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This Ex-Christian Made Me Question My Faith

This Ex-Christian Made Me Question My Faith


This Ex-Christian Made Me Question My Faith

Below, in quotes, is a post in r/exChristian on Reddit.com. The writer does a good job explaining why he gave up his faith in the Christian God, citing specific reasons and examples from scripture.

Underneath the Reddit post, I respond to each statement he makes.

This story ends with a question and a concluding thought.

Finally, I’d like to explain my motive for this post. Faith is not intended to be divorced from reality, reason, or rationale. If what I believe (Christianity) is actually true, then should it not hold up to… anything? If my faith is easily disproven, then why should I believe it?

I don’t want to shy away from tough issues, ugly Bible verses, and “problems” with my faith. I don’t want to be afraid of what I might discover if I truly brought God under the microscope. The statements presented below expose deep problems with the Christian God and faith in Jesus. Am I open to the possibility that God might not be real and my faith might be in vain?

My motivation for writing this is to examine my faith as objectively as possible, weigh it against an opposite worldview, and test if it holds up as true.

By the end of this story, my faith will be either be galvanized or shaken.

Onward—here is the “ex-Christian’s” post, first published as a comment to the Reddit OP’s original question of “Can you please tell me why you became an atheist?”:

NOTE: This is going to be exceptionally long. However, I think it’s worth the read. If you read it all, and have any questions, feel free to ask. As I finish typing this, it clocks in at 7,986 characters.
I think I had a different issue than most exes, in this regard.
The reasons I left the faith are twofold, mostly.
Growing up, I was subject to the stereotypical “God is good and forgiving” line that is tantamount to modern day apologia.
I was taught Creationism, and some of the evidence was really convincing, to be honest. It made me question some of the evolutionary teachings I had heard in school, and I had to truly re-evaluate what I believed.
Then, at some point, it just clicked. It doesn’t matter if you think God is real, it matters if you think God is worth following and supporting.
As I read through scripture, I was confronted with story after story that demonstrated, to me, the behaviour of an all-powerful kindergartener, not a loving deity.
I realized that in the case of the Garden, assuming it’s true, we were set up to fail.
We were held accountable, as a species, for believing a lie. Humans, according to scripture, had never been subject to deception before. Literally, before the serpent, 100% of what Adam and Eve had heard was true. There was no reason to doubt the serpent, because skepticism comes with knowledge.
Then there was the fact that humans were punished, for “sinning.”
I had two problems with that.
If they hadn’t eaten from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” then by definition they didn’t know right from wrong. It’s irreconcilable. And punishing someone for a crime they didn’t understand isn’t gracious.
If Eve, by eating the fruit, introduced Original Sin into the world, then there’s a whole mess of other problems. For instance, that means that the serpent lying and tempting wasn’t a sin. If the serpent lying and tempting wasn’t a sin, then Lucifer rebelling against God in the first place wasn’t a sin. If rebelling against God wasn’t a sin, then questioning and doubting God wasn’t a sin. And if questioning and doubting God wasn’t a sin, then salvation is unnecessary.
Then there’s the image of God as a father figure. I like to make an analogy in this case.
If you had a two year old kid, then there’s a pretty good chance that they don’t fully understand right and wrong yet. That’s a pretty good comparison for Adam and Eve, being as they hadn’t yet eaten from the tree of knowledge.
Now, as a responsible parent, you tell the kid not to touch the stove, which is on. You tell them that touching it will burn them, and it will hurt. You step out to make a call, and leave the stove on. This is a fair comparison for leaving the tree in the garden unattended.
Enter me. I’ll be the serpent in this one. I go to your kid, and tell them that touching the stove won’t actually hurt. You were mistaken. I say to touch the stove. You know what the kid does? They touch the stove. They are inclined to believe me.
Here’s the part where humanity surpassed God in grace. You know what you do when your kid burns themselves? You bandage them. You kiss their boo-boo. You explain that there are people out there who you mustn’t believe, and tell them to learn from the experience.
You know what you don’t do? You don’t kick them out. You don’t cut off their college fund, or subject them to the horrors of working in the adult world. You don’t curse them.
You yell at me. I’m the one responsible for your child’s injuries, not the child.
If God were a parent worth having, he would have done the same. Instead, he did everything on the “don’t” list, times a hundred.
That was hard for me to accept.
But there’s more.
The Tower of Babel.
This was really one of the final straws for me.
In the passage, God says:
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
As a parent, you’re preparing your child to succeed without you. It’s the point. You want them to be self-sufficient. It’s the measuring stick of a parent, how their child fares without them. That’s not what happens here.
God is made insecure by humans capabilities. So he cheats. He breaks down their ability to communicate. Petty. It’s tantamount to changing the answers on your kids homework because they no longer need your help with it.
That would make you a bad parent, so why is it “good” if the Almighty does it?
Then there’s the salvation story.
According to this source, the number of people who have existed is 107,602,707,791. That’s mind-boggling.
Now, I’m going to be very generous here. Let’s assume that half of everyone went to heaven. That means, by default, that an equal half went to hell. That’s over fifty billion souls, burning eternally.
And for what? Free will?
I ask you this: is free will worth it? I can only speak for myself, but if giving up my ability to make independent decisions meant that just one person would be spared that torment, I’d do it in a heart-beat.
And lets be honest here. God doesn’t really want free will anyway. The Tower of Babel demonstrates that unequivocally. When we “choose” something that’s displeasing, he intervenes and cheats.
That means that fifty billion people are burning for the illusion of choice, so that his “praises” are a little more convincing.
He created, and doomed, a sentient species just to get an ego boost. How could I justify following someone who seemed so needy and petty?
I can’t.
Then there’s the Egyptian story.
One man, the Pharaoh, speaks for an entire people. God, when he doesn’t get what he wants, kills all the firstborn of a people who didn’t make the decision.
Let that sink in for a moment.
You wouldn’t support a guerrilla fighter who massacred children to get what they wanted, so how could you support a god that did the same thing?
Then there’s the gap between the Fall and Jesus.
Being conservative here, going off Creationism, lets say it’s roughly 4,000 years. That’s four thousand years worth of people who were doomed to burn for the misfortune of being born outside of the Jewish people.
The Jews, by the way, are another evidence against a gracious God.
He chose one people, and favored them. He intervened in war and such, causing countless deaths against other people. He helped them take land, and encouraged them to kill the children of their enemies.
How gracious is that? It’s like a child, playing army. He chooses one side, and stacks the deck against all others.
Not all-loving, that.
Then there’s the shear inefficiency of spreading the Gospel via humans. What about people in Africa who died the day after Jesus was crucified?
What was their sin? Being born in the wrong place? Not having internet?
Assuming God is all-powerful, there’s no excuse for taking 4,000 years to rectify the issue, nor is there an excuse for allowing such rectification to take so long, given that it’s human souls on the line.
In short, there’s no way I could ever respect God as an equal to humanity, much less revere him as our superior. Simply put, we’re better than him.
And there’s no way I could dedicate my life to someone or something so temperamental, selfish, needy, lazy, infanticidal, and generally unloving as the Christian God.
I’m sorry that the answer was so long, but it’s not one that bears being short.
I’ve got more spiels if anyone is interested in them, and I’m happy to help anyone re-evaluating their commitments.
Feel free to message me or comment here with any questions. It’s your life, I want to help you live it fruitfully.
EDIT: Wow. Just wow. Never thought this would blow up so much.
Remember guys and gals, faith is a touchy subject. Now we’re all adults, so disagreeing is allowed! But lets make sure to do our best to be respectful to one another, even in our disagreements. I’m enjoying all this discussion, and I hope you all do too.
And thank you for those who gilded my comment! I’ve never received gold before, and I’m glad the comment that finally got it was something I can be proud of.

