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Tag: Suffering

Evangelical Pastor Brian Tome: God Knows What You Are Going Through, He Lost His Son

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Several years ago, I was listening to the Bill Cunningham show on WLW-700 on my way home from my doctor’s appointment. Cunningham had as his guest Brian Tome, pastor of Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cunningham and Tome were discussing the untimely deaths of children, young adults, and family members. Tome, evidently, was brought on the show to give advice on handling such deaths. What he did, instead, was spend the time throwing up cheap, worn-out Evangelical clichés. On one hand, Tome went out of his way to say, hey, I am just a regular guy who is looking for answers to questions concerning life and death. On the other hand, he was the typical preacher, ever ready to give an answer when he should have, instead, kept his damn mouth shut.

According to Christianity Today, Crossroads is the fastest-growing church in the United States with fourteen restaurants –uh, I mean locations – and thirty-eight thousand attendees. Crossroads is using the franchise model to build its brand:

Like about a third of US megachurches, Crossroads relies on technology and resources to support church growth beyond physical buildings. Leaders see Crossroads Anywhere—groups that gather in homes to view the weekend service together—as a crucial part of the church’s future.

At least 38 groups meet together for Crossroads Anywhere in far-flung cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and Houston. The church spends over $100,000 a month to keep the app’s digital infrastructure running.

The Crossroads Anywhere app also acts as a data-driven feasibility study for possible new campuses. If more than 100 people are convening in a certain location, Crossroads evaluates if it should begin providing on-location resources in that region.

In January, the newest Crossroads campus opened in one of the outlying Cincinnati regions where the staff had seen growing interest—and 8,000 people showed up the first weekend.

To expand beyond the Midwest, Crossroads will rely upon technology to liberate where brick and mortar have limited. Consistent with a business startup mentality, Tome stated, “No matter how big one building is, it is still too small for the growth that God wants for his church.”

Jenn Sperry, whose team oversees media at Crossroads, said the staff had always sensed that the church was growing beyond regional borders. But starting last summer, Crossroads team members were asked to use new language when speaking of the church to communicate a more unlimited scope. Sperry’s department, for instance, has been recast as a “national team.”

Early on in the job, Sperry watched the speed of change going on, caught her breath, and asked her supervisor, “Is it always going to be this way?” At a church like Crossroads, the answer is almost always yes. The fast-paced environment shattered her expectations that working at a church could be boring.

“It’s invigorating and also frustrating to be in an environment of change all the time,” Tome acknowledged.

The rate of growth and change can also create trepidation and questions for church members. One longtime member who worships and serves at the original Crossroads campus in Oakley, a neighborhood of young professionals near the city center, heard whispers of concern after the national announcement was made.

“People hear this declaration of Crossroads becoming a national church, and they wonder, ‘What does that mean for us? Do we lose our identity?’ ” said Marie, who asked to only be identified by her first name. She had her own questions, too. “If God has placed this on the hearts of our leaders, then we must trust what God is doing.”

Where is all of this growth coming from? Are thousands of sinners finding salvation through the evangelistic efforts of the church? Of course not. Most new church growth comes from pilfering congregants from other churches. In Cincinnati, there are countless hamburger joints, each offering up its distinctive burgers. What happens when a new hamburger joint comes to town? People flock to the new place looking for something new and different. That’s what we do as capitalistic Americans. We want diversity and choice. Religious hucksters such as Tome tap into that “need” with their new, exciting churches. Tired of their own places of worship, people seek out new adventures and experiences. Off to Crossroads they go, leaving McDonald’s and Wendy’s to die.

A glimpse of Crossroads’ website reveals a sneaky Evangelical church that goes out of its way to position itself as not-one-of-those-churches. Crossroads advertises itself as a church for people who don’t like church; a church that doesn’t care what you believe; a church that is cool, relevant, and oh-so-hip; a church that has an awesome band. However, their beliefs are typical of Fundamentalist churches (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?), despite how the church hides them at the bottom of a colander filled with word salad.

Here are two things that sum up, for me anyway, the essence of Crossroads’ beliefs and ministry methodology. These statements are found on a page titled, Seven Hills We Die On:

  • Crossroads is a place for people on every part of the spiritual journey, from those just investigating whether there is a God to those who have made following Christ the priority of their life. The Bible presents a dangerous message of life change. We don’t assume everyone believes, or even knows the Bible, but we do assume everyone who comes through our doors is open to exploring it. We believe the Bible is God’s inerrant truth and it’s the foundation of everything we do.
  • We don’t expect anyone who walks into Crossroads to be a committed Christ-follower, but we do expect everyone who is around our community for any length of time to be growing. We expect every person to be moving closer to reflecting the complete image of Christ in every area of life. This is a safe place for everyone. But safe doesn’t mean comfortable. The answers aren’t always comfortable. In fact, we often grow only when we are pushed out of our comfort zone.

All that talk about believing whatever ever you want? Well, that’s fine when you walk in the front door for the first time, but if you stick around, Tome and the over two hundred paid staff members do expect you to grow into their version of what it means to be a Christian. On the FAQ page, Crossroads answers the question, is this place a cult? Here’s their response:

Great question. After all, it’s full of people singing songs and drinking the same beloved liquid (in this case, great coffee). Plus, numerous guitars and people dressed comfortably. But seriously. No. Cults tell you what to believe, take away your freedoms and forbid you to leave. Here, you’re welcome no matter what you believe, and we want you to experience freedom (including the freedom to leave whenever you want). If that still isn’t enough for you, then the answer is “Fine, we’re a cult.” But we’re rubber and you’re glue.

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The church would have you believe that its pastors and teachers don’t tell people what to believe. R-i-g-h-t. Of course they do. That’s why Tome preaches on Sundays. Here’s truth! Believe, lest you perish in your sins and go to Hell. Why not admit this? Crossroads’ statement of faith claims that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. This is an objective — albeit false – “truth” claim. Could Joe Blow become involved in the teaching ministry at Crossroads and teach people that the Bible is just another book, and is not, as the church’s statement of faith states, a timeless book different from and superior to all the books ever written? Of course not. Tome and his church have all sorts of objective, non-negotiable beliefs. Why not lay all the cards on the table for visitors?  Why not tell them what the church really believes and what will be expected of them? Surely, Tome has nothing to hide, right?

Preachers like Tome are professional bullshitters. They cover their bullshit with a patina of religious words, but underneath it all, you will find generic Evangelical beliefs. Such men hide their true beliefs because they are offensive, and if their churches are going to continue to grow numerically and generate larger offerings, new people must not get a whiff of their bullshit until they have been thoroughly courted, fucked, and married.

I am not the only one who sees through Tome’s loving and accepting shtick. At one time, Crossroads was known for being welcoming to gays and lesbians. Remember, the church likely IS welcoming when people come through the front door. But, once embraced by the church and immersed in its teachings, attendees are expected to embrace the church’s beliefs and practices. In 2004, a gay man who was also a volunteer youth leader became engaged to another man. Once it became known that this man was engaged, according to City Beat, he was forced to resign. Here’s an excerpt from the City Beat article:

Leaders at Crossroads found out about Jones’ sexual orientation after a member of his Bible study group told others what Jones thought had been communicated in confidence. When leaders ousted him, Jones asked for a written explanation. They talked to him over the phone but refused his request for something in writing.

“I almost feel it’s because they’re afraid to have a written policy stating anything that would stop someone from coming in and giving them money,” Jones says.

As the church’s pastor, Tome says he can’t talk about the particulars of any dealings with individuals in his church. But he said Crossroads communicates openly and directly about the issue of homosexuality.

In a Sunday message last year, Tome addressed homosexuality in response to the many questions he’d received about the issue.

“You cannot say the Bible supports homosexuality,” he said. “It does not.”

Still, almost a year later, many homosexuals continue to attend the church.

“We would believe that homosexual sex is just as wrong as two people not married having sex,” Tome says.

He admits that he has looked at Internet pornography, which he considers just as wrong as homosexuality.

“(Homosexuals) should not be singled out as committing the capital ‘S’ sin here at the church,” he says.

