Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Good Atheist - Part II

In the previous blog I tried to explain why I could have made a solid atheist, and a few thoughts on why that didn't happen.

And so here we are to explore further. What avenue to walk down?
Morality? Conscience?
I'm thinking it may be useful to consider the journey of many like me, around the same age and of a similar background, and a path that has often led to a staunchly atheistic view.

A- (Greek "without") + Theos ("God").

    Without God. God-less. No God, nor even god. For many it has been the inevitable conclusion, having looked for God, waited for Him, pursued him quite possibly, and found nothing, heard nothing. So, Nothing it must be.

For others the conclusion is born of hating the very idea of God. There cannot, there MUST not be a God, and if there is he is a hideous creature. Looking at the world, the pain and deformity of it, bespeaks a madman of a creator, a being so high and thoughtless of the sensitivities of human and animal kind as to be monstrous and unworthy of knowing. This idea has a large following.

For some, the conclusion of Without God has spawned from both of these angles, and also one Other Thing. If I am a creature of desires, with the guts and glory to satisfy said desires, then by all means - I should! Simply put, God made me this way. If he did, why then should he expect me to behave exactly opposite of how I am wired? And if he did not make me, then it doesn't matter in the slightest as long as I do no harm (doing no harm being much, much easier said than done, which is a topic for another time).

And so God is taken out of all equations (except where blame for wars and various religious horrors must be laid). This is the state wherein it becomes easy to mock and laugh at God and/or those who believe in him. It is a type of mental exercise, a killing of all divine ideas in a sort of constant, pseudo-intellectual way, and it makes life a good deal easier and a great deal more fun, it seems, to boot.

        (I say pseudo-intellectual because a true intellectual analysis of life and humanity, the world and the Bible, memory, anthropology, biology, chemistry, space and time, soul and body, spirit and emotion, etcetera, points relentlessly to God as a compass to North.
Don't believe me? Try it.
Try it as objectively as possible, just study everything, and see where it leads!)

Many friends, classmates, colleagues and strangers of my generation, Gen X, have laughingly thrown off the shackles of god and church once and for all. For these  people I have a great deal of hope and an equal measure of empathy.

Growing up in the local evangelical church can unfortunately be a perfect inoculation against the "God-virus", as you will. Just enough Christianity to know what it's about, but not enough for true salvation.  A child-like faith and a tender heart will inevitably be crushed, somewhere along the line, by the boots of legalism, hypocrisy, or emotional pain.
Kids and teens were taught to accept God's word, but never to wrestle with it.
For example, I was taught that God is good. Daniel prayed, and God shut the lions mouths. Amazing! Truly a teachable moment. 'Let us pray that God delivers us too, from all of our fears.' Few Sunday school teachers, however, will ask what it would mean if Daniel prayed and then was horribly and immediately devoured by the lions.
Do we not think the Christian martyrs thrown into the Roman colliseum were praying God would shut the lions' mouths? And then he didn't, and still they praised. They were burned at stakes, and still sang and worshipped. Not to tarnish the testimony of the saints, but they must all have been insane.
Either every one insane... or they knew something the soldiers and other prisoners and the rulers did not know. Their confidence and hope, so far removed from their own flesh, cried out that death is not the worst thing to be feared. Our culture today fears and shuns death most of all, but the martyrs knew that death was only a passageway to being always with the One their soul loved. Having known HIM, there was no other. Having tasted true life, there was no other life apart.
"Jesus answered, 'Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'"        John 4:13-14 

     So, what then? Could it be that God makes decisions not based on human wisdom, will or emotions, but only on what he himself deems best? Ah. There's the rub for many of my generation, and every generation. Especially those raised in church and other Christian institutions.
Our parents generation went through the wild and wooly 60's, the freedom 70's, and while raising us were shocked by the excess of the 80's. There was an element of control that was needed, many leaders thought. Control the content, the response, the environment, and the end product will behave properly and be properly saved. Now I think each generation has a hang-up, and most of these are sub-concious and unintentional.
Gen X'ers were taught that if you did such and such, followed the rules, then life would be good. For Christian kids, it was "stay away from this bad stuff, and do these good things, and God will make sure you are happy." So we avoided eyeliner, messing around with boys, and MTV.
We followed the rules.
But the formula did not work.
We remained empty. Lonely. Disillusioned. Frustrated. Little by little the masks slipped. For some, it was still in high school the disillusionment set in. For others, it was in university, when the big questions finally were asked. Or at community college or a job, when we realized the "bad" non-christians were often more caring, decent, REAL individuals than our judge-y Christian friends.

