The Christian faith teaches that we are sinful by nature and only God is good. If he didn’t work through us to reveal his goodness, where would that leave us? On our own we are only capable of evil. Humility and self-loathing would be too great if it were not balanced by the belief that God is working through us to fulfill his perfect plan.

As we live our lives alongside God, we willingly accept that every mistake we make is our fault alone; and every achievement is the work of God. He only uses us. And if we let him, there will be a reward– later. As long as God is real, the emotional damage this causes goes practically unnoticed. We don’t need to trust ourselves. We trust God.

But what happens when God is no longer there?

How does one move forward from a lifetime of self-rejection? When God leaves, we are left with our humility and failure. Even though we now understand that when we trusted God we were really trusting ourselves, we cannot simply flip a switch and translate that into actually trusting ourselves. That’s a foreign concept. How can right and wrong be left up to chance that way? And… what meaning does “right and wrong” even have if we possess the power to determine it for ourselves?

There are layers to peel back before we can get to the bottom of it. The idea that we are incapable of good on our own is not about blame and credit. It’s about embracing the belief that there is an ultimate right answer; that one source is qualified not only to determine the right choices, but is also the only one able to set it into motion. And that source cannot possibly be us.

That one source, which has always been God, has a plan that is perfect. Every good thing in the world follows a path that seeks to fulfill that plan, and only God can see the big picture. If that is true, then only God has the knowledge required to do good. And there is nothing we can do about it.

Most Christians never think about it this way, while others actually use this argument to claim moral authority. But the rest of us can hardly wrap our minds around how anyone ever bought into the idea that there is a plan in the first place. Not all of us find value in “confirmation from a higher authority,” let alone put all our eggs in that basket. But even those of us who don’t understand it have found it very possible to live as if it were true.

Following the Script

When we lose faith, we lose the plan. We are no longer characters in a story that has already been written. There is no author who gets the final say. I used to think I had free will, but I also saw that free will as something I needed to suppress. I was the character who was always looking up from the pages of this book and saying, “Now what should I do?”

And from there, whatever I did, I assumed I was doing it because the author had written it down that way– as if I had given him permission to lead me. But he didn’t need my permission. He knew my thoughts because he wrote my thoughts. And yet, if my thoughts or actions didn’t work with the story? That was my fault. And when I was on a well-written path…. it was because of him. Maybe I wasn’t going to have a happy ending; but if he was pleased, I believed I would be awarded some intangible perfect bliss with him after the book was finished. What a weird thing to think.

(But I guess he wrote that, too.)

How can God know my every thought and be able to control every detail of my life—and I remain relevant as more than another part of him? But that was the whole point. My complete desire was to be what I already was: a part of God, with no sense of self outside of him. I wanted nothing more than to escape the pages of that book where I didn’t belong, because I belonged outside the book with him. And I had never even seen him. My entire existence was for his creative pleasure alone, and I allowed it. As long as he continued to write me into the story, I would worship him. Because my worth was measured by the work he did through me.

While we may never have actually concluded all of this as Christians, we certainly lived our lives this way. So what happens when the characters wake up to find there never was an author in the first place? There is no book. No plot. No one watching us from above. What then? We should cease to exist. What is the point of continuing the story without supreme direction, or even a loose plot outline? We are worthless on our own, and that is all we have ever understood.

That’s a lot to let go of. I have yet to meet an ex-Christian who isn’t still swimming in more than their fair share of humility. In God’s absence, how can we learn to trust our instincts and put our faith in each other? Maybe we were doing that all along, but now we feel insecure about it. Before we can learn to live on our own, we must first learn to give up God as a safety net.

No Divine Intervention

Our existence in this world is left to the same amount of chance with or without God. But without God we are forced to examine that which was always staring us in the face: there is no safety net. As Christians we knew it was true, but we separated the truth of this life and the truth of the next life. The next life was our safety net. The only guarantee.

