Scattered Ramblings on Christians Leaving the Faith

For church last Sunday, I watched the service at home, since there were forecasts of heavy winds and rains.

The pastor was preaching about the Epistle to the Hebrews, specifically its admonitions to the Jewish Christians to stay in the faith rather than leaving it or drifting away from it.

The pastor talked about people he knows who used to be in church and left.  Some of their problem was hurt feelings: they were hurt by someone in the church.  The pastor said that Satan was the one trying to discourage them through those hurtful people.

The idea that God would let a Christian leave the faith troubles me, somewhat.  Don’t get me wrong: I am not for God using compulsion or violating people’s free will.  But I would hope that, if a Christian were to leave the faith, God would make at least some attempt to woo that Christian back.

I have been reading some of Robert Price’s writings over the past several months.  Robert Price used to be a Christian, but he came to be an atheist.  (Tonight he will be debating Bart Ehrman, another biblical scholar whose past includes a deconversion from Christianity, over the question of whether Jesus historically existed.)

Price, on his web site, features articles and sermons that he wrote at various stages of his spiritual journey.  I have been going through his sermons, reading one a day.  It is a bit jarring to read him talk about God as if God is real, and to talk about how God is at work in one’s spiritual life, while keeping in mind that he later left Christianity behind.  It is even more jarring because I agree with his sermons: they express Price’s problems with fundamentalism and embrace a version of Christianity that I consider to be open-minded.  Price as a pastor rejected fundamentalism and was open to the conclusions of historical criticism of the Bible, but he still saw value in spirituality and could derive edifying teachings from the Bible.  That is essentially where I am.  Yet, Price got to the point where he concluded that even this version of Christianity was wanting.  I wonder: Could that be me in a decade, or so?

I can somewhat understand a person leaving the faith for intellectual reasons: a person concludes that God is not real.  This happens to a lot of people, including (it seems) Price.  I have some difficulty, though, understanding those who leave the faith because someone in church hurt them.  Becoming discouraged with church, I can understand, but leaving God altogether?

Then there is the feeling that some may have, and I myself have had it, that Christianity feels like a straightjacket: being discouraged over failing to measure up to perfection on a continual basis, opening up the Bible and simply not liking the God who is there, or one’s heart not being in what the church says one’s heart should be in (i.e., service work, a particular dogma, etc.).  That could contribute to people leaving the faith.  Putting on an act in church, or engaging in worship that one has difficulty feeling, can become a burden.

I have to admit: one reason I stick with the faith is because I desire God’s blessing, whether that be positive or hopeful feelings, or material provision.  Incidentally, I read a Price sermon early this week about how we should worship God without expecting anything in return.  And I was reading more of the Bhagavad Gita, As It Is, and the commentator talks about how Krishna will bless those who come to him for material blessing or out of discontent with life.  Why would Krishna do this, if Krishna wants people to reject the material for the spiritual?  Because at least people in such cases are coming to Krishna for something, and that is better than not coming to him at all.  If people experience Krishna, even though they did not initially approach him for the right reasons, then maybe they will fall in love with Krishna, see the inherent value to a devotional spiritual life, and actually serve Krishna for the right reasons.

I was wrestling with the question: Would I worship God, even if God gave me nothing?  That is difficult.  Worshiping God because God is bigger and stronger than me is not enough: there has to be something within me that is actually attracted to God for me to worship God.  God’s love is something that can attract me to God, and that attraction has some measure of self-interest on my part.

My conclusion was that I would not leave God just because God did not give me what I want.  Even if I receive nothing that I want over the course of this lifetime, there is still a moral code, a rule about what is right and what is wrong.  There is a righteousness that does not relate to whether I get what I want in this lifetime.  If I have any unconditional commitment to God at all, it based on that realization.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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