So here’s the truth: the god that I have believed in for much of my life does not exist. Yes, it’s true. And there’s a good chance that the god you have believed in does not exist either.
But let me explain a little bit about this god I have believed in:
First, this god that I have believed in does not allow suffering…well, maybe he does for others, especially bad people and those who live in other parts of the world, but certainly not for me. But this god obviously does not exist because I have definitely experienced my share of suffering – maybe not nearly as bad as others, but enough to occasionally make my life miserable and difficult at times…and much of it since I became a believer. And anything less than the most comfortable existence for me is certainly too much; so my god of “no suffering” does not exist.
Second, this god that I have believed in also guarantees me a “prosperous” life; and by prosperous life I mean money. Now I have always been outspoken against the so-called “prosperity gospel” which tends to focus on getting rich with money; so I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the kind of money that allows you to at least always pay your bills on time and not have to keep putting off those much needed house repairs or be without a car once in a while until you can save up enough to get it fixed, all while still having enough extra to occasionally go to a movie or get ice cream with your family without having to hunt for change in the car or under the sofa. And the kind of money that is there when those emergencies happen so you don’t have to go through the embarrassment of once again calling on your relatives or your church to help out or have the inevitable conversation with your spouse about whether we “credit card” this one. But alas, as I’ve learned during periods of both tithing and not tithing, that particular god does not exist.
Third, this god that I have believed in has followers who have totally dedicated their lives to him and, therefore, are totally obedient and set apart from the rest of the world. These followers are always faithful, never selfish, never play politics, never divisive, never lose their temper, never lustful, never hypocritical, never fearful, always confident in what they believe and always the best at everything they set out to do. Yes, you guessed it…I’ve been around too many of these believers, including myself. This god does not exist.
Fourth, this god always answers prayer exactly the way I want him to. At least he answered 1 of the last 30 requests I had for him specifically the way I asked. Does that count?
Fifth, this god is there for the purpose of filling in the gaps and answering the questions that science and philosophy are not able to. He exists because our universe consists of 2 different worlds, the religious and the secular/scientific, the supernatural and the natural, the faith-determined and the observable, and they just don’t mix. That’s why we have different days of the week and different activities and different schools and different music. I don’t know if that makes this god not exist, but as people become more and more self-reliant, as generations attend the church events less and less, and as science begins to fill in some of those gaps, it sure appears this god is looking a little bit smaller every day.
Sixth, this god is all male, He’s male because he obviously has a penis. How else could he be so tough, such a strong leader and able to make people submit? He’s male because all of my male church leaders have told me so. He’s male because males are the only people who hung around Jesus (5000 men at the feeding of the loaves, 12 disciples) and who became early church leaders. He’s male because he doesn’t do any of that kind of feminine sissy stuff like providing comfort and gathering chicks under her…um his…wings. And most of all because I lack any kind of gender neutral pronoun. Yes, well I kind of learned from some very strong leading, real God seeking women that my male god isn’t true (but I’m still kind of stuck with the whole pronoun bit).
Seventh, this god expects me to be perfect. He has certain rituals he insists that I do, certain cultural ways I’m supposed to act, certain words I’m supposed to use, and certain specific interpretations I’m supposed to figure out and practice from his often obscure and multiple-translated texts. I very often don’t get it right so he spends a lot of time being very disappointed and upset with me, feeling like I was just a waste of time on his part. Fortunately, I’ve been learning that this god also does not exist.
Eighth, this god that I have believed in is not nearly as smart or as ethical as me. If he in his eternal, omnipresent existence would only figure out that if he just listened to my wisdom gained from all my 47 years of experience living on this tiny planet on this even tinier continent of North America then things would go a lot better. But alas, I think I’m finally starting to figure out that no such god exists that is willing to humbly submit themselves to me.
So what kind of god does exist? Or does he even at all?
The truth is that when people reject God most often they are not actually rejecting God but a false notion of God. And by “rejection” I don’t always mean straight out walking away, but also simply sin. For even Adam and Eve’s initial sin began with a false notion of God, starting with a lie that asked, “Did God really say….” From there, believing there was a God who withholds what is “good,” they decided they would partake for themselves.
