Long before my deconversion, there were those odd things I encountered in life that defied Biblical explanation. They weren’t particularly earth shattering but they did produce cracks in the egg shell of my faith. They caused me to think to myself: “damn, what do I do with that?”
I bet you know what I’m talking about and you probably have some of your own. Here were a few of mine.
The Adulterous Senior Pastor
It feels like every few weeks, we hear of a preacher who has fallen. Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, is the latest. Back in the 1990’s, my family was attending a Baptist church in town. It was quite large, with a big sanctuary and loads of nice amenities. The senior pastor, Charles, was a gifted orator and well beloved. A few years after moving away from the area, it made the news that Charles had been having an affair with a church parishioner. The pastor’s wife had been in the later stages of cancer and he likely found comfort and release in the arms of another woman. I don’t know what hell his wife went through, but certainly it must have been very hard. We later learned that the senior pastor often spent time with his lady friend on Monday, the day after the Sunday services. The unanswerable question for me was, “How the hell did he preach with such divine inspiration while living in sin??? Geez, did he have soul-cleansing confession on Saturday, then preach on Sunday, knowing he’d be drilling his lady friend again on Monday?”
It bothered me for a long time. I didn’t really harbor condemnation for the man as I was like, “hey, we’re all sinners”. But from my Biblical worldview, it just didn’t compute how unaffected his ability to preach was. Unless it was purely human skill and not divine at all.
My Gay Friends and Acquaintances
I suspect that most of us have known or currently know people we care about who are gay. The first homosexual I got to know was Charlie. He was a computer programmer from California who came to work on a data conversion project for a few weeks. I often picked him up from the hotel on the way to the client’s office. Charlie was smart, funny and charming. I really liked him. One night, he asked me to take him to the emergency room but I didn’t understand why at the time. I stayed for a while but he insisted that I go and not wait around. He wouldn’t explain but I complied and left. Charlie eventually completed the project, but a few years later I learned that he had died from AIDS. It was truly sad to learn. That was when I stopped looking at homosexual men as vile sinners and instead I saw them as fellow human beings. As time went on, I met and/or worked with several more gay men and my life experience just didn’t jive with the words I’d heard from preachers who said, “It’s a choice! Not a lifestyle!”
I didn’t know what to do with it all for a long time. As the years went by, I learned of many gay people who desperately wanted to be “normal” (per the world’s narrow minded view). They prayed. They cried out to God. They begged and pleaded. They wanted God to take away their homosexuality. But no one answered their prayers. Instead, there were countless stories of young people who committed suicide because their family or friends rejected them. They couldn’t deal with a world that kept telling them they were wicked and unnatural.
How does a person reconcile that? I would sometimes reflect on the fact that many were born with a variety of physical defects. Genetic mutations abound in life. Wasn’t it possible that a particular gene sequence or alternation of a person’s DNA might result in attraction for the same sex, or perhaps even attraction for both sexes? Didn’t the Bible say he “knit you together in the womb?” So if God does the knitting, wasn’t he at fault?
I didn’t know how to fit reality with the Bible. And the thought that all of these people were doomed to hell for eternity??? It just didn’t make sense.
Marital Relationship Advice
Many many years ago, I bought the popular book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. I was looking for relationship help and I sincerely enjoyed John Gray’s book. But reading it also caused me confusion. I remember thinking, “Why isn’t this great advice about marital relationships in the Bible??? If God wrote the Bible and if marriage is so important, why don’t we find truly practical guidance there like what I was reading in John Gray’s book?”
I suspect there might be even better texts that offer relationship advice but this incident really bothered me. A lot. I was taught often that the Bible contained ultimate and complete truth, so it seemed truly odd to me that the Bible was so inadequate as a practical guide to the marriage relationship. Sure, there are verses that pastors often expound upon like “love your wife like Christ loves the church”, and there’s the oft repeated beat-her-down statement of “wives submit!” (which I disagree with), but there’s only minimal practical advice in the Bible.
Prayer. No One is There?
The last item I’ll mention regards prayer. I remember many sermons on the topic of prayer, and as a teenager I often attempted to be quiet and hear the still small voice of God. Over the years, I spent significant time praying to the God of scripture. I routinely did so with an open Bible, reciting verses in the process. I prayed unselfishly and very specifically when it seemed appropriate and I was confident about the promises from the Old and New Testament. But reality didn’t correspond to experience.
No one was there. The only voice I ever heard was my own in my head. In my later years, it became clearer. When there was no answer to a specific prayer request, I simply dismissed it with an “oh well”. When there was a potential answer to prayer, in most cases it was clear to see that humans had taken specific steps that resulted in the “answered prayer”. In the other instances, I could never rule out coincidence as a possibility. In the end, praying to God was just as effective as not praying at all. Or as Marshall Brain has said, it’s just as effective as praying to a jug of milk. (Also see his site at Why Won’t God Heal Amputees).
The four items above were early cracks in my faith. Can you relate? Do you have memories of the earliest issues in your journey?
[This post was revised on 12/25/15]