There is a reason the church doesn’t want a written policy on homosexuality, according to Tome.

“The church in America, and might I also say Cincinnati, is pretty much irrelevant, and it’s because we make things like sexuality our rallying issue,” he says. “The church is not supposed to be God’s political weather vane.”

Gays ‘very confused’
The Bible speaks to particular sins in a manner that doesn’t require additional written doctrine, Tome says. He interprets passages such as 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 to clearly indicate that homosexuality, even within the confines of marriage, displeases God.

“Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God,” the passage says.

Jones, however, differs in his interpretation. He says the reference is to homosexuality associated with male prostitution, not to homosexuality within marriage.

Jones suspects that Crossroads isn’t just interested in what the Bible says. He thinks discrimination and stereotypes play a role.

When Crossroads let him go, he asked, “Is it because you want to protect the children from me?”

Jones says the response was, ” ‘We’re sorry you interpret it that way … We need to put the child first and err on the side of the child.’ I asked them, ‘What are you protecting them from?’ “

Jones is a doctoral candidate in child and adolescent psychology at Xavier University.

But Tome says Crossroads doesn’t advocate the false stereotype of homosexuals as pedophiles.

“We would not say that homosexuals are pedophiles,” he says. “We would not say that and we would not say homosexuals cannot be around kids in any way shape or form. That has not been the way we practice.”

Tome says an abstinent homosexual Christian who slips up sometimes but is trying to abstain is welcome to teach at the church, but that someone who believes homosexuality is not a sin would be asked to serve in some other role.

Sadly, way too many LGBTQ people get sucked into Evangelical churches by believing a particular church’s marketing slogans. And believe me, Tome sees himself as an entrepreneur, a seller of the greatest story ever told. LGBTQ people hear Tome and his church say, you are WELCOME here. Come as you are. Believe what you want. We won’t judge you. And these things might be true — for a time – but the longer LGBTQ people are in the church the more likely it is that they will face pressure to conform. And if they refuse? Why, they are free to leave. No harm, no foul, except to the LBGTQ people who thought that Tome and Crossroads really loved and accepted them as they are. Sorry folks, no matter how an Evangelical church markets itself, the Bible will have the final say.

Tome made several absurd statements during his time on Bill Cunningham’s show. First, Tome said, “We have to have an answer for pain and suffering.” Both my wife and I said, “why?” Why do we have to have an answer for pain and suffering? Is it not sufficient to say, shit happens? Tome is looking for answers where there are none. Tome and Cunningham, a vulgar, right-wing Catholic and political extremist, want to “see” God in the midst of pain and suffering. However, as many ex-Christians have found out, God is nowhere to be found.

Second, Tome said, “God knows what you are going through, he lost his son.” Polly and I both were shocked that the good pastor let this nonsense slip from his lips. How could God, the father, know what we are going through? He has never been human. He’s never experienced pain and suffering. According to orthodox Christianity, pain and suffering are the consequences of humanity’s fall into sin. God’s never sinned, Evangelicals say — though the Bible reveals a deity who has little regard for his own moral commands — so how is it possible for him to “know” pain and suffering?

Did God, the father, really lose his son? In what way was Jesus “lost?” According to the Bible, Jesus spent a long weekend in Hell preaching to sinners. I am sure his father knew exactly where he was. Oh, what great pain and suffering God faced when his son was on a forty-eight to seventy-two-hour vacation in Cancun! Is God’s “suffering” over the “loss” of his son comparable in any way to the pain and agony faced by countless humans, day in and day out? Of course not. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.)

The fact that pain and suffering exist in the world — both for humans and animals — suggests that God is not the kind of deity Evangelicals claim he is. Would an all-powerful God of love ignore pain and suffering when it was in his power to put an end to it? What better way to show your love, mercy, and kindness than to alleviate pain and suffering. Instead, God does nothing, suggesting that either he doesn’t care or he doesn’t exist. My money is on the latter.

Jesus, on the other hand, was very much a flesh-and-blood human being. Not a God, Jesus was the son of Mary and an unknown man. Jesus had the same wants, needs, passions, and desires, as the rest of us. Ask yourself, did Jesus masturbate? Is the Pope Catholic? Of course Jesus masturbated! He did all the things that were common to man. Why? Because he was human. Thus, when Jesus got himself crossways with the Roman government and the local Jewish community, he experienced great pain and suffering. Why? Because he was human. And then, when his body couldn’t take any more pounding, he died. Why? Because he was human.

Tome should immediately, without delay, put away the vacuous cliché, God knows what you are going through, he lost his son. Saying this makes light of human pain and suffering. It’s the equivalent of saying, Hey, suck it up. God suffered loss too when Jesus didn’t come home one weekend. He knows what you are going throughGod made it to the other side and you will too! 

Oh, how I wish I could “suffer” as Jesus supposedly did two thousand years ago. I would gladly trade a long weekend of pain and suffering for my current experiences with chronic pain and illness. I have met countless chronic pain sufferers over the years. I have also known people who have gone through great heartache and tragedy. In every way, the suffering faced by these people far eclipsed that of the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus Christ. Tome wants to believe that his God is an ever-present reality, a deity who understands — yet, does nothing for — their pain. Why bother with such a God?  Why waste your energy worshiping and serving a heartless, helpless God who cannot or will not do what supposedly is in his power to do? No thanks. I much prefer humanism’s view of pain and suffering; that such things are common to man; and all any of us can do is love and support one another.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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Evangelicals Romanticize Suffering and Pain by Focusing on Jesus’ Crucifixion

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The other day I read an article from an Evangelical writer that romanticized suffering and pain by focusing on Jesus’ crucifixion. According to this person, our suffering is nothing compared to what Jesus went through on the cross. When you are in pain, think of the pain Jesus suffered when they put a crown of thorns upon his head or nailed his feet and hands to a wooden Roman cross. OMG! Such suffering. Your pain is nothing compared to his. In other words, suck it up, buttercup. Jesus is on the way. Some day, not today, not for 2,000 years, but maybe today, probably not.

Four years ago, I wrote a post titled I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend. What follows is excerpted from this article.

Kirsten Ryken, a writer for the Fundamentalist website The Gospel Coalition, wrote a post titled, Why I Thank God for Chronic Pain. Ryken’s article was part personal story and part justification for God allowing her to painfully suffer. Ryken concluded her post with this:

With the eye of faith, I saw Christ on the cross. God, in a human body, taking on physical pain far greater than my own. Thorns in his head, blood dripping down his face, nails in his hands and feet, love in his face. I felt his pain in my own body, the fire in my spine intensifying as I looked at him. But I also felt him holding me like a child.

I knew in my heart in that moment that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). I was completely overwhelmed with the knowledge that my God not only knows what’s wrong with my body even when no human doctor does, he also knows my physical pain more intimately than anyone else ever could. The loneliness of suffering and the frustration of not having answers were taken away in an instant. I felt a physical burden lifted from my body and my heart.

Until that moment, I had never understood the relevance of Christ’s death on the cross to the details of my daily life, my pains and my joys. It was only in the light of the cross that I could make sense of my own suffering. This reminder is the positive result of my pain. In moments when I feel overwhelmed, I remember Calvary. I thank God for the precious gift of my salvation, because on some (very small!) level I have begun to understand the cost of my salvation.

Chronic pain is a constant reminder that my life is not my own; it has been bought with a price.

The narrative Ryken spins is one often heard when Evangelicals try to explain pain and suffering: my suffering is next to nothing compared to the pain and agony Jesus suffered on the cross. In the minds of Christians such as Ryken, there’s no human suffering that can be compared to what Jesus faced on Calvary. This worn-out, tiresome trope gets repeated over and again by Evangelicals who never THINK about what they are actually saying. Jesus is the bad-ass suffering servant, Evangelicals would have us believe; but in fact, Jesus’ suffering was minuscule compared to what countless people face every day.

