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Bruce, Did You Ever Pray for God to Abolish Hell?

i have a question

I recently asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question you would like me to answer, please leave your question on the page, Your Questions, Please.

Dave asked:

[Christian] Fundamentalists believe you can bring anything to God in prayer and he will answer it. They also believe in eternal torture as this god’s punishment for most of the human race. As a pastor did you ever pray that God would not allow such a monstrosity as hell? Why do you think that this plea is not made continuously by people who hold this belief? Is it because they don’t really believe they can change the mind of God, or is it because they relish the idea that nonbelievers will get what they deserve?

Evangelicals believe that the Bible God hears and answers their prayers. While Evangelicals are all over the place theologically on prayer, they believe that God does hear their petitions and answers in one of three ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not now

According to Evangelicals, every prayer that conforms to the will of God is answered affirmatively. Why, then, do most Evangelical prayers go unanswered — especially big-ticket items such as the ones mentioned by Dave? Why does God seem indifferent to human suffering, pain, and loss? According to Evangelicals, God saying no or not now happens for one of these reasons:

  • God wants to increase our faith
  • God wants to test us and make us stronger
  • God wants to chastise us for our sins, restoring us to a right relationship with him
  • God wants to bring glory to his name

While I am sure there are other “reasons” for God saying no or not now, these are the big four — the reasons most often cited by Evangelicals.

For thirty-five years, I prayed every day — often multiple times a day. Yet, I never, one time, asked God to abolish Hell. I believed Hell (and the Lake of Fire) was an awful place of eternal damnation and suffering, yet I also believed the people in Hell were getting exactly what they deserved. Salvation had been offered to them by Jesus Christ, yet they rejected it, choosing instead their own selfish desires. Of course, I dared not think too hard on the matter, lest I see multiple glaring contradictions. Had I thought about that matter, I would have concluded that God was unjust and unfair; that eternity in Hell seemed to be determined by who your parents were and geography.

After embracing Calvinism, I concluded that eternal destiny was determined not by making a decision for Christ, but because God had chosen some people to spend eternity in Hell. No one deserved salvation and eternity in Heaven, so God can’t be blamed for sending most people to the Lake of Fire.

I never believed I could change the mind of God through my prayers. God was the sovereign Lord over all, and everything that happened was according to his purpose and plan. People saved under my ministry were converted because God purposed from before the foundation of the world to bring them to saving faith. When I prayed, it was not so God would give me what I want, but so my will would conform to God’s. Ironically, on many occasions God’s “will” aligned perfectly aligned with mine. It was amazing that God often gave me exactly what I wanted. I later concluded that the only person answering my prayers was me; that my prayers were self-fulfilling wants, needs, and desires.

Dave concludes by asking a question that most Evangelicals don’t want to answer: [do] they [Evangelicals] relish the idea that nonbelievers will get what they deserve?

I do know that some Evangelicals relish the fact that I will some day go to Hell to be punished and tortured by God for eternity. I am viewed as someone especially deserving of eternal torture. I knew the “truth” and rejected it. I spit in the face of Jesus, choosing atheism over the one true faith. I have received countless emails and blog comments from Evangelicals who, with sadistic delight, describe what God is going to do to me after I die. Usually, they end with a call to repentance or “praying for you,” but I suspect that many of my critics relish what awaits for me in Hell.

Deep down, Evangelicals need validation; to know for certain that they are right. Their lives are built on certainty; that their God is the one true God; that the Bible is a supernatural book given to them by a supernatural God, a book that is a blueprint or manual for life; that their decision to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ was the right choice, guaranteeing them an eternity of heavenly bliss.

Those who don’t believe as they do will get exactly what they deserve — eternal punishment in Hell. What better way for you to be proven right than for unbelievers to be cast into the Lake of Fire? I suspect some Evangelical zealots will take day strolls to the rim of the Lake of Fire, and say to unbelievers, I TOLD YOU SO! The eternal suffering of unbelievers is, for Evangelicals, vindication of their beliefs.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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NFL Bans Prayer

nfl players praying

In a move that is certain to shake the very foundation of masturbatory Evangelical Christianity, the National Football League (NFL) told players they would not be permitted to have prayer spectacles after games. That’s right, players will have to keep their piety to themselves.

