My journey away from Christianity

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!
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About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
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75 Responses to My journey away from Christianity

  1. kangaroodort says:

    I am praying for you brother. I have never experienced what you have gone through (physically), so it is hard to comment. I do think that many project God into their thoughts as you mentioned. I understand that silence from God is very hard to deal with, but I also think that such times are an opportunity for us to show God that our love for Him is not superficial; that is not based on things going a certain way or God responding as we would like, or even expect.

    On God’s silence, there are many good works out there that deal with that subject (“A Grief Observed” immediately comes to mind). But I know you are coming from a place of experience that you simply cannot make sense of. For me, it seems this is an emotional and psychological response, rather than a rational response (and I doubt you would disagree). My guess is that before you went through this, you would be able to easily give solid reasons why abandoning the Christian God because of such an experience was not rational.

    I think the Bible speaks to all such experiences. The Psalmists often felt alone; that God was not there; that God did not care; that God was silent. But such times were answered with confidence that despite how things seemed, He was there. For me, God speaks primarily through His word. And for me, no matter what I suffer, or how alone and abandoned I may feel, God still deserves my fullest devotion. Christ gave it all for me, and I owe Him all of myself, no matter what. Period. God doesn’t have to do another thing for me- ever. He has already done far more than I can even fully grasp, and He did it out of love, whether I feel it or not.

    Again, I am not speaking from the same place as you, but I assume a time will come when I will have to grapple with a similar experience. My prayer is that I will remember the things I have written here to you when that time comes. My prayer is that in that moment, I will seize the opportunity to show God that my love for Him is strong; that it runs deep; that it cannot be swayed by circumstances, feelings or silence. And my prayer is that God will lead you back to Him.

    Please forgive me if this seems like a trivializing of your experience or feelings. I mean no such thing.

    Your # 2 seems very easy to deal with for me, but I am not trying to get into a debate. I look forward to reading your follow-up posts.

    God Bless,
    Ben

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you Ben. I appreciate all you say and, in this post at least, I am not trying to convince anyone else of anything but rather explain why I have walked away.

      While I do agree that my explanation is deeply emotional I would not agree that makes it anything less than rational. My point is an experiential one and, for me at least, that has to meet certain logical requirements as well as certain emotional ones. I am, at least partly, trying to say that I can no longer make any sense of Christianity. So I would say that I am trying to logically make sense of my experience. The problem is I cannot make sense of the experience in light of what Christianity teaches. To make sense of it I have to look elsewhere.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment though. I appreciate it and wish you all the best.

  2. Brendan says:

    Interesting.

    Did you ever notice how in Job’s trial, God was silent as Job and his three friends waxed eloquent about all the possibilities explaining Job’s situation?

    Then God shows up some thirty chapters later and devotes his time to two, long monologues full of questions for Job.

    Where were you when I did this? Where were you when I did that? Do you know where so-and-so is? Do you know how to do this or that thing?

    How wise do you really think you are, Job?

    Somewhere there lies the answer to the issue of suffering, silence and divine purpose.

    God isn’t silent. We just stop listening.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Brendan. I’m afraid to admit I found the book of Job of no help either. If I am wrong and God does such a thing after I am dead I am inclined to wonder if he really understands what it is like to be in daily chronic pain for years on end. This is, of course, blasphemy to Christians but I feel like asking God where he was during such times? If the best he can do is add insult to injury by pointing out our ignorance of physics and geography then I am not impressed. After all, the main reason we are so ignorant is because he made us that way (on basic Christian anthropology at least)!

      Ultimately I don’t think someone who has suffered tragedy in life and who has given up their faith needs a physics lesson. I don’t know exactly what they do need but I do know they don’t need that!

      I ask your forgiveness but “God isn’t silent. We just stop listening.” is nothing more than a cliche. For a start it’s not a sentiment found in the Bible. The Bible is full of people who sought God and yet could not find him. At least the Bible is open and honest about that. My experience was that, despite the most earnest prayers I ever said in my life and the fact that I kept reading the Bible throughout, God was silent despite the fact that I was listening.

      I do understand why you would want to put the blame on me and rescue God however! I would likely have done that myself 18 months ago. 😉

      • Brendan says:

        Sir, if you’re reading God’s monologues to Job so as merely to point out “our ignorance about physics and geography,” then forgive me, but that’s a rather superficial reading of that text indeed!

        What God is doing there is making clear to us that we are not as wise or insightful as we think we are.

        God always works for a good purpose in all our suffering that he can and will bring about “for those who love God, whom he has called in accordance with our purposes” (Rom. 8:28) if we continue to trust in him, and to seek God with all our heart. See that word? “Work. Work takes time. Even God’s work.

        You mentioned sincere seekers, who seek God and could not find him. Pray, tell, some examples? Because from my reading of my Bible, God isn’t looking to reveal himself to mere seekers. God reveals himself to those who sincerely seek him *with all their heart* (Jeremiah 29:13): self-sacrificially, to the abandonment of all else; not a mere cursory interest, nor an in-depth intellectual pursuit; but a personal, penitent pursuit of the person of God, from the heart and from the soul.

        Giving God a time-frame to answer us in our period of trial and testing is not only mistaken, it is also sheer cheek! It wont get us anywhere. And I think that is the apostate’s error: ‘God must answer me in my time-frame and in my way so that I can immediately see it, or I won’t trust him anymore.’

        Really? Do we really think the Judge of All the Earth must do his thing our way? Or do we wait upon him, in his superior wisdom and knowledge, to reveal himself at the proper time and in the proper way, to the glory of his name, the edification of ourselves, and the encouragement of believers throughout all the ages?

        After all, is that not how Job’s story has functioned for thousands of years?

        I do recommend to you these two sermons on Job by David Pawson. His exposition has a more subtle nuance on Job’s meaning that I think may be insightful on your questions.

        Part 1/2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJUwsyJliLs
        Part 2/2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLq9bAWlBgg

        • Brendan says:

          *Note. I misquoted Roman 8:28 as “our purposes” but I meant to write “his.” Alright, have a good day.

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          Thanks Brendan.

          You were quite forthright so if I might be as well…?

          You said “Sir, if you’re reading God’s monologues to Job so as merely to point out “our ignorance about physics and geography,” then forgive me, but that’s a rather superficial reading of that text indeed! What God is doing there is making clear to us that we are not as wise or insightful as we think we are.”

          I don’t think I said that this was all that God was offering but it was a significant part of it. God is pointing out we are not wise enough – yes indeed! That is still my problem with it. So what if I wasn’t there when he laid the foundations of the world? That’s not my fault either! I’m but a man! I’m still not reassured in the slightest. I do not accept that my problem is one of ignorance. The problem is more to do with a lack of experience of companionship with God as the Bible seems to indicate will take place in the here and now.

          I am certainly not pretending to know better than God knows if he does exist. Maybe he does exist and maybe his silence is part of his plan. In that case his plan was evidently to drive me away from himself and to take me to a place where I do not want to spend eternity with such a being.

          When I say “sincere seekers” that is what I am implying. I am implying what the Bible describes as “with all their hearts.” How could anything less be sincere?

          Thanks for the links. All the best.

          PS. “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” Gideon

          “Awake Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself!” Psalms

          “Though I cry “Violence” I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice.” Job

          “Truly you are a God who has been hiding himself.” Isaiah

          “Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save?” Jeremiah

          • labreuer says:

            If I may:

            I do not accept that my problem is one of ignorance.

            Who says that it is knowledge which you lack (and could get, yourself), instead of relationship? I say this not in an accusatory way; I judge myself as severely lacking in relationship with fellow Christians. I judge the body of Christ as incredibly broken and fractured, and I claim that God wishes to pour something unique into each of us, to share with the rest of us. When relationships are broken, this sharing cannot happen, and our view of God is obscured.

            My I ask whether you’ve gone through life with a group of Christians who practiced the b.–d. “triads” I listed, below? Have you made serious study of what 1 Cor 12:12–26, Eph 4:1–16, and Rom 14 really mean? My own observation is that the Enlightenment shattered what relationship there was left after nominalism and voluntarism started their reign, reducing us to “autonomous individuals” with personhood which is pre-social, and thus permanently isolated in a crucial way. Alasdair MacIntyre argues in After Virtue that this isolation, this liberal individualism, is deeply encoded in the very ethical and meta-ethical language with which modernity left us. And so, we have the word which is more characteristic of modernity than any other: fragmentation.

            You might like Peter Enns’ On Being an Ex-Apologist (Hardman, part 1 of 3):

            Reason did little to strengthen my faith, despite my repeated claim that it “saved it.” It just turned me into a jerk with a lot of ammo–a jerk who merely pretended to have things put together by the overwhelming evidence of Christianity but, in reality, who was more assuredly as confused, carnal, and lost as the person I was insistent to win over to Christ through rigorous argumentation.
            […]
            And I think whereas I alone bore the need to repent from divorcing my head knowledge from my heart knowledge, there is also a significant fostering of that mindset within apologetics. There is a particular invitation that says, “Got doubt? We got answers” as if intellectual answers can assuage our doubt and our longing for faith.

            We need a dose of anti-Enlightenment animus toward the heart; see neuroscientist/​neurobiologist Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error (19,098 ‘citations’):

            When emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions. (xii)

            Sadly, it is hard ridding ourselves of such dogmas.

  3. kangaroodort says:

    Epi,

    Of course, I didn’t think you would fully agree with me. Just like you, I was sharing my perspective on things. I want you to know that I prayed for you many times after you first made that post about having a problem with your health. I will keep praying for you as well. I promise.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you Ben. I appreciate you saying that.
      Hopefully we can still at least still be partners in our anti-Calvinist endeavors?! 😉

  4. Hello lovely man. A few of your old friends on a facebook group read this today and this is just to say that we love you! And that all of us hate the fact that you have been in such pain and that none of us knew!

