Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God vs. Us: A Divorce

“I love you.”

Do you remember the first time you ever hear that sentence? Probably not—most likely it was first spoken by a parent or loved one when you were just a baby. It is doubtful you would remember the first 100 times you heard those words. And even if you recall, you didn’t know what it meant at the time.

As you grew, you heard it over and over. Books, plays, movies, real life. Sometimes directed at you—often overheard throughout living. And with the re-telling, the phrase’s significance grew—we understood it meant something. We learned in the second-grade it was a weapon: “Johnnie loves Sally! Johnnie loves Sally!” We learned as teenagers it had consequence, avoiding the “L” word until one’s relationship reached a certain commitment level. We learned it had impact.

Eventually learning it can be a hard word to implement.

Growing up, we understood (even when we didn’t like it) our parents loved us when they punished us. They explained it. They didn’t give us everything we wanted when we wanted it, but there was love. Once we had children of our own, we understood (and hopefully attempted to communicate) we love them when distributing punishment or withholding their demands.

We learned it loving others romantically. It is the reason we cry (or some of us) when the climatic scene finally arrives in the movie: “Because……….I love you!”

Certain phrases are jarring contrasted with “love;” when the wife claims her husband loves her, even though he beats her, we think, “That is wrong!” The boyfriend who stays with a girl after she sleeps around with other guys, claiming he knows she loves him. We shake our head.

All of us, in observing relationships, understand there is a point where we categorize the action as “loving” and where we would claim it is not.

Growing up Christian, we are told, “God Loves you.” We had buttons and bumper stickers; signs and bookmarks. Our No. 1 Hit starts off, “For God so Loved the World…” “Jesus Loves you.” “Jesus Loves the little Children; all the Children of the world.” [Funny, I don’t remember the Holy Spirit doing much loving.] It was the first verse we learned; it was the first song we sung.

It should therefore come with no surprise we reached a point where we thought….well….God loved us. With all that entails within the resounding reverberation and pitch of the word.

Does that mean we thought God would give us whatever we wanted? Of course not—we understood our parents did not, yet still loved. Does that mean we expected to always be happy? Don’t be silly, we understand the commitment of love within a marriage, even though we aren’t always giddy and giggling.
We truly, truly get it—when it comes to love, there would be times God would have to make hard decisions, causing us to not like the results, but we would still be loved. When we were told, “God Loves You”—we didn’t expect an ATM Machine; we expected the word “love” to mean what it means in other similar contexts.

However there is one significant difference. In all our other relationships, we can communicate, with those involved, or with others, to learn, grow and differentiate as to what is love. With God there was only silence. We are left in continual speculation—guessing how this or that conforms to what we understand is love. Sure, others provide their own (conflicting) guesses, but that is all it is—conjecture on the human’s part.

“God, why did my 16 year old son have to die?”

“Is it because he had lived long enough, and you wanted him home?”

“Was it a testimony to others, giving them a chance to get right with you?”

So we grapple and postulate; others giving their own theories, and arrive at some queasy solution. An uneasy restlessness, often wondering if we got it quite right. Always willing to re-evaluate and guess again.

For many deconverts this silence grew into a disconnect; it become more and more difficult to use a word so well understood—“love”—that when applied to God held little-to-no relation to everything we understood the word to mean. A “loving” God would allow ten-year-old boys to be raped by football coaches? And allow it to continue for years because the person involved were people of privilege? That is the BEST a “loving” God could do?

And already I hear some Christian say, “We can’t explain it….but maybe _________” and then provide some poor excuse for God’s absence. If you can’t explain it—shut up. Shut up with your easy explanation of “Why God allows kids to starve in Africa” when your car is strewn with McDonald’s wrappers. Shut up with your theologically overbearing rationalization as to why a “loving God” allows this atrocity or that tragedy because we are too insignificant to understand such a infinite creature.

If that is your excuse, stop saying “God loves you.” Because even you aren’t buying the product.

Over at Black, White and Gray, ,Bradley Wright is doing a series of posts regarding deconversion. (The first is here.) In this recent installment, he discusses an observed reason for deconversion—namely a “God who Failed Deconverts” by not answering prayer.

He states:
I am struck by how much these accounts resonate with sociological theories of human relationships, especially those coming from social exchange theory. This theory describes humans as judging the value of relationships in terms of costs and benefits. One variation of social exchange theory, termed equity theory, holds that people are satisfied with their relationships when they get the rewards that they feel are proportional to the costs that they bear. An inequitable is unstable, and it usually occurs because a person thinks they receive too little for how much they give.

Many of the testimonies given by former Christians described a broken relationship with God as one might talk about a marital divorce. They are emotional, even bitter at times. They contain the language of inequality. The writers did so much for God – praying, attending church, following God – but God did not do enough in return.

As usual with Christians attempting to understand deconversion, (and with genuine respect) Bradley Wright doesn’t get it.

