My testimony is no doubt quite similar to many modern-day evangelical Christians. When I was ten years of age I became a Christian at a Billy Graham rally in my home town. However my Christian journey did not really become really real for me until I was 18 and went to a Bible College. This is where I was baptized. I then did a further 5 years at Bible College and University studying theology and gaining my post-graduate certificate in education. If I count the years I was serious about my Christian faith they run from 18 to 40. 22 years! No small journey I think it’s fair to say. Christianity has not been a small part of my life. It has consumed my life and I have devoted a huge amount of my life to it.
My journey away from Christianity centered around two primary concerns:
1. The silence of God.
2. The contrary and diverse teachings of the church (God’s inability to communicate effectively enough to resolve some pretty important questions Christians still debate).
The first takes priority in terms of weight for me personally but the second has been a concern for much longer. The first is primarily experiential. The second is an argument which I think is highly problematic for, not only Christians, but all religious traditions which assert infallible and exclusive divine communication.
Let me first say that my journey has not taken me away from theism. I still believe in some sort of God and perhaps that God is even personal (so I do not yet qualify as a deist yet either) but I do not believe this God involves himself in the affairs of humanity on this planet. In that sense I might be called a deist to some degree.
The evangelical churches I have always been involved with have very much stressed the ongoing, and sometimes meticulous, involvement of God in his creation. Not only does this God do things but he also speaks frequently and beyond what the Bible says. This led me to a crisis in my faith during the year 2014 when I was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. My primary problem was not that God did not miraculously heal it or that he did not take any of the pain away throughout that year as I suffered daily chronic headaches (and which I still suffer from now). It was not that I was left with mental health issues subsequent to the brain surgery. It was not that my health may possibly never be the same again. I am genuinely willing to accept the suffering for what it is. Huge numbers of human beings suffer and many have it much worse than I. The problem was his silence.
Many times I begged God to speak to me. Even just a single word. Something I would know was not a creation of my own mind whether conscious or subconscious. So many Christian preachers I listened to would tell with great frequency how God was talking to them or to people in their congregations all the time and sometimes over what many would consider to be the most trivial of matters (I remember one example being God telling a person what to put on their toast). Some of these preachers seem to be in conversation with God every waking moment of the day! So why does God not speak to someone crying out, literally, in such pain and desperation? What is the value of God talking to all these people who are well when the sick are ignored? (I don’t want to broaden this into an argument so much as express my experience so I will ignore the broader questions for now.)
In my most desperate moments of physical and mental agony, depression, and loneliness God was not there. I was rescued from suicidal thoughts by my family and a very good psychologist. I know some Christians will assert that he was there (in some sense behind it all) but I am afraid he was not there in any proper or real sense of that term for me.There was no sense of companionship, friendship, or experience of the one called “the comforter” in the New Testament. And if there is to be absolutely no relational value in being a Christian then I seriously question the value of believing it. So perhaps God doesn’t continually chat with these other Christians either and they are projecting onto God what their conscious mind expresses? But even if that is the case that helps very little since God is still silent. It just makes it even more painful to realize that huge numbers of Christians are deluding themselves into thinking God is talking with them continuously when in fact he is not. The companionship which the New Testament appears to talk about was simply not there. So what is the point of all this noetic belief if that’s all my Christianity is (was)? What kind of God has no relational component to offer in this life?
Christians love to use the father analogy for God. But what father would do that to his child especially if he has all the means to be alongside them at that moment? Certainly no decent father would distance himself at such a time. I cannot bring myself to believe in a God who is so clearly absent at the moment I needed him most. (And don’t get me started on the ‘Footprints’ poem!!) If the Christian God does exist and he does communicate with people then my spiritual antenna (as one of my Christian friends put it) is clearly broken.
What I do know is that if my son was in unbearable pain and desperation and was sitting begging for me to comfort him in such a moment of desperation, and it were in my power to comfort him, I would!