    I have been reading the rest of the recent blogs since having my attention drawn to this one and I completely get what you are saying and why.

    //This is, of course, blasphemy to Christians // Not to me.

    And as for leg lengthening.

    Never has so little leg length been so duping to so many daft christians. xxx

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Hello Helen. Thank you for that. I’m sorry for not saying anything earlier it’s just I don’t like telling people about such things and, until now, I haven’t really been in a place to express myself too coherently (although even now my writing isn’t what it was!). Thank you for saying that and making me laugh with that ending!! Feel free to contact me on FB.

  5. labreuer says:

    I have been through something like this. In a sense I’m still there, but I am extremely hopeful, for what I think are good reasons and evidence. I suggest four books for you:

         • Jacques Ellul’s Hope in Time of Abandonment
         • Gregory W. Dawes’ Theism and Explanation
         • Evan Fales’ Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles
         • Jacques Ellul’s The Subversion of Christianity

    Ellul basically argues in Hope that we’re living through the “strong delusion” of 2 Thess 2:1–12. We did not want God to speak, and so:

        God came from Teman,
            and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
        His splendor covered the heavens,
            and the earth was full of his praise.
        His brightness was like the light;
            rays flashed from his hand;
            and there he veiled his power.
        Before him went pestilence,
            and plague followed at his heels.
        (Habakkuk 3:3–5

    At least two things contribute to this phenomenon:

         1. false beliefs
         2. evil desires

    God is a God of truth, beauty, and goodness. If, however, we seek to live without him in the public sphere (secularism), do we expect that he would insist on sticking around, or do we acknowledge that he has a habit of departing until enough repentant people cry out for him with strong enough desire?

    I can’t say that I’ve heard God speak to me more than a few times, and those were all “low key” as it were. They could be dismissed as not being instances of Ja 1:5–8. And so, I suspect I engage in plenty of 1. and 2. This isn’t shocking: it takes an incredible amount of effort to become more and different than one’s culture. Many appear to never do this, never becoming one who conquers.

    Dawes’ work sets an incredibly high standard for what would constitute a good theistic explanation. According to him, no extant theistic explanations suffice and he is skeptical that one could. I am tempted to agree with the former†, but radically disagree with the latter. Why? See these triads:

         a. Mt 5:43–48, Jn 13:34–35, Jn 17:20–23
         b. Mt 5:23–24, Mt 18:15–20, Eph 4:25–27
         c. Mt 7:1–5, Mt 23:1–4, Gal 6:1–5
         d. Mt 7:15–23, Mt 13:24–30, Mt 25:31–46

    I think that obedience to b.–d. is required to realize anything like a. For an exposition of what a. might mean, see Francis Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian. My argument here is predicated upon the assumption that God wants very little to do with individuals, if they refuse to act like a body, a la 1 Cor 12:12–26, Eph 4:1–16, Rom 14. Or perhaps: God has done about all he can do with the individual, sans body.

    Take the Mark Driscoll affair. Do you really, really think that b. was obeyed? I doubt it. Even worse, Mt 18:17 was adulterated, switching from ‘church’ → ‘local church elders’. Screw with the word of God, and you screw with yourself, not the word of God. The word of God cannot be broken. But we certainly can be: Mt 21:44.

    Evan Fales might change your conception of how God might interact with reality. I found this very useful myself, because a lot of events Christians attribute to God make no sense to me. What I have found is that God working through weakness probably means that he works at the smallest of signal levels. This is the only way he can work non-coercively: Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20. This is a radically different view of power than is frequently held to, by Christian and non-Christian. And yet, is it not this which gives the meaning to 1 Cor 1:26–2:8? Jacques Ellul does a fantastic job of examining power in his Subversion.

    So, perhaps this comment will be an encouragement to you to double down on Jesus and see 1. and 2. both in yourself and in the world, whether the ‘Christian’ world, the ‘secular’ world, or otherwise. I have had to eviscerate so many instances of 1. and 2. in myself, with the project seemingly never-ending. However, progress is visible; my ability to bless and enhance others’ lives (theist and non-theist) is perceptibly increasing. The trick seems to be not only to ‘believe’, but to act on that belief, consistently. Indeed, I would say that words get most of their meaning by referring to action in reality. Dictionary definitions and abstract systems of thoughts are only so valuable.

  6. Sorry to hear of your pain, physical and otherwise. I will try to pray for you, with the limited prayers of someone who does not know your pain. But I will pray to Jesus, whose Father was silent toward his Son in his greatest hour of need, whose God abandoned him as if cursed, and who yet proved faithful where I would surely fail you– even to pray for you one hour. I am so sorry such a painfully loud calling is upon you and that it is breaking so much more than your ‘antenna’.

  7. labreuer says:

    Just this evening I read the following from John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason:

    This book is addressed both to social theorists and to theologians. To social theorists I shall attempt to disclose the possibility of a sceptical demolition of modern, secular social theory form a perspective with which it is at variance: in this case, that of Christianity. I will try to demonstrate that all the most important governing assumptions of such theory are bound up with the modification or the rejection of orthodox Christian positions. These fundamental intellectual shifts are, I shall argue, no more rationally justifiable’ than the Christian positions themselves. (1)

    This seems to nicely complement my previous comment, if you can imagine that failing to [effectively] challenge many/all of “the most important governing assumptions” would result in a world that is so alienated from Christianity, that the amount of actual pistis is low. Christianity was never meant to be a privatized religion that you practice at home beyond closed doors with the shutters closed and shades down. A lamp is not hidden under a basket.

    After reading sociologists Peter Berger and Jacques Ellul†, the former of which I found via Os Guinness’ The Gravedigger File (think Screwtape Letters, but aimed at the church), it has become clear to me that Christianity, at least in the West, has become virtually incapable of challenging the status quo in any real way. It has no power to threaten governments and little power to help “the least of these”. It does not reveal the lies of politicians for what they are. I attribute this lack of power to the abuse of power as well as false beliefs and evil desires. (By the way, evil can just be lawlessness, instead of focused intensity in the bad direction.) God is silent because we don’t want him around.

    But we could ask for him back. If we’re willing to take our medicine.

    † Especially The Subversion of Christianity and Berger’s A Far Glory.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      You would enjoy Kierkegaard then! (But I’m sure you’ve read him already!)

      • labreuer says:

        Actually, I’ve only read a few page sof Fear and Trembling and chapter one of Philosophical Fragments. Kierkegaard’s focus on the Meno in that chapter and Plato’s “theory of recollection” got me thinking so much I couldn’t read any further. I’m actually still stuck on that idea, and how we can actually learn new things given the arguments.

        To digress, there’s a neat research paper, Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness, which suggests that we only become consciously aware of patterns on our percepts when they sufficiently well-match patterns on neurons which don’t change their weights so quicly as perceptual neurons. This gives weight to Augustine’s Nullus quippe credit aliquid, nisi prius cogitaverit esse credendum. [No one, indeed, believes anything, unless he previously knows it to be believable]. It also means that evidence is not always the problem; if you don’t have the right pattern pre-loaded into your brain, you may never see the phenomenon. So much for empiricist epistemologies!

        I also have read some fascinating things about Kierkegaard from Emil Brunner, in his Man in Revolt and Truth as Encounter. Brunner got me reading Philosophical Fragments. But yeah, I should read more. Ernest Becker profoundly quotes Kierkegaard in The Denial of Death, and now that I’ve gone through some more life, I can understand him better.

  8. Tom Larsen says:

    You write,

    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.

    Out of curiosity, what kind of communication from God did you expect?

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Hi Tom. I didn’t put any limitation on it. It was merely to know his presence during such a time.

      • Tom Larsen says:

        It was merely to know his presence during such a time.

        Presumably, though, you had in mind some way of knowing God’s presence in your sufferings other than revelation in Scripture, the promises of Christ, &c. Or have I misunderstood?

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          Not really. Sorry! Not sure what difference that makes though?

          • labreuer says:

            I’m with you on your “Not really.” I just never had an idea of God acting that really made sense, except possibly for making coincidences happen, and that had to be a really strong signal level for me to pay any attention.

  9. So sorry to hear about this. I haven’t been through anything like you have on the physical and emotional side so can only imagine what you’ve been going through. I would like to make a few points if I may and I apologise if they come across as a bit academic or harsh:

    It seems you haven’t been at a very good church (or churches) recently, as you have been taught wrong things about healing and about how God speaks to people. Christians are not guaranteed healing this side of the new creation and it is a great shame that the church you were attending made you feel that you were missing out on something you should expect to happen. Second, God speaks through his word, the Bible, not as a voice in our head, so those who have expressed that view also have not helped you. God also speaks as a person (Jesus), but he is currently busy praying for us to the Father and won’t be back here until the end of the age. He has come before but I’m afraid we were born too late to hear from him directly and in person.

    I would say to your point 1 about the silence of God – you have been listening for something in your head while God speaks to us through the Bible. It’s not that God has been silent. It may be analogous to holding a telephone the wrong way around and wondering why you can’t hear anything. We can’t expect God to speak to us on our terms. It’s a miracle that he speaks to us in any way at all, and he has done so with great clarity and love in the Bible.

    For part 2, I wouldn’t say that is about God’s inability to communicate effectively. It’s more a sign of how sinful we are and how much we would prefer to twist God’s word into what we would like it to be saying. While those in the church (or claiming to be) can come up with various things, the Bible is the same so we should stick with that as our authority. A good church will help us with this but sadly there are many who teach things contrary to what the Bible says.