Is this not yet another sign that evil atheists and secularists have taken over America? First, these tools of Satan took over our schools and Costco, and now they have infiltrated the One True Church — The NFL. Where will it all end?

I call on Evangelical football players to take a stand by wearing Evangelical Prayers Matter shirts. Regardless of the anti-prayer edict from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, “Give God All the Glory” players should gather after the games at the fifty-yard line, kneel, lift up holy hands — especially wide receivers and tight ends — and pray.

If Evangelical football players don’t stand their ground, the Christian God will no longer bless their endeavors. Worse yet, without players praying, Western Civilization will collapse. Forget all that Black Lives Matter nonsense. All that matters is pretense and making a show. Everybody knows that God only hears prayers when there’s an audience.

And when Evangelical football players prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray kneeling at the fifty-yard line, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, their fame is their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into the corner of the locker room, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to Jesus which is in secret; and he which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly with more catches, touchdowns, tackles, sacks, and interceptions. (Matthew 6:5-6, NFLV)

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Are you on Social Media?

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Does Anyone Have God-Given Talent?

without me ye can do nothing

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

A boy dreams of being a major league baseball player someday. His parents were both athletes in their younger years, having some success at the high school and college level,

As a youth, he grows quickly, seemingly always a head taller than everyone else. He seems more agile than others his age. He is fast on his feet, quick with his mind, and excels at the game of baseball.

Tee-Ball. Little League. Pony League. High School Baseball. College Baseball.

At every level, he excels.

Finally, his big day comes.

A Major League baseball team makes him their number one draft pick.

It’s not long before he works his way through the minor leagues, and two years after being drafted he makes his Major League début.

He is an instant sensation, quickly showing everyone that he is an all-star in the making.

One night, during a game where he went 4-4, hit a home run, drove in 3 runs, and stole a base, the TV broadcaster explains the greatness of this talented baseball player.

He has a God-given talent to play like he does.

Nary a person will question such an utterance.

It seems if people excel in life, it is because God has blessed them or God has given them a special dose of talent.

Few are the people who excel in life. Most of us have a few things we are good at and we try to nurture those things the best we can. We know we will not be remembered for any great feat, nor will the record books make any mention of us. We live, we love, we die, and then we are forgotten.

It would seem that God doesn’t want most of us to be standouts or superstars. Evidently, God only has a chosen few he blesses with God-given talent.

How does the nontheist explain the baseball player mentioned above? If it is not God-given talent what is it?

Genetics.

Home environment.

Passion.

Hard work.

Training.

Coaches.

Scouts.

Luck.

All of these are better explanations than God-given talent.

We demean people when we reduce their hard work to something God gives them. The few things I am good at in life are the result of my diligence, commitment, and hard work. Granted, these things come easy for me, BUT I still work hard to cultivate and improve the talents I have. I suspect it is the same for you too.

I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. However, God is not on the credit list.

The all-star baseball player helps propel the home team to the World Series. The team handily wins the series and the little boy, now a grown-up all-star player, is voted the series’ most valuable player.

As he is interviewed after the last game of the series, he says “I want to thank God ____________________.”

And I say to myself or the TV, No I want to thank YOU. Thank you for playing hard. Thank you for hustling on every play. Thank you for working hard every day to be the very best player you could be.

Video Link

This subject reminds me of my all-time favorite TV prayer. Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, uttered the following prayer at the dinner table:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

And all the atheists said AMEN.

all things made by god

Many Christians have been taught that without God/Jesus they can do nothing. Their very breath and motor skills come from God. God feeds them, clothes them, gives them a job, gives them a spouse, gives them children, and gives them, well gives them everything. Jesus said in John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing. Many Christian take this verse to mean that without Jesus they can do absolutely NOTHING. Technically, they don’t really believe this. After all, they do sin. Does God give them the power and ability to sin? Well, that’s different, Bruce. Sin comes from Satan or the flesh. God, who created everything and gives us the breath of life and the ability to exist, gets the credit for the good, but not the bad, right? Good=God, Bad=Satan and the Flesh. But, if God is sovereign, if he is the creator of everything, isn’t he also responsible for sin and the bad things that happen? I thought God has the whole world in his hands and the universe exists because of him?