Prompted by this post, I want to call into question my own faith and offer responses to the hard questions the writer raised, be they satisfying to you, the reader, or not.

Below, you’ll find the original author’s statements quoted verbatim in italics alongside the black quote bar and my own statements following in regular text.

I’ll warn you. This is 7,600 words. The questions posed are really, really hard and require a great deal of explanation.

If you’re a Christian, please know that I’m speaking from my heart, and not on a purely theological or doctrinal basis. Much of what I say is based on my personal viewpoint, so I’m not trying to be a group representative, but rather an individual.

If you’re an atheist, please know I’d prefer a phone call over a digital battle. Contact me here.

Alright, let’s get into it.

The writer begins with this:

The reasons I left the faith are twofold, mostly.
Growing up, I was subject to the stereotypical “God is good and forgiving” line that is tantamount to modern day apologia.
I was taught Creationism, and some of the evidence was really convincing, to be honest. It made me question some of the evolutionary teachings I had heard in school, and I had to truly re-evaluate what I believed.
Then, at some point, it just clicked. It doesn’t matter if you think God is real, it matters if you think God is worth following and supporting.
As I read through scripture, I was confronted with story after story that demonstrated, to me, the behaviour of an all-powerful kindergartener, not a loving deity.
I realized that in the case of the Garden, assuming it’s true, we were set up to fail.
We were held accountable, as a species, for believing a lie. Humans, according to scripture, had never been subject to deception before. Literally, before the serpent, 100% of what Adam and Eve had heard was true. There was no reason to doubt the serpent, because skepticism comes with knowledge.

I believe the writer is talking about blame. If God created us without consciences, or awareness of good or evil, then we can’t be blamed for listening to instruction from a serpent who has our demise in mind. 

It’s God’s fault, the writer insinuates. He made us stupid and innocent. So when the serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit, she had no choice but to do it.

But, didn’t God warn them? Didn’t God say, “Don’t do it.”?

2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

So while she might not have known about good and evil, she was aware of the concept of disobedience. God’s instruction was very clear.

You might be saying, if God didn’t want us to fail, why make the tree of good and evil at all? Why give us the chance to fail in the first place?

Here’s why: choice is the foundation for love. If there was no choice, we would be robots. We’d perfectly do the right thing every time. Do you receive more love from your puppy dog obediently running to your feet or from a calculator?

I know free will is an enigma, and I know I don’t understand it fully, but from what I’ve read and heard, it’s causing a lot of people to turn away from God.

From my own wrestling with God, scripture, and people who are smarter than I, here’s where I’m at with the issue.

If God knew that by giving humans the ability to do evil via free will we would indeed do evil, does that make God culpable as the enabler of evil?

No. 

Knowing doesn’t pre-determine. Adam and Eve could have been perfect. Did God make them sin? No. But God saw in the future that they would. But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t see them being perfect in the future as well. It could’ve gone either way, and God knew both paths. He left it up to Adam and Eve to choose.

It’s like playing chess against God. God knows every move you will make and the outcome of the game; he knows who will win and who will lose. That doesn’t mean he controls every move you make. Does that mean he could be surprised, and lose the game? Surprised — no. Lose the game — yes, but it’s up to him.

Knowledge is power, not control.

Why is it this way? Because God desires love in his relationship with humans.

So saying we were “set up to fail” is not the best way to put it. Rather, I see it as God taking a risk and creating a species that was like him — independent. Did God know what would happen? Yes. Did his foreknowledge force it to happen that way? No. I’ll expand upon this later.

So who’s fault was it? In my mind, it was us and Satan.

Why didn’t God destroy Satan from the beginning? I’ll also answer this below.

In the end, God’s motivation to create us, the garden, the tree, everything, was love. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve did exactly what I would have done: been selfish, done my own thing, and flip a middle digit to my Maker when I had the chance. 

Then there was the fact that humans were punished, for “sinning.”
I had two problems with that.
1. If they hadn’t eaten from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” then by definition they didn’t know right from wrong. It’s irreconcilable. And punishing someone for a crime they didn’t understand isn’t gracious.

Punishing someone for a crime they didn’t understand isn’t gracious, I agree. But it says in the story that God was very clear, “You are free to eat from any tree but don’t touch the one tree.”

