When Do I Stop Seeking God?November 25, 2018 Time: 20:12
Dr. Craig considers a heartfelt article from a man who lost his faith.
“When Do I Stop Seeking God?”
KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, there are a lot of people who write on the “Recovering From Religion” blog and blogs of similar kinds that are former Christians, ex-Christians, people who have lost their faith or rejected their faith. One was sent to me that I began to read. He has not written very many things, and so I can't quite get a total bead on him, but I thought I would discuss a couple of things with you from the writing of Joe Omundson. He's writing on the “Recovering from Religion” blog: “Breaking the Cycle: Do I Seek Harder or Let Go of God?” That got my attention. This is how he starts it out:
Many believers can’t imagine questioning their faith, and many lifelong atheists can’t understand why someone would believe in the first place. Those of us who have experienced a change in belief offer a unique perspective. Let’s work together to raise awareness of how religion impacts our lives.
I was raised in a Christian home (Baptist, then non-denominational) and took it seriously from a young age. Like most children, I trusted that the adults in my life were telling me the truth. I wanted to believe what was right. I paid attention.
My parents divorced when I was 12; I devoted myself to God more fully in order to avoid their mistakes. At age 15 I had an open heart surgery and I invested heavily in God’s promise of heaven to help me face the possibility of death. After high school, I followed the suggestion of a youth pastor/mentor and went to a one-year Bible program in Europe. My “relationship” with Jesus was the most important thing in my life. I believed that his truth took precedent over everything else.
Ironically, Bible school is where my faith began to unravel. I couldn’t ignore the fact that diving deeper into the Bible raised far more questions than answers. Despite endless seeking it seemed like God was absent from my life in any practical way. There appeared to be no good reason to believe that any of the theology was real.
DR. CRAIG: That last sentence is so key. He went away to a Bible school which evidently just taught Bible contents and did not provide any sort of good reason to believe that the theology was true, and this poor fellow is the product of that kind of a deficient Bible school education. He makes it clear later on in the blog that he never found any sort of evidence for the truth of theism or Christianity. In fact, when he talks about letting go he said, For me to continue to believe in God, I’d be going against every piece of evidence that was available to me. Now, he doesn't tell us what that evidence was that he would go against. It makes you wonder. But I noticed that he was only 21 years of age when he finally let go of God so that most of this seeking and struggling was teenage activity. He apparently had no acquaintance at all with the rational foundations of the Christian faith, which is tragic in my mind.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says the same thing here. We're put in a position where we have to just speculate. We don’t know what's going on. We don't have enough of what he's saying, and we haven't met him. He says that the Bible raised far more questions than answers – well, specifics on that?
DR. CRAIG: That is hardly surprising – is it? – that it would raise lots of further additional questions.
KEVIN HARRIS: He continues on that he is then stuck in a two-part cycle. He said,
First, I would go through a phase where I would devote myself to prayer, worship, and reading the Bible, trusting that if I sought God he would find me. I wanted so badly for it to work. I envied my fellow believers who seemed to experience God’s love and guidance in a tangible way. For me it was nothing but silence.
After a time I would feel burnt out and I’d reflect on how God’s love is meant to be a gift rather than something I needed to work hard to achieve. I figured I needed to “let go and let God [lead the relationship]”.
In the second phase of the cycle, I’d listen and wait for God without all the striving. Surely God could get through to me when I was still and listening.
Yet after a time of hearing nothing I’d start to feel a panic that my faith was slipping, and I’d worry that I was foolish for neglecting God or putting him to the test. I’d resume my seeking and the cycle would begin again.
DR. CRAIG: Here your heart has to go out to Joe because I think we've all experienced those periods of spiritual dryness when God seems unreal or our spiritual lives seem arid and empty. Yet, in those sorts of moments it is so bracing to be able to resume in one's mind the arguments for the existence of God, the historical evidences for the reliability of the Gospels and the person of Jesus. Those objective facts can help one to sustain faith through those times of spiritual dryness. This poor young man had nothing to fall back on, and so it was just this empty arid experience. One can understand why this sapped his energy, and he just couldn't go on like this.
KEVIN HARRIS: I couldn't help but think that being caught in this cycle where it's sapping his energy – he says the cycling became traumatic – that any kind of relief is going to be welcomed.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, like letting go of God. Anything is better than this kind of struggle.
