A survey of the doubts that overtook me in a faith crisis from 2008 until 2013. An exploration of the individual doubts and issues that I wrestled with. The tipping point for me to reject Christianity for years was the problem of evil. I firmly believe that is the single best issue to reject God. This is a continuation of a series about a faith crisis.
“Injustice upon earth renders the justice of of heaven intolerable.”
“Doubt is part of all religion. All the religious thinkers were doubters.”
Isaac Bashevis Singer
“Be merciful to those who doubt…”
Jude 1:22 NIV
As my faith crisis developed, and the problems deepened I would experience a collapse in my faith in 2009. That came about due a number of doubts, church experiences and fundamentalism coming back to haunt me in vulnerable times. However what drove me during this faith crisis was doubt. I couldn’t resolve or deal with doubt. I had no way or avenue to process it. I was overwhelmed and spiritually crushed. Like I wrote last week it felt like a concrete block coming down on s Styrofoam cup. I didn’t deal with one or two doubts but a multitude. They kept building up until I didn’t know what to do. That said some doubts weighed me more than others Of all the doubts that affected me the most the roblem of evil was the most serious. But going forward here is an examination of the doubts that caused me faith to collapse.
The Second Adam
In evangelical theology we are often taught that we are a second Adam. And that Adam’s sin affects us, and carries down to us in the 21st century. As my doubts grew and my faith crisis developed I often wondered about the evangelical definition of sin as portrayed in the second Adam. It really began to make no sense. Why was I held responsible for another person’s sin which took place long before I was born? Why did this issue “taint” me? What kind of just God would hold sin that I didn’t commit against me? What kind of loving and forgiving God would do such a thing? Evangelicals often say that God is just and that to appease God a sacrificial lamb in the name of Jesus needed to die at Calvary. Its what evangelicals are taught to say, and taught to think. But I am thinking beyond that paradigm. Honestly if God is just and that his son needed to be sacrificed, why couldn’t God just forgive that sin? God doesn’t have to work within that formula that evangelicals teach. Was it absolutely necessary for Jesus to die? Is God a sadomasochist who took personal pleasure in murdering his son…especially when this infinite and sovereign God who created the world and brought order to the universe, the oceans and even time itself could have simply said “I forgive you”?
Genocide in the Old Testament
The Old Testament is filled with a lot of different situations regarding genocide. Here are some of them. You have the case of Noah and the flood which killed off the population of the earth. For arguments sake I am not going to get into a discussion here on whether the flood was over the “known” world or the entire “geographic” world. Then you also have Moses in Egypt with the differing plagues. The last one is the death of every firstborn adult child. The number of people killed in that is staggering when you think that Egypt was one of the most powerful, and respected nation states in its time. Then you also have the destruction of the Canaanites. And yes I know the Canaanites are not pretty but is a genocide on the scale that took place still warranted? You see this God of “wrath” in the Old Testament then find the New Testament God to be one of forgiveness, absolution, grace, crying over the death of Lazarus, and caring for the least of these. The way evangelicals approach both the Old and New Testaments taught me how screwed up Evangelical Hermeneutics can be. You read about this God of wrath in the Old Testament. Then suddenly, you are to “turn the other cheek and forgive your enemies” in the New Testament. I was baffled and it appeared that God was schizophrenic. What is also disturbing for me is the massive loss of life especially when God created this life and if he knew this loss of life was going to occur. Just to give you some understanding here are some genocides statistics. Mao supposedly killed an estimated 45 million people in China. Adolf Hitler killed as estimated 12 million including the Jews in the concentration camps, and civilians deliberately killed in WWII. Plus there was also 3 million Soviet POWs that were left to die. Joseph Stalin killed 7 million people during his reign in the Soviet Union. And Pol Pot killed 1.7 million people during the reign of the “killing fields” in his attempt to create a pure Communist state. The question I had when I considered Old Testament Genocide is the following…considering the large loss of life how is God any different than Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot or Joseph Stalin?
