Please consider this post without judgment. I’ve been a Christian for twenty years, but sad to say, I’m at a significant crossroad.
First let me express, I’m not debating whether God does or does not exist. My personal experience has left me without a doubt there is a loving, personal God. It is my Christianity that is at stake.
I want to be a Christian. My large family is mostly Christian; I promised God I would raise my children as Christian. I love Jesus. Unfortunately, the more I study Christianity and the Bible, the harder time I have using logic to understand it.
When I ask other Christians for guidance, the response is always the same. I’m given a plethora of verses considered definitive proof. Sadly the verses have the opposite intended effect. Here’s why:
The Bible requires circular reasoning. This is non-debatable fact. If I found a book on the street and the cover says “written by God” and the inside pages say “written by God” and all the people around me say this is “written by God,” that is not proof that the book is written by God. Try describing the sky for a blind man. Difficult as it would be, the word “blue” couldn’t be included, for the color holds no meaning.
Bible verses are often difficult to understand. Sure studying helps, but you’re absolutely limited by the one teaching you. For example: Is the Bible to be taken literally, allegorically or a combination of both? And Revelation? There are at least four variations of thought on this chapter alone. Did you know that some Bibles contain more books than others? At least salvation is cut and dry, right? Not exactly, see below: Salvation Is Not Free. And if all this isn’t enough to confuse you, visit my post http://www.blogher.com/test-your-knowledge and test Old Testament/New Testament knowledge.
Bible verses are often not enough to provide the full picture of Christianity. On the most simplistic level, explaining the Christian God not only requires jumping from book to book, from the Old Testament to the New and back again, it also requires additional explanations, explanations that don’t always incorporate logic. Don’t believe me? Compare the number of verses specifically referring to free will to the number of verses that specify predestination and God’s control over man’s choices. Yet, free will is a critical Christian concept for explaining why God allowed sin in the first place.
For those reasons and more, Bible verses have only served to cause me more grief. What am I to do? While I wait for an answer to prayer, the next option I have is logic. After all, not only did God give me the ability to process thought, but also a moral compass to guide that thought.
DID GOD MAKE A MISTAKE? The Riddle of Epicuros:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent (God is not all powerful).
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent (God is not good).
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil? (Satan, the Fall and sin)
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”
The concept of this riddle is simple: Why did our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God, allow sin/evil to enter our world? If He knew Satan would destroy eternal life for His beloved man, why didn’t He do something to stop this from happening in the first place?
The typical Christian response does not come directly from Bible verses, but from the concept of free will. God could interfere with our free will, but He chooses not to, despite the costs. Why? Because free will is essential to our existence. After all, we would be nothing but robots without free will. God didn’t want robots. He wanted us to experience the true meaning of love. He wanted us to love Him freely. We can’t love Him freely without having the ability to choose. We chose to disobey. Thus we are sinful.
AN INACCURATE ANALOGY
Personally, the robot argument has always made me cringe. Robots have nothing to do with free will. They’re inanimate objects. They have NO thought process. No feelings. No blood, no breath, no soul.
Consider a pet dog. Dogs can express fear, loneliness, happiness, etc. They can’t read or write but can solve problems (ever seen a video where a dog raided a closed fridge or dragged an owner from a burning building). Clearly dogs are not robots. But can a dog be evil? Certainly, a dog can be aggressive, even dangerous. However, is that dog choosing to be evil? More likely such a dog is acting on instinct (hunger, fear, breeding, training, etc.). Let me ask this: Does your dog love you? Is your dog’s love any less valuable to you because he loves out of need/familiarity, not because he chooses to?
Back to humans: God gave us a wide range of emotions: love, frustration, sadness, fear, anger, jealousy, etc. Does being angry or jealous make us evil? Consider this question very carefully, for the Bible has many verses that state the danger of these emotions. But the Bible also clearly depicts God experiencing both anger and jealously. So is God evil? Of course, not. Yet He experiences these wide range of emotions without the requirement of evil.
‘But He’s God,’ you say. ‘God doesn’t have to follow the rules. He makes them. He deserves to get angry and jealous when His humble creations are defiant. We might not understand His ways. God is fair, but just.’ Fine. I can accept the argument that God can be/do whatever He chooses. However, that doesn’t solve my dilemma regarding His choice of punishment. Using logic and our moral compass, how can anyone agree that God’s punishment of eternal suffering (a popular Christian belief) is just?
If my child stays out after curfew, I should take her keys—not burn her car. I certainly wouldn’t burn her. Not even for one second, let alone eternity. Perhaps, I’m underestimating the sinfulness of not accepting God or His will. God deserves complete faithfulness. Still, could a loving parent truly be so cruel? If I had God’s knowledge (meaning I knew my beloved daughter would one day deny me and thus live in Hell forever), I would not, I repeat, would not give life to her. I guarantee: sixty, eighty, even a hundred years on earth, would not be worth the trade-off for her eternal suffering.
GOD, AS FATHER, MUST BEAR SOME RESPONSIBILITY
Not only do I have trouble understanding God’s justness in His punishment, I can’t accept He was even fair from the beginning, specifically the Fall. Consider this mother of a diabetic preschooler as she sits her child down at a table. At the center of the table is a beautiful five-layer chocolate cake with chocolate chips scattered on top. Mom intentionally leaves the room despite the potential danger. She does, however, instruct the child not to eat that cake.
Mom: “Samantha, I’m going to leave you here for ten minutes. See that beautiful chocolate cake? That one, right in front of you. Whatever you do, DO NOT EAT IT. Don’t even touch it. BTW, I’m going to send your 6-year-old brother in to watch you. Now, he’s going to tell you how great that cake tastes. He might even cut you a piece, maybe lick the frosting, eat a couple of chocolate chips. Just ignore him.”