The guarantee was safe because it existed in a place we could not see or even define. We only believed it was there; a perfect eternity where everything was good and right in a way only God can comprehend. It was whatever we wanted it to be, and it could never be proven false. We could store all of our fear there. Maybe religion was once the best explanation for the unknown, but it has always been the ultimate distraction from the realities we most need to be distracted from.

Christians often mention there being “no atheists in foxholes.” Many insist that an unbeliever calling out to God in a life or death situation is proof that we all believe in a higher power. And while humans asking for a safety net in times of desperation seems to prove our position more than theirs, I have also found more atheists who claim the opposite to be true.

When we realize there is no God, a lost safety net is the first obstacle we must overcome. Sometimes we must overcome it before we can let go of him at all. But once the idea that God’s eternal promise of bliss is only a coping method is accepted, moments of life and death desperation are more likely to drive the point home. When life is unfair and there is no one to bargain with, it is only natural for us to wish for justice and a better conclusion. We each decide for ourselves whether that wish is granted to us after death, or if it is only wishful thinking.

(Of course, the former Christian in me doesn’t believe I deserve such a wish to be granted at all.)

Starting from Scratch

So here we are. A bunch of self-denying seekers who are feeling at home on earth for the very first time. We are no longer waiting for the train that takes us out of here; we are looking around and teaching ourselves how to be good and worldly. Even the words “good and worldly” feel uncomfortable long after we have lost our theology, but not because God is real. It’s because no matter how hard we scrub, those scars are stubborn.

We are slowly accepting that having more faith in humanity than God feels like the right answer because it is the right answer. There is good and evil, but we are responsible for all of it– and the good in humanity needs to be lifted up rather than suppressed. It exists, all on its own; and the possibilities in that truth can write a million better stories than whatever story we once thought God had placed us into. But first we have to embrace the world and those inside it.

We are still a part of something bigger, without losing our natural sense of self. We are humanity. There is no eternal bliss when it’s all over. We know that a heavenly afterlife couldn’t exist any more than an omniscient god could exist. We live on through what we leave behind. Maybe there was a time when we needed a God figure to give us moral courage, but many of us have evolved beyond such simple morality.

In spite of everything we were taught about mankind’s ability to determine such things, we know we are the only ones who ever have determined such things. And we alone possess the ability to choose the right path forward.

 

5 thoughts on “Good and Worldly

  1. Hi LAD, interesting post.
    I’m not countering your experience of Christianity but to share mine.

    Eternal life is not about living in the ‘sweet by & by’ so to speak. Eternal life is now right now in this very moment. The definition of Eternal Life given by Jesus is – knowing the One True God (relationship) and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent to us.

    LAD: “… what meaning does “right and wrong” even have if we possess the power to determine it for ourselves?”

    Good point. When any individual/group/state decide it’s within their power to determine what’s “right and wrong”, they have made themselves into a god.

    God does not plan out our lives and we live according to the script He has written. Far from it. You can see this reflected in every individual life. [In all things we’re given a choice]

    You/me/each person is around the steering wheel of their life… it’s for us to take our driving directions from God. If we choose not to and even when we choose to take directions from Him, He’s still not going to sit behind the wheel steer the vehicle (our life) into any particular direction.
    We decide to take or reject the directions, we decide to steer in whatever direction we choose (either the one He’s given us, the one others have given us, the one we think is better in that moment etc.) The point here is: contrary to teachings on the ‘sovereignty of God’ that He controls everything – that is absolutely not the case.

    LAD: “…Because my worth was measured by the work he did through me.”

    It’s unfortunate that you felt that way. Religion will do that to a person. Your worth is not measured by the work He does in you!
    Every individual regardless of how society values them (the downcast, the outcast, the addict, the serial killer, the humanitarian, the entrepreneur, you name it) are all of equal value, whether they know it or not, whether they believe it or not.
    The funny thing is Jesus identified with the very humble – the ones societies look down on and deem of lesser value, to the point of referring to them as Himself.

    The things we do are not a reflection of the value Christ places in us; however they can be a reflection of the value we place in Him.

