I’m so sorry for leaving all of you in the dark about what has transpired over the last month. It’s been… interesting? Actually much of it has been terrible. Yep, pretty much lost all my friends save 4. But the last friend I lost was the final straw. That last friend I lost gained me two more and changed my life for a positive direction.
BTW, I’m just going to start using real names now.
Stephen is a scientist. Like a legit, working biologist. Stephen is also employed by the US government to do science stuff on a daily basis. Stephen is a Christian and was a regular attender of my ex-church. Stephen is a very curious and intelligent person. Stephen is also…wait for it…a young earth creationist.
I liked Stephen a lot. He was very nerdy and a bit socially awkward but had the redeeming qualities of friendly, intellectual, and a working scientist. One of the first real conversations I had with him was a debate on the age of the Earth. I have long been a believer that the evidence pointed to a billions of years old Earth, but I did spend about a year and half in college as a young earth creationist (YEC) believing that Bible taught the Earth was only about 5,000 years old. This was back when I was a biology major myself but also a boarder line fundamentalist. Thankfully biology won out and I abandoned YEC.
My debates with Stephen were always respectful and somewhat fun. In one such debate he paused to comment:
Stephen: Wait. I’m the scientist and you’re the pastor. I think we arguing on the wrong sides of this debate. Shouldn’t I be arguing for an old earth and you arguing for a young earth?
We both chuckled.
Stephen was ok with me being an old earth guy because he knew I was a Christian. As long as you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, the details of how old the earth is are kind of inconsequential. So we spent at least twice a month, eating at the local wings place, talking theology, science, and church.
Literally the Sunday before I stepped down as the pastor, he came to me with a proposition.
Stephen: One of these days you and I need to go hiking around [local volcanic mountain] so I can show you, physically, why I think the earth is only 5,000 years old.
Me: You know, that actually sounds like fun. Lets do that real soon.
The next Sunday I stood before the church, reading the prepared statement the board wrote for me on why I’m resigning, and looked over at Stephen. He was tearing up. He was very visibly sad about not only my departure but my reasoning too. After church, as we are saying our goodbyes to everyone, he came up to say goodbye.
Me: Hey man, we should really do that hike up the mountain soon. I’d love for you to show me why I might be wrong about the age of the earth. Especially now. [implying a need to regain faith]
Stephen: Yeah, let’s do that.
But of course, that had to wait. I had a trip to Arizona that I had to make. But upon my return I sent him a message with a request to meet soon. The government was sending him to another location for two weeks, so it’d have to wait another two weeks.
Last Wednesday night we finally get together at the wings place. We sit in our usual seats. We talk about what the government has been having him do for the last two weeks. I show him some pictures of some highly unusual bugs I spotted at my in laws. It’s going like a typical meet up. Then he asks the question:
Stephen: So I want to hear from you. What happened? What’s going on?
Me: Well nothing has “happened” per se, it’s just I can’t believe anymore. It started out as not being able to trust God in prayer, but it eventually moved to a place where I don’t know if a god exists at all anymore.
Stephen: Take me through that. How did you arrive at that conclusion?
Me: About a year ago, I was praying in my room. Praying for the church, my family, myself. Then I had this overwhelming sensation that God wasn’t listening to my prayers and I’m not sure He ever has. Then by about January I started coming to the realization that maybe it felt like no one was listening because there was no one there to listen. It’s hard to be mad at God for not answering your prayers when He was never there to begin with.
Stephen: [he reaches for his water glass and his hand is clearly shaking] What do you mean God doesn’t answer prayer? Surely you’ve seen God answer prayer. I know I have. [he takes a drink while shaking subtly, trying to conceal his emotions]
Me: Well, I’m just not sure we ever have seen God answer prayer. I mean, hmmm. I was at church one day when someone was going on a road trip. They asked me, “hey pastor, can you pray for my upcoming trip?” And so I did, but later that day I went home and read some news on my tablet. One of the news stories was about Syrian President Assad using chemical weapons against his people. There was a picture of 5 children, all between the ages of 3-6. They were all dead. Their eyes were open and they were dead, lying next to each other. Dead Stephen, dead. And I thought to myself, “why should I pray for this persons road trip, when clearly God wouldn’t answer the prayers of the parents praying for their children to survive?” If God wasn’t going to answer the prayers of these parents, why on earth should I ever expect him to listen to any of my prayers?
Stephen goes through some mumbo jumbo about God’s plan and how His ways are different than ours.
