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Rant Alert: Struggling With Faith and Belief

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The last six months have been very interesting for me, in a slightly scary and life-changing sort of way. I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions that, over the course of the last 16 years, I’ve not really allowed myself to seriously entertain. They’ve been questions about my faith and what I truly believe.

I’ve been a professed Christian since I was sixteen years old, participated in ministry of some form from that very first moment, spent over three years of college with a focus on theology, and have been a licensed pastor for the past seven years. I am, by nature, a very analytical person, so these questions of faith and belief are not new questions that I’ve never thought of before. However, when you’ve spent a great deal of time in the church, it doesn’t matter what denomination, the collective belief of those around you and the information you’re indoctrinated with tends to drown out a lot of these questions with faith-based responses. It doesn’t wipe the questions away, it just makes it a bit easier to write them off or push them into the background. I know because I found myself doing the very same thing when these questions were asked of me:

Q: “If God wants everyone to believe in Him, then why doesn’t He just do ___?”
A: “Well, He wants us to have free will and for us to freely choose Him so He doesn’t want to have to convince us by doing ___.”
or “Because God already gave us evidence of Him, now He wants us to have faith.”
or “Because He’s God, and there’s some things we just don’t understand. We just have to trust Him and know that He’s in control and everything works out according to His will.”
or any number of other canned responses. The question doesn’t really matter, as some combination of the above tends to do a fun little “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” faith-based jedi mind trick where you shrug and walk away not thinking too much about it because He’s God and you want to be a good Christian and not doubt Him. It’s about having faith, right?

This isn’t the first crisis of faith I’ve ever struggled with. I’ve had a lot of rough times in the last decade or so, and whenever things get rough it’s natural to question. It’s natural to look up and ask “Why? Why is this happening? Why aren’t you fixing it?” But there was always certain lines I wouldn’t allow myself to cross in my head because it was too scary. It was scary because no matter how bad things were getting my faith acted as a security blanket. I always had some hope that things were going to be okay, that God was there and He wouldn’t let things get too bad to the point where I couldn’t handle it. If I started picking away at that foundation I was afraid I just wouldn’t be able to handle what I found- either that I’d been wrong about everything, or that God would be disappointed in me because my faith was weak and I doubted Him. It was easier to just ignore the doubts and convince myself that I wasn’t ignoring the doubts, I just had faith. I wasn’t ignoring the fact that God wasn’t answering, I had faith. Then when something good would happen I’d praise God and give glory to Him and proclaim my prayers answered and hallelujah!

Not this time.

This time I crossed that line I’d never let myself cross. I started asking all those hard questions and wouldn’t allow myself to faith mind-trick them away. I started asking God these questions directly, waiting for a response. Any kind of response. I started going back and thinking about all the stuff I learned during my time studying theology and since, asking those questions I had then and not allowing myself to cop out with flimsy excuses. I started to pull a Descartes and tear down everything I believed, and I’m in the process of rebuilding those beliefs. Only this time I don’t want to “faith away” answers to questions, especially the difficult ones, because there’s just a lot of things that don’t add up for me. Here’s a few examples:

Q: If God wants the world to believe in Him, that He still exists, why doesn’t He continue to move in outright power that no one could deny? He expects us to just blindly believe in the testimony of people who lived thousands of years ago based on fragmented documents we happened to find?

Q: By that same token, why allow His missionaries to be martyred? Wouldn’t protecting those people in a supernatural way go further to show that God is real and he loves and protects His followers? Wouldn’t that be a much stronger witness for God?
Q: Why doesn’t God actively work to dispel all the in-fighting between groups that all claim to believe in him? Specifically extremist Islam, Judaism and Christianity? If we’re using the Bible as a basis of belief, God was pretty adament about people believing in Him, only Him, and went to great lengths to show who He supported. So why not move in a more outright and powerful way even among His own people? Why allow all the fighting, death, and misery- all in His name? Free will, blah blah blah. Well, God wasn’t concerned with free will when He hardened Pharaoh’s heart & unleashed the plagues on Egypt because Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Isrealites go, all according to the Bible. Jesus didn’t have a problem performing miracles to back up His claims. The early church did that kind of thing too. Why not so outright anymore when, because of technology, almost the entire world would be able to see?

Q: Many denominations and believers accept the entire Bible as TRUTH, some even to the point of saying that every single word is God-breathed and inspired and to question it is a sin. But what about the inconsistencies? (Did David kill Goliath or did his servant? Both accounts are in different books of the Old Testament- 1st Kings and Chronicles- for example.) What about the historical inaccuracies, especially when looking at the Old Testament. For example- the story of Jericho. The Israelites march around the wall of Jericho and when they shout the wall falls, right? Well, archeology doesn’t match up with that account. In fact there’s more proof that the fall of Jericho had to do with a class uprising, and that Israelites were already in Jericho as lower-class citizens and were a part of that uprising. That’s just one small example. In fact, how the Bible came to be the Bible we now know is a huge area of concern for me and always has been. We place all our faith into a book that was patched together by various fragments of books that we’ve found, and then it was voted on by multiple councils, all with different agendas- yet we’re supposed to just take it on faith that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and we’re not to question it at all?