The prosperity gospel was a gospel that I began to see more and more in evangelical churches. It was very subtle, very persuasive and hard to get away from. Often it was not named and probably many evangelicals will deny that this is an issue. But prosperity theology appears in different ways, and the kicker is that while some evangelicals may not believe that God will make them wealthy, they believe that their involvement in programs like AWANA, or particular churches that God will bless them. I saw this problem permeate many churches from the Assembly of God to many non-denominational. Prosperity theology makes the problem of pain and suffering much worse. It increases the level of pain, and that happens by incorrectly assuming that the person suffering from a brain tumor, etc.. must have sin in their life, didn’t pray hard enough or pray the right way. I saw that this “gospel” did not square with the Bible. But again I was shocked at how widespread this thinking permeates evangelical groups, both overtly and also insidiously. My analysis is that 90-95% of Christianity struggles with prosperity theology in some context.
The Problem of Pain and Suffering and End Times Theology
I also observed that the evangelical cultures can appear, and sometimes act cruel, to those struggling with pain and suffering. I think this is a result of prosperity theology being deeply entrenched in many parts of evangelicalism. It seemed to me that Christians were not allowed to be disappointed and angry with God. Why is that? Up to this time all I mostly heard was the “happy clappy” God is good, etc… I came to realize that I never really heard any ministry leader openly talk or teach about their disappointments or frustrations with God. Other times I used to hear Christians quoting CS Lewis in saying, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” When I heard that being extolled by Christians, especially the last sentence I often felt sick. Not only does that not fit with the concept of Jesus weeping upon hearing the news of Lazarus’s death but it also made me wonder the following. If that is how God operated, in using a megaphone and screaming in our pain..why would I want anything to do with God? If that’s the case then God is a sick, twisted anomaly.
Likewise the other problem I had that was growing on me is that I began to reflect on the serious flaws that some evangelicals have on disasters and end times theology. Who here remembers when Jerry Falwell in front of a watching world on CNN blamed September 11 on gays, liberals, the ACLU and People for the American Way? Who here remembers what Pat Robertson spouted off when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans? And who remembers what John Piper said when tornadoes devastated parts of Minneapolis and when the I-35 bridge collapsed in the middle of a Minneapolis rush hour? Who here remembers the obsession some evangelicals have with End Times theology with either war in the Middle East or the anti-Christ coming out of Russia? One of the reasons why I was finding it hard to be an evangelical is because this End Times garbage was so entrenched in parts of the church and at the same time many evangelicals had a hard time being able to empathize, mourn, and “weep with those that weep.” So when many events like September 11, the Iraq War, the Iranian nuclear weapons program, Russia invading Georgia, and the current Syrian conflict are placed as proof of an end times perspective the effects are needlessly devastating. I would even go so far as to say that Hal Lindsey and John Nelson Darby have brought great harm to American Christianity due to how their teachings have led some Christians to view horrific events of war, terrorism or natural disaster to be construed as being “good news”. Why? Because it means Jesus is coming soon, and the rapture is around the corner. Or what kind of Calvinist could find an answer and personal satisfaction in God allowing a bridge to collapse in rush hour? In both the dispensational side and Calvinist side, instead of empathizing it has led some Christians to have this perverse sense of glee in other people’s suffering.
Also given my exposure to Mormonism and my knowledge of the false prophecies of Joseph Smith the problem of some evangelicals interpreting disaster led me to another important question that I never heard raised in the evangelical church. When an evangelical minister claims that events in the Middle East “prove” the End Times are upon us and nothing happens…how is that minister any different than Joseph Smith or Brigham Young? Its an honest question.
The Eternal Destination of Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel
Often times in church sometimes there would be alter calls, or when a meeting was closed people were called to bow their heads and pray to begin a personal relationship with Christ. Many evangelicals call this “the sinners prayer.” While this is all good for the here and now in the back of my mind I began to wonder what would happen to those who never heard the Gospel? There were many parts of the world that never heard the Gospel or were born before it existed? Think of the people who lived in South America, Asia, Japan, Korea, Russia, in 400 BC? Did all those people go to hell because they never placed their faith in Christ? How could they? Jesus didn’t even come yet? I phrased the question often like this “why would someone living in Wuhan, China in 400 B.C. would be condemned to hell because he never even heard the Gospel. The Gospel wasn’t even invented yet so why would that be held against someone who never even had a chance to place his faith in the Lord?” For me this made absolutely no sense, especially for the evangelical’s descriptions of the Lord being just.