Yes, Jesus was beaten and his beard was plucked from face. Yes, he was nailed to a Roman cross and suffered great indignity (that is assuming the gospel narratives are true). But how long did Jesus actually suffer? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Nope. How about less than a day? Then he died, descended to hell, hung out with its inhabitants, and then resurrected from the dead good as new save the nail prints in his hands and feet. Pray tell, based on what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Jesus’ suffering, how was his pain in any way worse than that which any human has ever experienced? By all means, compare Christ’s suffering to what children face when having radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate cancer from their bodies. Go ahead, compare his suffering to that of people in burn units with third-degree burns over most of their bodies. Jesus may have faced intense levels of pain for a short amount of time, but how does his suffering compare to the pain of people who suffer with debilitating, chronic illnesses for years?

Jesus knew that his time of suffering would be short and sweet, and then he would die. Imagine a body wracked with pain day in and day out, years on end, with no relief in sight. I suspect such people might be willing to suffer what Jesus did if they knew afterward their bodies would be free from pain. I know I would. I would trade places in a heartbeat with the “suffering” Son of God if it meant that come Sunday morning my body was no longer wracked with pain. And I suspect I am not alone in my blasphemy.

I don’t think for a moment that my short post will change Christian thinking on this subject. Ryken desperately needs a suffering Jesus to make sense of her own pain. Without Jesus, she is left with what? Shit happens? And to that I say “yes.” None of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. Genetics, environmental factors, personal choices, and yet-unknown factors go into what diseases we contract and what pain we suffer. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said in his book Mortality, ” . . . To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?” Why me, indeed.

Christians invoke the suffering Jesus because it covers up the fact they suffer just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, and that their God, much like the cosmos, yawns with indifference. Jesus, then, becomes the hospice nurse who holds their hands as they face cruelties, indignities, and sufferings beyond imagination. Jesus has promised Christians that he will never leave or forsake them, and he will never allow them to suffer more than they are able. Thus, whatever pain and suffering comes their way, God means it for their good, either to chastise them or teach them a lesson. If Christians will but endure what comes their way, words in an ancient religious text promise that they will be given pain-free bodies after death. Better to think this, many Evangelicals say, than to believe we live in a cold, heartless universe. Why, such a belief leads to despair! Christians say. To that, I reply, maybe for you it does, but it doesn’t have to.

I find comfort in the fact that shit happens, and chronic illness and intractable pain afflict rich and poor, young and old, religious or not. I know that I am not special, and that countless other people are going through pain and suffering as bad as mine and worse. I am not owed a pain-free existence. I have been given life — just one — and it is incumbent upon me to live life to its fullest. I embrace my suffering, not looking to a mythical deity for inspiration or help. I find comfort in the fact that my wife, children, and friends deeply care about me and do what they can to lessen my pain. And I try to do the same when dealing with others who are facing troubles and trials, physical or not. Is there any more any of us can do for each other?  A kind word, a thoughtful action, a tender embrace — these are enough. It is humanism, with its goal of lessening suffering, that shines the brightest. Christianity says endure, promising a divine payoff in the sweet by-and-by. Humanism says we only have one life, so let’s do all we can to lessen pain and suffering. Christianity says pain and suffering have a higher purpose, be it correction or testing. Humanism says alleviating pain allows people to live happy lives, and in this cold universe of ours, that’s the best any of us can expect. Despite my pain, or perhaps because of it, I choose humanism.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

IFB Pastor John MacFarlane Says Non-Christians Manufacture Hope and Good Feelings — True Christians Don’t

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John MacFarlane is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — a church I attended in the 1960s and 1970s when Johnny was a little boy running around the church. First Baptist is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation. I have written about MacFarlane in the past:

Sadly, MacFarlane is a gift that keeps on giving. So deeply immersed in Baptist Fundamentalism and right-wing politics, the good pastor cannot comprehend, understand, or appreciate any other worldview or viewpoint but his own. So much so, that he doesn’t even try. Operating from a simplistic worldview — the Bible is TRUTH and Jesus is the answer to every problem — MacFarlane shows contempt for any other view but his own. As I have stated before, Fundamentalism breeds certainty, and certainty breeds arrogance. And MacFarlane is certainly that.

On August 30, 2022, MacFarlane wrote a post titled Grief Galore. What follows is an excerpt from McFarlane’s post (which is emboldened) and my lengthy response.

I wish that I could say that her [Angie Cartwright] life was changed by Jesus. However, nothing in her biographical story talks about anything remotely spiritual. Instead, she found others on social media her were hurting and she used her grief to start support groups that would help others through their pains and hurts. Getting people to open up and talk about their grief and feelings rather than burying them and covering them up with drugs and alcohol is cathartic.

MacFarlane’s “devotional” posts are formulaic. He takes a story from the “world” and makes a spiritual application. For this post, MacFarlane chose Angie Cartwright as his foil. Cartwright is the founder of National Grief Awareness Day, which is celebrated on August 30th each year. Cartwright suffered untold trauma in her life, including the suicide of her drug-addicted, alcoholic mom. MacFarlane goes to great lengths to catalog the sins of Cartwright and her mom, saying: “I wish that I could say that her life was changed by Jesus.  However, nothing in her biographical story talks about anything remotely spiritual.” In other words, Cartwright is headed for Hell unless she believes in MacFarlane’s peculiar version of God. No matter how much good she does trying to help people who have experienced trauma, all that matters to MacFarlane is whether she mentally assents to a set of theological propositions and prays the IFB-approved sinner’s prayer. This is the world MacFarlane lives in, a world where everything is reduced to Jesus.

It’s evident, at least to me, that MacFarlane sees no value in support groups and talking about trauma. In his mind, Jesus and a few prooftexts are all people need. Imagine going to such a man (who has no professional training in counseling outside of what he was taught at Bible college) when going through difficulties in your life and being told, JESUS! JESUS! JESUS! Let’s pray.

First Baptist congregants have been treated this way long before MacFarlane became pastor. Before him, Jack Bennett pastored the church for fifty years. Jack was married to Creta, sister to two of my uncles, Paul and Ed Daugherty. Creta’s parents, Mom and Pop Daugherty started the church in the 1950s. As a teen and young adult, I attempted to talk to Jack about things that were going on in my life. His response to me was the same as MacFarlane. Jack made no effort to help me. Worse, when I was trying to determine what Bible college to attend, I went to Jack for advice. He refused to give me any, leaving me with the impression that he didn’t think I was preacher material. Every summer I would come home from Midwestern Baptist College to my mom’s home. While there, I typically worked two jobs. I faithfully attended church and weekly tithed. Other young preachers who came home for the summer were given opportunities to preach. Not me. It became clear to me that I wasn’t wanted; that I was being judged for who my mother was.

It was during my time at First Baptist that my uncle raped my mother; the same uncle whom, decades later, MacFarlane would preach into Heaven. Jack knew the trauma I had experienced in my life: my mother’s repeated suicides, constant moves, and horrific dysfunction. Yet, I faithfully showed up for church Sunday after Sunday. I loved Jesus and the Word of God. Jack could have offered me a helping hand, but he did nothing. The only people in the church who genuinely tried to help me were Marv and Louise Hartman. And even then, after Louise got wind of my deconversion in 2008, she sent me a scathing letter, saying I was under the influence of Satan. Her words deeply wounded me. Our four-decade friendship did not survive.

MacFarlane, who has never experienced life outside of the narrow confines of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Christianity, evidently has no idea why Cartwright — if she indeed does — doesn’t believe in God. He’s seemingly unaware of the various arguments against the existence of God. I was asked yesterday to list the primary reasons I don’t believe in God. I replied: the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, and the hiddenness of God. People who have experienced trauma in their lives will often say that these things (and others) are reasons why they don’t believe in the existence of the Christian deity. MacFarlane pays no mind to these powerful arguments against the existence of God. Just “believe” and all will be well.

Many of the people I knew back in my First Baptist days are dead and gone or have moved away. That said, I do know a few people that currently attend the church. I can confidently say that MacFarlane’s “all you need is Jesus” prescription has miserably failed. The lives of the people he pastors (and perhaps his own) are just as messy as those of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the World.

I am glad that people have others to talk to when they are hurting. Friendship goes a long way in helping us find stability in rocky times. But, how much better would it be if a person was able to go to JESUS, their Lord and Savior, and cry out to Him in their time of need?

