, not a God of love.

The conclusion I have come to is this: I find little about the God of the Bible that is worthy of emulation. Why would anyone want to be like the God of the Bible?

Many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Yes, they are aware of the Old Testament God of wrath, but they prefer the New Testament God of love. The Old Testament God is kept in reserve, only to be trotted out for raining judgment upon homosexuals, abortionists, atheists, Barack Obama, Democrats, and St Louis Cardinals fans.

Fortunately, the God of the Bible does not exist. Imagine what the world would be like if the God of the Old Testament was real? I can only imagine that few of us would escape the death penalty. Even Christians would likely be killed by the God who hates sin and those who do it. If the God of love really existed, one would think that the world would be in much better shape, and that peace and goodwill would fill the land.

If you’re Christian, I ask you, how do you reconcile the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament? If you used to be a Christian, did the Bible picture of God play a part in your deconversion? If you are a liberal Christian who focuses on the love of God, how do you square your belief with the fact that most of the Bible talks about a God of wrath and not a God of love?

For me personally, one of the reasons I left the Christian faith was because I could no longer square my view of what I thought God should be with what the Bible said he was. When I stopped believing the fear went away.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

COVID-19 Is God’s Love. Deal With It

god loves you

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

Yesterday morning, Brian Lehrer did a segment on how people are celebrating their holy days during the COVID-19 epidemic. One of his guests was Jacqueline Lewis, the pastor of a “social justice” church in New York City. Lehrer asked her how she squares her faith with the terrible inequalities and injustices the pandemic has exposed. She said, in essence, that “God has a plan” and that “while we may not understand it, we have to trust it” because he is a “God of love.”

She is far from the only clergy member, or believer, to express such sentiments. I don’t doubt the pastor’s commitment to serve the underserved or question the sincerity of her belief that her faith is central to her work. However, she did not — could not? — explain how a “God of love” allows people of color, immigrants and the poor to be over-represented among the victims and casualties of the coronavirus. 

Because we’ve all heard variations of what she said, I wasn’t disappointed. I was, however, angry. Later, I realized why: in her own way, she wasn’t so different from pastors like Rick Wiles or the fundamentalists of other religions who warn us that the epidemic is “God’s punishment” for whatever you care to name. While she doesn’t preach hate, she says that God’s “justice” can, in times like these, burden those least able to bear it. Rev. Wiles wouldn’t disagree. Nor would Pat Roberts, who said the devastating earthquake in Haiti was payback for their “pact with the devil” that allowed them to defeat their French colonizers two centuries earlier. (That “pact,” he said, is the reason why the island’s people have endured so much misfortune.) Nor, for that matter, would other preachers who claimed that any number of natural disasters were “divine retribution” for “sins” (like legalizing same-sex marriage) committed by people thousands of miles away.

In other words, they are all saying that God unleashes his wrath and sometimes innocent people are collateral damage. The only difference between Lewis and the others is that she says that we can’t understand, but we should trust, God’s will, while Robertson, Wiles and the others are basically telling us that God is like the parent who punishes his kids because he had a bad day at work and that we should just get used to it. 

Oh, and they tell us that we should continue to pray to God. Maybe, just maybe, he will listen to our pleas for mercy and justice. 

Or will he?

God is deaf nowadays and will not hear us

And for our guilt he grinds good men to dust.

It’s easy to imagine those lines coming from someone questioning his or her faith in the face of the current pandemic. Or the Holocaust. Or World War I. Or almost any other tragedy you care to name. As a matter of fact, they are part of a response to another collective trauma that bears at least a few parallels to our situation: the Black Death of Medieval Europe.

Those lines come from Piers Plowman, an epic poem that is an allegory of the narrator’s quest for a “true” Christian life in a world of medieval Catholicism. It is commonly attributed to William Langland, about whom little is known besides the fact that he witnessed the Black Death during his youth. Although the poem seems to be intended as a tale of the triumph of Christian virtue and charity, it often lapses — intentionally or not — into social satire. (Perhaps, not surprisingly, it also contains the first known literary reference to the Robin Hood tales.) Langland, or whoever wrote Piers, undoubtedly saw how some within the Church used the Black Death to exploit fears and prejudices about Jews, gypsies and “others.”

Those hatreds are not new. Nor, apparently, is the notion that God is an abusive parent who will tear the house apart and his innocent children might get hit with the flying objects — and that we simply have to understand that it’s “his way” and live with it. In Langland’s time, there wasn’t anyplace else to go if you left the church — that is, if you lived to tell about it. Likewise, they internalized the blame and shame and believed that their parents — and God — knew what was best for them.

Today we don’t have to accept the guilt of someone else being punished for sins or mere misdeeds we may or may not realize we’ve committed. In short, we don’t have to lie to ourselves about love or justice or mercy —whether God’s or a parent’s. And we don’t have to believe they’re listening when they’re not. All we can do is to listen to those who are crying and do what we can to ease their pain, and ours.

(By the way, here is the original of the Piers Plowman verse:

For God is deaf nowadays and deigneth not us to hear

That girls (children) for their guilts (sins) he forgrint (destroys) them all.)

Preaching Love or Fear, It Matters Not, Non-Christians Still Go to Hell When They Die

god loves you so much

According to Darren Wilson, founder and CEO of WP Films and a Christian filmmaker, preaching God’s wrath and judgment is the wrong way to preach the gospel to sinners. Wilson, an Evangelical, certainly believes Hell awaits all those who reject Jesus and his awesome offer of salvation, but the best way to reach sinners is to preach up the God of love. In a recent Charisma article, Wilson described his God is love gospel this way:

Jesus loves you. Jesus died for you. Jesus wants to change you, make you into the person you were always intended to be. To focus on what’s coming is to miss the point entirely. Jesus isn’t fire insurance for some future event. He is now. He is present in your circumstances and your life right here.

