There’s a video that has been trending on YouTube from Buzzfeed that’s called “I Stopped Believing in God After Pastoring a Megachurch”. It’s like a testimony service but in reverse; something of an altar call to atheism, and it raises some interesting questions.
Here’s the video:
What do we say in response to something like this? What’s going on here? There’s a couple of things that really stand out.
A wrong view of God
She talks about how she had this mistaken “transactional” view of God, where if she lived a moral and good life that she was then owed by God a good life in return. This was challenged when she struggled to conceive a child.
The Bible teaches that through obedience leads to answered prayer. But God’s not Santa, checking his list to see who’s naughty and nice. I hope that doesn’t sound too flip.
But here’s where things were skewed in her thinking. I think this is a common mistake:
Jesus taught that if we abide in him, and his words abide in us we can ask what we will and it’ll be done. Full stop. No caveats. But abiding in him is obeying his command to love. (John 15:7-11)
If we’re serving God just to earn something, are we truly being loving?
For example, the Bible says that if we are generous we’ll reap generosity. But if I’m being giving to someone because I’m trying to get something in return and I don’t really love the person I’m giving to, that’s not really generosity – that’s just self-love.
Paul said that we can give all our goods to the poor and give our bodies to be burned, but if we don’t have love it doesn’t do us any good. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) What are our motives? If we see that God has already given us all in Christ, and we love him and others out of response to his love, then that is faith that pleases God.
Furthermore, while God does answer prayer, that doesn’t mean that once you pray that everything is going to be a bed of roses going forward. Jesus taught this in the parable of the soils. He said that persecution and *affliction* come for the sake of the word of God. The shallow ground received the word with joy and lasted for a little bit, but when hard times came it folded like a lawn chair. (Mark 4:16-17)
She’s not in terrible company. Peter thought Jesus was going to the conquering Messiah and when he let himself get arrested, Peter went from saying “even if everyone ditches you, I got your back” to “Jesus who?”. Jesus warned Peter that Satan desired to sift him like wheat; that he was going to try and separate him from his faith. (Luke 22:31-34)
There are going to be challenges and things we don’t always understand. I’ve definitely been there and handled things wrong. I’ve allowed myself to be miffed at God out of my own confusion. More than once. That’s why Paul said to fight the good fight of faith. (1 Timothy 6:12) What thoughts are we going to allow ourselves to entertain when things don’t happen as we expect?
A wrong view of evil
Lisa mentions about the Holocaust and then having a child with down syndrome being evidence against God. I can’t throw rocks here, because I was in the same boat for a few years.
As a 15-year old kid, I found out my mom had cancer. I looked around and saw a lot of brokenness and abuse in my friends’ homes. And I saw alcoholism in my own home. And there were tornadoes, earthquakes and horrible atrocities, like the Holocaust. So I quit believing in God.
I carried this belief out to its natural conclusion. If there’s no God, there’s no way things are supposed to be. That means there’s no real morality; it all boils down to personal preference. Morality is always about the way things should or should not be, what people ought to do, or what they ought not to do.
This didn’t mean I turned into a psychopath. But it did lead to some problems, namely that it was just so freakishly counter-intuitive. Surely rape, murder, kitten-torture or killing people because they’re Jews is really wrong. And real generosity, justice, and love had to be really right. They couldn’t just be like preferring Nutella over peanut butter.
CS Lewis came to similar conclusions when he moved from atheism to theism:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?
A man feels wet when he falls into the water because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple.
An all-good and all-powerful God and evil in the world isn’t a contradiction. If there is such a thing as free will, people can choose to act in line with God’s command to love their neighbor, or they can go all Cain on them.
If we had the power only to help others but not to harm them, then there’s no deep or meaningful responsibility for one another. Furthermore, it’s not as if God is just sitting idly by observing the suffering of his creatures.
He entered into and shared our suffering. Jesus was God who became a man. He was mocked, spit upon, beaten, whipped and had nails pierce his hands and feet. He deserved none of this himself. The world he created was the world who treated him with great cruelty. He experienced it firsthand.
And out of this world a church who He can love and who can freely choose to love him. I guess he figures this thing is worth it.
But what about birth defects – like down syndrome?
Well again, this presupposes that there’s a way things shouldn’t be, which points to purpose. But the Bible clearly teaches that creation has been marred by sin. God created a good world, but through the fall there are all kinds of sickness, disease, birth defects and the like.
But when we read the Gospels, Jesus didn’t act like those things were God’s will. He healed all those who came to him. And because Jesus was resurrected and promises to return, there’s coming a time when those who freely chose him will be raised to never die, with no flaws.
Paul said compared to the eternal weight of glory, everything we experience now is light and momentary. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a child with Downs, but they clearly believe that their child had a life worth living and what is 80-90 years with Down Syndrome compared to an eternity in the new creation?
I’m getting very sermon-y.
A Biblical Worldview is a Warfare Worldview
What I’m driving at is that the things she saw as evidence against God just don’t really conflict with a Biblical worldview, if anything it confirms it. The Bible says we’re living in enemy-occupied territory. It’s a war zone. We all are going to face things that we don’t understand. We’re going to have questions. But we’re ultimately going to be victorious if we don’t quit.
If we keep a tight relationship with God, we’re going to be able to point to regular experiences of the Holy Spirit that will ground us deeper into the truth of our faith, even when things don’t totally make sense. Furthermore, if we can get our roots down even more deeply and look at the evidence for God and the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus when questions come we’re not just going to give up our faith.
Our attention can go to what we believe, what we’ve already experienced with God and not on all the doubts and questions. In time, we’ll all be like “oh…ok, now I get it. Now I understand”, even if it’s not in this life.
We can do better, church
As churches, we need to be careful to not be like Job’s comforters and drive people further away like this. We need to be equipped to provide the emotional, spiritual and intellectual support when people are going through seasons of doubt. This video is a prime example of the need that we have to be equipped to “have mercy on those who doubt.”(Jude 22)
Erik is a former atheist-turned-Christian after having an experience with the Holy Spirit. He is a graduate of Rhema Bible Training College and is passionate about the intersection of evangelism and apologetics.