KEVIN HARRIS: And that sense of relief could actually maybe be falsely interpreted as arriving at truth.
DR. CRAIG: Sure.
KEVIN HARRIS: You're just getting off the treadmill from hell.
DR. CRAIG: Exactly. I think that's very true, and that kind of emotional release is to be expected and can be very deceptive in terms of truth-seeking.
KEVIN HARRIS: He said,
As best as I could tell, I had done everything I could, for years I’d earnestly tried to be in a relationship with him so I figured if he wanted to reach me it was well within his power. It couldn’t be up to me anymore.
It was scary as hell to wait on God and watch my faith fade away. But I knew nothing would be different if I turned to him again, and I’d be going against every piece of evidence that was available to me.
DR. CRAIG: Which I wonder what he is talking about. What is the evidence that was against God? It seems to me that all he had was just this empty and arid religious experience, and that was unsustainable for him.
There was never a day when I rejected God. I just waited. The longer I neglected the trying-to-believe part of the cycle, the more I realized that the world operated exactly how I’d expect it to if there were no God. Despite this, I sincerely hoped God would change my mind.
I wonder what the world would be like if there were no God.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, obviously he's not thought very deeply about that. If there were no God, would there be life in the universe? Would there be a finely tuned cosmos like this? Would the cosmos exist at all? Would there be a realm of objective moral values and duties? Would there be a person named Jesus of Nazareth and his claims and his resurrection? I think the world would be very, very different if the Christian God didn't exist. But he's unfamiliar with these sorts of evidences.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
If I couldn’t trust my own senses, what else was there? Don’t people all around the world become convinced that their native religion is true because they believe without evidence? If God’s truth is so overwhelming, shouldn’t it be evident without a great deal of blind faith in insubstantial ideas?
DR. CRAIG: I don't understand this paragraph. It seems very odd. You can't apprehend God by your senses. So what trusting your senses – sight, smell, taste, touch – has to do with it is unclear to me. Yes, people all around the world do believe in their native religions, and many times they will believe without evidence. I don't see the relevance of that. So what? Then he says, “If God's truth is so overwhelming.” Well, whoever said God's truth was overwhelming? Perhaps God is hidden and wants us to seek him in humility and on his terms. I don't see any reason to think that God's truth is overwhelming. So I don't see why it should be evident without seeking him in humility and faith. But to call it “blind faith in insubstantial ideas” is to presuppose that it's false – that it's insubstantial and that faith is blind – which reflects again his lack of education in this Bible school he attended.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says,
Eventually there came a day at age 21 when I realized my true beliefs about the universe didn’t include anything resembling Yahweh, and that this was something I had to accept. Not long after that I wrote a long email explaining my thought process to my wife and my parents. Amazingly, my wife was on the exact same page. We had the privilege of supporting each other throughout the deconversion process (we ended up divorcing in our mid-20s for unrelated reasons). My parents took it relatively well, too. I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t have a miserable experience with my immediate family.
Just as we were speaking here, I Googled and I found some of this letter. He published his email. Let me read a little bit to you. He says in this email that he just referred to that he sent to his family,
Let me get one thing straight. It isn't my desire to lose my faith. I don't like it. It's not fun. I would rather it had gone differently; I wish I had been convinced by what I heard at Bible school, and by what I read in the Bible, and I wish I had heard God's voice assuring me that I'm his and that he's real, and I wish that right now I was on track with what I always wanted to do, living passionately for God and completely giving my life to him. I still honestly hope that this happens. I hope that God shows up in my life and moves me. I've been waiting for it for a long time. But I am not moving until he does. Way too many times in my life have I come up against my doubts, and swallowed them, and been unsatisfied, and there is no way I'm doing it again. If God really wants me, he'll draw me to him.
. . .
To be honest, I'm scared. What if nothing ever happens . . . What if I'm wrong, or stupid, and I die and go to hell?