    I’ve been aware from earlier posts of yours that you believe in an evolutionary history of the world. The evolutionary history is not compatible with the Bible’s teaching about the fall. Suffering is an intruder in God’s creation that was not there from the beginning and will not be there in the new creation. Humanity has brought suffering on itself in Adam through his sin. While suffering in general is the result of sin, the suffering of particular people is not necessarily linked to their personal sin (e.g. Job). The fall explains that God did not make us in such a way that we are bad at listening, or that he communicates ineffectively. The situation we are in is a result of the fall – of our choice to turn away from him. I would encourage you to jump back into the Biblical worldview with both feet, and not be swayed by the opinions of fallible people. If our view of God is altered due to accommodating current atheistic/deistic views of history, then we are prone to reaching wrong conclusions about God and how he relates to us.

    More on Job: God’s reply to Job wasn’t to give him a Physics lesson but to demonstrate that there was a lot that Job didn’t know about. In particular, there were things going on in the heavenly realms that Job had no idea about. Job’s error was to accuse God of acting inappropriately with him, when Job actually didn’t know the whole picture. The fact that we don’t know why God has not prevented the suffering you are having does not mean that there isn’t a good reason for it. Second, Job is about an innocent man suffering, and being glorified through this (as he ends up with great riches). This foreshadows Jesus, who experienced the ultimate in undeserved suffering (both in highest level of suffering and least deserved suffering). He went through that suffering into glory so that we too could enter that glory. Jesus knows what you are going through more than anyone else (certainly much more than me). So although it may feel that God is distant from your situation, he has in fact been through something even worse, and he did this so that we could join him in the new creation, when the effects of the fall will be undone and suffering will be with us no more.

    Praying for you

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks for your comment. I know it is well intended which is why I am hesitant to respond to specific points. I also have no desire to convince you to come to my conclusion. But I do wish to comment briefly.

      I would firstly agree that the charismatic circles I have been dwelling in of late have probably not helped and has somewhat exacerbated the dilemma. The dilemma remains however. I never considered myself charismatic in my theology and, even as a Christian, had profound issues with it. So I cannot use that as an excuse. Rather than desiring some incredible existential experience I was merely after the companionship of God in some kind of fashion. Throughout history some Christians have said they have physically heard God speak in such moments (I think of Martin Luther King Jr.) while others have spoken of God’s Word being their comfort and God speaking through that. I did not set limitations on God about how it happened I only begged with all that is in me that it would happen in some way.

      I also want to clarify that it was not about healing. I have also long rejected the idea that God heals as often as some Christians claim he does. I wasn’t a cessationist either. Of course I hoped God might heal me (either supernaturally or through the operations and natural medication) but my leaving Christianity has little to do with that either. There are a good many people who suffer more than I do and I sincerely wish they could be healed before me.

      Instead it has far more to do with the profound and complete silence of God during these times. Now some, perhaps to comfort themselves, will look to blame me for that silence. That is their prerogative. But they do not know how earnest I was in prayer and neither do they know much of my experience. They were not there during those endless, sleepless nights of pain. They were not there in the depths of my clinical depression. They were not there as I read my Bible looking for some form of comfort or word from God. They cannot know my heart. Only I can. As I said from the outset I am merely telling my story here. And for me personally I cannot reconcile such complete and utter silence with the character of God Christians assert. Since I cannot rationally reconcile the two I must do what makes sense and come to the conclusion that Christians are not right about God.

      I’ll leave the other issue for now as I wish to set that out properly. It may take me a few months to pen however I’m afraid.

      Thanks for your considered response though. Kind regards.

      • labreuer says:

        They were not there in the depths of my clinical depression.

        I took a two-day intensive suicide prevention training course and it brought a lot of clarity. There are some things that if you say to a suicidal person, he/she will be more likely to want to die. Unlike with most people, the suicidal person may then go ahead to try to kill himself or herself. Fortunately, we have stuff like:

        Proverbs 12:18
            There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
                but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

        Proverbs 15:4
            A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
                but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

        Proverbs 18:21
            Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
                and those who love it will eat its fruits.

        Proverbs 25:11
            A word fitly spoken
                is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

        If only people realized that what verse fits you depends on the fruits of your repeated actions, and not the story you tell yourself. I hear you on the clinical depression thing. These days, I have to be careful to not tear people to shreds with words, people who spread death with their tongues. I’ve actually had to wonder when Mt 23-type language is appropriate. :-/

      • Thanks for taking the time to reply. It’s good for you to share your story, and of course I don’t really have any idea what you have been going through so don’t pretend to be able to explain your situation accurately. I pray that you will come to hear God speaking to you.

    • labreuer says:

      I would say to your point 1 about the silence of God – you have been listening for something in your head while God speaks to us through the Bible.

      Are you saying that God only “speaks to us through the Bible”? I am reminded of passages like this:

      Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. […] Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, […] (1 Thess 4:1–2,9–10)

      Here, we have teaching by the apostles but also by God, directly. One might think that this is an instance of Ja 1:5–8. Do you think that while God at one time worked this way, that it’s Bible-only for now?

      I’m totally with you on the Bible having plenty of awesomeness; see my first comment on this page. But I’m just not sure about the idea that God wouldn’t want to add more, more that would be 100% consistent with what we have right now. It seems odd that God would just shut up. At least, it seems odd to me.

      • Hi labreuer, I wouldn’t say “only”. I would say that is at least the main way he speaks to us, and that we shouldn’t expect or insist that he speak to us in another way. Of course, when Jesus was here, he spoke verbally himself. And God has also spoken through Prophets, for example.

  10. randystarkey says:

    Hello – I’m so sorry to hear about your pain and suffering. It seems to be the classic waterhshed of so many things for us. I don’t know you at all, so I hope it’s Ok is I ask a couple questions?

    Do you experience (experientially and not just somehow theologically) the witness of the Spirit described by Paul in Romans 8.15-16, that His Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are His children?

    Have you had times in the past when God did speak to you, where you are quite sure it was Him speaking to you? (I don’t mean audibly or in an way in particular other than the fact that you knew for sure it was God?

    Obviously I’m asking here about your relationship with God in general beyond the faith crisis you are currently experiencing. I don’t mean to offend in any way in doing that. In fair disclosure here I am a pastor 🙂

    Blessings to you!

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      I don’t mind you asking since I’m under no obligation to reply! 😉

      I think when I was much younger I had a couple of experiences which I had interpreted in terms of Romans 8 yes. I am afraid that I am now inclined to think I was mistaken. I would now interpret those moments as entirely natural. They were just incredibly emotional moments which my Christian frame of mind interpreted as Christians do.

      No offense taken. Thanks.

      • randystarkey says:

        Ok. I do think that is somehow where your problem lies. I have the experience of that verse each day. I sense His presence in my spirit each day. It varies in my awareness, but it is absolutely daily. I’m not saying that would necessarily resolve all pain like you have experienced, but if I get nothing further it, together with certain comforts of His Word, has carried me through.

        It’s the reality of the old hymn “You ask me how I know he lives, He lives within my heart.” If we are born again ala John 3 should we not have an existential awareness of that spiritual life much like we do of our natural life? Nicodemus, a good guy of course, was hit with this.

        I would encourage you to connect with a GOOD pastor somewhere who can match your education AND who can perhaps help you existentially and spiritually.

        Wish I could get a coffee with you! 🙂 But you are UK correct?

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          And I am glad for you that you have that experience and that it carries you through. Sincerely I am.

          I am afraid that is not my experience though. My prior Christian experiences and even Scripture itself could not get me through this. What I went through broke me in many ways and one of them was my faith.

          That is kind of you but 1) I am in the UK and 2) we drink TEA! 😉

  11. This spot on underscores the indispensable subjective aspect of religious faith. (Not that this is objectionable by any means; it is, tout court, its very nature.) I feel you; the same unfortunately may not be said of God, a fact that would have me beside myself with indignation and dejection for the rest of my life. In view of my disenchantment with this utterly vacuous and vapid material world of ours, feeling God is the only thing I will ever truly desiderate. However strong my intuition and the philosophical arguments for God, or at least against materialism/naturalism/physicalism and for some sublime, spiritual, idealist realm beyond our natural world, may be – and I personally do consider these to be quite rationally cogent, since I see materialism as a facile, prima facie negation of all special human constructs – none is of any value when I cannot sense what I am pining for. Like you, I have appreciable theological, scriptural, and worldly problems with my current religion, but they all pale in comparison to the greatly personal paradox of the inability to both deny God’s existence and to feel Him. All my prayers, pilgrimages, fasting, and other acts of worship have been to no avail in this respect. As a result, I even once thought of attending some nearby church (I do not even know if churches are open to Muslims in my country, anyway), not that I would ever, in my right mind, adopt a creed I deem irrational, but just out of the abject despair I am relaying here.

    I envy the prophets.

  12. kangaroodort says:

    I would now interpret those moments as entirely natural. They were just incredibly emotional moments which my Christian frame of mind interpreted as Christians do.

    Couldn’t you say the same thing if you had felt that God spoke to you during your recent emotional and physical distress? It makes me wonder what could possibly suffice. You say you weren’t looking for anything in particular, just something. But “somethings” in the past are now explained away as wrongly interpreted moments fueled by emotion. Not trying to give you a hard time, but it just seems if past experiences can so easily be explained away, what experience could you have now that you wouldn’t be able to likewise explain away?

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      That’s okay. I don’t mind. I just mean that in the light of recent events that is how one can easily make sense of such things. The more recent experience is a far more powerful one and, for me, bears more weight than the earlier ones.

