My spiritual journey and that of the atheists whose journeys I’ve read about seem to differ around two main areas.
The first is a belief in creed vs. a relationship with Jesus.
The second is of necessity, our response to suffering.
When ever we put belief in a creed in place of belief in God, we become a person filled with nonsense. Atheists rightly rebel against the nonsense that they became during what they call their “christian” days. If God is only a creed or a statement of religious belief, then He is not real; but if God is one with whom we get into personal contact in other ways than by our intellect, then any of us who are touched by reality are also touched by God.
Be it sexual abuse, or physical pain or illness, or the loss of a parent, or any of the myriad other cruelties that life is apt to bring our way, these things are geared to bring us into direct contact with our Creator or into direct opposition to our Creator.
Over and over again people have described themselves to be a disbeliever when s/he is simply outgrowing h/his creed. It’s a painful thing for a person to find that his stated views of God are not adequate. I feel this when reading people like John Loftus. His pain has caused this intelligent man to revert to the ramblings of a child. Reality is, the person who clings to a creed is also a coward who refuses to come into a personal relationship with God. The whole point of vital Christianity is not the refusal to face things, but a matter of personal relationship.
“Then why did my Dad die?”
“Then why was I assaulted?”
“Then why have I been unwell all my life?”
A creedal view of God has caused many a person to fail at the critical moment. It keeps us from being the kind of person we ought to be, and only when we abandon our VIEW of God for God Himself, can we become the right kind of person in the face of loss, assault and suffering.
Up until a time of crisis, God, to many a person, perhaps even to most people, is merely our own theological statement of Him. Until suffering strikes, God is simply what our parents told us about God. Let tragedy strike, however and our religious belief is swept away, and for a while we say, “I have lost my faith in God.” Atheists are renowned for reacting to suffering in this manner, even for suffering that belongs to someone else. This is where one type of person goes one direction and another type of person goes another direction. That is why I say that one of the purposes of suffering is to draw to God those who are destined for salvation and to drive away from God those who are destined for eternal separation from God.
For those who are destined for salvation, what happens is, though they lose their faith in their statement of God, suffering brings about a rejection of the creed while actually finding God Himself. We should never be afraid if our circumstances dispute what you have been taught about God. Instead, we should be willing to examine what we have been taught.
Atheists on the other hand make the illogical leap from:
Something difficult has happened - to - Therefore Creator God does not exist.
Instead they should have made the logical step, Something difficult has happened > What I have been taught about God (eg. God will never give you more than you can bear, or God will always protect from harm) is different than what reality suggests.
We begin our religious life by accepting what we are taught without questioning. Then when we come up against painful circumstances we begin to be critical and we find that however right those beliefs might be for some, they are not right for us because we have not owned them through suffering. When those destined for salvation come up against profound hurt, rather than abandoning God, s/he accepts that “I am facing something I don’t understand, but I will treat it with respect. I will abandon my traditional beliefs about God and learn from Him and from Him alone.
If anything we’ve been told about God contradicts life as it was lived by Jesus, particularly in the area of suffering, we should say, “No, I cannot believe that. This creed that I have been taught distorts the character of God, but I know in the end He will prove to be all that I trust Him to be, a God of love and justice, and absolutely honourable.”