In Eve’s response, she repeated the instruction from God. She knew what he said.

So when you combine the tempting words of Satan:

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

(The serpent put two ideas in her mind:

  1. He twisted what God said. “Did he really say that?”
  2. He made a bad thing look like a good thing. “You’ll be like God.” (Who wants to be God-like? I do.)

…and then combine common sense, human impulses, our visceral senses, and our thirst for truth:

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.

…anyone would’ve done it. With our God-given gift of independence, such an opportunity is irresistible. Knowing exactly what God said about NOT eating the fruit, Eve followed her own desires.

Why did God make a creature that would disobey him? 

Why do you have kids? Do your kids obey you 100% of the time? Pretty sure they mess up, too. But I’m also confident you still love them, and they still love you.

Let’s continue.

2. If Eve, by eating the fruit, introduced Original Sin into the world, then there’s a whole mess of other problems. For instance, that means that the serpent lying and tempting wasn’t a sin. If the serpent lying and tempting wasn’t a sin, then Lucifer rebelling against God in the first place wasn’t a sin. If rebelling against God wasn’t a sin, then questioning and doubting God wasn’t a sin. And if questioning and doubting God wasn’t a sin, then salvation is unnecessary.

What the writer says makes good logical sense, but is constructed upon several incorrect premises. 

In my mind, Original Sin is an earthly concept and applies to humans, not spiritual beings like Lucifer. Lucifer rebelling against God is something I don’t understand and I wish we had more data on it, but it’s clear from scripture that it was evil and hurtful to God. 

If you read Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14, Luke 10:18, and Revelation 12:8–17, you’ll see Lucifer was God’s prize but became consumed with himself. Have you ever seen a lighting bolt strike? That’s how fast God put Satan on earth when he rebelled against him.

Like any good epic, there’s a protagonist and an antagonist. God made Satan, and keeps him alive, for the sake of a better tale and more glory. Although I truly wish Satan and his minions would go away, it seems they are here to stay, waging war against us, until Jesus returns and says enough is enough.

So when the serpent lied and deceived Eve, he (Satan) was continuing in his natural, God-ordained identity as the enemy of God and humankind. For a greater theology and background on Satan, I recommend reading and investigating the book of Job.

Before moving on, I have another comment about this statement:

If rebelling against God wasn’t a sin, then questioning and doubting God wasn’t a sin.

Rebelling against God is a sin, yes, because in order to rebel, you must consider your beliefs as more true than the entity against which you are rebelling. In order to rebel against something, you are comparing your views and saying you are right and it is wrong. Where you stand with that is between you and God. Here’s what I really want to point out, and where I might agree with the writer:

Questioning and doubting God wasn’t a sin.

We aren’t supposed to be dumb creatures. Yes, the Bible says we are supposed to be “like a little child” to understand the kingdom of God, but what do little children do? They persistently ask their parents, “But why, Dad?”

Questioning God is good. I love it. It’s the motivation behind this post. If God is true, then all questions will lead to me knowing him more, and I’ve found that to be true. There is an incredible amount I don’t understand about God but that doesn’t mean I leave it at that. I search for answers. I can tell you all the questions raised by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion challenge my faith and when I think about them, I learn more about who God is. Thank you, Richard Dawkins.

Doubting is okay, too, for a season — everyone doubts at one point or another. But there’s a difference between questioning and doubting. Questioning comes from objective curiosity. Doubting comes from subjective experience. When something I didn’t want to happen happens, I doubt because that’s not the way I would’ve done it. I can choose to learn, or I can choose to judge.

When something terrible happens, we have a choice: to question or to doubt. You can either grow, or another word might be “mature” — to learn something new — or you can concretize your subjective experience as truth. 

I encourage you, when you find yourself doubting God, to move towards questions and away from judgments. 

Let’s move on.

Then there’s the image of God as a father figure. I like to make an analogy in this case.
If you had a two year old kid, then there’s a pretty good chance that they don’t fully understand right and wrong yet. That’s a pretty good comparison for Adam and Eve, being as they hadn’t yet eaten from the tree of knowledge.
Now, as a responsible parent, you tell the kid not to touch the stove, which is on. You tell them that touching it will burn them, and it will hurt. You step out to make a call, and leave the stove on. This is a fair comparison for leaving the tree in the garden unattended.

This is definitely a tough one. I’m wondering where God was when Satan as the serpent tempted Eve. Why didn’t God just crush Satan right then and there? Why didn’t God intervene and say, “Wait, don’t listen to him!”

To answer this, you’d have to answer a question about the next verse, right after they ate the fruit and became aware of their nakedness.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Is this God physically “walking back into the room”?

Do you think he knew what had happened?

Then why did he ask, “Where are you?”

Continuing with the Reddit writer’s analogy, I believe God was watching the whole thing. Like a parent when his kid is playing pop warner football, he watched his kid get sacked by another kid. Tackled hard. But he didn’t run out onto the field, break the rules, and stop the game. He could’ve, but he didn’t.

He wanted to see his kid get up again and keep playing. 

He had a better plan in mind.

Enter me. I’ll be the serpent in this one. I go to your kid, and tell them that touching the stove won’t actually hurt. You were mistaken. I say to touch the stove. You know what the kid does? They touch the stove. They are inclined to believe me.

To me, this is like mother birds pushing their young out of the nest to learn how to fly. The serpent says to Eve, “You’re ready to fly. Go ahead and jump out by yourself, you don’t have to wait for Mom.”

So Eve, wanting to fly on her own, went against what God (through Adam) told her and hopped out of the nest.

I think the writer and I are in agreement.

Here’s the part where humanity surpassed God in grace. You know what you do when your kid burns themselves? You bandage them. You kiss their boo-boo. You explain that there are people out there who you mustn’t believe, and tell them to learn from the experience.

This is where I’m not sure if the writer is reading the same story in the Bible that I’m reading. What about this verse?