Sexual Abuse By Church Leaders
This is an issue that I will discuss in depth later in another post. I would suggest that many evangelicals never learned from the Roman Catholic church scandals about pedophilia or child sex abuse. It was a hot button issue for me and if I was a Catholic when the bulk of the scandal played out I would have walked away from the Catholic church in disgust. However, as an evangelical I first became aware of this issue in 2003-04 when I was deeply involved in the 20 Something Ministry in Elmbrook Church, in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Several years earlier (in 1999) Daniel Varga, the popular youth minister, was found to be a sexual predator who abused a number of young adults, and the scars from that still hung over Elmbrook. For me it was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that there could be a sexual predator in a position of trust. How could this be? The scars of such abuse last a lifetime for the victim, haunt a church and compromise its mission for years. Yet, the evangelical church often covers up and excuses such activities, carrying on as if nothing has happened. And what happened at Elmbrook was only the tip of the iceberg, during my faith crisis I would be invited to Eric Simmons Redeemer Arlington which was part of the Sovereign Grace movement at the time, all the stories about sexual abuse cover up that bled out of Sovereign Grace Ministries only brought inside me disgust, repulsion and sickness.
Corruption in the church
Churches can seem no different than secular businesses. Money, nepotism and cronyism often take precedence over the truth and faith. Money became an issue in the sense that I was seeing many Christians obsessed with conferences just so they could sell books, and encourage the publishing of books. I also saw the commercialism when I attended a Christian concert and cringed at the industry that surrounded it. I’m okay with CD’s and DVDs but do they really need to make bracelets, t-shirts, posters, toys, etc..? Due to the problem of money, corruption as I saw it spread through the church. And it became an issue and I would suggest the driving issue as to why Neo-Calvinists do church plants. When SGM did church plants in white suburbia is it for God’s glory or an effort to expand and create more tithers so that they can pad the finances of the ministry? Other issues that I saw in evangelicalism are both nepotism and cronyism. It amazed me as to how some pastors families can have a lock on a church or Elder board. This could turn a family event into a church meeting without the congregation even knowing about it. And it amazed me as to how some pastors families controlled church plants and launches as they “franchised” the family business. In the end I would suggest that this is deeply hurting Christianity today.
The Problem of Prayer
Prayer was an issue I could not understand. I felt so overwhelmed by it. And depending on the issue it led me to wonder, is the way many evangelicals pray the result of the influence of the prosperity gospel on their faith? How do you pray for everyday issues, and why should you pray? What is an answered prayer? Why do evangelical Christians always give God the credit for answered prayers but never ask, or have doubts about unanswered ones? What do you pray about in every days issues in regards to career, guidance, etc… How does the prayer issue change when dealing with life threatening or terminal disease? Is it wrong to pray for healing when someone is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or a brain tumor? Where do you draw the line? If someone does survive a medical crisis why do evangelicals always give God the glory but leave out the medical technicians, doctors, nurses and others who were involved in the treatment? Or the other difficult issue if someone is a paraplegic with permanent spinal cord damage why do people never ask why God can’t repair or regenerate new spinal nerves?
There are so many other issues that begged at me as I wrestled with prayer. Why should one pray to God if he is omniscient? If the Lord is omniscient he will know what a person needs and could act on it…right? Is God just this selfish entity just full of himself who has a narcissistic personality disorder? If God knows what I need than what purpose does prayer serve? If Jesus is part of the trinity why did he pray to himself? I know some people will have problems with these questions but these came about due to life experiences. The ones about prayer and medical illness came about due to my Mother’s dealing with pancreatic cancer. It was issues like this that I found myself wrestling with which forced me out of the evangelical bubble.
The Problem of Evil
I saved this one for the last because this I believe deserves the most attention. I came to the conclusion that if a person is truly going to reject God there is no better reason than to do so over the problem of evil. This issue alone so overwhelmed me that I personally felt crushed. It sniffed out the faith I had at the time and was like the 50 ton gorilla standing in the church that many parts of evangelicalism have failed to adequately address. As I said this is the hardest question for me and the one that became the tipping point for me spiritually. It was the problem of evil that actually drove me away from God and led me to reject faith for years.
Whether you want to admit it or not you are reminded of the problem of evil everytime you read the newspaper, check CNN online, interact with friends, listen to the news radio or go to work. You hear about the problem of evil everywhere you go and you cannot escape it. Likewise the problem of evil as been the center of debate amongst theologians, philosophers, and ordinary people for centuries and its on going debate shows the problems that exist and how sinful and broken the world truly is.