Me: You have got to be kidding me Stephen. You’re a dad. Your son is not even a year old yet. Imagine that’s your kid, dead in the picture. Would you have not prayed for your son’s life? That he would survive? If God refuses to answer you most deepest and desperate prayer on behalf of you child, why the hell would He answer any prayer at all? What’s easier to believe, that a loving God watched those children suffocate to death by poison gas but He did NOTHING AT ALL? Or perhaps, that if there is no one protecting your children from evil, then evil will harm your children? Occum’s Razor here man. Which is realistically easier to believe?
Stephen: So you really don’t think there is a God at all?
Me: Technically I’m agnostic. But my opinion is atheism. I really don’t think there is a god. It just doesn’t make sense.
Stephen: So you’re struggling with “the problem of evil”.
Me: Well slightly, but that’s not my main problem. My main problem is prayer. It doesn’t work. Prayer is inconsequential. Often Christians teach and believe that prayer is an inner thing. It changes you as a person to be more like Christ, but it shouldn’t be used to try to change your circumstances or the world around you. But that’s not what Jesus taught.
Stephen: Clearly the scriptures teach that prayer IS about changing things.
Me: Precisely. But it doesn’t change a thing, man! James 5 says:
“Are any of you sick? Then he should go before the elders of the church and be anointed with oil and he shall be healed, for the prayer of the righteous man avails much.”
Except it doesn’t. Nobody is ever healed by prayer alone. If prayer worked then we wouldn’t need doctors! I have often found that somebody’s chance of healing has more to do with the severity of the disease and the proficiency of the medical staff that are caring for them. Prayer makes little difference, if any. But James doesn’t say “might be healed” he says “will”. But that’s just not true.
Also Jesus says:
“Who of you, if your son asks for a loaf of bread, would give him a stone? Who of you, if your son asks for a fish, would give him a serpent? If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven?”
But, how many of those Syrian parents prayed the simple prayer for keeping their children alive? Yet God does nothing. But you mean to tell me that God is somehow going to answer your prayer over your chicken wings? Is that not the very definition of giving a stone instead of a loaf of bread?
And Jesus also says:
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘be thrown into the sea,’ and it will be cast into the sea.”
A mustard seed, Stephen. A small, tiny mustard seed. Have we not had a faith that small? Yet God refuses to answer our prayers. Jesus also says:
“Ask for anything in my name and your father in heaven shall give it you.”
But have we not asked for things that would appear to be part of God’s desire, and yet we have not received what we asked for? And notice he doesn’t say “your father in heave might give it to you”, he says “will.” But that’s just not true.
“Faith” means trust. I just don’t trust that God will answer any prayers. So I don’t have faith in God. But then again, maybe it’s not God’s fault. Maybe, he just doesn’t exist.
Stephen: But if you don’t believe a god exists, then why does this seem to upset you so much?
Me: What do you mean?
Stephen: Who cares if children are dying in Syrian then? If there is no god, then there’s nothing wrong with that. There is no right or wrong without God.
Me: Dude, that’s ridiculous. If you can’t figure out why killing children is wrong, you don’t lack a god, you lack empathy. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You’re a dad. Surely you don’t need Jesus to feel bad if your kid is gassed to death. And you don’t need God to feel bad for someone else’s child dying.
Stephen: But that’s the kind of world you are choosing to live in. Without God, there is no objective morality. Everything is subjective. Everything is pragmatic. Look at the kind of world that would exist without a God to give us moral guidance. Killing children isn’t “wrong” in a subjective world.
Me: I could argue with you about that but I think that’s beside the point. Just because you wouldn’t like the moral implications of a atheistic worldview, doesn’t make God magically exist. Just because you don’t like the conclusions, it doesn’t nullify the premise. If there is no god, then there is no god, regardless of whether you think objective morality is important. It’s like with hell: if hell exists, then it doesn’t matter whether I like the premise or not. Truth is truth, no matter what you think about it.
Stephen: Yeah, but why should you be bothered about hell? How could you possibly morally object to it if you don’t believe in a god?
Me: The Bible clearly teaches that hell is a place of conscious, eternal torment.
Me: But how on earth could that be considered moral acceptable?
Stephen: What do you mean?
Me: Have you seen that Francis Chan video on eternity?
I reference this video:
Me: How on earth could that ever be considered morally acceptable? How can a “just”, “loving”, and “merciful”, being punish someone with eternal torture for finite crimes? Infinite punishment for finite crimes? That’s clearly immoral.
Stephen: Who’s to say they’re finite crimes? Are we not eternal beings?
Me: Well in some respects no, and in other respects yes. Even if we live forever, there was a time when you didn’t exist. As we know, some infinities are larger than others. But at the very least you are finite in the sense that there was a time when you were not. It is unjust to punish infinitely for that which is finite. Even the American constitution puts provisions against cruel an unusual punishment.