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

That sounds a lot like “bandages” to me?

Right after they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve covered themselves with puny, ineffective fig leaves. 

Instead of hurting them, God took an animal, killed it, and fashioned leather pants and shirts for them, to keep them warm, to shield them from the sun, to cover their naked bodies, of which they were now aware and felt shame from. To me, I see this as God loved them even in the middle of their blatant disobedience.

But there’s more behind God’s actions.

You know what you don’t do? You don’t kick them out. You don’t cut off their college fund, or subject them to the horrors of working in the adult world. You don’t curse them.

As a parent, you absolutely don’t treat your kids like that. I fully agree with the writer. But there’s something you have to know about God here. And it can be hard to understand because it deviates from the parent-child analogy. This is a big concept that I’ll do my best to explain.

God is holy. The word “holy” means “set apart” — God is different. Full stop. God’s character is unlike any human, any alien, any fictional character we can imagine in literature.

Keep that in your mind as I try to illustrate another concept. 

Perfection is pure brilliance. Clean, unadulterated uniformity of pristine sparkling constancy, like a powdery blanket of freshly fallen snow.

What happens when you trudge into a perfect blanket of snowfall? What happens when a drop of blood drips into a well of drinking water? What happens when you put a fingerprint on your new Macbook screen?

Here’s the hard concept: it’s for our best that God remains perfect. Hear me out: Part of being happy as a human is to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s where we get our meaning and purpose. It’s why we live. For me, it’s my family, my job, or maybe a national movement. But the problem is everything lets me down and eventually hurts me. Even my wife and my family let me down. Science and reason show me truth about life. But science and reason can be wrong. Scientists thought the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. Reason can be logical but founded upon false premises. You can use reason like cash; however you want to spend it to fit your goals.

Once I realized that everything lets me down, or makes me unhappy in some way, then I turned to myself. If I just focus on making myself happy, then that is a good life, right? Choose yourself and love yourself, that is the purpose of life — so it would seem. But, if you’ve lived long enough yet, you know you let yourself down, too. Even getting what you want makes you unhappy, just ask the rich and famous artists, actors, and athletes. Tom Brady said right after winning the Super Bowl, “This is it?” As in, this is all that life has to offer? It’s not enough. Brad Pitt says happiness is overrated. I hear about celebrity suicides in the news. Robin Williams killing himself killed me. 

The point is that whatever you choose to be satisfied by, whether it’s yourself or something bigger than yourself, it will leave you empty eventually.

That’s why we need something other, something different, something holy, something perfect. I love the God who made me. He’s utterly perfect, in both a loving and a just way. He never lets me down. Ever. He’s unlike anything else. He’s perfect, unlike me, unlike my family, unlike my job, unlike anything related to humans. 

So God needed to preserve his perfection by removing us from the Garden of Eden. As much as it hurt him to do it, he had to, because in the end it’s best for us for him to retain his perfection. If we stayed in the garden, the snow, the drinking water, MacBook screen, would not be pure and would ultimately let us down.

It was an incredibly sad moment. But God had a plan to fix it.

You yell at me [the serpent]. I’m the one responsible for your child’s injuries, not the child.

Again, not sure if the writer read the aftermath of the Bible story. God was furious at the serpent and screamed at him for ruining his favorite creation.

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
 and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
 and you will eat dust
 all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
 between you and the woman,
 and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
 and you will strike his heel.”
If God were a parent worth having, he would have done the same. Instead, he did everything on the “don’t” list, times a hundred.

If I could talk to the writer, I would ask him a question.

As a parent (or a pet-owner, or a partner, or in any relationship), what’s more important, justice or mercy? If you could only choose one, which would you pick?

If only justice, then you have a violent relationship of punishment and reward, but at least people are getting exactly what they deserve. 

If only mercy, then you have a violent world of freedom and chaos, but at least people are getting to do exactly what they want to do.

The “world of justice” is a man-made system called religion.

The “world of mercy” is a man-made system of agnosticism.

It is my belief that the God of the Bible lashes justice and mercy together perfectly. The God in the Old Testament shows how the system of justice wasn’t going to work. The God in the New Testament gave us mercy in a way that paid the price to accomplish justice.

This “world of justice and mercy” is a reality that I think a lot of people, like the writer, struggle to balance. If you fall on either side, you’ll be inevitably angry or disappointed with God. Only Christianity is the bridge to both and there is a Cornerstone that holds the structure together.

That was hard for me to accept.
But there’s more.
The Tower of Babel.
This was really one of the final straws for me.
In the passage, God says:
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
As a parent, you’re preparing your child to succeed without you. It’s the point. You want them to be self-sufficient. It’s the measuring stick of a parent, how their child fares without them. That’s not what happens here.

Just because you’re rearing your child to operate independently from you doesn’t mean you want the relationship to end. I love my mom and dad. I call them because I want to remain in relationship with them. They did a pretty good job raising me, but that doesn’t mean I’m ending our relationship now that I’m on my own and doing well. What parent wants their child to be “dead to them” after they’ve raised them?

God is made insecure by humans capabilities. So he cheats. He breaks down their ability to communicate. Petty. It’s tantamount to changing the answers on your kids homework because they no longer need your help with it.
That would make you a bad parent, so why is it “good” if the Almighty does it?

The Tower of Babel story is actually not that difficult for me. I’ll explain it in an analogy.

If you were my friend and you knew I loved Disney World, let’s assume you planned a trip for me to go there to enjoy it. You’d give me things that remind me of Disney World and make me think of it. Two weeks before, I can’t stop talking about it. One week before, I get so excited I can’t sit still. Then, when we get off the airplane in Orlando, you watch me drive in the opposite direction away from Disney World to the mall and buy more Disney stuff I could’ve easily bought at home. You sadly watch me revel in my new Mickey Mouse t-shirt and Goofy hat. I come out of the store and say, “That was great! Let’s go home.” Your mouth drops open, “But what about the actual Disney World? Don’t you want to go?” I turn around and wag my new Captain America doll in the air. A little annoyed and confused, you help me carry my bags of stuff to the hotel.