But I also do mean those who walk away or never accept God in the first place. Often atheists are accused by religious folks of just rejecting God so they can live immoral lives. Of course, this argument only works until you run into some atheists who are actually living what would be considered to be very moral, decent lives. In fact, I’ve actually come to believe that many atheists are some of the most honest people out there – because they are honestly, even daresay courageously, rejecting a “God” who really does not exist.
The problem is that through our culture, our religion and our many assumptions we’ve often managed to create a false god out of, well…God. We unintentionally or intentionally teach or believe things about God that simply are not true. The results can be devastating because when you believe something about God that turns out not to be true, you not only put your actions at risk but you put your faith at risk. This “god” that you have believed in will inevitably disappoint you and it’s not long before you begin to question if anything at all about him is true.
It is no wonder that this current generation, which demands that everything be real, is walking away from God (or at least the church) at record rates. Many of the lies and myths about God that have managed to sneak in even through the church are being exposed and people are finding themselves honestly unable to stay.
To believe false ideas about God (whether it is what he is like or what he should be like) is the equivalent of saying something like, “I believe God is a leprechaun. Since leprechauns don’t really exist, therefore, God does not exist.”
This example often plays out particularly in the area of suffering. Many Christians falsely believe that once they accept Christ, then they should no longer experience suffering. Many atheists, and even theists, believe that a good God would never allow suffering. But everyone must start from the place that suffering exists. Suffering has always existed, still exists, and for as long as we know will continue to exist, regardless of whatever belief system you may have. Any theology that contradicts that and does not accept that understanding is setting up another “leprechaun” scenario and is simply not being real.
What is the solution?
Simple. If we are going to talk about God, we need to make sure we are talking about a God that is real. Because here is a truth that we need to understand: God, if he exists (which I believe he does), is not something that was invented in religion or by a person, but is grounded in reality itself. God would be there whether the religion existed or not.
This seems like it would be obvious but it isn’t. You can hear its lack of obviousness in phrases like, “Well, you have your beliefs and I’ll have mine” or “You can’t impose your beliefs on me.” But we quickly forget that if God truly is real then it really wouldn’t matter what your individual beliefs are because this God and his qualities would be fact; and it really wouldn’t make a difference if someone imposed their beliefs because God would have already imposed himself on you when he created you.
You can also hear it in in how we separate out religious from secular or faith from science. But if God really is real it would be irrelevant if someone called something religious versus sacred because this God would be at the root of all life and all of science.
This lack of the obvious plays out in the church itself as we don’t believe something could be true unless we can specifically locate it in our sacred text, forgetting that the text didn’t create what is real – it can only reveal what is already there. And sometimes we hold our individual interpretations as more real than the actual facts, such as a rigid “6 days” for all of creation or finding verses that absolutely guarantee health and wealth.
For me, the God I choose to believe in has to be real. Like the disciple Thomas, I’ve got to be able to “touch” Jesus’ hand and side before I can give over my life. In my post about getting kicked out of VBS at age 5, I defined “religion” as anything that tries to have the appearance of God but is simply not God. This is why I am “losing my religion” – because over the last few years I am learning to shed the false teachings and beliefs about God into having something that is absolutely real.
So how do I know what’s real? It must meet 3 standards for me and not anything less. First, it must agree with my personal experience. My personal experience is that in the Spring of 1997, during a time I was crying out for help, the voice of Christ spoke back to me. I have never been able to forget it and that voice has continued to speak to me to this day. No matter how kooky that may sound and no matter how much of cynic I am myself, it is simply a voice and a relationship I cannot deny. There have been times where I have gone through extreme doubt, but that voice has always called back to me.