  13. Billy Squibs says:

    I can understand why your perspective on God has changed so drastically given your circumstances. My faith often seems to stand in the middle of a rickety old rope-bridge that will snap given a strong enough breeze. And I imagine that if I or a loved one experienced something as catastrophic as a brain illness and I felt nothing from God that the ropes would snap and my Christian faith would plummet. Atheism (minus the nihilism) and some form of Secular Humanism would seem like the most logical terminus of my faith journey – though perhaps not without some diversions along the way like deism. Maybe we’ll hear you on Unbelievable? in the next few years appearing alongside Boghossian arguing for the Street Epistemology 😉 But please God this wont be the case.

    Truth be told, it’s stories like yours hit me hard. This is because it seemed to me that you had as good an intellectual basis for your faith as could be expected. But perhaps holding to a propositional belief (such as “God exists” or “God does not exist”) is ultimately a matter of the heart (not to say that this invalidates the view). If there is a compelling emotional reason to think otherwise about a certain proposition then perhaps all the countervailing intellectual endeavour in the world wont be effective.

    This must have been a hard post to write. I hope that you have a loving and understanding support network because you are surely still in the midst of your faith-based maelstrom. I wish you all the best.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      I can promise you one thing and that is that I will NOT be appearing beside Boghossian! His views are still as ridiculous to me today as they were when I wrote my series refuting him. I still stand by my view that the new atheism is just a terrible way of interacting with religious people. So no worries on that one at least.

      Thank you for your best wishes.

  14. Billy Squibs says:

    One other thing to note. It just occurred to me that both John Lennox (listen to GodPod 89 for more – https://sptc.htb.org/godpod) and Ken Samples have suffered serious brain illnesses. I’m not sure if they experienced the same silence that you did, but it’s interesting how our trials shape us as individuals. They remained Christians whereas you have lost your Christian faith. Go figure!

  15. jezfield says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for your recent posts. They are so articulately written and give such a real insight into all you’ve experienced and wrestled with in the past 18 months. I appreciate your candour and honesty about how you feel and am grateful to you for how you’ve expressed things here.

    We love you and long for you to be well too.

    Much love

    Jez
    ‘a young male’ who was looked favourably upon 😉

  16. Joe says:

    I am very sorry to read about your illness.

    I am glad that you are leaving up your posts on various topics. I enjoy reading them and occasionally refer back to them. You have a rare gift of understanding. This post is no different.

    I don’t think its irrational for people to draw further away from their faith due to their experiences any more than it is irrational for one to draw close to ones faith based on their experiences. Regardless of whether what you went through is an “objective fact” – one that can be demonstrated to others – it was still a fact. Whatever our views on religion we need to account for facts.

  17. Billy Squibs says:

    That Boghossian comment was entirely a joke. Though I suppose as throwaway predictions go, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about you appearing on Unbelievable? at some point down the road. Hopefully you keep blogging here. If nothing else it might be cathartic (although the comments section of sites can often turn poisonous).

    I haven’t prayed in quite a while – many months in fact. But today I prayed that God might in some way reveal himself to you. If that sounds condescending it really isn’t intended as such.

    It’s not easy all this life business, is it?

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Your sincerity and honesty are very much appreciated here Billy. Thank you!

    • labreuer says:

      It’s not easy all this life business, is it?

      That which society makes easy, is frequently worthless. Fighting against society? Well, Jesus was murdered for it. Do we expect to have it easier? Jesus warned against that…

      If the above sounds harsh, well I guess I’ve just given up on expecting life to be easy. It hurts too much to hold that expectation. Instead, I agree with Jacques Ellul in The Subversion of Christianity:

          And what about another concept that seems to be essential in the life of Jesus Christ, that of weakness, which is linked with anti politics? What can be more the opposite of what we are? Is not the spirit of power at the heart of all our actions? I concede that it may not exist among some so-called primitive people in tribes that know no violence and seek no domination. But these are such an exception that we certainly cannot take them as a natural example of what humanity is in general—if there is such a thing as “humanity in general.”
      […]
      One might truly say that the desire to dominate, to crush, to use others, is a general one and admits of hardly any exceptions.
      […]
          How truly intolerable, then, is a message, and even more so a life, that centers on weakness. Not sacrifice on behalf of a cause that one wants to bring to success, but in all truth love for nothing, faith for nothing, giving for nothing, service for nothing. Putting others above oneself. In all things seeking the interests of others. When dragged before the courts, not attempting any defense but leaving it to the Holy Spirit. The renunciation of power is infinitely broader and harder than nonviolence (which it includes). For nonviolence allows of a social theory, and in general it has an objective. The same is not true of non power. Thus the revelation of X cannot but repel fundamentally people of all ages and all cultures. (164–165)

      Oh, here is what he means by “X”:

      If we tried to abolish the word Christianity, what would we have to say? First, the revelation and work of God accomplished in Jesus Christ, second, the being of the church as the body of Christ, and third, the faith and life of Christians in truth and love. Since we cannot keep repeating this long triple formula, we shall now use X to denote these three aspects. (11)

  18. Billy Squibs says:

    “Do we expect to have it easier?”

    Yes and no. I suppose I would very much like an easy life. Winning the lotto would be a nice start. But I realise – at least on an intellectual level – that suffering will inevitably come to us all. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” As Christians I suppose that is our hope. And when I’m at my best I believe this. However, I also understand why Epi has lost his faith. These words of Jesus must seem as empty as the apparent silence he endured.

    I could say more on this – in particular how strange it is that some people experience a strengthening of faith hen they are on the rack. Indeed, I happened to watch such a video last night (I’ll forgo posting it here as it might appear crass).

    Epi, I’ll make sure to tune in here from time to time. I wish you good physical and mental healing. (How is your health, BTW?) I’ll continue to pray – in my own rambling, distracted and infrequent manner – that God will speak to people like us who reside on the fringes of faith. (In my case I suspect I’ve not been interested in listening for some time.)

    Anywho, I’ll leave it there.

  19. Trials I can understand. Temptations I can understand. Suffering I can understand.

    Why the necessity of remaining unseen and unheard and ambiguous? Isn’t life difficult enough?

    No. If God exists, He is nothing like the God of the Bible or the Universalists. I’ve no idea what it/He/She is.

    I believe the universe was created, but that’s as far as it goes.

  20. ps … the Triabloggers can be creeps. While I appreciate their cleverness at debating, it seems that the point is often to score points over their ideological opponents more than anything else. They’ll say it’s “all for God’s glory”, but I think they get a kick out of trying to make others look like idiots.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Hi James. Well it’s encouraging to know I’m not the only one to be on the wrong end of their pompous form of apologetics although I’m less convinced about how clever they are! 😉

  21. Micah C says:

    Hello,
    I am very sorry to hear of the suffering and the absence of God in your life. I can relate in very different ways, in my own story, which I would like to share with you – not to contrast it or say it should be your story, but just to provide my own experience in the hope it will be helpful in some way.

    I was raised Christian and was very passionate about the intellectual pursuit of my faith. I particularly invested time into apologetic studies, Bible memorization, and discussions of theological ‘stuff.’ Nevertheless, after some positive life changes at 24 years old, I found myself rather at a loss. I believed that God should be involved in my life, and that as a consequence, sin would not have mastery over me. Yet I found that I was certainly not victorious over many sins that I struggled with. I always repented and asked for victory, but my pattern was one of failure and repentance. Why, I asked myself, would God continue to let me fall into sin frequently when I knew that was not His desire for me? The answer certainly was not that I “wasn’t saved,” for I knew my faith was genuine and that I had followed the apostolic injunctions such as Romans 10:9-10. The nagging answer that continued to resurface in my mind was that the reason was, He either did not exist or He was not involved. I continued to attend church and socialize with other Christians, and I didn’t voice these thoughts to anyone.

    I started back at the bottom. Is there such a thing as truth? Does any kind of God exist? If so, is God polytheistic, or… After months of toying with atheism and other views, I found myself out in the desert at night, talking up to the stars. “God, I do believe that you’re out there, and that you must have at least a passing interest in the world, since you put so much detail and attention into it. So, if you can hear me… and if you care.. I like you to communicate with me.”

    Various things continued to unfold. I began to see that I had carried a lot of very subtle baggage into my perceptions of what it meant to be a Christian. New ways of thinking kept being opened. At one point I discovered the Shroud of Turin (I know, I know…) and the impression it made on me was lasting, though by no means definitive.

    I realized that the absence of victory over sin in my life had been the result of thinking that God would automatically work in me because I was a Christian. Instead, the only path of true victory is one that gives up on victory and says, “I give the good and bad of myself to you, Lord, and I trust you to work in my soul. I will do whatever you tell me to do.” I found that God did not so much speak to me or impress certain thoughts on me, but more that when I was truly surrendering and depending on Him, my emotions were so fundamentally changed that the right way of thinking and acting were manifest.

    Eventually I was ready to recommit myself back to Jesus. I did so, and asked Him to lead me to a place to serve. Two days later I got a phone call asking me to be the director of a high-school ministry – a position I had not asked for or expressed interest in. I’ve now served there for about eight years.