….

Saved and lost alike experience grief, whether it be by death from natural causes or terrible tragedy. The difference is that the lost have to emotionally manufacture hope and good feelings. Their grief is placated through talking, counseling, medications, addictions, and a host of other things.

While MacFarlane grudgingly admits talking to a “friend” can be helpful, he asserts it would be much better if everyone cried out to Jesus in their time of need. MacFarlane, of course, mentions nothing about seeking help from competent secular counselors. He doesn’t believe in such things. JESUS is the answer to every question, the solution to every problem.

Following MacFarlane’s dangerous, harmful advice, people cry out to Jesus, pleading and begging for help. And when Jesus does what he always does — nothing — then what? Pray harder? Read more Bible verses?

MacFarlane says that non-Christians “emotionally manufacture hope and good feelings; that they placate their grief through talking, counseling, medications, addictions, and a host of other things.” In what way are Christians any different? Don’t they use religious beliefs and practices to manufacture hope and good feelings? In 1843, Karl Marx wrote:

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Isn’t this exactly what religion provides for people, including MacFarlane and the members of First Baptist Church? I subscribe to a utilitarian view of religion; that as long as people find value in beliefs, rituals, and practices, they will continue to worship their chosen deity. Once the cost outweighs the benefits, people will abandon religion and seek other beliefs that help them get through the grind of human existence.

Christians, including Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, are no different from the people they consign to the flames of Hell. I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I counseled countless church members and people who didn’t attend one of the churches I pastored. Murder. Manslaughter. Incest. Sexual assault. Embezzlement. Theft. Domestic Violence. Child Abuse. Adultery, Fornication. Child Molestation. You name it, I heard it all. These people were good Christians; people who loved the Lord their God; people who faithfully attended church; people who tithed and gave offerings; people who daily read the Bible and prayed; people who tried to live according to the teachings of the Bible (as interpreted by their preacher). Yet, they had dark secrets, criminal secrets. And don’t get me started about preachers and their secrets or my own, for that matter. (Don’t read too much into that. I have been very open about my past, but I do withhold a few things that would be embarrassing to me and wife. None of us is an open book.) If Jesus is a cure-all, the end-all, the sum of everything, why are Christians so “sinful”?

People all around us are hurting and in pain. This is grief AWARENESS day. We need to be aware of the masses of people hurting and take them the comfort that Jesus offers.

It is true that people all around us are hurting and in pain — the “masses,” MacFarlane calls them. Instead of taking to them the “comfort that Jesus offers,” how about trying to offer real, tangible help? First Baptist is a well-to-do church with a couple hundred members. The church has the means to provide help to the “least of these.” They have the means to help the sick, lonely, crippled, hungry, hurting, and homeless. What do they do? Nothing. All they offer are empty religious platitudes. Believe! Pray! Trust! Rinse, wash, repeat. The church has no outreach into the community except through programs and ministries that are geared towards making fat sheep fatter. It’s all quite incestuous. And I am not suggesting that MacFarlane and First Baptist are special. They are not. Sadly, few Evangelical churches give a shit about the people Jesus cared about. In their minds, all people need is Jesus. Better to go to Heaven hungry than go to Hell on a full belly.

For any local preacher who is offended by my words, I ask that you provide two things: a list of community-focused ministries funded by your church and a copy of your church’s budget which reveals how much money actually goes towards ministering to the material needs of people outside of the church. I have been making this challenge to Evangelical churches since I started blogging in 2007. As of today, not one pastor responded. Why? Because each knows doing so will reveal how little his church does in the community; that his church is little more than a sheep pen for market-ready sheep.

Yes, people are hurting. Do something besides offering them a Jesus sandwich. People need REAL help. How about being the hands and feet of the Jesus you say you follow?

I am glad that Angie [Cartwright] was able to take her grief and use it to help others. But, more than anything, I hope that she has given her life to Jesus. That’s the source of real, genuine healing to all of our hurts.

MacFarlane compliments Cartwright for using her trauma to help others. I do the same. By telling my story, I give voice to countless other people who have had traumatic experiences in their lives — especially religious trauma. Readers know that I have first-hand experience with trauma. And for those who have corresponded with me privately, they know I listen. No platitudes. No easy, cheap solutions. Life is messy. Sometimes, the messes of our lives look like a hurricane went through them. When in the middle of such messes, the last thing we need is for someone to self-righteously tell us, “you know, if you just prayed to Jesus . . . .”

MacFarlane, one of the keepers of the Book of Life, subtly suggests that Cartwright is not a Christian, and as a result, she’s never experienced “true” healing. If only she had prayed to Jesus all would be well. In what way? What could Jesus have materially and physically done for her?

In a post titled, Dear Jesus, I wrote:

I was told by my pastors, Jesus, that you know and see everything. Just in case you were busy one day and missed what went on or were on vacation, let me share a few stories about what happened while we lived in Lima.

One night, Mom was upstairs, and I heard her screaming. She was having one of her “fits.” I decided to see if there was anything I could do to help her — that’s what the oldest child does. As I walked towards Mom’s bedroom, I saw her grabbing shoes and other things and violently throwing them down the hallway. This was the first time I remember being afraid . . .

One day, I got off the school bus and quickly ran to our home. I always had to be the first one in the door. As I walked into the kitchen, I noticed that Mom was lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. I quickly ran to the next-door neighbor’s house and asked her to help. She summoned an ambulance, and Mom’s life was saved.

Mom would try again, and again to kill herself: slitting her wrists, overdosing on medication, driving in front of a truck. At the age of fifty-four, she succeeded. One Sunday morning, Mom went into the bathroom, pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart, and pulled the trigger. She quickly slumped to the floor and was dead in minutes. Yet, she never stopped believing in you, Jesus. No matter what happened, Mom held on to her tribe’s God.

Halfway through my fifth-grade year, Mom and Dad moved to Farmer, Ohio. I attended Farmer Elementary School for the fifth and sixth grades. One day, I was home from school sick, and Mom’s brother-in-law stopped by. He didn’t know I was in my bedroom. After he left, Mom came to my room crying, saying, “I have been raped. I need you to call the police.” I was twelve. Do you remember this day, Jesus? Where were you? I thought you were all-powerful? Why didn’t you do anything?

From Farmer, we moved to  Deshler, Ohio for my seventh-grade year of school. Then Mom and Dad moved us to Findlay, Ohio. By then, my parent’s marriage was in shambles. Dad never seemed to be home, and Mom continued to have wild, manic mood swings. Shortly before the end of ninth grade, Dad matter-of-factly informed me that they were getting a divorce. “We don’t love each other anymore,” Dad said. And with that, he turned and walked away, leaving me to wallow in my pain. That’s how Dad always treated me. I can’t remember a time when he embraced me or said, “I love you.” I would learn years later that “Dad” was not my biological father. I wonder, Jesus, was this why he kept me at arm’s length emotionally?

After moving to Findlay, Mom and Dad joined Trinity Baptist Church — a fast-growing IFB congregation pastored by Gene Millioni. After Mom and Dad divorced, they stopped attending church. Both of them quickly remarried. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a baby, and Mom married her first cousin — a recent prison parolee. So much upheaval and turmoil, Jesus. Where were you when all of this was going on? I know, I know, you were there in spirit.

Mom and Dad may have stopped going to church, but I didn’t. By then, I had a lot of friends and started dating, so there was no way I would miss church. Besides, attending church got me away from home, a place where Dad’s new and improved wife made it clear I wasn’t welcome.

….

Jesus, you were my constant companion, my lover, friend, and confidante. I sure loved you, and I believed you loved me too. We were BFFs, right?  Sometimes, I wondered if you really loved me as much as I loved you. Our love affair was virtual in nature. We never met face-to-face, but I believed in my heart of hearts you were the very reason for my existence. When I doubted this, I attributed my doubts to Satan or me not praying hard enough or reading the Bible enough. I never thought for one moment, Jesus, that you might be a figment of my imagination, a lie taught to me by my parents and pastors. I was a true believer. That is, until I wasn’t.