Because you know I deep down really desire Disney World the most, and that it would make me truly the happiest on the deepest levels of my soul to enter Disney World, you decide to do something about it. When we get back to the hotel and I drag in all of my Disney stuff, you sit me on the bed, open the window, and proceed to toss every single piece of crap out into the dumpster.

I scream, “What are you doing?!”

You turn to me and say, “We came here for Disney World. We’re going to Disney World. Now. Get in the car.”

“But what about all my stuff?”

“Trust me, you won’t want it after…” you raise your voice, “…we actually go to Disney World!

What I’m getting at is the Tower of Babel wasn’t a bad thing, it just wasn’t the best thing. When humans are unified and on the same page, we can accomplish crazy awesome things. But crazy awesome things are only things. When God saw that it was taking his [friend, beloved creation, lover, cherished people] away from him, he sat us down, opened the window, and threw the tower in the dumpster, never to let us build such a distraction (from our deepest desire) again.

This returns me to the point I made earlier. God’s perfection is paramount. If God wasn’t holy and perfect in his balance of justice and mercy, and just another thing that lets us down, then I would agree with the writer. Such an act would be petty and selfish, based out of insecurity. But if what’s best for us is him, then it was a loving act to break through and show himself to us again.

Have you seen A Christmas Story? Do you remember the scene when the dad buys the sexy leg lamp? The wife’s jealousy grows until she can’t take it anymore. One day, when the husband is away, it looks like she [offscreen] took a bat to it. The father returns home and finds it in pieces and his heart is broken. The lascivious glowing limb represented his iridescent pride. It hurt, and he mourned that it was destroyed, but a greater good happened: the wife got her husband back.

That’s what God did with the Tower of Babel.

Let’s keep going.

Then there’s the salvation story.
According to this source, the number of people who have existed is 107,602,707,791. That’s mind-boggling.
Now, I’m going to be very generous here. Let’s assume that half of everyone went to heaven. That means, by default, that an equal half went to hell. That’s over fifty billion souls, burning eternally.

I won’t even venture to put numbers on who is saved and who is not. I don’t feel comfortable with that.

But the bigger point that I wish the writer could know about hell is that the hot and fiery image we think of is a subset of what hell actually is. Hell is the absence of God. It’s a place where God, and everything that he is, is not. 

Why do people go to hell? I don’t know but it seems that if you don’t like God while you’re living on earth, and you don’t want anything to do with him, then isn’t hell, as defined as the absence of God, exactly what you would want?

People who don’t want God to exist are going to a place where he doesn’t. 

In a similar, but converse vein, the image of heaven as a white cloudy place and banquet feast full of celebration is also a subset of what heaven actually is. Heaven is where we get to fully know, plainly see, and completely express our worship of God. 

Again, operating on the reality that if God is perfect and holy, and is our truest source of joy, more than any other “tower of babel”, and if heaven is a place of only God, then I can’t imagine anything better, happier, and more satisfying than that.

If God is revolting to you, then that is an indication that you want a place where God has removed himself and his presence.

So it’s not exactly fair to accuse God of arbitrarily sending people to hell or heaven. People choose where they want to go, based on what they choose to believe here on earth.

And for what? Free will?
I ask you this: is free will worth it? I can only speak for myself, but if giving up my ability to make independent decisions meant that just one person would be spared that torment, I’d do it in a heart-beat.

It’s interesting how the sentiment the writer states here is the same sentiment Paul makes in Romans 9:3:

For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

The writer is touching on the reason why evangelists are so weird; this is the urgency they feel to reach out and spread the news of Jesus. So more people can know God and be saved from darkness and true depression.

And lets be honest here. God doesn’t really want free will anyway. The Tower of Babel demonstrates that unequivocally. When we “choose” something that’s displeasing, he intervenes and cheats.

Strongly disagree; God absolutely wants free will. Hence, the Garden of Eden. Hence, humans being made in his image and not just animals or robots. Hence, the ability to love each other and love God.

The Tower of Babel illustrates God’s intervention to pull the curtain back, take the scales off our eyes, and let us see the light of day again. To restore our greatest joy. To show us Disney Land and destroy the illuminated leg lamp sitting in our front window sill.

Remember that if you believe God is not our greatest joy, then yes, the Tower of Babel is selfish and petty. But if God is our greatest joy, then letting us take our attention off ourselves and see him again is a magnanimous act of kindness masquerading as subterfuge.

That means that fifty billion people are burning for the illusion of choice, so that his “praises” are a little more convincing.

It’s my belief that God isn’t pleased by people going to hell. It’s actually heartbreaking to him. Because the risk he took to give us the ability to love backfired. If we can love, then we can hate. If we hate God, then he will give us what we want. 

I don’t know who is going to hell and who is going to heaven. I have no idea. And I will refrain from making any sort of judgment. What I do know is that God is a perfect analyst of good and evil and governs with justice and mercy in a mysterious counterbalance.

He created, and doomed, a sentient species just to get an ego boost. How could I justify following someone who seemed so needy and petty?
I can’t.

Instead of saying it this way, I would rephrase what the writer said here to this:

“He created, and empowered, a sentient species to fill the universe with glory. How could I justify following someone so holy and loving?”

Sound a bit different? 

Then there’s the Egyptian story.
One man, the Pharaoh, speaks for an entire people. God, when he doesn’t get what he wants, kills all the firstborn of a people who didn’t make the decision.
Let that sink in for a moment.
You wouldn’t support a guerrilla fighter who massacred children to get what they wanted, so how could you support a god that did the same thing?

This is a tough one. I had to reread the story in Exodus.

To take the writer’s point one step further, not only did God kill the firstborn of the Egyptians and their animals, he “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” to do it.

Yikes, how could God do that?