I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone can show me God did this or that or God gave so-and-so talent, then I will gladly give God the credit. One question. Which God? How do we know it is the Christian God handing out the talent? Does the Christian God put a Made by Jesus label on those he gives talent to? So many questions . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Luke 11: Ask and You Shall Receive

prayer asking and receiving john r rice

And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Luke 11:9, 10)

Want to turn pontificating Evangelicals unto babbling, incoherent defenders of the one true faith? Just ask them to explain and defend the teachings of Jesus found in Luke 11:9-10. All of a sudden, the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God becomes a hard-to-understand book; one that doesn’t mean what it clearly says its means.

Forty years ago, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) luminary and editor of the Sword of the Lord, John R. Rice, wrote a book titled, Prayer: Asking and Receiving. Two-hundred thirty-four pages long, Asking and Receiving is a defense of the notion that prayer is simply Christians asking, God answering, and believers receiving. Rice states:

II. Because Prayer is God’s Appointed Way for Christians to Get Things

The outside, unbelieving world expects to get things by work or by planning or by scheming or by accident, but God’s children are taught that they are to get things by asking and the reason we do not have is because we do not ask.

James 4:2 says: Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

“Ye have not, because ye ask not!” Fighting, warring, struggling and scheming — these are not God’s ways for a Christian to get things. We are to get by asking. And the reason we have not is not “because ye work not,” nor is it “because ye plan not.” No, it is “because ye ask not.” Asking is God’s way for a Christian to get things.

Rice, a Bible literalist, takes Luke 11:9, 10 to heart. God is a divine vending machine of sorts. Christians put their quarters (prayers) in the slot, hit the appropriate numbers (or pull the handle back in the day), and God delivers. Boom! God delivers right to the Christian’s hand a heavenly Milky Way or bag of Funyuns. Except, in real life that’s not how prayer really works.

Every day, Evangelicals ask God for things. Big stuff, little stuff, up go the prayers. However, much like Trump’s Federal medical supply chain, God doesn’t hear nor answer the prayers. Oh, he might help Christians find their car keys or other trivial requests, but the prayers that are matters of life and death go answered. Well, on second thought, Evangelicals do say that God answers prayer one of three ways: yes, no, and later (maybe). It seems, at least from my seat in the atheist pew, that God has a stock answer. No!

The world is facing the Coronavirus Pandemic. Millions are infected and thousands upon thousands are dying. Countless others will face a lifetime of lung and heart problems. I have no doubt that Evangelicals have done a lot of praying of late. If I were a believer, I would be storming the throne room of Heaven too. (Hebrews 4:16) Yet, despite their fervent “asking,” Christians are still being infected and dying. Why is that? If prayer is, as Luke 11:9-10 says it is, “asking and receiving,” why is it that so many prayers are going unanswered? Doesn’t God care about his children? (Please see Does God Always Take Care of His Children?) Of course he doesn’t. His prior behavior should tell us everything we need to know about the God of Christianity. Look at how much suffering there is in the world. Look at all the poverty and starvation. Look at how past pandemics ravaged the world. Everywhere we look we see the absence of a God. If he is a prayer-answering God, he has a funny way of showing it.

Instead of wasting time praying, perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to spend their time pleading with President Trump to get his act together and actually help them and their fellow citizens. Perhaps, it would be time better spent to defend and support science — the only hope for delivering the world from the Coronavirus.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God

unaswered prayer

Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.

From the earliest age, I was taught to pray. As a child I prayed, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Bless Mommy, Daddy, Bobby and Robin, and the pastor and the church, Amen. As I got older, I learned to pray extemporaneously. Prayer was God and me conversing with each other. As I matured in the faith, I came to believe that the divine purpose of prayer was to conform my will to God’s will. I thought it was proper and right to pray as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, Lord, not my will, but thy will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven.

As a pastor and a married man with six children, I spent much time in prayer. Hours and hours a week were devoted to praying. I started and ended each day with prayer. I prayed throughout the day. I prayed over every meal, and I prayed before and after each of the thousands of sermons I preached.  I prayed before, during, and after every time I preached on the street. I spent thousands of hours in church prayer meetings. Needless to say, I have a good bit of experience when it comes to praying.