Second, at the risk of sounding like the fundamentalist I am not, it must coincide with the texts of the Bible. There is much debate about how the Bible is to be understood as far as issues of inerrancy, literalness, etc. – all of which I will not get into here. But regardless of where you stand on any of that, one thing has to be acknowledged: the texts and letters were written thousands of years ago by the founders and leaders of the Judeo-Christian faith. Some of them were written by either ones who spent years hanging around Christ himself or by those who knew the disciples personally. Since the voice that called out to me was that of Christ, the Christian faith is what I ascribe to. For me, to somehow think that I have a better idea of what the Christian faith teaches than those writers would be the height of arrogance. It does mean, however, that I need to learn to read it from their perspective rather than that of a 21st century American or from simply what I’ve been told by tradition. And for those areas where things are open to interpretation, then it simply must agree with the first standard I listed above and #3 next.
Third, it must be absolutely grounded in reality. By reality I mean that it must fit with everything we know in the world historically, philosophically, and scientifically. For too long, we have allowed there to be a battle between science and theology as though they were mutually exclusive. But a real theology and a real science works with both. If it is real, they will support each other – not contradict. Also, for too long we have allowed “blind faith” to get in the way of letting us see what is historically before us, often claiming, “If we just had more faith…”
Does this mean that there are not miracles? Of course not. There will always be things we do not fully understand or can’t control, even in science. But we must acknowledge what we can and do know. The reverse is also true – atheists need to be willing to admit that there are some things science simply cannot explain.
My book titled Rethinking God: Because God is Bigger, Closer and more Real Than You Think was born out of a difficult time where I spent a lot of time on my knees and needed to know that God was real. Instead of just asking “Why, God?” I asked questions like “Why you, God?” and “Who are you, God?” The answers I got from that time and the pursuit to understand more afterwards radically changed my perspective and my life – and it absolutely made God more real.
Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” One of the definitions the Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives for faith is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Faith is often seen as unlike science – it is something that you have belief in without the certainty of observable proof. It is for that reason my title stated, “Why I no longer have faith in God.” Because of the things I discovered, which I share in the book, I now have reached a place where I have 100% certainty that God exists. There is no doubt.
This does not mean that I have 100% certainty on everything. It still takes faith to believe in what God’s character is like and to trust him in that. It still takes faith to believe that, besides creation, God revealed himself through a man named Jesus. But I no longer have any doubt (and, therefore, do not need faith in the unseen) that God exists.
Now I’ve been a little dishonest. The other definition that Merriam-Webster gives is “belief and trust in and loyalty to God.” Ironically, in that sense I have more faith in God than ever. This was my Thomas moment – where things became real and I was able to cry out “My Lord and My God.”
I wrote Rethinking God in hopes that by reading it God will become more real to you than ever. One of the key things you will find is that it breaks down the divide between theology and science. That said, I will leave you with an excerpt from a section of the book called “Real,” followed by a question:
The debate often pits views at opposite ends of a spectrum: either, there is an intelligent, creative, personal being known as God who purposefully willed into creation the universe and everything in it as well as continues to be involved in relationship with it; or, the universe is nothing but the inevitable product of natural laws randomly interacting with each other over a series of billions of years. The assumption is that if the latter is true, the former could not be.
This assumption pits the ever common debate of religion vs science – as though one automatically negates the other. “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science!” Esqueleto humorously declares in the film “Nacho Libre” – as though faith in God and science cannot exist in the same world.
Of course, these are opposing spectrums and, if surveys and statistics are correct, most people fall not on opposite ends of the spectrum but somewhere in between. Polls continually show that the majority of people in the world have at least some type of faith in a “god” or “gods.” In addition, very few people of faith outright reject “science” altogether. And yet there still exists a tension between the two as though too much of a belief in one puts at risk the other. But what if, in actuality, both opposite ends of the spectrum could actually be true at the same time? What if the universe is nothing but the inevitable product of natural laws randomly interacting with each other over a series of billions of years and of an intelligent, creative, personal being known as God willing it into creation at the same time? Is that even possible? My answer to that is yes.
Now your turn. What are some ways that you are shedding “religion” or false gods in your life? (Please see the comment section below)
Note: this article was recently revised to reflect completion of the book