Forget all that judgment, wrath, and hell stuff. No need to fear God, sinners. Jesus l-o-v-e-s you and has a wonderful plan for your life. The problem, of course, with this kind of gospel is that the Bible says a hell of a lot about the gospel that Wilson wants Evangelicals to stop preaching. Wilson wants to preach the love gospel, and once people are saved then they can be told about all the bad stuff they missed. No need to mention the bad stuff before it is necessary to do so. Is it any wonder that many people who buy what Wilson is selling, a year or two down the road, after learning all the harmful, bat-shit-crazy stuff Evangelicals believe, abandon Christianity and return to the “world”? Wilson’s love gospel is like the man who goes to great lengths to woo a woman. His pull-out-all-the-stops love eventually leads to the woman marrying him. Five years later, the woman is sick. She goes to the doctor, has some blood tests done, only to find out she has HIV. She thinks, how did I contract HIV? The only man I have had sex with is my wonderful, loving husband. When she tells her husband about her diagnosis, he replies, yeah, I should have told you beforehand, I am HIV positive.

Wilson, along with other love gospel preachers, is being deceitful when he withholds the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Jesus and his disciples, along with the Apostle Paul, certainly had plenty to say about Hell, the Lake of Fire, and God’s past, present, and future judgment and wrath. Wilson, much like many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preachers who reduce salvation to repeating a prayer, wants to scale down the gospel to a teaspoon or two of Jesus-sugar. Remember, Wilson still believes in the reality of hell. In the aforementioned Charisma article, Wilson recounts a conversation he had with a street preacher:

We were in Nashville for a showing at Rocketown, and I was sitting in the green room waiting for showtime when some friends came in and told me there were picketers outside. Well that sounded exciting!  I’ve never had picketers before, so I decided to go meet them.

I walked outside and immediately heard them on the other side of the building. They were on their blowhorn and were shouting at everyone standing in line waiting go get in. They had signs announcing the fires of hell as well as pictures of aborted fetuses (there must be a picketer kit available, so you can have all your bases covered no matter what you’re picketing), and they were just causing all kinds of angst for the people still in line. So I walked up to the guy on the blowhorn and extended my hand.

“Hi, I’m Darren.”

He looked at me, then down at my hand, then back at me. His smile was not friendly. And he wouldn’t shake my hand.

“I know who you are. You’re lying to people.”

I was genuinely curious about this accusation, so I took the bait.

“How am I lying to them?” I asked.

“You’re not telling them that unless they turn from their sins they’re going to burn in hell.”

And right there, we found our impasse. Keep in mind the gulf between us isn’t found in our theology—I wholeheartedly agree that Jesus is the only way to the Father, and if you don’t follow Him you will spend eternity apart from Him, which, fires or not, will be a true hell. No, where we parted ways was in which approach we were choosing to introduce people to Jesus. He wanted to talk about consequences. I prefer to talk about acceptance. He wanted me to start using fear as a ministry tool, whereas I much prefer to use love.

buford pusser

Wilson is like the car salesman who tries to sell you a brand-new car by talking about how pretty the car is without mentioning the fact that the automobile doesn’t have a motor. The car sure looks nice, but it won’t get you where you need to go. As I mentioned in the post, Alternative Viewpoints on Hell: Evangelicals Attempt to Give the Vengeful God a Makeover, many Evangelicals reinterpret the hard things of the Bible so they will be viewed in a better light by unbelievers. Who wants to be known as the neighbor who thinks everyone on his block is facing eternal torture in the Lake of Fire unless they eat the right flavor of Evangelical ice cream? Unlike the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists in the neighborhood who delight in telling people they are headed for H-E-L-L, the Wilsons of Christianity want to be viewed as nice, loving human beings. Personally, I prefer being told the truth, and that truth — as recorded in the very Bible Wilson considers an inspired, inerrant, infallible text — is that most human beings will spend eternity bring tortured by the thrice-holy God in the Lake of Fire. I suspect most of the readers of this blog value truth. And I am fairly certain that Wilson does too. I suspect that when the Jesus loves you shtick doesn’t work, it’s time to go all Paul Harvey on sinners and tell them the rest of the story. If the carrot won’t work, it’s time to hit sinners with a Buford Pusser’s club-sized stick and let them know what awaits if they don’t repent and believe in Jesus.

It matters not which gospel is preached. Wilson’s gospel is certainly a feel-good gospel that avoids the harsh reality that the Bible says a lot more about wrath, judgment, and hell than it does love and heaven. But, it is a gospel of omission; a gospel that doesn’t warn people of the consequences of not believing in Jesus and following the teachings of the Christian Bible. The gospel of street preachers warns of the judgment and hell that awaits all those who aren’t like them, ignoring that the Bible also speaks of a schizophrenic God of love, kindness, and mercy.  Either way, for Atheists, Agnostics, Satanists, Pagans, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, their end is the same — Hell and the Lake of Fire.  And it is for this reason that all the theological minutia of Christianity is meaningless. All that matters is what happens to non-Christians after they die. Smile and tell me Jesus loves me or screw up your face and scream at me about my sins, it matters not. All I want to know is this: if Bruce, the atheist dies today what would happen to him? Where would he spend eternity? Your answers will tell me everything I need to know about your religion.

Bruce Gerencser