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Abandoned By God
Only to be found by God
When I was writing a series of posts on why I left institutional Christianity, I do not recall that I spent a lot of time talking about the period of time when I was the most hurt and felt the most like there was no God. It was a hard, dark time for me, which is likely a large part of why I danced around that point or just mentioned it in passing.
At that time, the early 2010s, divorce was pretty much an unforgivable sin, especially within the brand of Christianity I was raised in and still a part of at the time. Having not been a part of that group for some time, I cannot speak for whether or not it is still treated with such severity.
The moment it came time to separate, I “knew” immediately that I would never be a pastor again, and so I had to abandon my calling in a way. I was unaware that there were other options, and given how I had felt spoken to or how my situation was addressed, nor was I interested in pursuing it anymore. Despite years of schooling and experience, I completely walked away, and in the process attempted to walk away from everything I at one time believed and had been taught.
Some of Jesus’ final words on the cross were more real and relevant than they had ever been.
And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Mark 15:34)
In a genuine and deeply painful way, I felt like God had abandoned me. I began to wonder at the time, too, if God existed at all, it was pretty crummy of them to allow or cause something to happen that went, supposedly, so against what they had wanted or planned in the first place. It seemed unfair for God to ruin their own plan and then hold responsible pieces to that plan as if they had any agency of their own.
The version of Christianity I was a part of, and adhered to, held a rather convoluted understanding of free will and God’s sovereignty. God could both know everything that was going to happen in advance, and there was no changing that trajectory, and yet this somehow did not interfere with our ability to make our own free choices. Even worse than having this contradiction, and simply calling it a mystery, were those who said God had predetermined everything and left us with the illusion of free will, like some kind of cosmic prank.
I remember in college, a classmate had tried to convince me that the earth really was only 6,000 years old, and had been created in 6 literal days, but had been done in such a way as to make it appear to be millions of years old. In this system, it was somehow okay for God to lie to us and yet he was somehow not lying because it was God himself doing the lying. This being the religious framework I was a part of, it was simple to abandon it just as it had abandoned me. This god was unethical and a liar and an abuser, gaslighting his creation into believing that they were to blame for what he was doing.
So I threw the whole thing out. Or at the very least, I put it all in a box and shoved it into the corner, buried under other boxes, only to be returned to when it came time to move or sort through things I intended to donate to Goodwill. I definitely had no plans of ever revisiting the God that had abandoned me.
While immersing myself in the world of atheism, I began to see some major flaws in those arguments as well. I had spent some time reading books on Quantum Physics, and there was a theory circulating among these experts that we did not live in the only universe, but rather there were multiple parallel universes existing alongside this one, multiple versions of ourselves, making multiple different decisions at any given time.
And if this was even theoretically possible, then it stood to reason that it was also theoretically possible for there to be a universe in which God did exist. One way or another, there was the possibility of some kind of deity out there, so atheism did not seem to me to be a viable option. What was definitely not an option, though, was the God that I had been raised to believe in.
When the atheist I was dating at the time ghosted me is when I began to more openly entertain the notion that God existed but it was definitely not the one that I was told was up there. Looking back at that relationship, I can honestly say I am thankful for some of the things that happened there. Some of the positive impacts that it had on me at that time and since. But there is an element to the whole thing that reeks of being controlled in ways that could have been damaging. I remember one evening before I was planning to leave town for a weekend, I was told I was not allowed to go see my friends. I went anyway and got lectured about it the next morning.
Not allowed to see my friends. They were creating an environment where they were the only person I was allowed to spend time with. They were good and everyone else was bad. It was very similar to the God I had been raised to believe in. Originally, that might have been part of the draw, but when it was over, that was part of the push to figure out what God is to me.
Because they were definitely not that. And relationships are definitely not that as well.
As I have progressed, I have been listening to an atheist podcast called The Scathing Atheist. I find their commentary on, particularly, American Christianity to be completely on point almost every time. But when they talk about their atheism, they talk about the Conservative Evangelical picture of God as though it is the only God that exists. They lump all Christians together under the same umbrella and assume that, because they are Christians, this is the God that they all believe in.
In their defense, this God is not why they are atheists. They have other, more convincing reasons, for not believing in God. But their criticisms of God are almost exclusively criticisms of the conservative Evangelical god. When Derek Webb sings that “Some gods deserve atheists,” this is precisely what he is talking about. Some forms of God are not real or are toxic and do more harm than good in the same way that some conceptions of masculinity or feminity, government, and religion do. But just because there is toxic masculinity or toxic religion, that does not mean that all masculinity or religion is toxic.
If the God you believe in or the way you express your gender makes you a better person, it is true. Because that is what truth does, or at least what it is supposed to do. I think this is, to a certain extent, what Paul was saying to one of the churches he wrote to.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)
It is no secret that the Christian church is in decline in America. In fact, I think it is safe to say that all religion is experiencing much the same demographic change. The number of Americans willing to openly declare themselves as having no religious affiliation at all is higher now than it has been since polling began, though it does seem to be reaching a plateau. And I think this has to do in large part because people see these toxic and harmful conceptions of God and do not want to be associated with that. They might focus on other issues, like the treatment of women or the trans community, but if you dig deeper, this all stems from the picture of God that these groups advocate for and believe in.
But I think a lot of these people still believe in some kind of God. But just because someone denies the existence of a specific picture of God does not automatically make them an atheist or even an agnostic. They are just acknowledging the truth that is sitting right in front of them.
For many, this plays out as a crisis of faith. Especially Christians in the more conservative camps are raised and taught that their picture of God is the only right picture of God. So questioning the church’s teachings about this God is equal to questioning the very existence of God. And leaving the group is often treated as though one is not only leaving a church but abandoning the Christian faith entirely. Their concept of God does not allow room for any difference of opinion, and where it does, there are a limited number of options for how one is allowed to differ.
It is about control.
The beautiful thing is that it does not have to be this way. There are pictures of God that give room for differences and allow for questions and even active debate and disagreement with God themself. Jesus came and expanded the circle to include people who previously had not been allowed inside, and we should be following in his footsteps doing the same. We need to be allowing room for the Spirit to continue to reveal more of who God is by being willing to entertain the notion that we have heard it said one way, but maybe God is saying something different to us now.
The question is: are we willing to listen?
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