We didn’t gauge God as, “I didn’t get enough for what I put into it.” We realized it made no sense to call God “loving” when the results we saw were nothing but. It is the abused spouse coming to terms that one doesn’t beat one’s wife, and receive approval for being “loving.” They must stop making excuses for the spouse.

In the same way, we came to terms with the fact we were making excuses for God. We, too, were trying to explain away these actions as loving—actions we would never accept the label of “love” in any other relationship. We, too, tried to apologize for God, using weighty meaningless terms, but our own words were now ringing as hollow.

We didn’t abandoned belief in God, because we weren’t getting what we wanted; we came to realize the patent ridiculousness of fitting the word “love” (and a whole host of other words) to a creature we immediately and in complete contradiction, claimed we did not understand. One who was silent when asked. One who allows any human, anywhere to make excuses for it, without support, disapproval or response of any kind.

We realized the true difference between the Christian’s “loving God” without plausible explanation and a God who doesn’t exist. None. No difference at all, except the growing recognition “no God” makes a whole lot more sense than “a loving God who doesn’t act loving, but we assume he IS loving, because any other possibility is too scary to even contemplate.”

It was not a divorce. In a divorce, the other person is still alive. There is still a relationship, an understanding of past love, and the possibility of future love with another.

This is a death. We see now God was never there.

God is gone, not an ex-spouse.


  1. We realized the true difference between the Christian’s “loving God” without plausible explanation and a God who doesn’t exist. None. No difference at all, except the growing recognition “no God” makes a whole lot more sense than “a loving God who doesn’t act loving, but we assume he IS loving, because any other possibility is too scary to even contemplate.”

    It ablsolutely makes more sense that God doesn't exist than to assume there is one and that He loves us. The only other assumption that makes any sense whatsoever to me is that there is a God and He botched this whole thing and walked away from the mess. Either way He's just gone.

  2. Thanks for pointing this article out. I do agree that he, like so many Christians, have missed the big picture. I decided to come out of hibernation to post a comment...and now, back to the real world (life is too busy for me right now to blog!).

  3. Well said. It's one of the common points I meander to in debates. Love is a relationship. Love requires interaction.

    I think the problem may be that we humans are so good at fooling ourselves that the faithful often "see" divine interaction which is not there. (Open the Bible randomly and find a verse that speaks to my situation... It rained, so obviously God did not want me to take a walk in the park like I had planned... etc.)

  4. Great post. I feel the same way.

  5. I was raised in a liberal Catholic home. As a teenager, I was confused about the meaning of life and my place in the world. More than anything, what appealed to me about evangelical Christianity was the promise of certainty, i.e.,, I could know that I was saved. I could know God’s will for my life and I could know that my prayers would be answered when I prayed according to God’s will.

    While it is undoubtedly true that I expected too much in terms of answered prayer, I expected it because that is what I had been told that I should expect. That was why I converted in the first place. Although my deconversion was untraumatic compared to people who were raised in the faith and whose family and social networks were composed entirely of Bible believers, I still get annoyed by Christians who argue that my unanswered prayers were the product of my unreasonable expectations.

  6. Christianity (especially the conservative varieties) also have another gross misunderstanding of love, in that it frequently confuses it with obedience, and implies a necessary causal relationship when there really is none. We had a discussion a while back on the FRDB on this:

    Does love imply obedience?



  7. Excellent post. If God refuses to cultivate a relationship with humans or foster our flourishing, it suggests that this God either doesn't exist or is indifferent (and therefore not "loving").

  8. Not only is it a matter of not getting it, but the examples he's using don't mesh with his answer -- the very first example is a woman asking why, if God loves her, did He allow her abuse to continue? Which is a great example of the theme of your post, about the definition of love.

    Those examples come across as people going, "Something here doesn't make sense, given everything I've been taught." It's not them going, "I'm giving more out of this than I'm getting." (Which made me wince inside when I read the blog author's explanation, because that's coming across as calling the de-converts selfish.)

  9. While I haven't yet reached the conclusion that there's no God, I no longer pray because I don't see that causing any God to act. It would embarrass me to claim that God helped me get a job or heal my cold while so many kids die of starvation or are tortured each day. Every time someone at church talks about a personal experience with God or an answered prayer or their confidence in being saved, my husband gets more irritable and depressed. He's recently come to the horrific conclusion that because others have these experiences and he hasn't that he must be unelect and destined for hell. Obviously, this makes church attendance quite painful for him. He said it's like attending a dinner but only being allowed to watch others eat. I asked if he wanted to stop going to church, at least for awhile, but he wants to continue for our sons. I hope he will eventually move past this conclusion.

  10. @DoOrDoNot,

    I feel for your husband because I can remember this time last year when I was just certain I was destined for hell but still attempting to "do church". It is heart wrenching. The whole doctrine of election is a disgusting concept. It's much like he describes, only worse. I, too, hope he can get past his conclusions either giving up that doctrine or church, whichever will bring him some peace.