For some it may have been standing at a pile of dirty dishes, kids sleeping finally, and they realize their husband or wife is out much too late. Is this what being a good Christian has got me? Betrayal and heartache? I am done with God. He doesn't care anyway.

For some it may have been serving in church for decades, no joy in Christ, no acknowledgment, and one day they simply walk away.
Maybe a tragedy. Depression. Witnessing incredible poverty or abuse. There cannot be a God.
If there is a God, he is cruel and unjust. I want to be alone to put my life together the best way I can.

The common thread here is that GOD DID NOT MEET OUR EXPECTATIONS. And so we either looked for a more comfortable, nicer, tamer sort of god, made in our own image.....or rejected the whole concept entirely.

This is not what I signed up for.
I have rights.
God has let me down.

Nirvana rocked lyrics that deliberately lacked meaning, mocking the whole world and its tiresome systems. We let our hair down and yelled and sang along.

Bullet With Butterfly Wings
       - The Smashing Pumpkins
The world is a vampire, sent to drainSecret destroyers, hold you up to the flamesAnd what do I get, for my pain?
Betrayed desires, and a piece of the game
Even though I know--I suppose I'll show
All my cool and cold-like old Job 
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage
Then someone will say what is lost can never be saved
Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage (...)

Many Gen X'ers, Christians included, feel like trapped rats, going through the maze in a cage. Church, which is meant to be a place of connection and healing, a place to be in God's presence together and help each other, often sadly has little of either going on. People with less time and more stress these days tend to reject duty that has no apparent purpose or meaning. There has been a mass exodus away from organized "Christian systems": programs, meetings, church services. People end up meeting in other places, sharing different types of communion, where at least they feel a sense of understanding and friendship.

So it becomes easier to forget about God. And then in the rush and ease of doing what we want to do, remembering him becomes highly inconvenient.
The trouble with God is that he is GOD; he is not us, nor an extension of us.
He tends to make up his own mind.
We miss what he is doing because we are looking at something in our imagination, and think that it is God.

Why do I hold on to belief and friendship with God in the face of all this apparent hopelessness?
Well, the answer is simple. Because He is real. He holds on to me.
Time after time he shows me he is working.
Time after time he has made something beautiful out of my ashes and despair and mistakes.
The whole energy of the world, our flesh, and the Devil works to throw up walls and clouds of doubt and self-pity, and yet still the sun burns through the clouds and I feel the warmth of God's unconditional love and care for me. Then it overflows, and I feel how much he loves you, too.
Winter comes, and clouds, and cold, and yet I know the sun is there sustaining all of life. (At the moment I am writing while seated on a fallen log out in the snowy forest, sun far from sight. Yes, I am cold!)

Reach out to Him; God may not be precisely what you wished for, but He never disappoints. He will show you answers in his own time.
He is more real than the most truthful conversation you have ever had.
He is more loving than the best friend could be.
He loves to heal and restore and make things new again.
He is holy and yet he has made the most humble path of salvation for us to walk toward Him.

Don't waste time looking for a god that feels better but has nothing to give you.

I don't know why God doesn't answer my questions right when I think of them.
I don't know why he has often left me in the dark, not sure of what is ahead.
The thing is, it doesn't really matter, because I trust him.
We walk together; we are friends.
It is amazing but true; the God of the universe has become my most constant companion - and there is plenty of room for you, too.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Why I Would Be a Good Atheist

It is too bad, in a twisted way, because I would have made a good atheist. 

When I was a kid, I asked God a lot of questions, and when I wasn't sure God was listening, I directed my questions to the trees and to the open sky. A big question, and I'm not really sure why, 
was, "I didn't ask to be born, so why do I owe the universe, or other people, or God - anything??" I was genuinely puzzled, feeling a bit like a rat that has been dropped into a maze, expected to run here and there and try hard, find the meaning of life, whatever. 
What was the point?

I became fairly depressed at a young age, I think. I recall underlining verses in the Psalms at about age 9 or 10, verses like, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?" (22:1) and thinking YES! David gets it. THIS I can relate to. (I didn't realize the prophetic or Messianic meaning of the passage at the time, so can we leave that for now...thanks.)