I do think this could be broadened into an argument but that’s not the point right here and now. I am very far from being the greatest sufferer in the world so don’t get me wrong as I don’t want to sound like that. When you spend as much time as I have in the last two years in and around hospitals you begin to realize just how fortunate you are more than how unfair it is that you are sick. But those other people must give their own experiences and make their own arguments. Some of them will say that God was there for them. I am less concerned with judging that. I can only give my own personal experience.
My journey is not over but it has taken a turn I had not expected!
My second point is an argument against all revelational forms of theism and I shall make it in an upcoming post. I think this argument is potent and often gets overlooked far too quickly.
PS. I still stand by the vast majority of what I have said in previous posts. I still think the likes of Carrier, Dawkins, and Boghossian are laughable commentators on theological and philosophical matters and I shall therefore leave all such posts right where they are! I do continue to think that the only rational form of Christianity is one which allows for libertarian free will and that Calvinism is highly irrational and to be treated with contempt. On such matters I hope to be able to keep writing.
Thanks for reading!
I would like to respond to some of the questions which Christians have asked me regarding this piece. Some have asked what right I have for seeking such an experience of God in this life. Some appear to think I am unjustified in seeking such a relationship with God as if it were unbiblical. Christians who are less charismatic appear to be suggesting that we ought not expect any experiential element to our Christian walk. Someone suggested I listen to a sermon by J.P. Moreland (video below) which I did. He describes times in his own life when he has found God to be silent. However he also sets out a biblical bases for why we ought to expect to hear God’s voice experientially. His view is:
“The Bible does indeed tell us that we can expect God to speak to us.”
He begins by citing Philippians 3:15:
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (NIV)
Paul is talking about having maturity in growing as a Christian and seems to be suggesting that God will make it clear to a person when they are not on the right path. I don’t ever recall such an experience in the last 22 years of being a Christian. I say that with complete honesty. Not once. No doubt I would have been on the wrong path on many occasions but never once did I experience this.
He also stresses that God still speaks to people today as he spoke to them in the Bible. He stresses this might be a lot more subtle than hearing an audible voice which is fair enough I think. He encourages people to be discerning in this matter. Now this is all well and good but I don’t honestly recall having any experience of this either.
He says that God speaks though prophecy. I can think of three specific occasions when people have given me such ‘words’ and none of the three ‘words’ came to pass. Two of them cannot possibly come true in the future either. On one of the occasions a certain preacher tried to push me over so I would fall to the ground. Since I didn’t fall he pushed me twice as hard. Again I did not fall over since I did not wish to simulate something that was happening to me.
He also says we should expect for Christians to see visions and dreams. I’ve had neither to my knowledge. I had a dream many years ago that England would beat Germany at football (real football not American ‘football’!) by a score of 5-1. The next day this actually happened. Did I think this was from God? Of course not. He says that God speaks through ideas and feelings (Nehemiah 2:17) but how do I know that’s God and not me? He suggests a period of trial and error but that’s the exact same process I use to discern my own good ideas and bad ideas! He also says it will feel like it’s coming from ‘outside’ rather than bubbling up from the inside. I cannot relate to that either. He says that some Christians get angelic visitations. Needless to say I’ve never had such an experience! He says another way is a person getting a pre-linguistic sense of something. But I know countless non-religious people who get these same experiences as well. All human beings get such ‘senses’ of something to do or say which seems to come from somewhere outside themselves.
Moreland concludes that while it is usual for Christians to get periods of silence but that there should be parts of our Christian journey where it is clear that God is communicating to us. This is why I have walked away. Such clear experiences of God communicating have not happened in my experience. I do not have some “romantic” notion of the Christian God (as one commentator claimed) but the same idea of a relational God that Christians have classically believed in.
When I was a Christian I would have explained this away probably by suggesting that such a person is not genuine or sincere in their search for God but I cannot doubt my own sincerity. I know (as much as I can know anything at all) that my journey was a genuine one. I think Moreland’s message convinces me that I ought to feel justified to conclude that, at least for myself, God is indeed completely silent. You cannot love someone who is, to all intents and purposes, not there in any discernible way!