At age fifty, I finally realized, Jesus, that you were a myth, the main character of a 2,000-year-old fictional story. I finally concluded that all those times when I wondered where you were, were in fact, true. I couldn’t find you because you were dead. You had died almost 2,000 years before. The Bible told me about your death, but I really believed that you were resurrected from the dead. I feel so silly now. Dead people don’t come back to life. Your resurrection from the dead was just a campfire story, and I had foolishly believed it. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Everyone I knew believed the same story. All of us believed that the miracles attributed to you, Jesus, really happened; that you were a virgin-born God-man; that you ascended to Heaven to prepare a mansion for us to live in after we die.

It all seems so silly now, Jesus, but I really did believe in you. Fifty years, Jesus. The prime of my life, I gave to you, only to find out that you were a lie. Yet, here I am today, and you are still “with” me. My parents, pastors, and professors did a good job of indoctrinating me. You are very much “real” to me, even though you lie buried somewhere on a Judean hillside. Try as I might, I can’t get you out of my mind. I have come to accept that you will never leave me.

MacFarlane is a product of his environment, so while my words may be harsh, I do genuinely feel sorry for him and the people he pastors. I can’t magically make their suffering, trauma, and grief go away. And neither can MacFarlane. Life is hard, and then we die. All he offers his people are band-aids to put over their gaping, bleeding physical and psychological wounds. Thanks, preacher, church members say, as their wounds continue to drain their life. Isn’t Jesus grand? MacFarlane says, and after quoting the prescribed verses from the King James Bible, he bows his head and says, let’s pray. And with that, Jesus has “helped” the sick, hurting, and dying. With that kind of help available, doctors, psychologists, social workers, and counselors might as well quit their jobs. Aint Jesus “grand,” indeed.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

god wont give you more than you can handle

This post is written from an Evangelical perspective.

If you grew up in the Evangelical church, you’ve likely heard quite a few sermons on texts such as:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.  James 1:2-4

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. James 1:12

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: I Peter 1:6,7

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 1 Peter 4:12,13

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 2 Timothy 2:3

And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Matthew 10:22

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. James 5:11

…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content Philippians 4:11

These verses, and others, are used to teach that no matter what happens to Christians they must endure and stay faithful. God sends trials, temptations, and adversity to punish Christians for sin, teach them a lesson, or increase their faith. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:5,6:

My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth…

No matter what happens in the lives of Christians, God loves them, has a plan for their life, and promises to never leave or forsake them. No matter how severe the trial, God will give them strength, promising to never give them more than they can bear.

If a person fails to endure, fails to bear the burden God has given them, then it is always their fault. They lack faith or are spiritually weak. Perhaps there is some secret sin in their life that is causing them to fail. Repent, trust God, and all will be well.

Couple this belief with the notion that Christians must patiently wait on God to do his perfect work in their lives, is it any surprise that many of them go through life facing onslaught after onslaught of pain, suffering, sickness, and loss. Hold on, Christian pastors tell their flock. Jesus is perfecting your lives. Don’t quit now. It is darkest just before the dawn. On and on the exhortations go,  encouraging Christians to passively and piously endure whatever comes their way. (Please see Does Evangelicalism Encourage Weakness and Passivity?)

Over the years, I heard a few preachers say that the Christian church could use some persecution; that persecution makes Christians stronger. According to an article I read years ago in Christianity Today (no source but my memory), persecution has, in some instances, totally wiped out Christianity in some places in the world. Instead of passively enduring persecution, perhaps it would have been better for Christians to live to fight another day. The reason they don’t is that they have been taught that not passively enduring persecution means they aren’t true Christians. Jesus endured pain, suffering, and death on the cross, and the least that Christians can do for him is be willing to die for their faith. Jesus stood meekly before his accusers, allowing himself to be beaten and spat upon. Christians should be willing to do the same.

Most Christian sects believe God is sovereign. This means God is in control of everything. Both the Calvinist and the Arminian agree that God has a purpose and plan for everyone, that he is the first cause of everything. Since God is running the show, Christians must play the part of suffering saints. No matter what comes their way, Christians, because of what Jesus did for them, must hold on and endure. I told the congregations I pastored, if you feel like you are at the end of the rope, tie a knot and hold on.

But what happens when you don’t have the strength to tie the knot?  What happens when you free fall and hit the ground with a splat? Is God to blame? Of course not. God is never to blame for anything bad happening in the lives of Christians. Only in Evangelicalism is bad renamed good. Let a woman miscarry, it’s for her good. Let a couple’s child die, it’s for their good. Let a tornado destroy a church, it’s for their good. Let a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami maim and kill thousands of people, including Christians, it’s for their good. I suppose there will be a preacher somewhere that says, after an asteroid hit kills a billion people, that God meant it for good. Just remember, God is good all the time. All the time God is good. Praise the Lord, where are the body bags?

Evangelicals convince themselves that no matter the circumstance, God is always with them. He promised to never leave or forsake them, and he is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. They pray, pray, and pray, and God answers not, yet they still believe. Why? Because they have been taught that silence from God can be a means of testing and strengthening one’s faith. Again, God is ALWAYS exonerated.

Rarely do Christians think through the belief that God is sovereign, yet not responsible for the bad things that happen. If God is in control of everything, how is it possible for him to not be culpable for the bad things that happen? Using Evangelical voodoo to make bad appear good doesn’t change the fact that bad things happen. No amount of Good Gawd Whitewash® can cover the fact that there are bad things that happen that have no redemptive value. Christian children starving to death in Africa has no redemptive value. Neither does a child dying of cancer or a Christian family being smashed by a falling concrete barrier. Pray tell, what is redemptive about a plane crash that kills everyone on board? Everywhere I look I see needless suffering and death, yet according to Evangelicals, God means the suffering and death for good. Since he can’t do anything other than good, and he is the sovereign Lord of all, everything that happens is good.  In any other setting, this kind of thinking would be considered lunacy.

One of the reasons my wife, Polly, and I deconverted was because we came to the conclusion that, out of the thousands and thousands of prayers we uttered, God never answered one of them. Yes, some of our prayers were answered, but we traced the answers back to human instrumentality. Out of all the prayers we prayed morning, noon, and night, those that had no human explanation could be counted on two or three fingers. Is this the best God can do? For some Christians, this is enough. They are the ones that praise God when a plane loaded with a hundred people crashes and there’s only one survivor. Isn’t God awesome? One person survived, praise Jesus! If a psychopath went to a shopping mall and killed ninety-nine people, yet saved a little baby, would anyone be praising the psychopath’s name? Of course not.

The beliefs taught from the verses I mentioned above often keep Christians from asking for help or expressing normal human emotion. I spent twenty-five years in the ministry, passively enduring everything “God” sent my way. For many years, we lived in abject poverty. Why? Because I believed God had called me to pastor full-time and operate a Christian school. I worked day and night, burning the candle at both ends, ultimately ruining my health. But even then, I told myself, better to burn out for God than rust out. Since the Apostle Paul spoke of early Christians enduring horrific trials and extreme poverty, I thought God was calling me to do the same. (Romans 8:31-39) If God wanted me to stuff a family of eight in a dilapidated 12×60 trailer, so be it. If God wanted me to drive $200 cars, my children to wear clothing from Goodwill or Odd Lots, and our family to do without the basic necessities of life, who was I to object? Look at all Jesus did for me. Look at how the early church suffered. Surely, I should be just as willing to forsake and endure all for Jesus.

Instead of suffering for Jesus, I should have told him thanks, but no thanks. I should have thought, I have a wife and six children to care for. I have the future to consider. Some day I will be retirement age and I need to start preparing for that now. Polly and the children deserve a better life. All of these things should have been at the forefront of my thinking, but they weren’t. Jesus and the church came first. I passively and resolutely followed God’s will for my life. Everything that happened was because God wanted it that way. Remember, God is good all the time. All the time God is good.

