If we don’t love God, we have a reason: our skewed view of God’s nature, our deciding we don’t “need” Him, or even that He doesn’t exist. The struggle is real to clearly see God’s nature — and to steadily move toward Him.
In surfing the Internet recently, I ran across a personal blog in which the writer explained why she doesn’t believe in God. She shared that as a child, she heard the Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s sin, and its ramifications for all of mankind.
To this day she can still feel, from that decades-old encounter, the condemnation heaped upon her. With a “triumphant smile,” she writes, her church teacher declared to the assembled class of youngsters, “YOU, too, would have sinned because human nature is sinful. If it happened to be YOU in the Garden, each of YOU would have disobeyed.” (I added the caps for emphasis.)
“Thus two doctrines got established before the end of our first religion lesson,” she writes, “our innate wickedness, and God as a punitive parent.”
Aghast at the guilt heaped upon her, she shares that she grappled with these doctrines for years, finding the question of God’s existence to be a source of “ultimate terror and agony.” She decided, by her mid-teens, to reject a god that would send her to hell for not following Him. It certainly was unacceptable to her that God would send her dad, who happened to be a “very loving atheist,” to hell as well.
This writer’s current view of God? That God’s existence makes absolutely no difference to her. Even if she knew for a fact that He exists. “Happiness” has become her god of choice; her religion that “God is a happy state of mind.”
I hear this viewpoint echoed a lot today. But there are other reasons people choose to reject God. Let’s look at some of them.
~ Is God Really Trustworthy? Does He Care? ~
It is a challenge to look at our hurting world and still see the hand of a caring, intimately vested Creator. Which can make it so easy to decide, from our limited, subjective perceptive, that He doesn’t exist. That He can’t exist, if God is supposed to be so loving and good.
In his article Not Even God Could Make Me Religious, for example, atheist John Shook admits, “I’m not that open-minded about God.” Not if we are talking about God, he adds, “of the sort worshipped by billions nowadays. You’ve heard of this God: entirely supernatural, infinitely powerful, perfectly intelligent, etc.”
Snook’s burning question: Why would a God, if one exists, expose itself to looking unworthy?
Adding that he’d “be an atheist in heaven” — yowza! — Snook declares God to be a rather lousy creator and benefactor. A “good” god, he suggests, wouldn’t sit idle in a world filled with hate, war, death, and ugliness. “What does this atheist say if brought before God?” asks Shook. “‘Not worthy enough, God, not worthy enough.’” Harsh words! But I’m not sure that God has a problem with Snook’s questions — only with the condition of his heart. As Snook himself says, he’s not open to giving God a chance. His judgment of God is firmly cemented. End of story. Move on.
Hmmmmm …. I’m not gonna lie; there have been times when I, too, have questioned whether God is really at the helm of our ball of spinning mass. “Prove yourself to me!” I’ve begged, while basically informing God that the least He could do — if he’s really entirely supernatural, infinitely powerful, and perfectly intelligent, as Snook puts it — is to give me some small sign that He not only exists, but that He sees me and cares. I can honestly tell you that He has stepped up to respond, but often in a quiet, soul-level whisper that I have to get really still to hear.
The Lesson in Painful Moments
Ed Hager, a retired pastor, shares how God showed up in his darkest hour. In one of his blog posts for Chase Oaks Church, Hager talks about the overwhelming depression he endured when his wife of 20+ years left him for another man. Hager’s faith faltered, and he gave up his pastoral position. “After having begged God to save my marriage and ministry,” he shares, “I was blinded to His presence by my focus on all I perceived I had lost.”
As his depression threatened to engulf him, Hager desperately cried out to God — and God faithfully met him. “It was in those desperate moments,” writes Hager, “that I heard, not audibly, but with crystal clarity, ‘You haven’t lost everything because you haven’t lost Me and I’m all you need!‘”
Though this long period of pain was difficult to endure, Hager is quick to admit that the years he spent in this season of his life taught him to “never doubt in the darkness what I know to be true in the light.” And that “there are insights and understandings that can be gleaned from pain that can be learned in no other way.” I so agree with that. It is often when God is all that we have, that we find Him to provide all that we need.
Could it be that the pain of this world, then, is an important part of our development? Even though we instinctively fight against the notion of another suffering for our benefit? #christ
~ Are We Worthy of Receiving His Love? ~
I can say with complete confidence that I believe there to be no deeper hurt than feeling unloved, unwanted, or unloveable. As the saying goes, “Been there, done that, got the gosh darn T-shirt.”
My own religious upbringing demanded that I view God with trembling fear. In faithfully reading my illustrated children’s Bible, I learned to view God as the wrathful deity of the Old Testament who seemed to enjoy making people suffer. Why? Because we’re horrible, rotten creatures who will always disappoint him — and He’s pissed off about it! At least that’s the message that buried itself in my heart and mind. Don’t even get me started on how much I came to hate Eve for listening to that stupid, lying snake. I hated Eve because she caused me to hate myself.
