I am presently reading a book by John Loftus called Why I Became an Atheist. Loftus was once a preacher and apologist who now has changed his view and now holds atheism as his worldview. Many might ask why such a book would be of interest. I believe it is vital that we as Christians come to understand the things that would prompt such a change in one’s convictions. As a Christian, I believe we need to understand how to properly identify causal factors when it comes to matters as important as our understandings of the realities concerning God.
Recently, I have been approached by people who are struggling with their spiritual identity. Just a week ago, I had one young man approach me with an urgent question. He looked at me and with a passionate plea asked, “Why do you believe?” This was not some simple philosophical inquiry. This young man wanted some foundation upon which to hang his belief. He wanted to trust that what he had been told all his life concerning Christianity had some foundation in truth. We had a very good conversation after that. I pray something that was said provided him with certainty.
These questions run through the minds of so many people. If there was one asking, there are many more wanting to ask. Chances are that the person reading this blog may have or may have had the same question.
Psalm 34:8 states, “Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”
Loftus challenges the notion that those who taste of the Lord are truly satisfied by what they drink. He states, “But what about those who have left the fountain with a horrible taste in our mouths? We came to the fountain and drank as deeply as we could and, for a while, could not get enough of it…But then something happened. The fountain became foul to us. We tried to ignore the taste. We went back to it again and again hoping something would change…We weren’t trying to ‘leave the faith’. The faith was leaving us.”
What do you say to someone like Loftus? We’ll let’s examine the claims. Pay close attention to the words. Words are chosen that often shed light on the emotions and motives that fuel their choosing. Loftus describes a situation in which that which was once pleasant and sweet now is horrible to the taste. What is it that we often say leaves a bad taste in our mouths? We use this phrase to describe life events or moments in which we do not get what we expect out of an encounter with someone or something. Apply this to the life situation of Loftus.
Previously in the book, Loftus describes the 3 things that changed his thinking. These were a major crisis, new information that caused him to see things differently, and a sense that he had lost the care and love of the Christian community. Now what must also be understood is that certain actions done by Loftus in his life such as having an affair had precipitated a sense of rejection by some in the Christian community. He was also later on asked to resign from his pastoral position for other reasons which he felt were unwarranted. These events caused him to look with new eyes on the church and its teachings. He wondered why a loving God would have let all these bad things happen to him.
So you see, life events can trigger the start of a spiraling situation in which the person begins to doubt the foundation of something because it is no longer living up to what one expects it to be. It does not taste good anymore because life events have been such that the person may transfer blame to the wrong thing. In this case, God. God is to blame for the free will choices of man.
Now I am not saying that the Christian community has not failed at times in their responses to such things. We do. But should we dismiss the whole of Christianity and its truth claims just because there are poor representations of Christianity out there? No, we shouldn’t.
Loftus quotes, “We tried to hold on to the fountain, but something had changed. It wasn’t the fountain; it was our taste for it. We realized that the fountain wasn’t a being; it was a religion.” In response to this statement, it is true. The fountain had not changed. Loftus’ perception and expectations of it had. God was still God regardless of Loftus’ perceptions. It is not God who changes, we do. When life events happen such as deaths, doubts, relationship hardships, divorce, sickness etc., we may be tempted to get mad. So we lash out at the easy target, God. We fail to realize that God is indeed sovereign and can intervene if it is in the best interest of His plan and purpose. This is where trusting God becomes so important. I would rather leave these things in the hands of the One who sees it all- past, present, and future.
Some might ask, “Why would a good God let this happen to me? A good God wouldn’t allow these things. Therefore, there is no God.” Faulty premises, however, lead to faulty conclusions. I do truly feel for those who struggle with the difficult life events that happen to them. I believe that the church needs to be a place of healing and we as individual Christians need to be agents for healing. But I know this one thing. It is not God who is to blame. It is ourselves. The difference is in how we interpret the journey. If God were to do away with all evil, He would have to start with its source- Man. I am reminded of the many times of persecution spoken of in the Book of Acts. These early disciples saw suffering quite differently than we. They saw suffering as opportunities to rely on God and grow. The water is only bitter when we are drinking from the wrong stream. The bitterness is not coming from the Living Water. That is for sure. So taste and see truly that the Lord is good. Do not let life circumstances sour the taste.
When we define God based on our expectations and perceptions of who He should be, we will be quick to dismiss Him when He doesn’t respond as we think He should.