If atheism and humanism have taught me anything, they have taught me that I am responsible for what happens in my life. Most of the time, anyway. Things can and do happen that are beyond my control, but most of the time I am in control of my destiny. While I can’t undo the health problems I have, I can make the most of what life I do have. Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed and the chronic, unrelenting pain and suffering are winning, loving and kind people have extended a hand and said, let me lend you a hand. Since there is no help coming from God, each of us does what we can to deal with the bad things that come our way. And they will come. Live long enough and you’ll likely face severe trial and adversity. Life can be cruel and heartless. All we can do is hold on and hope tomorrow will be a better day. Most often it is, but not always. No matter how good a person we are, sometimes bad things happen to us. Live long enough and there will come a day when a doctor says, sorry, you have cancer/heart disease/kidney disease and it is going to kill you. It sucks, but even then, we have the power to face death with dignity.

How about you? How did the Bible verses mentioned above affect how you lived your life as a Christian? After you deconverted or left Evangelicalism, how did your approach to life change? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

Some Christians argue that the belief God won’t give you more than you can handle is a perversion of what the Bible teaches; that it actually says that God won’t give you more than HE can handle. However, this is nothing more than semantics. Since the Christian purportedly has God living inside of them and he is only a prayer away, God is always there. So, when the Christian is going through adversity that levels and incapacitates them, God is supposedly still right there with them. Otherwise, if a Christian is hit by a car, lying in the ditch with both legs and arms broken and their cellphone battery is dead, shouldn’t the Christian expect God to start handling things? Except, he never does. Let a Christian find themselves in the middle of the desert with no water and no hope of getting any, what will happen? This is definitely more than they can handle. Does God show up with a bottle of Evian? Of course not. They die a miserable, horrible death, waiting in vain for God to deliver them.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced

passion of the christ

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Snark Ahead! Easily offended Evangelicals should avoid reading this post. You’ve been warned!

One way Evangelical preachers shame complaining congregants into silence is to remind them of Jesus’ suffering on the cross for sin. One such example of this kind of thinking was posted on the Seeking His Kingdom blog (now defunct). In a July 18, 2016 post titled Why Do You Make Me Suffer?, Andi Garcia — a woman who believes she is “supposed to share His [God’s]  message and to let others know that we are to seek Him at all times” — had this to say about those who complain:

I said to a coworker who are we to question God about anything? Like when will He answer our prayer or ask Him why do we suffer? Why this or that?..I said did any of you ever think that our little problems, the problems our kids give us, are nothing compared to what He suffered for us all. I continued on and said I have 3 kids plus myself and yes worry for them and the problems they may have or situations they may put me through and it hurts me, of course, I’m their mother…BUT..He..He carries all of our sins …ALL OF OUR SINS for us. Can you imagine that suffering?? I said so whatever problems we have or our kids put us through aren’t problems..we shouldn’t worry, we shouldn’t complain, we shouldn’t ask WHY DO YOU MAKE ME SUFFER? See, 2 weeks ago I was going through some things with my 2 older children, 19 and 23, and I actually asked Him, I said it out loud, God why do you make me suffer? As soon as it came out, I slapped my hand to my mouth and legit, heard this in my thoughts, You are suffering? I felt ashamed. So I took some inventory and thought I’m alive, I wake up with no pain, I have a home, I have my 3 kids with or without problems, I have a job, food to eat, a car, the list goes on. I sat back that night and said I’m sorry about a million times because I thought to myself, if I hurt for my 3 kids when something or someone hurts them or their behavior is less than acceptable, can we imagine what He feels for every single one of us who sin? We will never know that pain.

I told myself, I will never complain or think that I suffer. I also will always remember the immense love He has for us, His children. Amen? Amen!!!

Now, Garcia is not a preacher, but her post reflects that she has been taught to never, ever voice complaints about whatever difficulty she might be facing. Just remember what Jesus suffered on our behalf, Evangelical preachers say, as if saying this is supposed to magically take away pain, suffering, heartache, and emotional distress. This thinking flows from the belief that Jesus is the answer for every question and he is cure for every ailment. As former Evangelicals well know, the curative power of thinking about a man being beaten and executed is grossly overrated.

According to the Bible, a man by the name of Jesus was beaten and executed for crimes against the Jewish people. Jesus’ suffering took place over a short period of time. Yes, if the Bible account is accurate, Jesus suffered greatly before he was executed. I certainly don’t want to minimize his pain and agony, though I have to wonder if Jesus, being God in the flesh, perhaps made it look like he was horrifically suffering, but in reality he actually turned off all his pain receptors and felt nothing. I know that’s what I would do TODAY, if I could. No more pain! Regardless, his suffering was short-lived. After he was taken down from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb, the Bible tells us he went to Hell to preach the gospel to its captives. (Ephesians 4:7-10Luke 23:39-43, Luke 16:19-311 Peter 3:18-20) The traditional English version of the Apostles’ Creed states:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic* Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Amen.

According to God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word and the Apostles’ Creed, after his evidently fake death, Jesus took a vacation to Hades/Paradise to do some soul-saving preaching. And then, several days later, on a Sunday, Jesus — in Arnold Schwarzenegger-like fashion —  walked out of the grave and said I’m back! Time to start a new religion! His body should have shown the marks of a man brutally beaten, but all that remained for people to see were the holes in his hands, feet, and abdomen — reminders of his recent crucifixion. Evidently, no plastic surgeon was available, so Jesus had to go through his last forty days on earth with ugly-looking hands and feet. I wonder if he wore socks with his sandals to cover the holes in his feet?

Was Jesus’ suffering worse than any human has ever experienced? Of course not. Only those who are religiously blinded to reality dare to make such false assumptions. Having watched numerous people die, I can tell you that some of them suffered far greater agony and pain than Jesus. Think of all the horrific things you have watched people experience or you have gone through. Are all of these experiences, to quote Garcia, “little problems” and “nothing compared to what He suffered for us all”? Are Garcia and others like her diminishing the suffering of others, treating their agony as little more than inconveniences?

This kind of thinking finds its roots in Evangelical belief about the purpose of this life. Most Evangelicals think that their present life is little more than preparation for the life to come — eternal life. According to Amos 4:12Hebrews 9:27Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14, and other verses, life is all about preparing to meet God. Through frequent reminders from pastors that this life is temporary and transitory, Evangelicals are conditioned to believe that in this life comes suffering and loss and in the next life God will reward them with perfect, pain-free existences for being his faithful servants. This is why Garcia can so easily dismiss the suffering of billions of people. With a wave of the Bible Wand®, Garcia declares that all of humanity’s sickness, diseases, and sufferings are little more than minor inconveniences. In Garcia’s mind, Jesus was biggest bad-ass sufferer of all time. No one can kick Jesus off the Throne of Suffering!

Thinking this way causes Evangelicals to be callously indifferent towards the suffering of others. Hungry? Thirsty? Have AIDS? Infected with the Zika virus? On a respirator with COVID-19? Have cancer? Carrying a severely deformed fetus? Unrelenting pain? Homeless? Mentally ill? Victim of sexual abuse? Victim of domestic violence? Stroke? Alzheimer disease? Dementia? Ebola?  S-h-i-t, such suffering is a walk in the park when compared to Jesus’ 24-hour beat down and death, says Evangelicals. Don’t sweat it! Get saved, and then when you die a horrible, miserable death you will get to go to Heaven. This is why Evangelicals can oppose universal healthcare, birth control, and any other program meant to ease human suffering. Better to go to Heaven with an empty stomach than to Hell with a full one, Evangelical preachers say. Life is all about getting saved, not getting healthy, and living a better life. Sure, if Jesus wants to give Evangelicals fancy cars, expensive clothes, organic food, private schools for their children, health, eye, and dental coverage, and vacations to Fiji, they will take it, but those who are left groveling in the dirt of human existence, why they should get saved, thank Jesus for being worthy of such suffering, and quickly die so Evangelicals don’t have to pay for their care.

Did you, at one time, view life and suffering as Andi Garcia does? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Does Suffering Make Us Stronger?

suffering and pain

Evangelicals often say that suffering makes us stronger. According to them, their God uses suffering to test, try, chastise, and even “save” people. (What a perverse God this deity is.) The goal of suffering, then, is to bring people into submission to God’s purpose and plan; to humble them before God; to make them stronger. Theology aside, does suffering really make us stronger?