  11. DoOrDoNot,

    One of the triggers for me was the realization that I might not be the only person who was talking about personal experiences with God that he thought he was supposed to be having rather than experiences that he was really having.

  12. DagoodS,

    I thought I saw a comment from you on his post the other day. I don't see it today. Was I looking in the wrong place or has it been removed?

    Just wondering.

  13. Okay, found it here http://www.patheos.com/blogs/blackwhiteandgray/2011/11/why-do-christians-leave-the-faith-breaking-up-with-a-god-who-failed-them/#respond

    It was on another post of his.

  14. Zoe,

    I don’t recall posting a comment. I didn’t remove one. (Ironically, YOUR comment was the only one in spam! Apparently the “Great Blogger Gods” don’t like questioning regarding where comments go! *grin*)

    I have had a number of thoughts, just not a great deal of time to put them in cohesive writing. In no particular order:

    1) I find it interesting we prayed for the same exact things as Christians did. We had the same expectations. The same disappointments. We simply became unsatisfied with the explanation, “God knows best.”

    2) I am glad Like A Child responded on the original posts.

    3) I feel badly for DoOrDoNot’s husband and can offer little comfort. I remember the frustration of unanswered prayer—but by the time I had it the fear of hell had greatly abated while not entirely diminished.

    4) I am become fascinated by the bifurcation occurring in the Christian community. As you know, it is common practice, within apologetics, to break down each issue into smaller and smaller pieces and then deal with each individual small piece, thus believing one has resolved the entire big picture.

    I see much the same going on here. The Christians deal ONLY with the issue of unanswered prayer. As if this is the ONLY thing causing us to deconvert, rather than one more straw on the over-laden camel.

    And now I am off to try deep-frying a turkey. Never done it; never had it. I am both excited and nervous. And find myself…today…far more immersed in oil and poultry than what Christians think I should have done.

  15. I finally got around to reading the original article and comments. What strikes me is that the OP and commenters all seem as if the only rational response to Christianity is to accept it. When you take the Bible and do the research around it they seem to feel that the natural, logical response is belief. Basically the only reason someone would choose not to believe is because they want to live some ungodly lifestyle, know the Bible and Christianity is true, but rationalize it away to do what they want.

    I don't find this to be the case. Sometimes that's true. But as is the case with broad generalizations, mostly inaccurate. If it were such a logical position to believe, wouldn't more people be believing? Doesn't the Bible say that without faith it's impossible to please God? If it were such a rational, logical thing it would require no faith at all. Yet they all behave and respond as if, "Duh, it's all right there in black and white. How can you not believe?"

    For example, Paul(if in fact was even Paul) said that men were without excuse because all of creation testified to the greatness of God. You, know, the fact that he spoke it into being and all. Now we have science that refutes that, making that whole "men are without excuse" bit a nonsequitur.

  16. DoOrDoNot, this supports Vinny’s point as to your husband’s concerns.

  17. I think the only answer is that sometimes we just don't know.

    My son, in his twenties, recently was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that can be extremely fast-growing, very malignant. He was expecting his second child within the month. We had gotten this horrible news on the way to another child's wedding.

    A year later, my child is finished with chemotherapy, with no sign of cancer in his body. The doctor is ninety-nine. nine percent certain that this malignancy will not reoccur. It is felt that they "got it in time."

    I have another step-son, also in his twenties, that out of the blue was struck with a serious infection in the brain. This happened just a few months ago. He was not really expected to survive the night when we received that dreaded phone call. If he did survive, it was thought that there would be brain damage. And, yet, a few months later, he is now fully recovered, with no disability at all. Thank God, and the physicians.

    I have a friend from church who had been diagnosed with cancer, and was given two years to live. She lived exactly those two years, and two more months, and just recently passed away.

    I don't think we can ever know why some people recover, and are healed, and others not. I certainly do not think that God is blessing some and not others based on external circumstances. No way. If that is what your church is teaching, DoOrDoNot, I would definitely be seeking out a different church. Prayers for your poor husband.

    What I have personally gotten from this quite difficult year is that life is such a good gift. We should treasure every minute that we have, bless and enjoy the people that we love.

    My friend shared that her faith in Jesus Christ enabled her to see all this more clearly, really live, and not fear death, which of course, will come to all of us, eventually.


  18. Our Savior is speaking to us!! Please go to the link below for this glorious message from our Lord!!


  19. And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, "What's this shit I've been hearing about a human sacrifice for sins!!!? What kind of Neanderthal bullshit is that!!!!? And who do you think I am, some kind of Cro Magnon lunatic!!!? Blood sacrifice!!!!!? Are you all insane!!!!? Have you lost your goddamned minds!!!!!? Listen, you can take that "dying for sins" bullshit and shove it straight up your Stone Age asses!!!"-Jesus H. Christ

  20. Thanks for the link. I told my husband about it. He acknowledges that at least some of the rhetoric about encounters with God has no basis in reality.