These are some of the things you hear about or have happened in recent history that drive it to the surface.
-In Baltimore you have a college student who is suffering from mental illness who murdered and than cannibalized his roommate. The gory case made national news and when I read about it in the Baltimore Sun the question I had toward God was why?
-In Canton, Georgia in December 2011 an apartment maintenance worker lures a 7 year old girl from a playground. He abducts her, molests her and then murders her. This story garnered national news and dominated CNN for days as they searched for the missing girl. Eventually the police find the body of the 7 year old in a trash compactor. When I heard this I would ask God why?
-A popular teacher in a prestigious Washington, D.C. school uses his influence and access to children to make and manufacture child pornograghy. When it comes out its a shock and when people learn of what happened it results in many unanswered questions. For me when I heard about it on the radio I just thought and demanded of God why?
-In Newtown, Connecticut a gunman murdered 27 people in an elementary school. Before going on his murderous rampage Adam Lanza brutally shot his mother in bed while she lay sleeping. Who can forget the images of children running out of the school and EMT personnel deeply disturbed and scarred by the level of violence in what should really be a sanctuary for young children? Who can forget hearing the story of the children found piled into a closet who fled for their life? Who can forget the acts of heroism as some people laid down their life so that others may live? We’ve had a lot of school shootings, Virginia Tech, and Columbine just to name a few but the children were so young, the crime was so horrific that when I first heard about Newtown it really took my breath away.
-And lastly who can forget one of the most evil acts in recent history that is the defining point for a generation and permanently changed US and world history? Terrorists flying airplanes into skyscrapers, smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Who can forget the images of people jumping from the highest floors of the Towers because that was the better option? Who can forget the audio recordings of people asking for help because they were trapped in an office above the point of impact who couldn’t get out? In many ways I am a student of history and as I have read and taken in history throughout my life there is one thing that haunts me. Tuesday September 11,2001 was described as a beautiful morning in New York City. There was no humidity, not a cloud in the sky. It was the calm before the storm. In history people also commented on the beautiful morning that unfolded in Oahu on December 7, 1941. Clear, beautiful and a perfect way to start a Sunday. Anyone who is familiar with history knows what happened that morning in Pearl Harbor. What haunts me is how calm and beautiful life can be before evil strikes. Now the evil I described is what is called moral evil…its the result of man hurting another man. But there is another kind of evil that also begs questions as well.
You have natural evil which is not the responsibility of man. Again you hear about this in the news from time to time. For example this takes place in the form of a tsunami that takes out many parts of the Indian Ocean in December 2004. The death toll is astronomical. Then you also have another tsunami that occurs in Japan that takes out a large population base. Tsunami’s are not the only form of natural evil. You have earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, disease and famine. How many people have starved on Africa alone due to crop failure? If moral evil is the result of man than how do you explain this kind of evil?
While both bother me the moral evil hits me harder. I don’t know if its due to the fact that I have a high degree of empathy? Or if its due to how I can relate to the hurting. Things such as murder, child molestation, rape, cannibalism, terrorism, war, genocide, etc.. bring out strong responses in me. Are some people numb to such evil because of how populous it is today? It’s possible.
But tying this all together theologically why would I worship an omniscient God who allows evil to occur? Why is such a God considered good? What type of God who just stands by when a 4 year old is sexcually abused by a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher? Why is such evil allowed to continue by God unabated? We’ll explore this later on but I would also suggest that the reason why the problem of evil is a bigger problem today is that Calvinism/reformed theology makes the problem of evil worse. And what many people are being taught or the type of sovereignty being proclaimed puts a twist on issues such as child molestation, rape, terrorism, or murder. I need to journal about this in greater detail.
All of the above doubts became a hammer, some more than others and they were to fester and grow and in the channels I was in I didn’t have the means to diffuse the bomb that was ticking in me. The doubts began in me in 2008 and in 2009 the lid came off. In closing I would like to leave you with a raw song from Starfeld called, “I’ve Got Something to Say…” It deals with doubt and a faith crisis. Next Friday we’re going to start to explore the following question. What do you do if someone you know is in a faith crisis. How do you engage? How do you love? What do you do if you friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor implodes?