    That wasn’t the end… there was another time, a few years later, where I very much failed – or rather, was complicit in the failure of someone else. It set in motion a chain of events and regrets that led me to suicidal feelings and intense mental anguish, keeping me up at night for the better part of a year. I asked God for peace on many occasions and never received it. I asked Him for guidance and never felt it came. Looking back, I see that I was perhaps unwilling to completely surrender, for the decision it might lead to could have meant losing virtually everything important to me. The guilt that I experienced clouded my ability to listen to the conviction of God. I knew this, and was too confused to untangle it. I couldn’t figure out what I should do to make my sin right. I lived in fear of going to hell even though I believed that Christian couldn’t lose their salvation. After months and months, I finally told God, “I can’t figure this out. I can’t analyze it. I don’t know what to do. But I know this: I would rather have your peace, than have my freedom, job, family, or reputation. I give myself completely to you. I need your peace, God. I need to have your peace which passes understanding. I will do anything you lead me to do – I just need it to be clear.”

    Or something like that,

    It was not until then that the peace of God flooded into my brain. And I do mean flooded, at that very moment. After months of anguish, I was ready to follow God to the gates of Hell and His wonderful peace was with me. I did end up doing some things that made me very afraid, and God was with me through that (I mean to say, I could sense the fruit of love and joy and peace, etc, in ways that were utterly supernatural).

    I don’t know why it took months. Was it something that I was holding back from Him, and finally I had let it go? I’m not sure.

    I guess what I would end with is that my experience of God has always been primarily in experiencing a supernatural flood of the fruit of the Spirit. In times where I would surely have always been lusting, I was actually amazed: “Wow, I’m not judging that person or lusting after them.” It was truly weird. I had never known what it was like to not lust after someone attractive… I always just tried not to. Or people who undoubtedly would have made me enraged on the inside (while I kept my composure, or course), instead stirred feelings of compassion and love. These were notable and bizarre experiences that persisted for a long time, and I finally understood the difference between “walking in the Spirit” and “walking in the flesh.” It wasn’t about trying hard to have the fruits of the Spirit, it was about surrendering completely and then experiencing the love of God shed into my heart. It’s love and joy and peace and patience and all of those things, effortlessly generated in us by the Spirit – but only as we are truly surrendered utterly to Him.

    One of the authors who helped pave my understanding on the beauty and subtleties of this was Andrew Murray, particularly his book “Abide in Christ.” I would hope that you would at least read Chapter 3, which I think you would relate to very well, as I have.

    I pray that this time of your life will ultimately be of benefit to you spiritually, just as my “dark nights of the soul” have been.

    May God bless you,

    – Micah

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you for reading my post and for being so open in sharing your own own experience Micah. It is a very interesting testimony to hear. I am genuinely glad that you have come to a stage in your own journey where you seem to be at peace with the path you are on and I hope that continues for you. Best wishes.

      • Micah C says:

        Thanks for responding. 🙂

        Oh, one other thing, if I may…. My own frustration with the failure of God to solve the doctrinal differences of the church was largely resolved by reading the earliest church fathers, and becoming aware of the so-called Vincentian canon. The Wesleys, Eastern Orthodox, etc, generally hold to the same kinds of views in so many ways. I believe that most of the debates can be largely resolved (by people of good will) by appealing to this early consensus, but of course people are free to obstinately demand that their own later traditions supercede universal early consensus. THAT has more to do with the problem of evil (people obstinately doing whatever they want) than it does with any failure of God to provide enough structure for us on the interpretation of the Scriptures.

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          Not a problem. I once sympathized with your view on this matter but I have, of late, found it to be an untenable one for myself at least. I have begun writing a post about it but I want to take my time writing it to do as good a job as I can. I hope it will be done in a few weeks time. Hopefully you might read it and comment there too. Thanks again for commenting.

  22. I certainly wish you the very best, and I will pray for you too. I guess my question is why do you feel a form of theism is more favorable than atheism? I ask because usually when people abandon their faith, they turn to atheism or agnosticism, at least from people I know anyway.

    Blessings to you, sir!

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thanks Richard. Good question.

      I am still convinced by the cummulative philosophical case for God’s existence. I am still persuaded that the moral, fine-tuning, and cosmological arguments have tenable forms and that these outweigh the case against God. I think that religion is the way in which humanity is trying to understand the divine and that there are still beneficial things to be learned from reading widely from all of them. They are all imperfect and full of human flaws but that is true of us all so I continue to feel blessed by listening and reading people from various different religions. All the best to you too!

      • That makes good sense, thanks for that. Thank goodness we still have you on our side! I’d hate to lose you to the other side 😉

        God bless you, dear sir.

        • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

          Haha. Funny. Well a lot of Christians have reacted like I am already on the other side so it’s nice to have someone who doesn’t think that! Best wishes.

  23. Lydia McGrew says:

    This sentence probably is a good place to zero in on where I think your reasoning has gone astray: ” And if there is to be absolutely no relational value in being a Christian then I seriously question the value of believing it.”

    The value of believing Christianity is quite simply that it is true. If it is true, and if we have reason to believe it is true, then we should believe it even if it doesn’t have the kind of relational value we were hoping for from it. That’s true of anything. Why should I believe in the existence of ________ if it isn’t what I was hoping it would be like to interact with ___________? Well, presumably, I should believe in the existence of ________ if it’s true that ________ exists and if I have reason to believe that. The same for, e.g., the Trinity, Jesus as the atonement for sins, the deity of Christ, etc.

    Moreover, if Christianity is true, then that means one has an opportunity to a) be forgiven of one’s sins (we all need that) and b) experience the beatific vision forever after death, in comparison to which (Christianity says) everything we’ve gone through on earth, however bad, including the pain of *not* having a “relational” feeling of God’s presence, will seem like nothing when we are there.

    So believing Christianity is very valuable, *if* it is true.

    Which means that discovering whether it’s true is very important, even if it turns out that “relational value” is not part of the package deal.

    It seems to me (and I apologize if others in the thread have said this already, but I have not had time to read the thread) that you came to believe in a particular experiential interpretation of various verses in the New Testament (I would assume more than the old) and therefore considered Christianity falsified if the expectations raised by that interpretation were not met. But perhaps that interpretation of those verses was incorrect. And if, in addition, there is a wealth of other evidence that Christianity in its broad theological outlines is in fact true, then it would be a terrible mistake to abandon it on that basis.

    Speaking for myself, I virtually _never_ have anything like an experience of the presence of God, and when I have an experience that might be such, I tend to be skeptical of it. I do not consider such experiences to have important evidential value. My evidence for Christianity is quite other, and *on the basis thereof*, I cultivate the personal side of what one might _call_ a “relationship with Christ” (petitionary prayer, meditation, receiving the Sacrament, mentally “placing myself before God,” and so forth), but which has a very different “feel” from what a “relationship with God” is supposed to be like in a more charismatic context where one is constantly expecting to receive “words” from God. I think the expectation of such constant “words” is harmful, and I think that your case is a good illustration of why. I discuss some of this not only in the main post but also in the comments thread, here, where I get some pushback from a reader:

    http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2015/04/on-petitionary-prayer.html

    By the way, prayer for you, specifically, has been a part of my relationship with God, because of this loss of faith and the cause of it. If you think it would be of any value to you, please feel free to e-mail me privately:

    lydiamcgrew@gmail.com

    I will continue to pray for you regardless.

    Lydia McGrew

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Hello Lydia. I would like to start by saying that I am a regular reader of your blog and have greatly enjoyed reading your work. I am honoured (not to mention intimidated) that you would comment here.

      I should start by admitting that I am still not completely happy with how I have worded myself in this piece. I keep playing with the wording but it has been really difficult for me to communicate in words what my experience has entailed.

      If I sound like I was searching for a feeling and because I didn’t get that feeling I have left Christianity I have not communicated myself properly. I don’t want to sound that way.

      I was a Christian for over twenty years and, much like yourself, I did not have what you could call ‘experiences’ of God and neither did I expect them. It did not bother me really in the slightest.

      I will readily admit that I think the last three years of my Christian journey were not helped by the fact that I was in a church setting which was both charismatic and Calvinist. I am afraid I don’t have much respect for either of these forms of Christianity anymore.

      But having said all that, I am still convinced that most Christians do read the NT with the expectation that there would be some kind of relational element to their Christian journey. What Jesus says of the Holy Spirit in terms of being “the comforter” I find particularly haunting. When I begged for a sense of God’s presence at 3am in the morning in a huge amount of pain for the first time and there was nothing, I could rationalize it and continue on. But after the tenth, twenthieth, thirtieth occassion it became more and more difficult. It eventually came to a point where I had to admit that I was no longer a Christian since I couldn’t live that way anymore.

      I hope that clarifies a little?

      I am touched by your concern expressed at the end of your comment and thank you again for taking the time to comment. Best wishes.

  24. Lydia McGrew says:

    Dear AR,

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to dialogue just a bit on what you have said, including in your reply. I don’t want you to think that, because I come back to what you say or reply to it, this means that I am unconcerned about or insensitive to your very real suffering, which is far greater than what I have ever suffered. My intent is to discuss this at an evidential level, because as I understand you, you are in fact stating it (among other things) at that level. That is, as I understand you, you do believe that what you have gone through, including what has seemed to be the silence of God, has constituted a pretty strong _reason_ for you to decide that Christianity is false, and it is that that I would like to try to answer a bit.

    You are certainly right that most Christians do read Scripture as describing and perhaps even promising a relational aspect to Christianity. However, it is my opinion that Christians actually err when they think that this describes a relationship in something like the ordinary, human sense–that is, a relationship where it will seem to me that the other person is responding, talking back, etc. I think we should cultivate _our_ side of a relational aspect to Christianity (as described in the post and comments thread I linked to above) while realizing full-well that we may not be able to tell in a decisive way, perhaps ever, that God is talking back to or interacting with us personally in any way that cannot be naturally explained. That possibility, even in a great many cases, seems to me quite consistent with Scripture.

