I used to love going to church. I was there every Sunday, ready to worship God with my Christian friends and learn more about how to be a faithful Christian. I volunteered at church as much as my family circumstances would allow. I was “one of the faithful”?#34;not perfect but doing my best to seek God and go in the direction he wanted me to go.
Sometimes as I read the Bible, or observed the world around me, it was hard to understand God’s ways. I always gave him the benefit of the doubt, though. I assumed that my inability to understand was because he was God, and I was only human.
I thought I was open enough to give any evidence for or against God a fair hearing. Yet how could I have been open when I responded to everything by trying to make it fit what the Bible said? If I couldn’t make it fit, I’d shrug and assume it was because I couldn’t see things from God’s perspective. So much for me being open. In fact my belief system was an impenetrable fortress.
A few years ago some difficult personal circumstances drove me to ask new questions. I started wondering, “Can I afford to be this trusting and accepting about everything concerning God and the Bible? Is it wise of me to so heavily discount what I see and hear just because it doesn’t easily fit what the Bible says? Maybe what I should be discounting is what the Bible says, not the evidence of my own eyes and ears.”
I knew I was venturing into territory where Christians warn each other not to go. Yet rather than turning back, I continued on. I began evaluating the God of the Bible according to my human standards. Why? Because I realized I needed my God to exceed the best standards I could imagine.
How did God do? Not so well. I finally admitted that an all-powerful, all-knowing God who hadn’t been able to figure out how to save most of humanity from eternal torment seemed meaner than I was.
I was no longer sure I liked, trusted or believed in God enough to want a personal relationship with him. I decided that I needed to stop trying to have one, so I could find out if I missed it. From then on I stopped all my attempts to talk to God (personal prayer) and listen to him (personal prayer and Bible reading).
I barely told anyone and especially not my Christian friends. I didn’t want to go from being “one of the faithful” in their eyes to “a problem that needed fixing.” I went to church and outwardly participated as I always had. It made me feel like a hypocrite, and I would rather have been honest, but I was afraid of the repercussions.
My desire to be a better person was as strong as ever. And I couldn’t help thinking that if God did exceed my own standards, surely how I lived was what really mattered to God?#34;not what I believed.
Surely such a God wouldn’t mind that I wasn’t praying or reading the Bible. He’d say, “Hey, don’t worry about it. I understand. You do what you need to do. I’m here if you change your mind.”
I was happy not praying or reading the Bible. I loved the freedom of simply doing what I felt moved to do. I no longer had to conform to “what the Bible teaches,” yet was free to if a passage came to mind which I liked. I was pleased that now I wasn’t trying to guess at God’s will. I’d eradicated any risk of confusing his with mine.
These days I think I could convince people I’m an atheist. Yet I still want to live according to what I saw in Jesus’ life. I still remember what the Bible says and feel called to “respond Biblically” when I face challenging situations. Sometimes I wonder whether my strange, un-Christian practice of deliberately not cultivating a personal relationship with God hasn’t actually given him more freedom to work through me, not less.
I finally stopped going to church last year. I’m in the process of “coming out” to my Christian friends. Some people (not Bible-believing Christians) have suggested I try a more liberal church. But I don’t want to belong to any group claiming their way to God is superior to some other group’s way.
All I want to do is get on with my life and respect how other people get on with theirs?#34;as long as they’re trying to make the world a better place.
Church wasn’t helping me do that. That’s why I’m not going any more.