I’m not going to make any truth claims, and there are accounts from apologists that offer explanations of the language used in this passage, suggesting that the difficulty of this passage (i.e., God overriding Pharaoh’s free will) comes from idiomatic or semantic misinterpretations, but my view is that throughout the nine plagues passage it says “Pharaoh’s heart became hard” and “he hardened his [own] heart” so that by the time we get to the final plague of the firstborn deaths, God may or may not have intervened and hardened his heart so that Pharaoh would continue with his self-chosen pattern and reap the consequences of his heart’s intent and going back on his word seven times before.

God’s intervention is a tough issue. It makes people argue, “If God intervened here, then why won’t he intervene to save my dying Grandmother?”

I see it like this: picture me standing in scrubs with a surgical mask over my face in an operating room with my mother lying before me on the table under the light. She has a brain tumor that needs to be extracted. Next to me is the best neurosurgeon in the world whose been practicing for decades. The choice is mine: do I, as a person who gets ill at the sight of blood and with no idea what I’m doing, conduct the surgery or should I let the experienced neurosurgeon next to me take the forceps?

When it comes to God’s intervention, I leave it up to him, seeing that his purpose and plan is above my human perspective and rationale.

Let’s move on to God’s “cruelty” in the Bible.

Forgive me for the mature analogies but my goal is to illustrate why God is seemingly and unreasonably “truculent” (Dawkins’ favorite word) in the Old Testament.

If an evil man were beating my wife, attacking her, and enslaving her, I would go to violent war with the evil man instantly. 

If an evil man raped my daughter in front of my very own eyes, my rage would be incontrovertible and my wrath unconscionable towards the evil man. I would do anything to save my daughter and destroy her detestable assailant. I would want my retribution to be so severe that it makes sure it never happened again.

That’s how I see God protecting his beloved people, the Israelites. He vehemently cares for, aggressively defends, and ruthlessly loves them, even if it means giving harsh justice to evil men.

But did God still murder innocent babies in the Plague of the First Born?

Glenn M. Miller, theologian and founder of ChristianThinkTank.com, wrote a response to this question. It’s over 22,000 words (over twice as long as this writing). In his answer, he breaks down the Plague of the First Born material into six parts: 

  1. The passages/texts themselves
  2. The historical context of the oppression of the Israelites
  3. The theological decision/action by God about the first-born
  4. The role and accountability of Pharaoh for these consequences
  5. The moral elements involved: innocence and consequences, reciprocity and blame
    Pushback: God-as-judge versus God-as-peer — the ‘2 wrongs don’t make a right’ and ‘why not kill only Pharaoh?’ questions
    — Pushback: Did God just force — via ‘hardening’ — Pharaoh, in order to provide a pretext for this action?
  6. Comparing the scale of the oppression and the scale of the first-born deaths.

This is one of the deepest analyses of a story in scripture I’ve ever seen in my life. Miller’s comprehensive well-researched and logical conclusions are far more satisfying than any other apologist’s answer I could find. I recommend reading through it when you have an hour and a bible, but let me try to answer the question from my understanding.

Miller provides the following data:

  • Innocent Egyptian Infants killed in the Tenth Plague: 69,000
  • Innocent Hebrew Infants killed in the infanticide program of the Pharaoh (and successors): 2,750,000.

After reading the scripture verses and historical accounts, I imagine the Egyptians’ treatment of the Israelites not to be unlike the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews in the WWII era. While there are obvious significant differences, the similarities include systematic murder, labor camps, and xenophobic brutality. The Israelites were subjected to this slavery for 400 years.

As God-king of the Israelites, God promised he would liberate his people. He gave the Egyptians warning signs via nine plagues but they, through the mouthpiece of Pharaoh, refused. 

After Moses gave the final warning, God carried out justice by taking the life of Egypt’s firstborns nonviolently in their sleep. Any believing and repentant Egyptian had a way to avoid the plague — by brushing lamb’s blood over their doorway, as the Israelites were instructed to do. It was their choice.

To circle back to the writer’s accusation of God who levied punishment against innocent Egyptian children only because of one man’s stubbornness, I would zoom out and consider the historical context of the event, the macro-implications of why it happened, and where the notion of justice fits in. Through this different lens, we see a God who acts with a perfect balance of love and justice.

Then there’s the gap between the Fall and Jesus.
Being conservative here, going off Creationism, lets say it’s roughly 4,000 years. That’s four thousand years worth of people who were doomed to burn for the misfortune of being born outside of the Jewish people.

I understand how the writer would come to this conclusion but I would be hesitant to assume with finality they were doomed to hell. God has the final say, and God has mercy on those whom he wants to have mercy. Again, I refrain from personally judging who is saved and who is not.

The Jews, by the way, are another evidence against a gracious God.
He chose one people, and favored them. He intervened in war and such, causing countless deaths against other people. He helped them take land, and encouraged them to kill the children of their enemies.
How gracious is that? It’s like a child, playing army. He chooses one side, and stacks the deck against all others.
Not all-loving, that.

When I first read this, I said a quick prayer of thanks for Jesus. Because Jesus came, lived perfectly, took our sins to the cross, suffered the eternal cost for us, and rose again, beating sin and death, and sending Satan running scared, this passionate and jealous love God had for the Israelites, he now has for all people. That means you and me.

But as for the heinous actions in the Old Testament, and “how awfully God acted”, imagine with me the Downton Abbey and the Earl of Grantham.

Lord Grantham, the father of the house, protector of his daughters, and lover of his beautiful wife, has the responsibility to care for his prized estate, maintain the family reputation in the land, and guide his family into the unknowns of the future.

Now, imagine everything goes wrong. Hordes of enemies attack. Children go missing. Relics break, workers sleep around, thieves come in off the street and carry off precious paintings. Arson, gunshots, drug dealers, prostitutes, and alcohol everywhere. His daughters attacked by dirty men, his wife plagued with illness.

The estate is thrown into chaos and yet he is responsible for keeping order. As a chivalrous, no-nonsense man of honor, he starts whipping the place into shape. Purifying, replacing, and cutting off the criminals, animals, and staff that are ruining his precious marriage, beautiful daughters, and regal estate. Out with the drugs, prostitutes, and alcohol, out with the attackers, out with the threats to his legacy.