    You mentioned in particular the Scriptures where Jesus talks about the coming of the Holy Spirit as a comforter. As you probably know, the word “paraclete,” sometimes translated “comforter,” has a variety of meanings, including “advocate” or “helper.” It’s also the word used for Jesus Christ as the “advocate with the Father” in I John, which is of course an activity (by Jesus) that we have no particular reason to expect to “see” happening in our own particular cases. It’s something we believe is happening theologically without any experiential component for ourselves.

    The other thing that is difficult about interpreting all of those verses where Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit in those discourses in John is determining what portion of it was meant for the disciples in particular and what portion applied (and if so, how) to us today. I think it would be quite a mistake to take an interpretation about how they apply to us today and to use that as evidence for rejecting Christianity if that interpretation is not fulfilled–yes, even upon the twentieth urgent, sincere plea. After all, if that isn’t (it turns out) what we were promised, then that isn’t what we should expect to receive, even with deep and urgent begging to the Father. In hindsight, I think we can see certain works of the Holy Spirit that were manifest in the disciples that don’t _appear_ to be manifest in the church now in any reliable fashion. A good example of this would be “guiding into truth” in John 16:13. My own opinion is that the John 16 passage is definitely referring to a special work of the Holy Spirit in the apostles, giving them the authority needed to “kick off” the church through special revelations of doctrines not yet fully understood (e.g., the Trinity). These made it into Scripture. Those are very personal discourses of Jesus to the disciples, and his promise to them that the Holy Spirit would come and help them was clearly fulfilled on the day of Pentecost in ways that (I believe) we don’t see today, such as their being miraculously able to speak and be understood in other tongues.

    There is therefore reason to question that there is a special work of comforting or strengthening that the Holy Spirit offers to believers now that we will be able to *sense* has come to our aid in times of crisis. This is true both because a) there may have been a more tangible work of strengthening, but it may have intended for the apostles, specifically, and b) the work of the Holy Spirit even in ourselves may not be tangible to us but may be taking place nonetheless. (This latter is what I believe is often the case with the Sacrament of Communion–that it conveys objective grace that we have no sensible consolation from.)

    You mention in your main post that you have been helped in your sufferings by your family. I would suggest that in your case God has come to you and offered you help in this more ordinary fashion to hold on and to get through this–that he has come to you _through_ human beings–rather than in a fashion that _appears_ to come more directly from himself. Similarly, if you have had friends who talked with you when you were going through your loss of faith and suggested to you that you need not lose your faith for those reasons, God could have been coming to you through them. The same may be true of those in this thread who have reasoned with you somewhat from the other side, including (I say with all diffidence) myself. It’s worth asking why these could _not_ be answers to your prayer, even though they do not seem like the “comfort of the Holy Spirit” in the experiential or direct sense that many Christians anticipate or ask for. Answers to your prayer in the form of offering reasons to hold on, reasons to believe that there is a God who loves you and has not abandoned you, _despite_ the lack of apparent comfort.

    Now, I don’t know what you would say to this suggestion, and I don’t want to put words into your mouth. But one possible response might be that the attempted help of such friends, or the love and support of your family, all admit of natural explanations. I fully agree that this is true. But as you yourself realize, even a strong sense of the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit, if it had come to you in one of those sleepless nights of pain when you begged God to help you, would also admit of a natural explanation. In fact, short of a bona fide physical miracle, many (perhaps most) of the things that might come to a sufferer as help in time of need will have possible natural explanations. That really shouldn’t be a problem for Christianity unless we believe that God has promised us help and comfort personally that does _not_ have any decent natural explanation, and it should be pretty clear that Scripture hasn’t promised us that.

    Finally, I have not rehearsed here the various reasons that I believe Christianity is true and that I think you should believe Christianity is true. That there are such reasons is something I not only believe but would put my life on the line for. I want to just make a point _about_ those reasons without rehearsing them in this already long comment (though I’m happy to discuss them in any venue that would be helpful to you): Probability is indeed the very guide of life. There is almost never some crucial, falsifying _test_ that an hypothesis fails and is then no longer rationally believable, particularly if there is a tough web made up of a variety of reasons for believing that proposition. For example, even if you inexplicably stopped hearing from a family member at some point and never heard from him again for the rest of your life and could never figure out what in the world happened, you could well have sufficient _other_ evidence to believe that this family member did exist or had existed. (Old photographs, previous letters or e-mails from him, the memories of other people, etc.) This analogy is inexact, because as I said above I think many Christians may never _personally_ hear from God at all. What it is meant to draw attention to is the existence of a lot of evidence for the broad outlines of Christianity _other than_ God’s coming to you in the dark night of your suffering and giving you comfort at that time. If there is indeed such other evidence, and if it is strong, then you should believe that Christianity is true rather than thinking it to be falsified by the apparent silence of God in what you are going through.

    I would urge you with all sincerity and urgency to consider that possibility and therefore to consider that you may be wrong now in your journey away from Christianity, perhaps because of an error in thinking regarding the way that confirmation and falsification work. Again, I’m very happy to discuss that more if you are interested or think it would be helpful.

    • labreuer says:

      Dr. McGrew, I have two questions on what you’ve said here:

      (1) Do you think God could be present in a way that our host desires?

      (2) If so, why isn’t he present in this way?

      It seems to me that we should be able to give something of an answer to these, if we have “the mind of Christ”. Jesus switched from calling his disciples ‘servants’ to ‘friends’ because they understood what their master is doing. An apprentice cannot always explain why his master is doing something, but once one graduates from apprenticeship, that changes.

      As an example that seems closer to the view of our host, I am reminded of Psalm 119:32 “I will run in the way of your commandments / when you enlarge my heart!” Given that the Hebrews did not make the Greek distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘heart’, this is best understood as “enlarge my whole being”. I imagine here the kind of exuberance of achieving increased competence in a sport, figuring out a new scientific theory, or coming to a better understanding of how a theological concept applies in real life. It strikes me that God could teach us more about him and how he created reality that would be very “relationship-like”.

      • Lydia McGrew says:

        God could, but that doesn’t mean that he will do so or that he is _predicted_ to do so by Christianity. The fact is that we may never know *in detail* why God doesn’t do some particular good thing. For that matter, though AR humbly did not request it, it is also true that God could have directly healed him of his illness and physical pain, and we also don’t know *in detail* why God didn’t do that. The world is chock-full of wonderful, good, reasonable things that God _could_ do but doesn’t. This does not trivialize the pain felt by those who request such things and don’t receive them, but I think it should put our own ignorance into perspective and should emphasize the fact that we are not bound either to a) answer with absolute definiteness “Why doesn’t God do this?” or b) conclude that a person suffering in this way without the help requested is reasonable to abandon Christianity.

        In very broad terms (not in specifics), Scripture teaches in a great many places that God purifies his own by suffering. The feeling of the absence and silence of God is itself a very real form of suffering. Therefore, if we believe (as I think should be uncontroversial) that God can use suffering in general for the good of the individual and intends so to use it when he does not remove that suffering, it would seem that this very real form of suffering can be used by God for that same purpose. C.S. Lewis discusses this concept of soul-making quite well in the Problem of Pain where he talks about the rather frightening love of God which desires to make us into amazing beings that we ourselves can scarcely conceive of.

        My own belief is that if we hang onto Our Lord through these things, we will come ultimately to the Beatific Vision, which will be a form of “relational value” greater than any we can presently conceive. But that is at the end of the road, and we have to be, in a sense, _formed for it_, prepared for it. Sadly, in our fallen world, it appears that one of the principle ways God finds necessary to use for this purpose is suffering–a way often of darkness and even of his own apparent absence. That “changing from glory into glory” process can be a real bitch sometimes (if you will excuse the language). That, presumably, is what has given rise to the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, all the more so since some people (my wimpy and inexplicably fortunate self, for example), don’t seem to suffer very much in this life yet still hope to be formed into citizens of heaven and enjoyers of the Beatific Vision.

        One of the most powerful passages about this from Lewis is not in the Problem of Pain (though there are good ones there as well) but in the Screwtape Letters: “Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

        Let me add, Mr. Breuer, what I hope will not be too rude: I have interacted with you elsewhere and have found the process extremely lengthy and exhausting and have sometimes concluded that it was no longer profitable. My response here is occasioned by my concern for AR, not by a feeling of responsibility to convince _you_ in particular of anything that I say.

        • labreuer says:

          Thanks for the response, Dr. McGrew.

          I hope AR finds the time and energy to respond; I predict he will take no issue with life involving periods when one has to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and intellectually know that God is with oneself even though one’s heart says otherwise. I predict he will take no issue with the requirement of suffering—copious suffering. I predict he will take no issue with not getting all that is promised, just like those described by Heb 11:13. My guess is that his core complaint is something like the belief that Jesus’ “I will never leave you or forsake you” needs to have some heart-content, not just mind-content.