As a younger child I trusted God completely, walking on the forest paths with my hand stretched up, literally feeling like I walked hand in hand with Him. He saw and appreciated the beautiful things I saw. He was real, and He loved me. He loved my neighbors that didn't know Him yet. He loved my grumpy bus driver. He loved my little brother. 
I'm not sure when the tough questions started, but I had many opportunities to consider them. I went to a Christian school, Sunday school, church, evening service, you name it. I heard all the Bible stories. I could tell you all the Bible stories, and their meanings too. Somewhere in there, I started asking:

If God could create all of life, why did some things die so fast, and others last longer than they wanted to?
If God knew Adam and Eve would sin, why did He bother with all the charade of warning them?
If God could do anything, how could He watch Cain kill his brother Abel in cold blood?
If God made the unshakable rules of the world, why did He have to send Jesus to die for all sin - couldn't there have been another way?? Something less painful, something less....bloody.
If following Jesus Christ is the only way to Heaven, shouldn't God have made it more obvious?
What about people who never got a chance to hear?
What about my baby sister who didn't live very long? My grandma who made it pretty clear she wanted nothing to do with God at all? 

And on and on. 
If the chapel speakers and pastors had known what was going through my brain...! I wished the questions would go away. I wanted to be whole, trusting, a believer, not a doubter. It seemed shaky ground. 

Around age 11 I had an experience when I was praying where I felt an amazing sense of peace. God was right there with me, and I felt His great presence and knew that He understood my questions and that it was ok to ask them.  I wanted to be baptized and show everyone that I was serious about following God and that there was no turning back for me. I was baptized soon after, and though I still felt the shaky ground, I also knew beyond a shadow of doubt that God existed, and if He existed, then He had to be who He said He was. If was who He said He was, then He would either answer my questions - or show me why they didn't matter. 

 As an older teen the big questions came back. I was lonely and misunderstood, like many teenagers. I felt like I was trying so hard, doing all the right things, but it didn't seem to matter. Nothing was good enough. Sin was still there; loneliness was still there, pain and questions remained. I kept up the Christian life, but underneath I was wondering, "Who is this "GOD" who expects me to know Him when He doesn't show himself?"

 Then there was Bible college. It wasn't very hard, because I knew everything. Or I thought I did. The course on minor prophets was fascinating, however. I read, and thought, realizing that these more obscure books had so many layers of meaning and so many treasures of truth and light. 

And the Book of JOB! I noticed that many people in the Bible had similar questions to mine. And God had an answer for each one of them that met their real need, which was interesting. He doesn't answer any questioner in the same way. He was gracious to one, He whispered to another. He thundered. He wrestled. He laughed...He argued...He put one or two in their place. But always different, as if He actually knew the person. And God challenged people! He gave Moses, Jacob, Job and others the privilege and the dignity of an actual discussion. He showed up.

In all the hubbub of modern life, there are many who think they know whether God does or does not exist, but few who will look into it beyond the latest meme or what a friend or professor said that seemed to make perfect sense. And so we make up our minds one way or the other, without looking very far ahead. Because one thing is certain; He either exists or he doesn't. And if He does exist, then everything He says about Himself and about us, is true too. If He doesn't exist, then there really is no purpose in any religion. If God is not there, religion is merely giving people a "program" of sorts, something to cling to when they don't feel safe.

I have realized I am one of those people Paul talks about in Romans 9:19:
"One of you will say to me, “Then why does God still blame us? Who can oppose what he wants to do?” But you are a mere human being. So who are you to talk back to God? Scripture says, “Can what is made say to the one who made it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ " 

When he wrote, "One of you will say...", he was thinking about me. Maybe about you, too.
I was so happy to read this verse and feel like I wasn't alone. Is it something to be proud of?
I suppose in the way of respecting that my mind wants to know.

Do we honestly think God is hoping we will go through life smiling, unthinking, like some sort of brainwashed cult followers? 
Read the Bible for a few minutes and it becomes obvious that is not the case.
So how did I get to today, where I understand the questions but no longer have to ask them (much) for myself? It has been an uphill journey. I will have to write more about that later. 
Suffice it to say that the reward of traveling ever uphill is a wider, farther perspective. I can see things from here that I couldn't before. I have made it further than I ever dreamed I would, and the view is pretty fantastic.

There is a lot more to say on this subject, but I have grown weary of writing and am at risk of becoming a bore. Perhaps I would have made a fine atheist. I am unbelievably grateful though, that I have gone quite the other direction.