Stephen: [he is now clearly sweating, taking a sip of water every 3 seconds. Hands are shaking, he’s clearly nervous twitching. Can’t tell if he’s just upset, or afraid. Maybe both] But who’s to say that our crimes are finite? Perhaps they are infinite.
Me: But that’s ridiculous. Think of video. Think of how small that red spot on the rope was. There was a time you didn’t exist. And then when you died, you ceased from sinning. Is it just to punish for millions and millions of years, without end, for what…80 years of rebellion? At some point, punishment must end or it is unjust.
Stephen: But what about the death penalty? Is that not an infinite punishment for a finite crime?
Me: But there is a difference between killing someone verses torturing them endlessly for an eternity. For fuck sake man, you’re a dad. Could you possibly ever think of a crime so heinous that it justified torturing your son forever?
Stephen: I guess it depends on the crime.
This is where I know I’ve lost him. There’s no arguing with him about God at this point. If he is willing to say that there might be a crime worth torturing his own son for an eternity, then I’ve hit a brick wall of blind faith.
We progress to other topics.
Me: Listen, at the end of the day, I can understand people being upset with me, feeling betrayed by me, or whatever. What I can’t get over, is that people are mad at my wife. She did nothing wrong. She didn’t lose her faith. Why the hell won’t people help her?
Stephen: [whose own wife refuses to return my wife’s phone calls and text] You have to understand, you aren’t two individual people. You’re a couple. People view you together. Since you have chosen…
Me: No, I didn’t “choose” anything Stephen. Why the hell would I or anyone choose this? I have gained nothing from this. I have lost damn near everything because of this. This wasn’t a choice. If I could choose to believe again, I would. But I can’t. I have simply lost the ability to believe. You need to trust me on this. Look at my life right now! What possible reason would I have to reject the Gospel? If I could believe it again, I would get my whole life back. I have lost nearly all my friends, and these friends of ours have also rejected my wife. Don’t you think if I could believe again and fix all that I would?
Stephen: Well I guess if I was the devil, the first thing I would do was make you think you had no choice.
Me: Stephen, you’re a scientist! Can’t you see that you are inventing reasons to fit clear evidence presented to you, into the mold of your own belief? You’re making things up, just to make it fit with your theory instead of just taking the evidence in front of you and allowing that to be true! Why is it so hard for you to believe that I didn’t “choose” to reject God? Why can’t you just believe what I’ve experienced?
Stephen: Regardless, I’m not justifying our friends actions but explaining them. You have taken something very dear to us, Jesus, and thrown him into the trash, and stomped on him. You have rejected the very essence of our being, our everything, and just… thrown it away. That hurts us a lot. So it’s awkward to even approach your wife.
Me: That’s bullshit. How can you be mad at me, and then take it out on my wife, for not believing in Jesus…WHILE YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN HIM EITHER! Does not Jesus say:
“If you are at the alter and remember your brother has something against you, go and leave your gift at the alter, and be reconciled to you brother.”
and does he not say:
“How often shall you forgive your brother who sins against you in one day? Seven times? No, truly I tell you 70 times 7.”
and does he not say:
“How many of you if you have 100 sheep and lose 1, do you not leave the 99 behind and search out the 1 who is lost?”
and of course he says:
“Why do you call me Lord and do not do what I command?” “You are my friends if you do what I command.”
Except you don’t. None of you do. And it’s not just towards me, it’s towards my wife, WHO HASN’T DONE THE SLIGHTEST THING WRONG. This was an opportunity for the church to reach out to someone who was hurting, and keep her part of the faithful, but you failed. All of you did. Why man, why?
Stephen: Because we can’t, we can’t. This is the path you have taken and we can’t walk it with you. I’m sorry but this is the end of us. I have appreciated our time together over this last year, but I can’t have fellowship with you.
Me: What the hell are you talking about? So because I’m a lost sheep, you can’t be my friend?
Stephen: But you aren’t just lost. You once believed. Heck, you preached it. But have since rejected it.
Me: But I didn’t choose to.
Stephen: Either way, we’re done. If you ever want to talk about coming back to Jesus, I’d be glad to talk with you.
Me: But it’s not that simple. You don’t choose what you believe. You believe in what you think is real. You think God is real, therefore you believe. I don’t, therefore I don’t.
Stephen: John, it was a pleasure knowing you.
He gets up, extends his hand. We shake, he leaves.
Did he just break up with me?
He did. What the fuck?
This kills me on the inside a lot. I move from the table to the bar, where I think proceed to drink about 10 too many drinks. I call my friend Anthony and his wife to come pick me up and take me home.
At least I got someone who will pick me up from the bar.
This story gets better, but that’s all I can write tonight. And as always, much of the conversation was paraphrased and edited for length.