          What seems to be at issue, at the very core here, is how much God wishes to do in this life, vs. the next. I worry that you (and many others) set the bar too low, as if we are experiencing the full amount of 2 Cor 3:18 (“from one degree of glory to another”) that is to be expected. Emil Brunner captures this dynamic in his The Misunderstanding of the Church:

          In any event we ought to face the New Testament witness with sufficient candour to admit that in this “pneuma”, which the Ecclesia was conscious of possessing, there lie forces of an extra-rational kind which are mostly lacking among us Christians of to-day.[1]
          […]
          For theo-logy has to do with the Logos and therefore is only qualified to deal with matters which are in some way logical, not with the dynamic in its a-logical characteristics. Therefore the Holy Ghost has always been more or less the stepchild of theology and the dynamism of the Spirit a bugbear for theologians; on the other hand, theology through its unconscious intellectualism has often proved a significant restrictive influence, stifling the operations of the Holy Ghost, or at least their full creative manifestation. But we shall never rightly understand the essential being of the New Testament Ecclesia if we do not take fully into account these paralogical revelations of the Spirit. (48–49)

          One possibility is that God grew something with the church that he then let go off with no further causal interaction with which one can detect with one’s heart (not just one’s mind, if even that). I interpret your main argument in that way—correct me if I’m wrong. But what if God wants more and we’re not being willing participants? What if the lack of heart-involvement is a recapitulation of the children in the marketplace Jesus describes in Luke 7:31–35? What if our attempts to rationalize God, just like we’ve rationalized reality, are tantamount to us saying that we don’t truly want more of him? The next step after that would be to say that he doesn’t truly want to give more of himself, in this life. I haven’t quite figured this out yet, but I think that N.T. Wright is with me, on this. So I don’t think I’m being an idiosyncratic heretic, a perpetually unsatisfied whiner, one of the “mixed multitude” during the Exodus, or something like that.

          As to our past interactions, I do recognize this about myself. But I have observed something: reaching toward the truth is frequently exhausting. Really trying to get into someone else’s mind to see how [s]he thinks can be an arduous task, especially if that person is not like you, Mt 5:43–48-style. These days, I find that fewer and fewer people have and/or choose to spend the time to do this. 😦 All I can say is that we are repeatedly presented with the choice to do 2 Cor 5:16 (or not), as well as to be good stewards of our time.

          P.S. I say all this having grown up emotionally stunted, compensating with intellect. It is still the case that the vast majority of my ability to relate is with mind and not heart. Therefore, I’m predisposed to accept your major argument of no-expected-conscious-heart-involvement. I’ve been described as a ‘robot’ in online conversation for how emotion-free I can be. However, I find this way of existing absolutely dissatisfying. It seems to ultimately lead to an acceptance of the status quo, that what we’ve gotten from God this side of heaven is good enough. This seems to make him like the idols described in Ps 115:4–7: they [no longer] speak, hear, smell, feel, nor walk. I included the “[no longer]” because I wouldn’t be surprised if at one point they did, that they were finite beings masquerading as the one Infinite Being.

          • Lydia McGrew says:

            Actually, I think it possible and even probable that God _has_ interacted with the church (or with individual members thereof) in detectable ways since the first century. I am, at most, _willing_ to be a cessationist (if that’s where the chips fall) rather than a _committed_ cessationist. Some of the stories that Craig Keener tells are _very_ difficult to explain plausibly as mere coincidences, and I have one story along these lines of my own and have heard other believable anecdotes from others. Moreover, some of these interactions involve God’s seeming to “tell” someone something and a later reason to believe that it was in fact a veridical communication. If that seems too “intellectualizing” a way of putting it, I am doing so deliberately because ultimately, AR apparently lost his faith because of the absence of such evidence, so I think it’s entirely appropriate to think of it in evidential terms.

            So, no, I’m not saying that God has definitely just sent the church off with no further, detectable, even sometimes experiential, causal interaction.

            What I am disputing is the idea that we should _predict_ such detectable causal interaction. I especially do not think that anyone should lose his faith because of its lack or absence, however painful or terrible such silence seems to be. Such detectable interaction is supererogatory beyond what Scripture predicts. It’s extra. It’s a joy and a wonder when it happens. But it is neither necessary to the Christian life nor a predicted consequence of Christianity such that Christianity is falsified if it does not occur in any given instance.

          • labreuer says:

            Thanks for the clarification, Dr. McGrew. I think my overall point doesn’t change much when one inserts sporadic conscious-heart-interactions with God; I think you nailed the key question with your “predict” and “supererogatory”.

            Do you have some ideas on how one might consult the Christian tradition on the matter of whether we should expect to consciously detect God’s causal interaction with our hearts? (What a mouthful!) I’m reminded of a chart in a Zondervan “Chronological and Background Charts of Church History” which shows a swing between “Emphasis on Emotions” and “Emphasis on Intellect” through the ages. It seems to me that either one can go horribly awry, and therefore that your argument really ought to generalize into not expecting to consciously detect God’s causal interaction with our minds, either (throughout an entire lifetime). Would you assert such a thing, in addition to the ‘heart’ version?

          • Lydia McGrew says:

            I don’t make the heart-mind distinction in the same way that you do. For example, my use of “detectable” includes what you would presumably call a “mind” component even in revelations to “the heart.” If God’s personal action in some instance is detectable, then that means we have reason to believe it really is God as opposed to mere emotion or wishful thinking. This is true *even if* the particular thing that happens is emotional–e.g., a feeling of peace or joy.

            Also, please note that I make a sharp distinction between “not expecting” (or “not predicting”) and “expecting not” (or “predicting not”). That scope distinction *must* be observed. I do *not* say that one should *predict not* to clearly detect God’s personal, individualized interactions with oneself. I merely say that one should *not predict* that one will clearly detect God’s personal, individualized interactions with oneself. Some Christians may clearly detect such interactions frequently. Some never. Neither of these is contrary to biblical teachings, as far as I’m concerned.

  25. Lydia McGrew says:

    I’d like to add just a couple more things, in the hope that one or more of them will motivate a rethinking of your journey away from Christianity.

    1) Your request for God’s consolation was certainly reasonable. But it doesn’t follow that God’s granting it in a recognizable form was _predicted_ by Christianity. Hence, one way to go on living as a Christian would have been to conclude that it wasn’t God’s will to grant that request and to return to it only occasionally, with the “if it is your will” proviso, rather than to continue begging desperately for it. In other words, Christianity definitely does not place upon the petitioner the burden of continuing to beg for something in agony when God does not seem to be granting it or is not granting it in the way hoped for, continually flogging one’s mind to try to imagine why God is not granting it. That would indeed be almost psychologically unbearable, but I don’t think it is required, and one reason it is not required is that the apparent reasonableness and sincerity of the request does not *in itself* create a prima facie prediction from Christianity that it will happen.

    2) Relatedly: Some event can be evidence for an hypothesis, but the non-occurrence of the event may have virtually no value as evidence against it. For example, my receiving a phone call seemingly from my brother is good evidence for his existence, but my not receiving a phone call of that kind is virtually no evidence at all against his existence. This is why arguments from silence are often so weak. So we should not think that, if your receiving a sense of God’s presence when you begged for it repeatedly would be evidence _for_ the truth of Christianity (which it would, though not very strong all by itself), your not receiving it when you begged for it in anguish even thirty times _falsifies_ Christianity.

    As a general matter, what I would implore you to rethink is the idea of a _prediction_ made by Christianity concerning the sort of “relational aspect” you were previously expecting. I get the feeling that there is some notion that, if Christianity cannot live up to this, it has failed and has been falsified. But we may reasonably _hope_ for such help without _predicting_ it and therefore without considering that Christianity has failed a crucial test and has been falsified if we do not receive a sense of God’s presence in terrible trials.

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you for commenting again Lydia.

      I’m quite sure I cannot address everything you have said but I will try to cover a couple of the points which seem to me the most pertinent.

      In your last comment under point 1 you appear to agree with me that my desire for consolation from God was a reasonable one. I also would agree with you that the absence of such would not justify me in concluding that God does not exist or that Christianity is false. Rather than that conclusion I think I would prefer to say that such a God who so distances himself during our most desperate moments is not a God I wish to worship. If I have reached a conclusion I think that is it. I would also agree with not pressing analogies such as Jesus as our ‘friend’ too far but if there is to be absolutely no discernable companionship with God in this life then such a thing in the next is of no use. According to Christians there will be no suffering in the new heavens and new earth so what is the benefit of a closer companionship with God in that situation? And is the Holy Spirit was to be such a companion to the NT disciples why could that not have been extended to other Christians down the ages? They, after all, are the ones who have not seen or met with Jesus like they did.

      On point 2 I partly agree and partly disagree. I don’t want to take the ‘Father’ analogy too far to make my point but the absence of a Father’s presence in a child’s like would be evidence of something if the Father could have been there in some discernable way. So while the lack of a phone call from someone does not indicate their non-existence, the lack of a phone call from someone who has a phone at their disposal and plenty of time to make the call does appear to indicate an apathy on their part to make the call.

      I am keen you understand that I have not mustered the hubris to claim I am falsifying Christianity in any of this. I am even willing to concede that perhaps my interpretations of the passages indicating companionship with God as found in the NT are misinterpretations. If that is the case then there appear to also be a huge amount of Christians with such misinterpretations and false expectations as well. But even if I admit to all this for the sake of the argument I am still left in a place where I feel completely apathetic about this God as found in the Christianity you describe. At this stage I can say I certainly feel no desire whatsoever to love such a being. And, without wanting to sound overly dramatic, neither do I wish to spend eternity with such a being either. This cosmic game of hide-and-seek is all well and good when you are well but when you are truly at an end of yourself and have nothing left that’s not good enough. It wasn’t good enough for me anyway.

      I hope nothing I’ve said has offended you but this is where I find myself and I want to be honest about that.

      Thank you for taking such time for dialogue. It is appreciated.

      • Lydia McGrew says:

        Dear AR,

        Okay, I appreciate that clarification; that’s helpful. I’m not offended by anything you have said. We evidentialists, I hope, are a hardy lot, not easily offended. But I am deeply concerned to answer it, so please bear with my persistence. I think what you’re saying could be cast as an attempted dilemma for Christianity: Either Christianity promises a sense of God’s presence to believers in times of terrible suffering, in which case your experience falsifies it, or it does not promise that, in which case, if Christianity is true, you consider God to be not worth spending eternity with in heaven and Christianity to be not worth caring about or being committed to.