I have an intimate relationship with suffering (an abusive spouse if there ever was one). There’s not a moment or day in my life that I don’t suffer from unrelenting pain, fatigue, muscle spasms, and, since my diagnosis with gastroparesis in 2020, nausea, lack of appetite, and vomiting. My body hurts from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet — literally. Yes, I take narcotic pain medications and powerful muscle relaxers, along with a drug for sleep. They “help,” but they don’t make the pain magically disappear. The best these drugs do is improve my quality of life. And some days, they don’t even do that. Some days demand I put a stick in my mouth, bite down, and hope, plead, and “pray” that the pain will recede.

Nights are the worst. It takes from 3-5 hours for me to fall asleep once I lie down. I read, watch TV on my iPad Pro, or get up and walk the well-worn path in the carpet of our home, begging and pleading for the pain to go away. On occasion, I will take a hot bath — and “hot” for me is straight hot water. During the night hours, my body pisses off the fluid that has collected in my legs during the day, requiring numerous trips to the bathroom or the use of a portable urinal. Eventually, I will fall asleep (though I typically sleep 2-3 hours at a time), only to wake up the next day and start the process all over again.

Now to the question: does suffering makes us stronger? For me, no. There’s nothing in my experiences with suffering that have made me “stronger.” I am a weak, frail man, prone to thoughts of suicide, knowing that the medical means to my end are but two or three pill bottles away. I hang on for my beautiful wife of forty-three years, my six wonderful children, and thirteen supercalifragilisticexpialidocious grandchildren. I hang on because I still feel I have important work to do through this blog. I hang on because there are still things I want to see and places I want to go. So . . . I endure. Has my suffering made me stronger? Absolutely not. I endure out of a raw, naked desire to live, to see my grandchildren go to college, graduate, and do great things in the world. I want to hold in my arms my first great-grandchild. And I want to see the Bengals win a Super Bowl, the Reds win another World Series, my book published (no I haven’t given up — yet), and Bethany marry Rascal Flatts. 🙂 I still have reasons to get up in the morning. And the day I don’t?

Early in the morning hours, in a weeping moment of despair, I texted Polly:

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you or worry you. I love you with all my heart. But, I’m tired. I’m in so much pain — head to toe. Mentally, I’m in Pilgrim’s slough of despondency with, seemingly, no way out. I feel very alone. I know you are right here, yet everyone seems so distant. I feel like I’m being sucked under by quicksand while those who love me stand by and say, “Dad/Bruce/Butch [my nickname, only used by my siblings, aunts and uncles] will figure a way out.” And when I don’t or can’t?

Unrelenting chronic pain and suffering bring depression and despair. How could it be otherwise? That’s why I have been seeing counselors for the past ten years. (I recently changed therapists. I am seeing a woman this time.) These counselors have literally saved my life. I wish things were different for me, but “wishing” changes nothing. I am a realist, a pragmatist. Life is what it is. All I know to do is to endure. The Bible says, “he that’s endureth to the end shall be saved.” And what “saves” us, in the end, is death, not Jesus. As a chronic pain sufferer, death is my savior. Until then, I hang on until my savior appears in the sky.

This post is not a cry for help, nor is it a request for unsolicited medical advice. This is just me talking out loud and being real with the readers of this blog. I am sure some of my Evangelical critics will seize on this post as an example of the hopelessness of atheism or some sort of character flaw in my life. All I can say to them is this: fuck off.

Other Posts on Suffering

Bruce, Your “Suffering” is Nothing Compared to Job’s

Quote of the Day: Theological Beliefs Force People to Endure Needless Suffering

Do Evangelical Beliefs Cause Suffering?

An Argument Against the Existence of God: The Suffering of Animals

Quote of the Day: The Kind of Suffering That is a Problem by Bart Ehrman

Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced

Bart Ehrman on God, the Bible, and the Problem of Suffering

How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

Several years ago, I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of a girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE

Your God is not here . . . five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers, and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.

Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems — oh, so often — that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament cook-off.  Verses 20-24 state:

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from Heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough, God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up Elijah’s ground chuck offering, but he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.

I want to focus on one specific element of this story: Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seem that he is nowhere to be found? This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches, and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the Giver of Life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.

Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — “talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big-picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations make one thing clear: there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings” will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.

Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war, and made sure everyone had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone (the Devil uses Android) in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!

Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:

I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, kindness, hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? 

I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic pain and illness.  Gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis dominate every waking moment.  My health problems started fifteen years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body. Take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.

The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:

Video Link

There is no God that is coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in Heaven to motivate us to help others.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

The Indifference of God

starving children

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Spend time on Sundays at Evangelical churches and you will hear all sorts of talk about how God is intimately involved in our lives. God is everywhere, Evangelicals say, and he knows everything. Not only is God omnipresent and omniscient, he is also omnipotent! God holds the universe in the palm of his hand, Evangelical preachers say. God is the Kings of Kings, Lord of Lords, the supreme potentate of heaven and earth. He is, as Calvinists love to say, sovereign. In other words, God is in control of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. No thought, word, or deed escapes his notice. No matter where humans travel — be it to the farthest reaches of the universe or the depths of the oceans — they can not escape God. God is the king of voyeurs, his eyes peering into the darkest corners of human existence.

This God of the Evangelicals must be one busy deity. Knowing everything, including what will happen in the future, God surely acts in ways to lessen suffering, pain, loss, and death, right?  Certainly, there is ample evidence for the Evangelical God’s involvement in the smallest details of life, right?  While Evangelicals will certainly answer YES! to these questions, when pressed for objective, verifiable evidence for such claims, they quickly retreat to their houses of faith and claims that God’s ways are not our ways.

Theodicy — the branch of theology that defends (or attempts to defend) God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil and suffering — continues to be a big problem for Evangelicals. The more apologists attempt to defend God in light of evil and suffering, pain, and death, the less people think God is good. All people have to do is read the newspaper to realize that IF God is the powerful deity Evangelicals say he is, then he is a horrible being who delights in unfeigned worship while doing nothing as countless men, women, and children face untold agony and death.

One of the marks of psychopathy is a lack of empathy. God can, if he chooses, put an end to suffering. Yet, he does, by all accounts, absolutely nothing. In 2008, New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman wrote a book titled God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Ehrman had this to say about why he wrote the book:

For most of my life I was a devout Christian, believing in God, trusting in Christ for salvation, knowing that God was actively involved in this world. During my young adulthood, I was an evangelical, with a firm belief in the Bible as the inspired and inerrant word of God. During those years I had fairly simple but commonly held views about how there can be so much pain and misery in the world. God had given us free will (we weren’t programmed like robots), but since we were free to do good we were also free to do evil—hence the Holocaust, the genocide in Cambodia, and so on. To be sure, this view did not explain all evil in the world, but a good deal of suffering was a mystery and in the end, God would make right all that was wrong.

….

Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

….

Eventually, while still a Christian thinker, I came to believe that God himself is deeply concerned with suffering and intimately involved with it. The Christian message, for me, at the time, was that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to us humans, and that in Jesus we can see how God deals with the world and relates to it. He relates to it, I thought, not by conquering it but by suffering for it. Jesus was not set on a throne in Jerusalem to rule over the Kingdom of God. He was crucified by the Romans, suffering a painful, excruciating, and humiliating death for us. What is God like? He is a God who suffers. The way he deals with suffering is by suffering both for us and alongside us.

….

About nine or ten years ago I came to realize that I simply no longer believed the Christian message. A large part of my movement away from the faith was driven by my concern for suffering. I simply no longer could hold to the view—which I took to be essential to Christian faith—that God was active in the world, that he answered prayer, that he intervened on behalf of his faithful, that he brought salvation in the past and that in the future, eventually in the coming eschaton, he would set to rights all that was wrong, that he would vindicate his name and his people and bring in a good kingdom (either at our deaths or here on earth in a future utopian existence).