To use the popular phrase: seems legit.

I want to be clear, I don’t blame God or Christianity or the church for my problems and doubts. I’m not on a crusade to prove that God isn’t real and the church is crap, but I don’t want to continue to blindly believe things just because that’s what the majority believes or because it’s how I’ve been taught. I don’t want to be willfully ignorant.  I don’t want to be afraid of what people will think of me because I’m asking these questions. I think it’s especially important in times like the ones we’re currently living through, where entire groups of people are being hurt, physically, emotionally, and mentally, because of who they are- often in the name of religion. I don’t care what the Bible says, if Jesus was who He said He was, I don’t see Him ever condoning the way that a lot of professed believers have been treating homosexuals, for example. It’s detestable and not at all the example that Jesus set in the Bible that they profess to believe in with all their heart. We’re supposed to act out of love, not hate; and there’s nothing loving about the attitude and actions I’ve been seeing from the self-professed men and women of God.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at, and I wrote this because I know there are a lot of other people out there struggling with the same thing. You may have questions you’ve always been scared to seriously ask. You may have doubts that you’re afraid to examine. I’m here to tell you that I’ve been doing those things and I’m still alive. I haven’t been struck down by lightning. I haven’t had God show up and tell me how displeased He is with me. It’s okay. I honestly believe God gave us our brain and our ability to reason because He wants us to use it, not just blindly follow like sheep.

If God is who He says He is, then He’ll understand.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions on sale for a limited time for $0.99 as a part of the Independence Day Sale! Be sure to take advantage!

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Rant Alert: Struggling with Faith

depression_1-ad78d208bfd0907a122c249a74cd8f6ff184705e-s6-c10Author’s Note: I’m going to be discussing religion, God, faith, etc. If that’s not your bag, or if you’re easily offended, feel free to click a link to somewhere else this time. I won’t be offended. Likewise, if you’d like to leave a comment or participate in a discussion about this, that’d be great, but be civil and respectful of whoever else may post. That doesn’t mean you have to agree, but it does mean don’t be a jerk. I approve every post before it’s seen by the public, and I won’t allow anything that attacks someone else or is just outright offensive. I promise, however, I won’t prevent a post from being seen for any other reason.

I was a very troubled young man. I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts most of my life. I tried to commit suicide when I was 11 by hanging myself. I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. A medical condition I have, which went unnoticed until I was 30 and it was too late to do anything about it, prevented me from developing muscle like I was supposed to and had the fun side effect of causing me to be morbidly obese regardless of whatever diet, exercise, ect. I tried. So I was also mercilessly taunted, teased, picked on, and made to feel like complete crap on a daily basis for most of my childhood. My parents were never overly religious and we never attended church. I wasn’t really exposed to religion in a significant way until I was 16. One of my best friends at the time, Matt, had grown up in church and his parents were members of the church leadership. Another, mutual best friend, Brennan, had recently started going to church with Matt and had “gotten saved”. I go into detail about this in Down with the Thickness, but the TLDR version is one night while Brennan, Matt and I were talking about God I felt like I heard God speaking to me and I felt His presence around me. Our conversation lasted through the night until the next morning, as did that feeling. When it was over I not only believed in God I dedicated my life to Him and felt as though I’d been called to be a minister myself. I finally felt like I found where I belonged- like I knew my purpose.

I spent the next five years serving in ministry at our church. I went with Matt’s dad every week to do prison ministry at a local prison. I served as a youth leader. I worked as an assistant under the youth pastor and was at the church almost every day helping and learning to be a pastor. When I graduated High School I went to college as a Pastoral Ministry and Psychology major at both a local college in Memphis, and later at a Bible college in Chattanooga. There, through a ministry summer camp, I got connected with New United Church, and eventually was hired as a youth pastor and was licensed there. I served at New United for 8 years, on and off- the last three years in a full time capacity. That is until the church imploded due to some very corrupt people who ran the finances. After spending a year and a half unemployed I was hired by the Salvation Army in Belleville, and worked there full time as a Youth Director for an additional 3 years, give or take a few months.

In total, I have dedicated literally half of my life in service to God. Every major life decision I’ve made since that night when I was 16 has been made with God in mind, in an attempt to do what I felt I was lead to do. To be a better man. To be a better pastor. To do the right thing. To help people. I’ve spent countless hours volunteering, helping people in crisis, talking with people at 3 am who felt like their world was falling apart. I did it all because I felt like that was my purpose, because that was what God called me to do, and because He was with me, He cared, and He would take care of things.