        I’ve already talked a lot about the first horn of that dilemma, and you have indicated that you’re willing at least to consider that perhaps your interpretation of various verses is incorrect and that Christianity might be true after all. So I’d like to focus now on the second horn of the dilemma. It seems to me that a major problem with that horn of the dilemma is that it does not have a sufficiently robust understanding of the Christian concepts of God, man, and heaven. In that sense one might say that the second horn only _appears_ to grant that Christianity might be true after all, because if one _really_ granted that, then one would see that _by definition_ Christianity is worth following (if true) and that eternity with God is (if Christianity is true) the ultimate goal of human life.

        For example, you say, “According to Christians there will be no suffering in the new heavens and new earth so what is the benefit of a closer companionship with God in that situation?” and “if there is to be absolutely no discernable companionship with God in this life then such a thing in the next is of no use.”

        This, in my opinion, demonstrates a misunderstanding of the nature of both heaven and mankind. It is a longstanding Christian teaching that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” Or, in Augustine’s wording, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

        Heaven, then, is not just a sort of place that we go to, where everything is good and there is no suffering, so it might seem that there we don’t need God or companionship with God. Moreover, union with God has intrinsic, ultimate value for the human being rather than instrumental value. (E.g. Instrumental value to help one through a terrible time.) Heaven, rather, is that state of being beyond this earthly life in which the individual human being is finally what he was meant to be all along. Those enjoying the Beatific Vision are finally realizing their own true telos, and communion and union with God is the only possible way for them to do so. Man ultimately cannot flourish apart from God. God isn’t just a person whom one can evaluate and decide one can do without, like an unpleasant uncle whom you finally (understandably) decide you don’t want to have anything to do with anymore. On the Christian view, God is the source of all good. There is thus no good apart from God.

        What this means is that whatever you recognize as good and beautiful in this world–the love of family and friends, the beauty of nature, peaceful sleep without pain, the kindness of strangers, all of it–has its ultimate source in God, and rejection of God is, whether you intend it to be or not, in the end a rejection of goodness and joy. A willful rejection of God is therefore personally self-destructive, even if this is not evident for a long time and possibly not until after death. In the same way, a commitment to God is the _only_ ultimate route to flourishing and joy, even if the final person God means you to be, and the consequent joy, is not manifest for a long time, possibly not until after death. There is no possible way to pick and choose and just to decide to continue to be a nice person, only without God, and order one’s life and one’s eternity accordingly, not needing God and not being interested in him.

        On the Christian view, this is true in the nature of the case. It arises from the very created nature of mankind. It isn’t a harsh alternative that God made up arbitrarily because he wants to terrify people into loving and obeying him–though, in fact, the fear of losing eternal union with God _should_ be terrifying when one realizes its meaning. Because of who we are, we don’t have the option of choosing “neither of the above” when it comes to heaven and hell. We either will be made into something far more glorious than we are now, in our fallen and feeble state, or become something far less than we presently are.

        This is related to another point: *If* Christianity is true, then God does actually love you and did actually have a good reason for not making himself apparent to you in your suffering. Again, that’s part of what it means for Christianity to be true–that God loves us individually and has a reason for the suffering, all the suffering, he allows into our lives, including the suffering of his own silence. What that means is that, *if* Christianity is true, you have every reason to care about it. You will (if you return and follow God) ultimately be fully reassured on this point which you now have to accept based solely on all the other reasons you have for believing that Christianity is true. There’s nobody in heaven who resents God, even secretly, for a cosmic game of hide and seek. There’s nobody in heaven who thinks of it that way. That’s what St. Paul means when he says that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. Everybody in heaven _knows_ that God really is good and loving and has our best good in view, no matter what we suffer here below, even in his silence.

        Human fathers have a far more limited scope and therefore are called upon to be involved in their children’s lives right now. Unlike God, they don’t have the option of working on the cosmic scale and allowing something terribly painful in this life for the ultimate good of the individual, or withdrawing themselves into silence and distance during their children’s hard times to teach their children a greater truth or to form their children’s souls. They don’t have that level of eternal wisdom, knowledge, or even love, and thus are not allowed to do that. But God both does and can. God, unlike a human father, can literally form the individual (if the individual will permit it) into what he was ultimately meant to be for all eternity. This is why what would indicate apathy or cruelty in a human father does not indicate that about God our heavenly Father. Or so Christianity claims.

        What I mean to urge in all of this is that, if you allow the possibility that Christianity is true, you should allow the possibility that it is true in its most nuanced and compelling form. And in that form, it is not the kind of thing that anyone has the luxury of being indifferent to. In that form, Christianity claims that your choices about God are of absolute and ultimate significance for you. In that form, Christianity says that God loves you, no matter what he allows to happen to you here on this earth, and that he has a plan, the only plan, for your greatest good, and that you will, if you trust him, understand that in the end.

        And what _that_ means is that it is of the greatest importance for you to decide whether or not Christianity is true. Which in turn brings us back to the evidential matters I mentioned earlier.

  26. BibleLosophR says:

    Dear AR,

    This is ANNOYED PINOY who commented on Triablogue and recommended listening to J.P. Moreland’s lecture.

    I’m sorry that you’ve had to suffer pain due to a brain aneurysm. My father died from a brain aneurysm before reaching the age of 40. He had a brother who mysteriously died in bed at around the same age he did. So, I can kind of sympathize with you, since, for all I know I’ve inherited a brain aneurysm from my father. I’m saddened to hear that you’ve left the Christian faith because of God’s apparent silence and/or abandonment. I know what that can feel like from personal experience.

    I’ve been a Christian for about 27 years and I was an Arminian continuationist for the first 7 years. I’m now a Calvinistic charismatic/continuationist so I’ve had to synthesize the seeming transcendent and (in some ways) often distant God of classic Calvinistic theology, with the alleged nearness of God in my charismatic theology. I believe that in God’s sovereignty and wisdom He doesn’t treat every Christian the same for their greater good and His greater glory. The Calvinistic side of me believes there is a blessing in (and a future reward for) believing God’s Word irrespective of what one feels or doesn’t feel. As the Lord Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Yet, the charismatic side of me also believes that God does at times manifest himself to Christians (sometimes irrespective of their efforts, and sometimes in response to earnest seeking). I’d like to share some links to examples when God has revealed Himself in a definite way among some prominent Christians. I hope after reading and/or listening to these you might reconsider and return to the Christian faith. I’ve also written some comments in two Triablogue blogposts HERE and HERE which I hope will also help you to reconsider.

    I’ll cite just a few testimonies, though I could cite many more. Two are from Arminians, one from a Pentecostal, one from a Catholic and one from a Calvinist. [sic]

    Here’s a link to Charles Finney’s autobiographical testimony of an apparent encounter with God. Finney’s theology wasn’t always fully orthodox, but I’m personally convinced he was a genuine Christian whom God used to bring revival.
    http://www.revival-library.org/leadership/ra_holyspirit.php

    Here’s a link to a biography of D.L. Moody by his friend R.A. Torrey. Torrey describes Moody’s supernatural encounter with God in #7 of his 7 reasons God used Moody.
    http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/biomoody6.html

    Here’s a link to Pentecostal John G. Lake’s apparent encounter with God. The articles are on a Universalist website, but I have no reason to think they intentionally distorted Lake’s testimony (though, it is edited from two sermons).
    PART ONE http://www.tentmaker.org/holy-spirit/baptism1.htm
    PART TWO http://www.tentmaker.org/holy-spirit/baptism2.htm

    Blaise Pascal, a Catholic, apparently had an encounter with God that changed him for the rest of his life.
    http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/thank-you-blaise-pascal

    Calvinist Paul Washer shares his encounter with God in the following link. Unfortunately, whoever created the audio clip added melodramatic music in the background.

    Six Minute Audio Clip Here https://youtu.be/8LgnbOMZ4Vw

    Washer’s full sermons can be listened to:
    here https://youtu.be/1EXP2NgsQ3g
    or here http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=88071449
    or here http://ia800307.us.archive.org/27/items/SERMONINDEX_SID14504/SID14504.mp3

    I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Paul Washer’s entire sermon.

    Regarding your sickness and pain, I hope and pray God heals you. In Christianity there’s always hope that God may heal you. Yet, even if He didn’t, there would still be hope and confidence that God redeems your suffering for His greater glory and you greater eventual good, reward and honor/commendation in heaven.

    Your testimony of pain reminds me of (charismatic) Dan Downey’s testimony of serious migraines which drive him nearly to suicide. His testimony of his (alleged) healing can be downloaded here http://www.savedhealed.com/.

    Not that I’m anybody, but I’ve summarized my theology of healing HERE

  27. Wow, seeing what you wrote, I identified much with it. I nearly left Christianity simply because I felt God wasn’t there. The silence was killing me and coming from (not an extreme but) a Charismatic church (and being prophesied over that God has given me the gift of prophecy and would speak to me), I expected alot. However, after years passed, instead my theological views were revised, i became a cessationist and I don’t think Biblical teaching is that in this day and age we should recieve some supernatural experience or hear from God, or have dreams or visions, etc. More than that, I don’t even expect any religious experience and in general I think most should not expect such Biblically unless one is called for a special purpose.

  28. Lydia McGrew says:

    I’m returning to this old thread to post a link that may be relevant. Again, feel free to get in touch with me if you think I can help in any way.

    http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2016/05/why-do-bad-doubts-happen-to-good-people.html

    • aRemonstrant'sRamblings says:

      Thank you Lydia. I think I’ll take the time to write a response later. Many thanks.

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