Menu Close

Tag: Suffering

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

passion of the christ

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 recently posted on the Seeking His Kingdom blog. 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, 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 buried, 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 Word and the Apostles’ Creed, after his 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 and feet — 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.

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”? Is 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 preparation for the life to come — eternal life. According to Amos 4:12Hebrews 9:27Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14  and numerous 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 for being 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 to the suffering others. Hungry? Thirsty? Have AIDS? Infected with the Zika virus? Have cancer? Carrying a severely deformed fetus? Unrelenting pain? Homeless? Mentally ill? Victim of sexual abuse? Victim of domestic violence? Stoke? 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.

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

gods problem bart ehrman
What follows is an excerpt from a recent post Dr. Bart Ehrman wrote about a 2008 interview on the subject of  the Bible, God, and suffering. This interview occurred around the time Ehrman released God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Ehrman wrote:

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.

In my mid 20s, I left the evangelical fold, but I remained a Christian for some twenty years—a God-believing, sin-confessing, church-going Christian, who no longer held to the inerrancy of Scripture but who did believe that the Bible contained God’s word, trustworthy as the source for theological reflection. And the more I studied the Christian tradition, first as a graduate student in seminary and then as a young scholar teaching biblical studies at universities, the more sophisticated I became in my theological views and in my understanding of the world and our place in it.

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?

….

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.

As it turns out, my various wrestlings with the problem have led me, even as an agnostic, back to the Bible, to see how different biblical authors wrestle with this, the greatest of all human questions. The result is my recent book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer. My contention is that many of the authors of the Bible are wrestling with just this question: why do people (especially the people of God) suffer? The biblical answers are striking at times for their simplicity and power (suffering comes as a punishment from God for sin; suffering is a test of faith; suffering is created by cosmic powers aligned against God and his people; suffering is a huge mystery and we have no right to question why it happens; suffering is redemptive and is the means by which God brings salvation; and so on). Some of these answers are at odds with one another (is it God or his cosmic enemies who are creating havoc on earth?), yet many of them continue to inform religious thinkers today….

Here is a one hour video of the interview. If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Ehrman, I encourage you to watch the video.

Video Link

I heartily recommend Ehrman’s book, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. You can purchase it here.

Ehrman has a member-only blog, with an annual $24.95 membership fee (all monies raised go to charitable groups).

Other books written by Ehrman can be purchased here. Ehrman’s latest book, Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior, is scheduled to be released on March 6, 2016. You can pre-order the book here.

Does the Christian God Really Care About Me?

where is god

One of the reasons given by atheists/agnostics for leaving Christianity is the belief that the Christian God doesn’t give a shit about those who devote their lives to following Jesus Christ. No matter how much time is expended in worship and service, God never says, thanks, good job, or I have your back. Why should he? According to Evangelical theology, Jesus, the sinless son of God, came to earth to atone for humankind’s sin. He suffered horrific brutality at the hands of the Romans. He was then, like a common thief, nailed to the cross. According to the Bible, Jesus was beaten to such a degree that it was hard to tell that he was a man. After hours of suffering, Jesus died. All of this was on behalf of sinners (or the elect, if you are a Calvinist).  Knowing all that Jesus suffered, Christians should be satisfied with knowing their sins are forgiven and a home in Heaven awaits them when they die. The least the Christian can do is, in slave-like manner, devote themselves, without bitching and complaining, to the Kingdom of God on Earth. In other words, shut up, stop complaining, and be thankful for what Jesus has given you. Just remember, God owes you nothing.

Recently, Dieudonne Tamfu wrote a post titled Suffering is Our Story for The Desiring God website. In the opening paragraphs, Tamfu writes:

Suffering tends to produce loneliness. We feel lonely, isolated, sealed off, and detached from others. It is common for us to believe that no one understands our pain.

We can be deceived into thinking that God is distant and uncaring. While I do not wish to invalidate these emotions, I do want to extinguish the lie that the sufferer is ever alone. We are never alone in suffering because in it we join other saints in the pattern of righteous suffering that has been going on from the inception of salvation history.

Are you or other believers around you facing rejection for your faith? Do you feel lonely in your suffering? Does it seem that God is distant and has detached himself from your pain? Do you feel disappointment, bewilderment, or dismay? Are you sitting in darkness, searching for answers and grasping for hope?

Tamfu readily admits that there are times when God seems distant. There are those times when God seems uncaring, content to leave the Christian sitting alone in the dark, weeping. The good news, according to Tamfu, is that there are other Christians facing similar circumstances. Yea! You aren’t the only follower of Jesus who is writhing in pain as cancer robs you of your life!  Are you suffering? Are you alone? Do you feel abandoned? Do you feel like an orphan without a coat, left in a back alley to die on a cold winter’s night? Good news! There are millions of Christians going through similar circumstances. God has abandoned them just as he has abandoned you.