I believed God answered every prayer I prayed in one of three ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not now

It was not until I had left the ministry that I began to seriously look at praying in general and specifically the prayers that I had prayed over the course of fifty years in the Christian church and twenty-five years as a pastor.

I know that many people benefit from praying. They find it soothing and comforting to pray to a God. They find strength from taking their troubles and burdens to the Lord. Even if God doesn’t exist, prayer, at least for them, is still beneficial, often bringing peace, comfort, and direction. I don’t criticize people for praying, and I certainly don’t ridicule them. If praying helps get them through the night, who am I to condemn or mock them? God needn’t be real for people to find help and solace through prayer. I know to rationalists and atheists, such a thought sounds absurd, but religion has left a deep imprint on humankind, and praying to a deity is very much a part of the lives of billions of people.

Several years ago, I sat down and carefully considered all the prayers I had prayed. There were some big prayers I prayed asking God to deliver people, save people, keep them from dying, restore marriages, elect certain people to office, end abortion, etc. I prayed for my personal needs, financial needs, physical needs, and the needs of my wife, children, and extended family. I prayed for the church I pastored. I prayed it would grow and that we would see many souls saved. I prayed God would send us new members, people with a servant’s heart, ready and willing to get busy for God.

Did God answer my prayers? How could I know? Since God could say yes, no, or not now to every prayer I prayed or get me to modify my request, so my will lined up with his, how could I ever know if God ever, actually, one time, answered a prayer of mine?

unanswered prayers 2

Christians tend to think that proof of God answering prayer occurs when something they perceive as good happens to them. They get sick and they pray that God will make them well, and sure enough they recover. Thus, God healed them. Money is tight and they ask God to get their employer to give them a raise, and sure enough they get a raise. It’s God that gave them a raise. Since God is good all the time, when good things happen it is God’s doing.

What about when bad things happen? Is God behind the bad things that happen, as in the case of Job? Shouldn’t God get credit for everything that happens to Christians? Since God is sovereign and in control of the universe, shouldn’t the placard on God’s desk say, The buck stops here? This is a thorny, troublesome issue for Christians. They don’t like blaming God for the bad things of life so they come up with different ways to excuse God:

  • The Romans 8:28 excuse 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.
  • The James 1:12-15 excuse 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. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
  • The Romans 9 excuse So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? 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? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour.
  • The Hebrews 12 excuse 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?

What do these four excuses tell us about bad things and their relationship to God?

  • There are no bad things. God means everything for the good of the Christian. Things perceived as bad are really good since their objective is to make one a better Christian.
  • That God chastens (spanks, whips, disciplines, corrects) Christians so that they might be better Christians. Once again, bad things happening are really just God getting the Christian’s attention.
  • Enduring perceived bad things from the hand of God will result in a reward from God when Christians get to Heaven.
  • Questioning God’s dealings with Christians is not permitted. God can do whatever he wants. He is, after all, God. He created everyone, so he can do whatever he wants with us. So what if it seems God is being evil and malicious towards us. He has the power, authority, and right to do so. Besides, God is good all the time and he means it for their . . . let the circular reasoning continue.

answered and unanswered prayer

Now back to my own prayers. WHY always lurked in the background. WHY is this happening? What is God trying to say to me? Is God judging me, teaching me, chastising me, building me up, tearing me down . . .? You know the drill.

Why did God lead me to leave a church I pastored for eleven years and move to Texas? Why did God then change his mind after seven months? Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later? These are but two of a number of stories I could share about God, through prayer, leading me to do this or that, only to change his mind a few days, weeks, or months later.

When I took a big step back and began to look at my prayers and their connection to God, I came to see there was no connection at all. Good and bad things happen to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether a person prays. Shit happens, and that shit is called life. Praying changes nothing. It may help people feel better or give them peace, but in the morning whatever they are praying about is still there for them to face.