This is a programme worth watching. Derren Brown shows how some Christian preachers use some very underhanded means to give prophetic words and give an appearance that God is giving them knowledge they could not possibly have otherwise. I don’t think this accounts for all such experiences but it’s clear that some preachers are up to some dodgy stuff:
This blog recently received a reply which I would like to address specifically. It comes from a blogger called Triablogue. Here it is in full (link below):
i) I think there’s extensive, compelling evidence for a God who is active in human affairs. But the pattern of God’s activity is perplexing.
ii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the God of Arminian theism is nicer than the God of Reformed theism. Problem is, having a nice God on paper doesn’t make real life any nicer.
You can say all the warm and winsome things about God that Arminians are wont to say. You can contrast that with the “stern” God of Calvinism. But as this erstwhile Arminian blogger discovered from painful personal experience, the loving, fatherly “relational” God of Arminian theology is a paper God. A God that only exists in the mind of the Arminian. A verbal construct. You can say the Calvinist God is harsh or “morally monstrous.” You can contrast the Calvinist God with what you deem to be the superior character of the Arminian God. But switching from Calvinism to Arminianism doesn’t make the world any different. Believing in a nicer God doesn’t make the world a kinder gentler place than believing in a “harsh” God.
In the Arminian lodge, you have hot chocolate and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But when you have to get up and go outside, the dark arctic bast slaps you in the face. The world you must live in everyday is just the same whether you’re Arminian or Calvinist. Believing in a softhearted God does nothing to soften the world. It changes nothing. The toasty, climate-controlled environment of Arminian theology doesn’t survive exposure to the elements. It fosters expectations that are dashed by brutal experience. The glib, fact-free bromides of a Jerry Walls didn’t prepare him for his ordeal. Reality is unforgiving.
I would just like to say, I’m surprised it took this long for an unsympathetic Calvinist to turn up and gloat at this post. I was expecting it a lot earlier to be honest.
Regarding i) it’s a real shame such “compelling” evidence appears to be so uncompelling even to very sincere truth-seekers! But then the typical Calvinist reply to this is to suggest such people are not really sincere in their searching for God which is, of course, a classic ad hominem. This blogger may feel there is compelling evidence for such activity but I wonder what he/she would list? Patterns in toast, funny feelings, weird dreams, that one person survived a plane crash when the other 244 passengers died, things which could be mere concidence, or appeals to what we cannot yet explain? I think the confession that such activity is “perplexing” is an admission that the case is maybe not as compelling as he/she first thought!
ii) I would have thought that any careful reader of my post would have noticed, my concern was not with the character of God as described in classic Christian theism. It was not about whether God is ‘nice’ or not in human terms. That had nothing whatsoever to do with my deconversion. My only expectations were for a relationship with God the kind of which the New Testament describes and Calvinists and Arminians see that pretty much the same I’d say. But of course I can see why this blogger has chosen to distort it this way. This blogger must also think there cannot be evangelical Arminians since the God of evangelical Arminianism is far from “softhearted” as they usually adhere to the doctrine of punishment after death and they hold to the judgement described as being done by God in the Bible. But this oft-used parody of the God of Arminianism is just that. This Calvinist almost wants to boast of the seemingly horrid kind of God he/she believes in! It’s almost as if the more horrible God appears to us the better he must be!
My thanks to the person blogging for pointing out that the world is a harsh place. That is a very welcome reminder. Having been in daily chronic pain for almost two years I needed to be reminded of that just in case I had forgotten!
This kind of response from a Calvinist reveals, I think, their very fatalistic approach to apologetics and relationships. This blogger must think that his/her total lack of empathy can have no adverse affect whatsoever. After all, should I change my mind it will have everything to do with God and nothing to do with him or her.
One last observation I would make is that the responses from Arminians has always been one of sympathy but responses from Calvinists have been mixed. A few have been sympathetic but there have been a few who have either completely ignored me or been really very cold in their response (both online and in person). I suppose those are the ones who are being more consistent in displaying what the Calvinist God is like? The love of the Christ they believe in is shining through. Well done to them!