That is one of the pictures I see when I think of God in the Old Testament. Lord Grantham is most concerned with his family and his estate. And he takes the action necessary to fulfill his responsibility (or “covenant” if you want the biblical word).

Now, imagine if Lord Grantham’s estate and the same responsibilities extended across the globe, not just his estate. You would need a mighty, savior-like solution for that. Fortunately, this is where Jesus comes in.

Then there’s the shear inefficiency of spreading the Gospel via humans. What about people in Africa who died the day after Jesus was crucified?
What was their sin? Being born in the wrong place? Not having internet?

Good question and a popular one with lots of research to delve into.

In their book Faith Comes by Hearing, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson point out “faulty assumptions” with this question.

“The first mistaken assumption is that our condemnation is based on a rejection of the gospel. Scripture teaches that our condemnation is based on the fact that we are sinners, not because at some point in time we rejected the gospel … Furthermore, God’s wrath is revealed against everyone who suppresses his truth revealed through creation … Strictly speaking, the Bible denies that there are persons who have never heard of God.”

So for the folks in Africa who died the day after Jesus’s resurrection, who’s to say the news of the incarnate Messiah didn’t reach their ears while he was alive? Also, believers in the Old Testament didn’t have Jesus in person but they still had saving faith in God (i.e., Abraham and everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11).

Honestly, I think this is a cheap shot question. To anyone who asks it, I would ask the question back about their relationship with the people who never heard the name of Jesus. “Do you know them? Were you there?”

For the unreached people groups, as the writer pointed out, we must rely on God’s balance of mercy and justice and I trust that God has a plan for the geographic expanse of the earth. What I’m more worried about is the people who do hear the news of Jesus Christ and then reject it. Who are we to determine who is saved and who is not and when they are (to be) saved?

Assuming God is all-powerful, there’s no excuse for taking 4,000 years to rectify the issue, nor is there an excuse for allowing such rectification to take so long, given that it’s human souls on the line.

Salvation through faith was available from the time of the Fall to Jesus. 

I point to the example of Daniel, when Israelites were ingrafted into foreign nations. They interpreted dreams and spread their faith about the true God into non-Jewish kingdoms. 

People knew who Yahweh was in the Old Testament. Either they believed him or they didn’t. When the Ark of the Covenant was next to the Philistine god Dagon, it landed on its face, broken. The Philistines knew who Yahweh was. For Christians in the OT, I point to Rahab, Ruth, and the entire Gentile city of Nineveh as examples of non-jewish pre-Christological salvations by faith.

So when the writer assumes that non-Jewish people were doomed before Christ came to save all, I have my hesitations based on the data and historical accounts I read in the Bible.

In short, there’s no way I could ever respect God as an equal to humanity, much less revere him as our superior. Simply put, we’re better than him.

I could not disagree more.

When thinking about how humanity is better than God, I can only think of examples of human behavior.

  • Forced extinction of animal species
  • At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labor and bonded labor.
  • 35.7 percent of adults are considered to be obese
  • 100 people die every day from drug overdoses. This rate has tripled in the past 20 years.
  • Fanatical terrorism
  • The Holocaust
  • Porn-addictions that rip apart marriages
  • Abortions that murder innocent babies and hurt women

This is just a short list. By stating these things, I’m pointing the finger at myself. My heart rate starts to go up in anger when I imagine the selfish actions I’m likely to commit against myself and people I love.

When I think about God’s behavior, I think about the big walls and flowing falls of Yosemite. I think about the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. I think about my wife’s beautiful blue eyes. I think about my unconditional love for my three brothers, Sean, Andy, and Wes. I think about freedom and liberty from addiction. Rock solid hope on a deathbed. The transcendent peace in the wake of horrible suffering. The ability to just think, and also rock climb. I think about passionate music. 

So as far as humanity being better than God, I wouldn’t say it like that. If left to ourselves, we will hate, hurt, and offend. But with God, we can love, be loved, and have consistent joy and purpose.

And there’s no way I could dedicate my life to someone or something so temperamental, selfish, needy, lazy, infanticidal, and generally unloving as the Christian God.

With a cursory knowledge of scripture, I can understand why the writer would use these words.

However, and I will end with this, after listening to Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and other smart atheists, I’ve come to realize a common phenomena in their approach to the Bible and faith in Jesus. 

I’m going to switch to the second person POV to articulate this observation.

If truth is 10, let’s say you can analyze it and break it down into its pieces in many ways. 

  • 5 + 5 = 10
  • 2 * 5 = 10
  • 3 + 7 = 10
  • 9-5 + 4 + 1 = 10
  • 12–2 = 10

And so on. You get my point. 

Opponents to the Bible and faith in Jesus will point at one of the pieces, and say, “I have a problem with this piece. Therefore the whole is not true.”

But what they’re doing is saying, “Look at this 3. This 3 is not 10.”

Of course they’re right. A 3 ≠ 10. They’re missing how the 3 fits into 10.

If you isolate the 3 and call it complete, that 3 looks terrible.

And a believer would agree. That 3, by itself, looks terrible.

But seeing how it fits into 10, it makes logical sense, and while there are still mysteries, it’s beautiful when you see it all calculated together.

So when I hear atheists nit-pick Bible verses and stories, I can’t help but think they are looking only at a 5 or a 1 or 3 in isolation. Their usage makes the truth sound terrible and I desperately wish they would consider the full equation to appreciate the 10. Perhaps if they saw how the pieces fit into 10, they would see things differently.

Going back to how the writer ended:

And there’s no way I could dedicate my life to someone or something so temperamental, selfish, needy, lazy, infanticidal, and generally unloving as the Christian God.

I wouldn’t describe God in this way. 

Temperamental — Isn’t there a scripture verse that says, “I am the same today, yesterday, and forever?” God doesn’t change. We do. Is God emotional, yes. But his emotion is always based upon his perfect holiness. It is a healthy reaction to injustice and what must be made right. And he is faithful to do this. So I’d use the word “faithful” here instead.

