I read a post today, responding to the accusation that atheists just happen to believe in one less god than Christians. I don’t really care about that argument, specifically. What difference does it make? It doesn’t get to the heart of the real difference between atheists and Christians, and it is only ever used to preach to each side’s own choir. But the author said two things which were worth addressing:
“Now, belief in the one true God can only come through revelation as he speaks to you, reveals his true character and causes you to see your need for him.”
“God clearly reveals himself to all as the eternal, loving, just, sovereign, personal God.”
Those two lines, for me, sum up how little Christians know about God.
I once thought God spoke to me and revealed his true character, too. I no longer feel that way. What do Christians say to former believers like me? They tell me what I experienced was different from what they experience. Of course, they have to say that, because to consider anything else would require them to doubt God.
That’s all there is to back up the words in those two lines – a “feeling” that the Christian knows better than others who claim to have had the same experience. The author also takes time to explain the process which leads to faith, which he calls “good logical thinking.”
“You do not have to counter all of the other options in one go to demonstrate the truth of your position. Rather, we can quickly sort our thinking into category choices.
So first of all the choice is between there being a god or there not being a god. In other words, the choice is binary. From there we move to consider what type of god.”
My atheism can be traced back to his first question about there being a god or there not being a god. I am making a guess if I say “yes.” Should I move on after this to decide what type of god exists? If I cannot answer the first question, I do not wish to fill in the blanks again to get to the next question. So I am stuck, you see. That’s the difference between us. The author possesses faith in how generations before us chose to fill in the blanks, and I simply cannot do it. The unknown spaces remain unfilled for me.
I am still back at question #1 while Christians have answered the next 3000 levels of questioning, filling in blanks left and right. Who knows how many wrong directions they have taken, but they don’t worry because they think God is in control of it. How do they know that? Because of some blanks they filled in a long time ago.
And all the while, the concept of prayer reinforces this belief.
I have written many posts about prayer. Prayer is what Christians will recommend first when your spirit is troubled. This is where God “speaks” to believers and reveals himself. It is also where, for many former believers, the God we thought we knew so well officially disappeared.
In a post I wrote called “When It Is Your Job to Lead, You Are Not Allowed to Remain as Silent as God” I attempted to explain one aspect of prayer:
Prayer is a connection to god. People offer thanks and worship, but the real magic happens when that connection brings personal comfort. You can turn your cares over to god and believe he has taken on that burden. If you are connected to god you may feel he is leading you. This will make you feel confident that the choices you make are part of his plan and not your own. You can’t go wrong when you are following god’s will for your life.
You can ask god for things, but you know that his answer may not be the one you want to hear. Prayer is often used to make a commitment that whatever happens will be accepted as part of his perfect plan. And if his plan causes pain for you or for others, you may believe that your connection to god and faith in his plan are giving you relief from that pain. You feel god’s presence in that comfort. You cannot prove it or explain it…. but you know it is true.
Prayer does not grant wishes. Prayer does not move god to change his mind. God has never promised to put us through trials in preparation for something even better in this lifetime. Sometimes the road leads to more suffering, and sometimes even the most faithful forget this detail. It is human nature to also hope for things of this world, but god does not offer hope for this world. Only endurance.
Every time I handed my burdens over to God I physically felt the benefits of that. I physically felt a connection to God. Because I believed. But prayers for spiritual strength and guidance are different. God always helps us when we ask faithfully. Right? And in times of faith, I did feel the spirit of God. Always.
But the word “faithfully” is a trick. A Christian struggling with doubt spends far too long believing their doubt is affecting their ability to ask faithfully enough…but eventually, their desperation in holding on to God forces them to realize they have never been more faithful in their life. Where is that connection now? God is not answering. He seems to be leading them toward more doubt, but why would God refuse a faithful prayer for spiritual connection?
Without that “feeling” you might attempt to save your definition of God through evidence. You go back to the beginning, but without that feeling you can see the question marks more clearly. You want to answer them to satisfaction, once and for all. You can’t possibly. So you start over. You ask yourself “Is there a god?” And when you can’t answer the question honestly…you get stuck there.
So when a Christian tells me “God clearly reveals himself to all as the eternal, loving, just, sovereign, personal God,” I am not very moved by it. I am even less moved when they claim to have a connection with God that I never had. I know how faithfully I followed God. I know how strong my faith was. I know how desperately I tried to hold on to him. If the Bible is right about God, why would he have remained hidden from someone like me?
I believe the answer to that question lies somewhere along the winding trail leading back to question #1. Christians have filled in an awful lot about a god they couldn’t possibly know as well as they think they do. Is God really guiding their answers? It seems incredibly unlikely to me.