As I started realizing that the god described by the bible, by the church, by pastors, by books, by friends… didn’t match up with the real world, I was eventually faced with a hard question:
Am I misunderstanding the character of the God I believe in?
Does the God I believe in not really exist?
When I was 19 I took the plunge into the Christian faith. I experienced what I believed to be a personal encounter with God while praying in my college dorm room. I was carrying a world of guilt on my shoulders for decisions I believed were sinful. When I gave that guilt over to God in exchange for forgiveness—I felt a great sense of freedom. An enormous sense of relief.
It was electric. It literally transformed who I was at that moment in time.
And so followed taking longer and more meaningful strides into my Christian faith. Baptism, prayer life, bible study, Christian fellowship, Christian books, Christian theology, Christian apologetics, Christian radio, Christian music, Christian evangelism… Christian culture.
I had an enormous appetite for the “truths” of God. I looked for God’s fingerprints in all aspects of my daily life.
And so I spent the next decade. Absorbing knowledge, exploring my faith, embracing Christian community, attending seminary, and ultimately learning to live by faith, not by sight.
The deeper I plunged into the truths of God, the harder it was to avoid the staggering lack of consistency between the word of God and the reality of the world around me. The bible itself was riddled with inconsistencies, immorality, and even atrocities. The character of God in the bible was unpredictable, unreliable, and—often—far from what I would ever describe as “loving”.
These observations did not cause me to walk away from the scriptures or the Christian faith. There were always answers that excused my misunderstanding. And so these encounters with hard scriptures often bolstered my faith, rather than have me abandon it. In fact, the idea of not being a Christian never even occurred to me.
Even now as I look back, I didn’t realize I was no longer a Christian until after it happened.
My narrow view had turned God into a concept. I had transformed God from my loving father in heaven into a subject I could master, into a set of rules I had to follow, into an equation I could solve.
My first impulse was to try and find my way back to the person of God. Evangelical Christianity had lost its appeal. It was so much about personalities, pastors, appearances, speaking a certain way, showing up to the right events, owning the right books, attending the right conferences, having the right answers. And the reality was… I was pretty good at it.
I had consumed so much information, spent so much time in the bible, listened to and engaged in so many debates. I genuinely believed I had God’s answer to many of life’s most challenging questions.
When you stay within the lines of whichever Christian doctrine you embrace—the Christian faith can make a lot of sense. Most Christians who enjoy apologetics and theology spend a huge amount of time debating other Christians.
In this space, everyone generally agrees that scripture is the ultimate authority. And so… one side makes their claim and lists their verses. The other side does the same.
And yet, both sides agree the bible is God’s word. It is a fountain of truth from which we drink to understand who God is, why we live, and what happens to us after we die.
As a young college student, I spent my nights reading and listening to dozens of theological debates. Many between professors or apologists from different brands of Christianity. But every now and then I’d encounter a different type of debate. One with an atheist or someone from another religion.
In those debates I was never so much moved with what I thought of as “the other side”, but I did find myself frustrated that the Christians would only reference the bible to defend their positions. I would think—“But the other person doesn’t believe in the bible!”
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t pursue answers much beyond just asking the questions at the time.
There was a sense of dissatisfaction that God’s truth was not more self-evident. Especially with so much riding on people not believing rightly.
Looking back, this was amongst the first seeds of doubt that would one day grow into full bloom. But the Christian culture I would spend the next decade immersing myself in didn’t leave much room for doubts.
All of this came to a head in my early 30s. So much of evangelical Christianity felt man made. Man focussed. And fake.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know dozens of beautiful, kind, and loving people. But they—and I—and all of us… It often felt like we were in self-imposed cages.
We knew better than “the world”—yet we often indulged in the luxuries of this world without much concern.
We prayed for “the lost” and supposedly feared they would spend eternity apart from God…yet we spent a whole lot of time not-sharing-the-gospel, having fun, worrying about elections, hating the sin, and basically not acting like we really believed (or cared) that hell (let alone God) was real.
We believed that the bible was God’s perfect word, but read it very selectively and mostly in the form of devotionals written by gifted, albeit imperfect, authors.
We let pastors and apologists do the hard thinking on our behalf.
We carried ourselves with absolute certainty that this life was a temporary place. That eternity would be spent in the heavenly kingdom giving God glory… and we all privately wondered if (and desperately hoped that) heaven would be a lot more familiar and fun than it sounded.
Never mind hoping that hell wasn’t as terrible as advertised. Ultimately, God didn’t send anyone to hell. People chose that for themselves. Or so we told ourselves.
I had a lot of dissonance growing in my mind. And I was losing passion for the things of God.
So I left evangelical Christianity. Not Christianity.
At least not yet.