Praying often becomes an excuse for not dealing with life. Making a decision can be offloaded to God, and that way whatever happens is God’s will. Instead of owning the decision, God gets all the credit — that is, unless something bad happens, and then the Devil or the flesh gets the credit (even though, according to the Bible, the Devil operates under the control of God).

This seems quite maddening to me. I like my current view of life much better. Good and bad things happen. Good and bad decisions are made every day. Luck plays a big part in life. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I am responsible for the decisions I make and I cannot control the decisions other people make. My new perspective on life has forced me to reevaluate the leading of God in the past. If it wasn’t God leading me or God answering my prayer who was it?

Me. That’s right, me. I did what I wanted to do. I may have couched my decisions in Christian-speak, but I was the one making the decisions. There is no imaginary God to blame and no imaginary God to praise. The only God in the equation is of human form. Take the two illustrations I gave above.

I left a church I started and pastored for eleven years and moved to Texas. I became the co-pastor of a young, exciting, growing Sovereign Grace Baptist church. I saw this as my once-in-a-lifetime move. My wife and I were excited about God “leading” us to this church. Yet, seven months later, we were back in Ohio, bruised, battered, and abused. We had our hearts ripped out. The church even went so far as to excommunicate me and to this day they consider me a “publican and heathen” (Matthew 18). What went wrong? Did I “mishear” God? Did God just want to move me to Texas so he could give me an ass-whipping? (See I am a Publican and a Heathen.)

The truth is we should never have moved. The new church offered me a pay increase that doubled what I was making in Ohio. They offered us a new mobile home to live in, rent and utility free. I saw it as a golden opportunity, a chance to get out of the financial hole we were in. I also saw the move as an opportunity to put my evangelism skills to good use.  Everything about this move said . . . YES! YES! YES!

However, I ignored the character, personality, and temperament of the man I was going to work with. He started the church and, while I was going to be co-pastor, there was no doubt who was the REAL pastor. This man was just like me. Driven. Strong-willed. Bull-headed. Arrogant. Temperamental. Prone to anger. Certain of his beliefs. It took me all of a few weeks to realize that the church wasn’t big enough for both of us, and over the course over the next six months I lived just this side of Hell. In the end we fought and bickered like a couple of tom cats. We had no love or respect for each other. It was ugly and I am just as guilty in all of this as the other man. So much for a Christianity of love, peace, joy and understanding.

Take the other illustration I gave. Why did God lead me to sell some prized possessions I owned so I could help a family move from Texas to Ohio only to change his mind and have that same family move right back to Texas three months later?

This one is easier to parse. You see, this family was part of the church I was excommunicated from (though they had left it a short time after we moved away). Since God was “leading” them to move to Ohio and I felt “led” to help them, I did everything in my power to help them move. I spent $2,000 helping them move, including going to Texas to help them make the move. I had to sell several prized possessions so I could get the money necessary to help them move. One item I sold was a bolt-action Mossberg .410 shotgun. I bought it new when I was twelve years old for $22. The gun had special meaning to me, BUT God had a work for me to do so I sold it, along with several high-powered rifles, shotguns, and a handgun.

Those of you on the outside looking in can see what was going on in this story. This wasn’t God “leading” . . . it was me getting back at the pastor I had a falling out with and the church that excommunicated me. The family moved to Northwest Ohio, only to moved back home three months later. Why didn’t they stay? They were Hispanic, and they had just moved from racially diverse San Antonio to Anglo rural Ohio. The culture shock was overwhelming. I had talked to them about this before they moved and they were sure they could handle it. Everything about Ohio was different from the Hispanic culture they moved from. I don’t know what happened after they moved back to San Antonio. I heard they went back to the church and pleaded for forgiveness. Perhaps they repented of following after the evil Bruce Gerencser. I wonder how things are for them.

I tell these stories to illustrate the fact that in each of these cases I was certain that God was leading me and answering my prayer. I have come to see that throughout my Christian life that it wasn’t God leading the way at all. It was me. Was God leading me to go to a Christian college or was it that I wanted to be a pastor and I needed a college education to do that? Did God lead my wife and me to get married or did we get married because we were physically and emotionally attracted to each other? Every church I ever pastored grew numerically. Was that God’s doing? Was God answering my prayers for power from on high? Or did the churches grow because I worked hard, was a friendly pastor, and a pretty darn good public speaker?