Selfish — God’s “selfishness”, his preservation of his perfection, is what’s best for us. So I wouldn’t use the word “selfish” but rather, “generous.”

Needy — This is a tough concept for atheists because we as humans want to feel needed. But with a perfect being, we aren’t really needed — like an infant to a parent — the infant needs the parent, the parent doesn’t need the infant. But the parent cherishes, sacrifices for, and adores the infant. I’d use the word “desirous” here instead. And yes, God desires atheists.

Lazy — I assume by “lazy”, the writer is accusing God of not intervening to stop bad things from happening to good people. Here I would argue three counterpoints:

  1. When sin entered the world through our free will and choice to be independent of God, humankind was not the only entity that fell into self-destructive behavior. Nature did as well. God doesn’t cause natural disasters, rather, they are the natural consequences of our sin.
  2. This broken world is home to Satan, our enemy and destroyer, who actively seeks our deception and depravity. He is the worker of evil, not God.
  3. But if God is omnipotent, then isn’t he responsible for evil? His allowance for nature and evil to hurt his creation is in the ultimate interest of his glory and our growth. Bad things cause tension and suffering which lead to growth. The hardest things in life often precede the best things. We need hardship to progress. So if God is supposed to be a magic fairy that makes good things appear and bad things disappear, then yes, he’d be a lazy magic fairy. But God is an author and the story he is telling is beyond complex. So I’d rather use the word, “wise” instead here.

Infanticidal — Here, I’m not sure if the writer has read the Bible verses describing God’s huge heart toward children: 

  1. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Jeremiah 1:5
  2. “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD. (Jer 31:20)
  3. “He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry. 
    The LORD sets prisoners free, 
    the LORD gives sight to the blind, 
    the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, 
    the LORD loves the righteous. 
    The LORD watches over the alien
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow, 
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”
    (Ps 146:7–9)
  4. “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 18:21
  5. “And after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” Deuteronomy 12:30–31

These verses, and many others I left out, show us that God, in both the OT and NT, dearly loves children. To accuse God of being infanticidal is not only inaccurate, but misdirected. On the contrary, look at the bolded text in the last verse. The other gods, the ones against whom God burns in anger, required infant sacrifice, and it says the Lord hates it.

Instead of “infanticidal”, I would use the word “fatherly.”

Generally unloving — Not sure I came to the same conclusion here. From my view of God, I’d say he is “unceasingly loving” towards us and treats us well-above what we deserve.

Finally, the question I would pose to someone who doubts the Bible and faith in Jesus, is threefold:

  • What are you truly wanting?
  • What is your expectation of God that he is not living up to?
  • What does God need to do or be, in order for you to believe in him?

From my reading of comments in r/exchristian, and other books and speeches from aforementioned atheists, it seems like many people have trouble with God’s “allowance of cruelty” and because he didn’t stop a certain evil event from happening, they can’t believe in a God like that.

Imagine God actually did everything you wanted him to do and nothing bad happened to you. Would you believe in him then?

But how realistic is that? What you want might be harmful to me. What you want might not even be best for you, if you believe you have limited knowledge. What you want might actually result in negative repercussions down the road. If God did everything you and I wanted, what kind of God would he be? Sounds like a calculator to me.

I’ll leave you with this thought about heaven. This is why I’m a Christian.

God is so good, holy, and perfect and his character so loving that it’s enough to keep us mesmerized and delighted in heaven for the rest of the infinity of time. Eternity is a long time, and that’s a lot about God we don’t get to fathom here on earth. When in heaven, I will have new words, new emotions, and new thoughts to fully appreciate who God is; whereas right now, I only have my small mind. From what the Bible and the Holy Spirit tells me, I have a lot more to look forward to.

Before I end, consider this:

If you’re doubting God, the Bible, or your faith in Jesus, don’t worry. We’re supposed to ask questions and think critically about everything.

But instead of turning away, or stopping short and putting a stake in the ground with what you believe or don't believe, I encourage you to fully investigate and explore the facts. 

The Reddit writer called out my deepest beliefs and raised conflicting points of tension about the Bible and faith in Jesus.

Rather than ignoring it, or sweeping the tough issues under the rug, I charged head-on into the murky waters and dove in. Having resurfaced, I'm even more in love with my Savior and my Creator than ever before. 

Afterword

I'm not a Christian apologist and I don't pretend to be one. I don't have all the answers and I don't claim to. There are far better writers and scholars, whom I look up to, like C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and Tim Keller who can give you more satisfying answers. I wouldn't doubt if there are some Christian readers who are feeling hot or flustered right now because I didn't "defend the faith" as much as I should have or because I used personal analogies when I should have stuck to more biblical arguments.

That's not why I wrote this.

The purpose of writing this (and of reading this) was to deconstruct my worldview and examine my own faith against an antithesis.

Whether you're firm in your faith or bitter against God, consider asking yourself:

"Is what I believe the full truth?"

If you're a stout and steadfast believer, is your faith the same as it was a year ago? I encourage you to launch your faith into uncomfortable, challenging, and risky situations. Whatever it takes -- give money away, talk with someone who hates God, pursue the gifts of the Spirit, fast from food -- whatever it is, test your faith, so that you can grow in it. 

Don't let yourself coast into judgmentalism.

Don't let apathy erode your faith into an intellectual self-righteousness.

On the other hand, if you're an unbeliever or doubting your faith, I encourage you to read the Bible, in it's entirety, and instead of writing off the parts you don't understand or the stories you don't like, try studying and wrestling with it. Be real, be vulnerable, and don't back down. Scream at God if you have to. Work through this arduous journey. It's a story in which you are not at the center, as unpleasant as that sounds, but it's necessary to find the truth, even if it's a hard reality to accept.

Possible short story idea: "Perfect People"

I just read the book of Mormon and talked to two LDS missionaries about it. Here’s where I’m at.