When Christians go through dark trials and adversity, those who are not currently being ignored by God are called on to cheer up those who find themselves under the boot heel of God. They are encouraged to take matters to the Lord in prayer. Seek and trust the Lord, Evangelical preachers tell the downtrodden. What is that God is trying to accomplish in your life? Remember, no matter what happens, God means it for your good. He promises to never, ever leave or forsake us. 

Those under physical, emotional, or economic assault are urged to submit to the “loving” hand of God. Perhaps God is teaching you a lesson, Evangelical preachers tell the afflicted. Or maybe he is testing you or punishing you for disobedience. Regardless, God only wants what is best for Christians. His goal is to make them more like Jesus and to prepare them for the peace and bliss that awaits on the other side of the grace. If God made life easy for Christians, preachers say, we would never appreciate Heaven and all that Jesus did for us on the cross.

Yet, despite all the flowery platitudes and blame-shifting, some Christians come to the conclusion that the reason God seems so distant is because he doesn’t exist. When help came in times of suffering, it was always their fellow humans who helped them. When prayers went unanswered, phone calls were always picked up. When bank accounts were empty and the cupboards were bare, it was family and friends who lent a helping hand. As these former Christians survey their lives, they conclude that wherever God might be, he is not on earth. At best, he is a deadbeat father who cares not for those who love and adore him. At worst, he is a cruel hoax, little more than a promise that is never fulfilled.

The reasons I left the Christian faith are many, but one of them is that I came to the conclusion that God is not intimately involved in the lives of those who devotedly serve and worship him, despite his promises. Over the course of 50 years in the Christian church, I had many so-called God experiences. After I deconverted, I went back through my life and gave a reckoning  of the times I thought God was blessing me, answering my prayer, or meeting my needs. A careful accounting of these events led me to conclude that the only God (s) in my life had a flesh and blood body. Human instrumentation, and not the mighty wonder-working power of God, was the reason my prayers were answered and my needs were met.

While there were certainly a handful of unexplained — dare I say miraculous — events, these moments in time were not enough to lead me to the conclusion that God is who and what Christians claim he is. While coming to this judgment is certainly not sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God, it is enough for me to conclude that the notion of a loving, caring, hands-on God who is intimately and minutely involved in the lives of those who worship Jesus is a myth.

I am unwilling to swear allegiance to a God who cares no more for me than does my cat. My cat demands constant attention, no matter what may be going on in my life. Yet, if I found myself crying out for help, I know for certain that my cat would waddle up to my leg, rub up against it, and with a voice I have heard countless times before, would say, feed me. This is how I view the Christian God.

[signoff]

You Should Feel Blessed God Didn’t Kill You Today

god killing a man

Dan Phillips, pastor of Copperfield Bible Church, Houston, Texas, shows his usual intellectual brilliance in a short ditty posted on the Pyromaniacs blog. Phillips writes:

How can God cause a(n) [natural disaster] in ____ that kills ____?

Response: You mean, why doesn’t He do the same every day in every city on every continent? Why hasn’t he done that to you? Excellent question! Those days are coming. But God is showing that He is long-suffering, giving the same opportunity for repentance that the people in _____ had enjoyed.

You see, according to Phillips, God really is good to us. That he killed others and not us is a sign that God is long-suffering and he wants us to repent. Never mind those other unrepentant, non-elect men, women, and children who were slaughtered today by the merciful, loving God. They had their chance. You have your chance now. Well maybe not. It depends on whether you are one of the elect (Phillips is a Calvinist).  According to Calvinists, the world’s population, past, present and future, was neatly divided by God into two categories: elect and non-elect, chosen and non-chosen, saved and lost. For those whose names are under the non-elect column, this means they have been on God’s slaughter list from before the foundation of the world. For these people, it was too late for them before they were even born. But, that’s not God’s fault. God may have created us and he may control every aspect of our lives, but because our distant relative Adam broke God’s Garden of Eden Dining Rules, we have been deemed guilty by God.

Wait a minute? Didn’t God create Adam? Couldn’t God have kept Adam from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?? Isn’t God Sovereign? These are rhetorical questions, yes? The answer to all of these questions is yes. How then is God not responsible for  everything that follows?

Let the Calvinistic gymnastics begin.