As I look at every major decision I ever made that I attributed to God, I can see the hand of Bruce and the influence of other people. If it is God answering prayer then I have finally figured out who God is . . . I am.

I am sure my critics will take this post as the best proof yet that I never was a Christian. They now have proof that I had a man-powered, man-centered ministry and life. I even said I was God! What they blindly cannot or will not see is that their lives are no different from mine. I am not some special case. I am, in every way, a typical example of a person who devotedly followed after Jesus, and who one day woke up and finally realized that most of what he spent his life doing was predicated upon a fantasy.

All cartoons by David Hayward, the Naked Pastor

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Dear Evangelical, Why Don’t We See Any Miracles in Your Church?

healing
Cartoon by Ryan Kramer

One of the thorniest verses in the Bible for Evangelicals is John 14:12:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

Evangelicals believe that the fourteenth chapter of John is the very words of Jesus. This chapter tells Evangelicals not to have a troubled heart; that 2,000 years ago Jesus ascended back to heaven to prepare a room/mansion in heaven for them. When they die or if the Rapture happens before they die, Evangelicals are promised the keys to a brand new home in the sky. This chapter also tells Evangelicals that Jesus is THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life, proving to Evangelicals the exclusivity of their peculiar version of the Christian gospel.

In verse 14 Jesus says, If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it. Ponder these words for a moment. Think about all the prayers Christians have uttered over the centuries, prayers asked in the name of Jesus without nary a response. Think about this verse in light of the current Coronavirus Pandemic. Evangelicals love to say that God answered this or that prayer, but pressed for proof of their supernatural claims, they quickly retreat to the safe confines of faith. (Please see A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God.)

Let’s do some Bible math:

If ye shall ask any thing in my name, will do it + He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do = a church that should regularly see people raised from the dead and healed; a church that should be able to feed the hungry; a church whose leaders work miracles, including walking on water, turning water into Welch’s grape juice, and healing the deaf, blind, and dumb. Add to this, Jesus also said in Mark 16:15-18:

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

According to Jesus, those who believe in him would cast out devils, speak in unlearned new languages, handle venomous snakes, drink poison and not die, and lay their hands on the sick, miraculously causing them to recover from their illnesses.

Is it not then fair to ask where such Christians are today? Where can a non-believer go to see Christians doing greater works than Jesus? Why are hospital beds not empty, mental hospitals closed down, and world hunger eliminated? Surely if, as the Bible says, Christians are to do works greater than Jesus, we skeptics have the right to say show us.

Most Christian sects come up with elaborate schemes to explain away the normative meaning of these verses. The works of Jesus and the early church were sign gifts, many Evangelicals say, and once the canon of Scripture was completed these sign gifts were no longer necessary. I wonder if Christians who say this ever consider that what they are basically saying is that Jesus was lying in John 15/Mark 16 or that there should no longer be the expectation of  verifiable miracles. (I use the word verifiable to turn away those that want to appeal to all sorts of subjective experiences that they say are proof of God working a m-i-r-a-c-l-e.)

waiting for a miracle
Graphic by David Hayward

In the delusional world inhabited by Pentecostals, snake-handling Baptists, and those who subscribe to CHARISMA magazine, greater works than Jesus are being performed on a regular basis. When asked for verifiable proof of their claims, appeals are made to faith or Christians mutter, I just KNOW that MY GOD is in the miracle-working business. Funny business God is in . . . no advertising or place of business, yet non-Christians are expected to believe the business exists. I know there is a McDonald’s right here, says the Charismatic, because a book I read tells me there is.