Now I wonder if I’ve totally wasted my life.

With the exception of a seasonal job at Christmas that lasted 7 weeks, I’ve been unemployed for a year now. My health has taken a nose dive and has gotten exponentially worse, particularly in the last year. I’m now physically unable to do things that would have been easy even two or three years ago. Regardless of my education or experience, I’ve been unable to be hired by anyone, church or other, because when I get to the interview portion of the process my physical/medical issues tend to weigh against me. I can’t honestly blame them. I’m a risk. I get hurt easily. I look like I may have a heart attack just walking down a hall. If it came down to hiring me or someone else who looked like they might not be at risk of dying on the job, I’d choose the other person too. So, obviously this is going to have an affect on my disposition. I struggle with depression anyway. Feeling like you’re completely worthless and just a burden on your family is enough to make anyone tailspin a bit.

I’ve spent the last year throwing myself into my writing. It took ten years for Mark and I to finish our first book. In the last year I’ve completed and self-published four, with a fifth currently being edited and three more in various stages of completion. I’m proud of the work. I think they’re all decent books. I’m still learning, still developing as a writer, but I wouldn’t put anything out that I didn’t feel wasn’t up to a professional standard. However, they aren’t selling. Promotion/advertising without money is difficult. It’s all by word of mouth and while I try to promote through this site, facebook, and twitter, it’s just not getting the job done and I refuse to be one of “those people” who just spams everywhere and annoys everyone.

I’m not writing this to get people to feel sorry for me, or to throw a pity party for myself. I’m simply trying to give some context for what I’m about to say next:

My faith in God has taken a huge hit. It’s being gradually ground down until, at this point, there’s not a whole lot left. It’s not because my life got flushed not once but three times in the last 10 years due to church crap. It’s not because my whole body literally throbs with pain 24 hours a day and I have to take a high dose of Vicodin three times a day just to function, let alone sleep. It’s not even because I can’t find a job, feel like I’ve wasted my life, and am a completely worthless human being. No, my faith in God has crumbled because I feel like He’s just not there anymore. I feel like I’ve been used up and now I’m done. I’m not expecting God to be a genie in a lamp who will magically make everything better. I’m not acting like a spoiled child who, just because he doesn’t get his way, yells “I hate you!” and goes to his room to pout. I don’t blame God for what’s happened. No, my faith is dying because the only thing I asked of God is that I wanted Him to speak to me. I wanted to know, beyond doubt, that He was still there, still cared, and that my whole life hasn’t been dedicated to superstitious crap. I wanted something supernatural, from Him, that couldn’t be explained away, misinterpreted, or twisted. Talk to me, send an angel, burning bush, whatever. I just wanted Him to let me know that He cares and that I’m not alone. If I had that, I could face all the other crap. I could get up in the morning, feeling like I got run over by a bus, and face the day. I could get up in the morning and not feel this pressing weight that manages to also feel like a void. I could go through my day without feeling like I’m wasting my time. I could go through my day without, at least once, feeling a compulsion to just end it all. I just wanted God to speak to me, to love me, to show me He’s still there and still cared. It’d give me the strength to face the rest. Even if things never got better and I spent the rest of my life in pain and struggling, I’d still have the comfort of knowing I served Him as best as I could, and that peace was waiting for me.

It hasn’t happened.

6 months, nothing.

I know all the old church standbys and excuses: “He speaks in a whisper, maybe you’re just not listening.” “He speaks through other people.” “He speaks through the Bible.” Look, I know how the game is played. I know all the things we tell ourselves in order to make us feel better, to justify our faith, to reinforce ourselves when we begin to doubt. I don’t want to hear stuff from someone else unless God freaking divinely inspired their butt into saying it. I don’t want to “hear through the Bible” because that can be interpreted any way anyone wants. I don’t want to convince myself I’m hearing from Him just because I desperately need to believe that He is. I don’t want some message that can be interpreted seven thousand different ways.  I want undeniable PROOF that He is speaking, that He is there, and that I haven’t wasted my life. For an all-powerful God that shouldn’t be too much to ask. We shouldn’t have to operate on blind faith. Our forefathers in the Bible didn’t. Every single one of them was spoken to either directly by God, Jesus, or an angel. They were given signs. Undeniable, supernatural, signs that God was moving, speaking, involved. Why should I settle for anything less? I’m not asking him to miraculously heal my body, win the lottery, magically provide a job, or anything of the sort. I just want Him to talk to me in some way. I just want even ten seconds of attention, a supernatural equivalent of a hug, something. I don’t think that’s too much to ask from my Heavenly Father whom I’ve faithfully served the last 15 years.

I’m tired & I’m running on empty.

For me, it’s time to put up or shut up.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective,  the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1-, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here.

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