It has taken me decades to finally choose to accept the free gift of God’s grace; to change my perspective from seeing my every slip up as proof of my defectiveness, to just one more opportunity of growth to get it right. And that God is okay with the process. (The Dude has patience!!) As Christian speaker Beth Moore puts it, “You cannot be free to return the love of God unless you first accept it. You can’t love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength unless you believe God loves you.”
Bottom line: as long as we hate that part of ourselves that is so easily led to choosing self over God, we will have a desperate time accepting that God truly does see us as anything but unworthy and unloveable.
Our love for God, adds Moore, opens our eyes to see Him at work. Our love for God gives us the desire to truly want to please Him. Our love for God helps us to crawl, if necessary, through troubling times. “The number one motivation you’ll have for persevering through the most difficult trials of your life,” she says, “will be the unabashed love of God. It is not determination, dedication or will that is going to get you through the bad times. It’s that you know God loves you, and you love him.”
~ But Do We Really Need God? ~
Oh, boy, we’re going deep now! So many people park right here and never budge. “I’m doing just fine at this life thing,” we think. “I don’t need God to feel happy, be a good person, or to live a meaningful life!”
Natasha Crain wrote an article on this very topic. When we begin to ask ourselves whether we really NEED God for those three areas of our life, she writes, it’s soooooo tempting to admit that we can, for the most part, live a productive, happy life without God being at the center of it.
If He’s just the Cosmic Dude we sleepily say hello to in church on Sunday mornings, for example, He won’t have much of an impact on our daily choices. Our choosing to be good, then, doesn’t depend on God being in our life. The truth is that a non-Christian can demonstrate a higher standard of moral living than a Christian, if he or she so chooses. “Christians” don’t get to claim the market on goodness. Some, indeed, earn the “hypocrite” label tossed at them.
And the Church should be humble about putting out the message that only Christianity can give life meaning — though knowing God, suggests Crain, helps us to discover our eternal purpose.
Ryan Bell, a pastor for 19 years in the Seventh-day Adventist church, now has a new gospel he teaches: that being a Christian actually makes life less meaningful for people. Not only did Bell walk away from the pulpit, but he now claims to be an atheist. And boy, is he HAPPY about it.
“Life does not need a divine source in order to be meaningful,” he writes in just one of his “no God needed” articles. “Anyone who has seen a breathtaking sunset or fallen in love with another human being knows that we make meaning from the experiences of our lives; we construct it the way we construct any social narrative.”
His appreciation for life and its potential, he adds, increased when he stepped away from his faith. But we need to understand Bell’s view of God to properly analyze his statement.
Making Sure We Have the Right View of God
Somewhat akin to my own upbringing, Bell embraced the idea that being heaven-focused is super important, but daily life merely a struggle to endure. “Ironically,” he writes, “my Christian upbringing taught me that ultimately this life doesn’t matter, which tends to make believers apathetic about suffering and think that things will only get worse before God suddenly solves everything on the last day.”
Yuck. This is so not the view God wants us to hold for life. We’re to give this life our all, for His glory, not squander it despising “sinners” and trying to not rub shoulders with them.
Christians who live out Bell’s skewed theology not only live royally ticked off about the daily pains and obstacles of life, they want to insulate themselves as much as possible. They hold the yucky world at arm’s length, lest it dirty their halo and/or muck up their chances of residing in a heavenly mansion. (I was actually raised to think like this.)
Dr. William Lane Craig, a research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, points out that Bell has merely swapped one subjective construct for another. To reject the constraints of his skewed theology, it’s clear that Bell believes he has to reject even its source: God. Craig explains why he doesn’t think Bell “gets” that atheism isn’t a better choice than Christianity, just different. To live “happily,” explains Craig, we each construct a personal value system to bring meaning to our life:
“You construct a set of values. You invent a purpose for your life. This is the only way in which you can live tolerably with atheism. So when he says that he has found that now, as an atheist, life is more meaningful to him and more precious and so forth, this only shows that he hasn’t understood that the claim is about objective meaning, value, and purpose. All he is saying is that as an atheist he finds more subjective meaning, value, and purpose to his life. That doesn’t in any way refute the argument that atheism implies the absurdity of life without God or nihilism. One isn’t talking about subjective attitudes. One is talking about the way the world really is independently of your attitudes.”
~ The Choice is Ours ~
Until we someday meet Him face-to-face, we will never understand why God has given us so much personal freedom to accept or reject Him. But that’s one of the things I love about Him. That He wants me, but won’t force the relationship. That, as the Bible says, He knows me so intimately, even the numbers of hairs on my head, but isn’t put off by my sins, fears, and selfishness. That He loves me and patiently waits for me to inch ever closer to Him.
For me NOW, loving God is a no-brainer. But as I mentioned earlier, for most of my early adult years I hoped to just skate by unnoticed, so He wouldn’t have an opportunity to merit out punishment. I feared God’s disappointment and wrath so much, that any desire I had to please Him came from a place of fear, not worship. But here’s the truth: neither height nor death, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! And with that assurance, I can freely love Him back. I continually fall more in love with Jesus, the closer I get in relationship with Him.
Where are you in your love for God? Are you hot or cold — and why is that?
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.