Here’s my challenge to Evangelicals. Please pray that God supernaturally heals me from my physical maladies, or that God stops the Coronavirus Pandemic in its tracks. If she does, I will believe and recant every word I’ve ever written about the Bible, God, Jesus, and Christianity. Wouldn’t it be a great testimony to the miraculous power of almighty God and the veracity of the Christian narrative if God healed an atheist like me? Instead of praying for God to kill me, why not pray for God to heal me?  Better yet, forget me. Heal my wife. I’m waiting . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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: COVID-19 Virus is “Persecuting” Christians

mike-pence-coronavirus-prayer

Listen here, you dirty coronavirus bug! You will NOT win! In Jesus name, the church is going to use what you are doing to the world and turn it around for something good. Your days of creating chaos will come to an end as Jesus heals body and soul. Your fear will be vanquished in the life-giving blood of Jesus as He makes new creatures, converting the lost souls. Persecution has never diminished the affects of the church. Quite the opposite! Persecution has always caused the church to grow and flourish. And, even though we can’t see you, you are an enemy that WILL be defeated. You will NOT conquer. “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Jesus name — and all God’s people said — AMEN!

— John MacFarlane, Pastor of First Baptist Church, Bryan, Ohio, COVID-19 DOES Work Together For Good, March 19, 2020

Note: I attended First Baptist Church in the mid1960s and 1970s.

What the Coronavirus Pandemic Tells Us About the Efficacy of Prayer

coronavirus psalm 91:10

Unless you are Jeremiah Johnson living in an abandoned bus in remote Alaska without access to electricity, cellphone service, and internet access, you have likely heard that the world is being ravaged by the COVID-19 virus. Here in the Buckeye State, Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine banned gatherings of people — inexplicably exempting houses of worship — and ordered the shutdown of all food establishments. I suspect Governor DeWine is not yet done with attempts to mitigate the Coronavirus.

While Ohio is in the early stages of the Coronavirus outbreak, other states, cities, and countries are facing alarming increases in cases and deaths. Medical workers are overwhelmed, supplies are running low, and hospitals lack available beds and respirators to treat seriously ill patients — with and without infection from the Coronavirus. My wife was scheduled to have major bowel surgery on March 24. After talking it over with me, Polly decided to postpone her surgery until late June. Yes, that means three more months with a colostomy bag, but it beats being exposed to the virus while in a medically compromised state. I have canceled all of my doctor’s appointments, save one. Since I am on the “this shit will kill you if you catch it” list, I am homebound for the duration. Yesterday, I heard from one long-time reader of this blog who is infected with Covid-19. His mother could also be infected. Here in the United States, we are in the early stages of the spread of the virus. Things will get worse before they get better; and they WILL, in time, get better. Whether all of us come out on the other side of this medically and financially whole, or even among the living, for that matter, is unknown. All any of us can do is listen to what experts are telling us and act accordingly.

Last Friday, President Donald Trump called for a National Day of Prayer on Sunday, March 15. That day has now passed, and, as expected, millions of Christians praying to their version of the Christian God did exactly nothing. Granted, I am sure some of the faithful felt better after beseeching the big man upstairs to ameliorate those affected by the Coronavirus. I suspect that scores of Evangelicals prayed to Jesus, asking him to turn back this attempt by China and the Democrats to crash Trump’s awesome economy and run him out of office. Yet, outside of the cathartic psychological effects felt from praying, what, exactly, changed after the Nothing Fails Like Prayer National Day of Christian Piety? Nothing, absolutely nothing. “Bruce, you can’t know that,” I am sure some Evangelicals might say. “God works behind the scenes in mysterious ways!” Sorry, but this line of bullshit no longer works for me, and I suspect it no longer works for millions of other people, including many Christians. It’s time for the Evangelical God to come out of the shadows and reveal himself. It’s time for him/her/it to make an appearance at hospitals and nursing homes and do some real “saving.” And dammit, it is time for Jesus to make sure there’s toilet paper in every American home. Just remember, the family that shits together stays together.

I am not attacking individual Christians for praying. You do whatever it takes to get you through this crisis. However, don’t expect rational people who put their faith in science to give any credence to claims that your God has the power to do anything about the Coronavirus pandemic. If 2,000 years of Christian church history has taught us anything, it has taught us that when epidemics, plagues, wars, and natural disasters show their faces, the God of Christianity remains firmly ensconced in the fictional pages of the Bible. He is but a character in a movie that’s been playing on an endless loop for thousands of years. We alone remain the only hope for a better tomorrow. We alone have the opportunity, knowledge, and power to hopefully limit the consequences of the COVID-19 virus. I remain hopeful that the world is up to the task and that better days lie ahead.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome 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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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.