Boy, is he struggling.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, he is. I think that his answer to the problem of passivity is the wrong response. Given our sinful human natures, a response of passivity is going to naturally lead you away from God and into unbelief. I think belief in God requires engaging in spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, meaningful worship, and so forth. If you neglect these then it's hardly surprising that you will lapse into unbelief because the Christian life can only be lived successfully in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think it's very clear that Joe as a young man didn't enjoy this presence and filling of the Holy Spirit in his life. His is the sort of classic description of what Paul calls a carnal Christian in 1 Corinthians 2 and 3 – the Christian who is trying hard to live the Christian life in his own strength and resources and who's floundering and unable to do so, rather than being filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ in order to live victoriously. We're only seeing here the tip of the iceberg in this blog. There are a couple of tip-offs late in the blog that caught my eye. For example,
Most of the work I had to do post-deconversion was about rethinking the idea of “sin”; reestablishing my ethics in something more realistic; . . . and rewiring my brain from the sexual trauma I suffered because of purity culture.
That, to me, is a red flag that this is a young man who was really suffering with sexual ethics and sexual issues with purity and so forth. I've seen this in the lives of other deconverts – once they get rid of God and abandon faith in Christ they become more libertine in their lifestyle and begin to live in sexually active ways that would not have been regarded as pure by the Christian code of ethics. So I think there are some struggles here that he only hints at that he hasn't let on to. Then I noticed in the next paragraph he says, “I was told my whole childhood that my soul is intrinsically disgusting without an external figure to love and save me.” Again, that just suggests a very poor self-image and difficulty in loving oneself. I think there's a lot more going on here emotionally that Joe hasn't let on to.
KEVIN HARRIS: I want to end the podcast by dropping a bomb on you a little bit. Boy, does this open up a can of worms, but it got me thinking as I'm reading Joe's work here. I've been reading very similar stories to this, and I guess it is wrapped up in the theology of the preservation of the saints (“once saved, always saved”, whether you can lose your salvation, things like that). The Bible gives us some options: that you went out from us because you were never one of us, you were never saved in the first place, the seed analogy (maybe some seed has been stolen from you rather than allowing it to be on good soil). There's several options here. But I just wonder: can there be, in a sinful world, in a fallen world, situations where a person has emotional burdens – emotional issues, mental issues even (I'm not accusing Joe of this) – that just somehow preclude them from embracing their faith and they go off on this deconversion thing? There's a theology that says that they're still saved and that God will keep them by his grace but they live in a backslidden state, as the Baptists call it (backslidden) where you are out of fellowship with God. I know that brings up a whole lot of theology. Some people . . . I can't see any reason why they walked away from their faith because they're either too vague, they don't discuss what the evidence was, they don't show a grasp of the evidence. Do you know where I'm getting at?
KEVIN HARRIS: Well, it seems to me that in a case like Joe's there could be a temporary lapse. We get emails at Reasonable Faith all the time of people who lost their faith in college (like Joe) and then who have come back to faith and now have a vibrant and victorious Christian life and experience. Many times it will be through apologetics. I never thought that apologetics could lead to a spiritual renewal in a person's life. I thought it would simply equip a person intellectually. But the way in which God has used apologetics in the lives of people like Joe to revitalize them and to bring them back to a vibrant faith has been remarkable. So I do think it's possible for there to be these temporary lapses. But I don't think that it could be a permanent lapse for the rest of one's life. It does seem to me that there are certain minimal things that a person must believe in order to be a regenerate Christian. For example, the book of Hebrews says, He who would come to God must believe that he exists and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. If you no longer believe that anymore, I just don't see how you could say that such a person is saved. In Joe’s case, it seems like there was a conspiration of emotional and intellectual factors that caused his faith to ebb away.
KEVIN HARRIS: Here’s another thing. He says, “It’s been almost 10 years since I officially renounced my faith, but only in the last couple years have I started to join ex-religious groups.” Once you join a community of like-minded people who will bring about support and affirm what you believe, you've joined this community, man, even if it's (and this applies to all beliefs) once you're in a community of like-minded people it'd be very hard to get out of that because they're supporting you and affirming what you believe.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, you're inviting that emotional support and undergirding that you crave. You're right, that is not a good sign. But we can hope that Joe will take an objective look at the intellectual basis for theism and Christianity in particular, and change his mind.
 https://www.patheos.com/blogs/excommunications/2018/08/breaking-cycle-seek-harder-let-go-god/ (accessed November 26, 2018).
 http://www.deconverter.com/2017/10/my-deconversion-letter.html (accessed November 26, 2018).
 Total Running Time: 20:12 (Copyright © 2018 William Lane Craig)