God Killed Our Baby: Isn’t God Awesome?

romans 8 28

Evangelical Christians believe that their God is the giver and taker of life and that he controls the universe. As the old song goes, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Everything that happens in their lives  is according to the purpose and plan of their God. When tragedy comes their way, they turn to prayer and the Bible to find hope and comfort. The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

and in I Corinthians 10:12,13:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.  There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

According to the Bible, everything that happens in the Evangelicals’ lives is for their good and God will not  create any burden in their life without making  a way for them to bear it.

The Bible says in Hebrews 13:5:

…I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

and in  Matthew 28:20:

…lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

and in Psalm 37:25

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

According to the Bible, God/Jesus promises to always be with the Evangelical, even to the end of the world. He promises to never forsake them. No matter what, God will always be there for them.

It is important to understand what I have written above in order to make any sense of what I am about to write next. Jason Williams is the assistant pastor of High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. (See church’s blog here.) High Street is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church that was once pastored by one of the most hardcore IFB pastors I ever met, Charles Mainous.

A year or so ago, Williams and his wife lost their unborn child. Williams wrote a post for the Old Path’s Journal about the loss of his child. He wrote (page no longer active):

How many of you have been in a relationship and lost someone you love? Maybe it was because of a break up and you are hurting badly and feel rejected. Maybe you even lost someone dear to you because of death. If so, then perhaps you are like me and you are asking God, “Why did you take this person from me?”…

…It was during this very difficult time in my life when I was asking God why He took my child, that He showed me Psalm 61. Psalm 61 is a Psalm of healing. It details all the things that God gives us. As I read this chapter, it was as if God was saying to me. “Yes, I did take your baby, but look at all of the things that I have given you.”…

…Your loss is a gift from God! He looked down from Heaven and deemed you worthy to glorify Him! What a gift! To think that God would think I am worthy to praise Him blows my mind! I am just a sinner, but He looked past my sin and gave me a trial so that I can stand in front of others and tell them that He is good!

Because God took our baby, I have been able to stand in front of our church and praise Him! So many people came to me afterwards and told me that the testimony made them realize just how good God is! That night a politician texted me and told me our testimony caused his faith in God to grow! What a gift God gave me! The chance to glorify Him!…

Williams believes that God killing his baby was good for him and his wife, and that God used the death of their baby to advance his purpose. Through the death of their child, other people can see how GOOD, how AWESOME, God is! Only those indoctrinated in the Evangelical worldview could ever take the tragic death of a baby and turn it into an awesome event. Since God is good and only does what is good for the Evangelical, whatever happens in the Evangelical’s life is g-o-o-d. This kind of thinking forces the Evangelical to accept a warped view of the world, a view that has no place for bad things to happen.

Now, an Evangelical might object and say, bad things do happen, but God turns them into good. This is nothing more than semantics. Since the Evangelical must never call a good work of God bad, how can anything REALLY be bad? No matter what happens, God will turn it into good and Evangelicals must never, ever forget that God is always good and only does that which is good for them. Over and over they are told this, so when bad things happen in their  lives, they dismiss, discount, and reject how they really think and feel about the tragedy or circumstance they are going through. They are never permitted to say, what has happened to me is bad and nothing good can come from it.

Ten years ago, my sister-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident. I vividly remember how Polly’s Evangelical family went through the mental gymnastics necessary to turn Kathy’s death into good. During the invitation at her funeral, a person raised their hand and said that God had saved  him. Polly’s family thought, If one soul gets saved then Kathy’s death was worth it. At the time, I was still a Christian, but I made it very clear that I didn’t accept such thinking. I told them If I was asked to choose between the life of my sister-in-law and a soul getting saved, the whole world could go to hell. Nothing good has come from Kathy’s death. Polly lost her only sister, Polly’s parents lost a daughter, and she left behind a husband, children, and grandchildren who love her and miss her.

Look, I understand why people like the Williamses, Polly’s family, and many Evangelicals think like this. Bound by their literal interpretation of the Bible, they are forced to embrace a way of looking at life that is a complete denial of how life REALLY is. If thinking like this helps them to find peace and sleep through the night, then who am I to object, right? Fine, but they should not expect people like me to think the same way. I subscribe to the ‘you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse’ way of looking at life. I am a realist who tries to see the world as it is. This forces me to see that bad things do happen, things that lack any sort of goodness. Of course, seeing the world this way is part of the reason I am an atheist.

I want nothing to with a God who afflicts (tortures?) people so he can teach them a lesson, punish them for sin, or remind them of what an awesome God he is. Such a God is a psychopath  who derives pleasure from the suffering of others, a God who delights in tormenting and killing people. If such a person were my neighbor, I would quickly decide to move somewhere else.