    (It’s a long post, so I cannot address everything).
    All the best to you.

    1. Thanks for the response. One thing I do want to clarify is what I meant about free will. Yes, I could choose my path– I always believed that. We have free will, but if we use it to choose to follow God’s will, it isn’t our own anymore. Even if it is our choice, that decision has an emotional impact on how we see ourselves and how we interact with the world around us. And it’s true whether God is real or not.

      Now pair that with the idea that God does have ultimate control and can still override our decisions at any time, and where does that leave us as individuals? This is mostly commentary on how the Christian culture affects its followers emotionally. I may not believe in God anymore, but even if I did– I would still blame all of this on man’s interpretation of him.

      1. Thanks for the clarification. I actually agree with you here, because that’s exactly what it means to follow God’s will. Ideally, when a person decides/chooses to follow God’s will in favor of their own, they’re essentially saying I have tried doing things my way, using my roadmap, my plan; God, I recognize your plan for me is the best one and therefore, I am giving up my will for my life in favor of Yours.”

        Obviously, as you’ve said, this will & should impact how they interact with others, because by adhering to such an agreement, it’s no longer about how I would get things done on my own, but rather about me leaning unto Him for guidance and direction into getting those said things done.

        It’s also fair to say that no human being has ever gotten this 100% correct, because it’s very easy for us to forget and to feel that God isn’t there and doesn’t even hear us, especially in times of turmoil. It’s also easy to forget and substitute our will over His when things are going great. It’s simply our carnal (living by the 5 senses) nature.

        LAD: “… the idea that God does have ultimate control and can still override our decisions at any time…I would still blame all of this on man’s interpretation of him.”

        The way I’ve structured the above from your last paragraph is to say, while God is sovereign (ie. He’s the ultimate ruler, the head of all things), God does not control and neither does he overrides and individual’s decision at anytime. This is definitely man’s interpretation of Him.

        If what I said above is false, then all the addicts that would have died of overdoses God would have overridden their decision that day; or all the crimes etc. We see none of this happening.
        What we do know is that people are given choices and they have the inner convictions of the Holy Spirit; so when a person decides to commit an unlawful act against another, they have to literally ignore the convictions and promptings of the Holy Spirit in order to do what they have chosen to do. God never overrides any of our decisions/choices.
        That’s the beauty of love. It allows us to choose, for better or for worse.

      2. I should clarify here that by choosing to follow God’s will, this does not mean ‘His will’ automatically becomes ‘our will’. Far from it (evidenced by the lives of all Christians.) What we do is strive to align our will with His in all things.

        Ideally, when it isn’t our own will anymore would be when we’re exercising 100% or total dependence on God (as exemplified by Jesus). So we freely choose to say – not ‘my will’ but ‘Your will’ be done not out of coercion but out of meekness & humility in recognizing that He knows what is the ultimate best for us.

        Hence my reason for emphasizing ideally in both places. So even in choosing His will in favor of ours, we have to daily/minute by minute/constantly choose to align our will to His. So it is always a choice. And it’s the choice to do His will that transforms us from the inside out.
        Hope that explains it better.

        1. You explain it fine. It’s a concept I can easily grasp. When I was attempting to follow God’s will and not my own, I certainly couldn’t achieve it 100% of the time. And why? Because humans are not capable of that kind of perfect faith. I hardly recognized the problem with this as a Christian, but it is glaringly obvious now.

          The trouble is, we are talking about two different things when we talk about losing God. I mean that God is not there; that I was wrong about his existence and living according to his will was all nonsense. You, on the other hand, are forced to see this as something else. Because when God is real, there is no scenario where he isn’t there. So you must apply whatever you think happened to cause me to lose faith.

          And although we may be able to agree that losing belief in God can cause emotional distress…. the reasons for that distress can never align. If God is real (and by God, we are only talking about the Christian God), then following his will must be the ideal route. But if the Christian God is not real, then it is not an emotionally healthy way to live at all.

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