Who is to blame when the child is rushed to the hospital? The child for giving into temptation even though she was warned? The brother who tempted his sister? Does the mother bear any responsibility for leaving the cake in front of her diabetic child? Would your opinion change if the mother KNEW exactly how this event would take place and chose not to remove the cake? Last, how should the diabetic child be punished?
(For anyone who thinks a story about a 6-year-old isn’t comparable, I humbly disagree. God’s incredible power and knowledge supersede ours far more than this.)
At this point, Christians will shout at me: “But God has His reasons! We are not God, so we can’t understand them. Besides, He is fair. Yes-- He allowed the Fall, but see the beautiful provision He made for us? He sent Jesus to die on the Cross for our sins. We are evil, lowly, sinful creatures who don’t deserve it. Yet, see how gracious God is to us? All you have to do is accept it this free gift.”
SALVATION IS NOT FREE
Salvation by grace is another massive roadblock for me. God’s gift is anything but free! There are numerous conditions on this free gift—worse the conditions of true salvation vary greatly by denomination. Don’t believe me? In your church is salvation provided through grace alone? Or through grace and works? Is baptism required? At what age: birth or when you are old enough to be held accountable? (And by the way, what is the exact age of accountability?) Must you be repentant at the moment you die? How exactly does that work if the very nature of man is sinful, and thus in a perpetual state of sin? And what about those people who accept salvation and then backslide? Is their salvation at risk--or once saved, always saved? How about those who accept salvation from those tiny strips of paper distributed on the street? Are they saved at that moment, even though they haven’t truly established a relationship with God, yet? Are those who’ve been in a long-term relationship with God held at higher standards? If the answer is, yes, or you agree that salvation is actually a combination of grace/works (proving your heart’s true intent), then salvation is based on a sliding scale.
CHRISITANITY LIMITS GOD
On top of all this, I now see Christianity places an incredible array of humanistic limitations on our incredible all-power God. I’ve included just a few, starting with the crux of Christianity: the blood sacrifice. Why in the world would an omnipresent, spirit/energy God require the gruesome ritual of a blood sacrifice? Because the aroma was pleasing? Does God have a nose? Does the scent of cooked lamb make him salivate? (I’m seriously asking, and not trying to degrade God.) After all, God is spirit not blood and bones. And why would Jesus be the solution to our salvation? Human sacrifice was a major no-no to God. If God can do anything, why would He choose such a cruel, barbaric method of salvation? The only conclusion I have is that God chose what would resonant with us wicked humans. Still, what an odd choice given His limitless options.
What about God’s manic need for us? Sure, everyone wants to be loved, God included. Clearly He deserves it more than anyone. But humans lose love every day, be it through death, breakup, divorce, etc. We even lose love because someone turns on us for no good reason. These situations leave us sad, frustrated, jealous and even angry. Humans are expected to move beyond these emotions. We certainly can’t punish/kill someone for not loving or choosing us. Even if God has the right to do so, it doesn’t make His behavior appear rational.
I could also list several flaws with the story of Satan, including the age-old question of how inequality could be found in such a perfect creature in the first place, especially while in heaven. I’m going to stick with the odd possibility that Satan, in the presence of his almighty creator, even considered the possibility that he could take over God’s position. On top of that Satan convinced one-third of God’s angels to do the same. Think about this. Satan was only an angel, a mere step above us. He served God in heaven. Was God’s sheer awesomeness not enough to convince Satan he had absolutely no chance at a successful rebellion? Whether this historical or not, I can’t help but cringe at how much this story downgrades my God.
A couple more thoughts: Wasn’t Satan in heaven when inequity was found in him? Can evil even exist in heaven? Last, how can an omnipresent God avoid evil/sin, especially when God’s most dedicated followers (saved Christians) are innately sinful? Wouldn’t this keep Him from walking with us through our darkest moments?
CHRISITANITY IS BASED ON FEAR NOT LOVE
Let me return to the topic of evil again. Remember, a big chunk of the Christian argument for God’s just punishment of eternal suffering comes from the fallen world—evil was found in Satan, and because Satan tempted Eve, we are now all sinners. Salvation by grace (as a completely free gift) doesn’t keep murderers, thieves, etc. from heaven. It does however, guarantee that millions of good, kind people will, indeed, be locked out of heaven. You can be the nicest, greatest person in the world. You can take in vagrants, rescue hurricane victims, donate all your money to homeless shelters and volunteer at soup kitchens, and still not make it to heaven. However, if you kill your family and repent, you will sit with God. Is this really how our incredible God determines who resides in heaven with Him?
Worse, because Christianity is a fear-based religion (you will suffer eternally if you don’t accept and submit), some followers stick around just in case. I’m becoming the perfect example. I want to choose Christianity because of faith and logic. If I can’t reconcile this pair, will I choose out of fear? Again, how is this method ensuring God is getting the right people in Heaven?
So how did I get here? By studying my religion, digging up its foundation; tracking its roots. The more I learned, the more confused I became. (See Test Your Knowledge) Now, I’m at a total loss, winding in circles, wanting to have quiet time with my Christian God, but feeling like a traitor.
I don’t mean to sound anti-Christian, angry or accusatory. Frustrated, is more accurate. As my blog title stated, I am now a Christian wannabe. Whether or not the Fall is a true portrayal of mankind, eating from my own version of the Tree of Knowledge sure didn’t bode well for me. For those of you who say it’s about faith and nothing more: If God knows what is in my heart, how can I hide my doubts from Him?
Bible verses aside: what do you think?