Some Evangelicals think my refusal to accept that God is working all things for my good, in light of my pain and suffering, has turned me into a person who hates God. If such a God exists, then YES, I hate him. If the pervasive pain I have every day of my life is God teaching me a lesson then YES, I hate my tormentor. No decent human beings would treat someone they love this way, yet I am expected to believe that I am in pain tonight because God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life? Not a chance.

Yes, my pain and suffering informs and powers my writing. I doubt I could be the writer I am today without it. But, if you asked me to choose between being a writer and having a life free of the debilitating pain I am in, I would gladly not write another word. The only way for me to come to terms with where I am in my life is for me to realize that shit happens. Due to genetics, choices I have made, choices others have made, environmental exposure, and luck, my life is what it is. I accept my life as it is. If Polly and I were in the Williamses shoes, we would surely grieve as they have. However, we would not cling to the notion that God killing our child was somehow for our good. Instead, we would recognize that some babies die in the womb. Death is the one constant in our world. Every day, people die. When my sister-in-law died, she died because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the woman in front of the motorcycle made a quick u-turn, there was no way to avoid hitting her.  Just like that, Kathy was thrown from the motorcycle, struck her head  on the pavement, and she was dead. I can still remember the anguish in my mother-in-law’s cries as she got the news while at our house on Memorial Day. Just like that, everything changed.

This is the reality of life. I understand why people use religion to escape this reality, but I cannot do so.  Bad things happen, and all the prayers and all the religious-speak in the world won’t change this fact. How about you? As a former Christian, how do you now view and understand the world and the bad things that happen? Do you ever wish you still had God and faith to hold on to when bad things happen?  If you are a Christian, how do you deal with the bad things that happen in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

121615

Medical Marijuana and Relieving Pain and Suffering

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, submitted on June 14, 2015

Dear Editor,

Rarely a week goes by when there is not a letter to the Editor from a fundamentalist Christian demanding their moral code and peculiar interpretation of the Bible be accepted by all.  Even when they aren’t quoting the Bible or reminding local unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of their impending doom, their letters reflect an addled worldview, one shaped by an ancient book they think offers them unchanging truth. If their beliefs were kept in the church house, non-Christians would care little and hope that one day they would see the light. However, their beliefs are not kept in the church house, and because of this people of science, reason, and common sense must continue to push back as Christian fundamentalists try by legal and political means to force people to live by a worldview that is better suited for the dustbin of human history.

Take a recent letter writer who vehemently opposes legalizing the use of medical marijuana in Ohio. Even though they didn’t mention one Bible verse, their letter dripped with the fundamentalist presupposition that suffering and pain are in some way noble and good for us. Numerous Bible verses would certainly lead one to conclude that suffering and pain have probative value and makes us closer to God and keeps us from clinging too closely to this life. If we buy into this kind of thinking and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a life after death that is free of suffering and pain awaits us.

Sounds sublime, right? But, what if there is no life after death, no divine payoff for trudging through life suffering for Jesus and enduring pain because it will make us stronger?  What if the only life we have is this one? Well, that changes everything. If this life is it, and I think it is, then we should try to relieve not only our own pain and suffering, but that of others. As a committed humanist, I would never want to withhold from anyone that which would relieve or end their suffering and pain. Whether it is narcotic pain medications, medical marijuana, or physician assisted suicide, I want every human to have at their disposal the means to lessen their suffering and pain.

Any religion that values suffering and pain is one that should be roundly criticized and rejected. And if Jesus were alive today, I suspect he’d agree with me.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

god wont give you more than you can handle

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

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. I Corinthians 10:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beliefs taught from the verses I mentioned at that start of this post often keep Christians from asking for help or expressing normal human emotion. I spent 25 years in the ministry, passively enduring everything God sent my way. For many years, we lived in abject poverty. Why? Because I believed God had called me to pastor full-time and operate a Christian school. I worked day and night, burning the candle at both ends, ultimately ruining my health. But even then, I told myself, better to burn out for God than rust out. Since the Apostle Paul spoke of early Christians enduring horrific trials and extreme poverty, I thought God was calling me to do the same. (Romans 8:31-39) If God wanted me to stuff a family of eight in a dilapidated 12×60 trailer, so be it. If God wanted me to drive $200 cars, my children to wear clothing from Goodwill or Odd Lots, and our family to do without the basic necessities of life, who was I to object? Look at all Jesus did for me. Look at how the early church suffered.  Surely, I should be just as willing to forsake and endure all for Jesus.

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

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

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

Note

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

 

Bruce Gerencser