We live in a world in which a child dies every five seconds of starvation. Every five seconds. Every minute there are twenty-five people who die because they do not have clean water to drink. Every hour 700 people die of malaria. Where is God in all this? We live in a world in which earthquakes in the Himalayas kill 50,000 people and leave 3 million without shelter in the face of oncoming winter. We live in a world where a hurricane destroys New Orleans. Where a tsunami kills 300,000 people in one fell swoop. Where millions of children are born with horrible birth defects. And where is God? To say that he eventually will make right all that is wrong seems to me, now, to be pure wishful thinking.

Ehrman states in God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer:

Eventually, though, I felt compelled to leave Christianity altogether. I did not go easily. On the contrary, I left kicking and screaming, wanting desperately to hold on to the faith I had known since childhood and had come to know intimately from my teenaged years onward. But I came to a point where I could no longer believe. It’s a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.

The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith. After many years of grappling with the problem, trying to explain it, thinking through the explanations that others have offered—some of them pat answers charming for their simplicity, others highly sophisticated and nuanced reflections of serious philosophers and theologians—after thinking about the alleged answers and continuing to wrestle with the problem, about nine or ten years ago I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don’t “know” if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church.

For most Evangelicals-turned-atheists, the issue of suffering looms large in their decisions to leave Christianity. When I am asked why I left Christianity, I usually point to the intellectual problems I have with Christian theology and practice. In particular, I call attention to the unsupportable notion that the Protestant Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God. I generally avoid discussions about suffering and death because such engagements usually end with Evangelicals apologists telling me that the REAL reason I am no longer a Christian is the personal pain and suffering I deal with each and every day of my life. Bruce, you are just mad that God didn’t heal you, Evangelicals say. So, you quit on God, all because he wouldn’t do what you wanted him to do — heal you.

While there was a time when I would bristle at such claims, I now admit that God’s indifference towards not only the suffering of family, friends, and parishioners, but also my own suffering played a pertinent part in my deconverson. It was not THE reason, but certainly one of the reasons I was no longer was willing to believe in the Christian God’s existence. The Bible speaks of a Jesus who healed the sick, blind, and deaf, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. Surely, if, as the Bible says, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why is there so much suffering in the world? What better way for God to reveal himself to us than to heal the sick and feed the hungry. I am aware of all the Evangelical apologetical arguments that are used to justify God’s indifference, so don’t bother, but the fact remains that most suffering goes unrequited. As Bart Ehrman mentioned above, untold suffering will happen today and, come tomorrow and every other day after that, pain, sickness, and incalculable loss will test and try countless people. In fact, few of us get through this life without facing things that can and do turn our lives into piles of ashes. Despite prayers and voices crying to God for help, the triune God of the Bible acts as if he lives in an area where there is no cellphone service. Christians and non-Christians alike cry to the heavens, pleading and begging its inhabitants to help them, yet all they hear is deafening silence.

Let me conclude this post with two news stories that amply illustrate the indifference of God.

On August 6, 2016, in an apparent murder-suicide, a Pennsylvanian husband or wife murdered their spouse and three children before committing suicide. CBS News reports:

A Pennsylvania couple who were featured in news stories about their difficulties getting medication for their youngest daughter who had a heart transplant were found shot to death in their home along with their three children.

Prosecutor John Adams says an apparent “murder/suicide” note was found in the family’s Sinking Spring home Saturday. Police found a handgun near one of the adults. They didn’t say who they believe was the shooter.

Officials say the parents had had “domestic issues.” Police had gone to the home to check on the family after a call from a concerned relative who said the mom did not show up for a pre-arranged lunch date.

The victims were identified as 40-year-old Mark Short Sr., 33-year-old Megan Short; 8-year-old Lianna, 5-year-old Mark Jr., and 2-year-old Willow.

….

Willow had undergone a heart transplant as a baby. Her family had been featured in articles in The Reading Eagle in 2014 and The New York Times in 2015 about her condition and the family’s difficulties obtaining anti-rejection medication for her.

….

Once inside the home, officers discovered the family’s deceased bodies and a deceased dog in the living room area of the residence. A handgun was discovered near one of the deceased adults.

On July 31, 2016, a young couple with three children was headed to Palmer Lake, Colorado, “for a five-week session on learning a language and assimilating into another culture” when a semi-truck rammed the rear of their minivan, killing all of them. The Omaha-Herald reports:

The semitrailer truck driver involved in a crash that claimed six lives on Interstate 80 was “inattentive and distracted by outside influences” when he rammed into a minivan “at a high rate of speed,” a Nebraska State Patrol trooper said in an arrest affidavit.

The driver, Tony Weekly Jr., 53, of Baker, Florida, was charged in Keith County Court on Tuesday with five counts of felony motor vehicle homicide — one for each member of the St. Paul, Minnesota, family who died Sunday in the fiery crash four miles west of Brule’s I-80 interchange — and a single misdemeanor count of reckless driving.

….

Witnesses said Weekly’s truck “did not slow down until hitting the first vehicle,” Trooper Darrell Crawford said in the arrest affidavit.

That vehicle was the minivan carrying the Pals family of Minnesota. Jamison and Kathryne Pals and their three children died as a direct result of the initial impact,” Crawford said. Before coming to rest, the vehicles’ forward momentum pushed them into a Plymouth minivan driven by Sullivan, then a Nissan sport utility vehicle and finally a Ford van.

Killed Sunday were: Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29, and their children, Ezra, 3; Violet, almost 2; and 2½-month-old Calvin.

….

The Palses intended to serve as long-term missionaries in Nagoya, Japan. They were headed to Palmer Lake, Colorado, for a five-week session on learning a language and assimilating into another culture, said Dennis Vogan, vice president of personnel development of the ministry organization WorldVenture.

“The Palses fit perfectly within our organization,” Vogan said. The missionaries in Japan “were thrilled and looking so forward to their coming,” he said.

The Palses had raised enough money to fund their mission work, which was to start in October, he said.

Rick Pals, Jamison’s father, said Tuesday that funeral services would be held at Jamison and Kathryne’s church, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He said the families of Jamison and Kathryne “have been very touched” by the “outpouring of sincere support” they have received.

….

Jamison Pals worked for just over three years as a grant writer for Feed My Starving Children. The Christian nonprofit based in Eagan, Minnesota, sends meals specially formulated for malnourished children to orphanages, schools, clinics and feeding programs around the world.

Andy Carr, the group’s vice president of marketing and development, said Jamison and Kathryne Pals were “amazing people” and good friends.

“They were the most humble and selfless people that you could ever meet,” he said. “In today’s world where it’s so much about me, me, me, it was never about them. It was always about others.”

The first story is likely to be explained in Evangelical circles as an example of human depravity. Human sinfulness leads people to do awful things, Evangelicals say. If this couple had known Jesus, perhaps things would have turned out differently!

The second story is being portrayed as an example of the “mysteries” of God. We dare not question God’s purpose and plan! Calvinist pastor John Piper attributes their deaths to the mysterious, unknown plan of the universe’s sovereign God. Evangelicals must never ask why. God knows best!

In both of these horrific, mind-numbing tragedies, one thing is for certain: God stood by and did nothing. If God can’t be counted on to rescue children and those who have devoted themselves to “serving” him, why should any of us bother to worship him? If God helps a young child through a heart transplant, only to later stand by twiddling his thumbs while this same girl is murdered, should we not at least question the actions of the compassionate, loving, kind God who promises never to leave or forsake us?

Evangelicals should not fault people such as myself when we conclude that their God is either a work of fiction or is simply not interested in what happens to us. I have concluded that there is no God, and that life can be cruel and hard. Disease, pain, hunger, violence, and death are very much a part of life, and all of us will likely be marred or broken by one or more of these things. Try as we might to escape suffering, it will track us down and arrest us, often sentencing us to lives of pain and agony. I wish things could be different, but they are what they are. All the prayers and religious pronouncements in the world won’t change the fact that humans (and other animals) suffer. The best we can do is to work at reducing suffering and its effects. It is up to us to alleviate the suffering of others (and our own). Waiting on God accomplishes nothing. As the stories mentioned above make clear, God is nowhere to be found when it comes to things that matter.

Please read the comments. Wonderful examples of Evangelical/Bible gymnastics.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Bruce Gerencser