Renouncing God?

A little while ago, I saw a social media post from a young woman that I know, saying that she was celebrating her first Easter without God and was happier than she’d ever been.  I’m glad that I didn’t immediately write about it, but gave myself time to reflect first, because my initial reaction to it was visceral.  You see, one Easter, when I was about the same age as this young woman, I began my journey to God.  Today, I wouldn’t go back to living in that place where I was putting my faith in the world and having only myself to depend on in difficult times if you paid me a million dollars to do so.

I was raised pseudo-Christian.  My grandparents and father were believers.  My mother, who I lived with, rarely took my sister and I to church, though.  She lived her life very much in the wisdom of this world and taught us to do the same.

By the time that Easter arrived, I was a single young woman, raising two children on my own and struggling to support us.  My most cherished dream had been to settle down and have a family, but my attempts at romantic relationships had led to nothing but disappointment and despair.  

I considered myself a Christian, and I was willing to attend church on Christmas or Easter, if someone invited me.  However, I really didn’t acknowledge God or turn to Him in prayer except when I felt that I needed something from Him.

I had a new position that required me to work late on Wednesday nights, so my grandparents offered to pick my children up from day care on Wednesdays, take them out for dinner, and then to a children’s program at the mid-week service of the church they had recently begun attending.  They regaled me with stories of how much my children enjoyed it and encouraged me to come one Sunday, but I declined.

Shortly before Easter, my son and I found a movie about the Easter story on T.V. and decided to watch it.  I realized by my son’s response to it that he knew absolutely nothing about the crucifixion.  He was shocked and heartbroken at what happened to Jesus.  I started to see it through his eyes – not as a story in a book that I’d heard a million times and become desensitized to – but as something new.  I saw the burden that Jesus had willingly taken on Himself for me, so that I could be saved and the torture that He endured that no one else on this Earth would ever choose to, just because He loved me.  

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

So, when my grandparents invited us to attend Easter service with them that year, I agreed.  They had recently left the church they had attended for many years, because they said it was spiritually dead.  There were only a few elderly people left; all the generations of children and grandchildren had abandoned it.  I saw the difference in this church immediately.  During worship, you could tangibly feel the Holy Spirit, in a way I never had in our former church.

They continued to invite me.  Some Sundays I would go, and sometimes I wouldn’t.  It was a gradual process of surrendering the world and my own will.  Eventually, though, I wanted to be there on Sunday, even needed to be there.  One of the things that I remember that impressed me was that they stood firm on the inerrancy of the Bible.  The pastor said, “If you can’t accept that the Bible account is true in Genesis, why bother to read the rest of it?”  

That hit hard with me, because my church experience had been in a compromising, mainstream church – the kind that said, “We believe in creation, but maybe God really did it over millions of years, not six days.”  I realized why all the young people, like me, had left.  What were they offering us that was different than what the world was?  They just seemed like hypocrites whose only concern was controlling our behavior, while the world told us just to do whatever would make us happy.  The problem was, it didn’t lead to any lasting happiness, after all.  

Giving my life to Jesus wasn’t an easy road at first.  There was a lot of battle with my flesh, but the destination was worth it.  The Truth was a seed that was planted in my heart and grew into a desire not to be defiled by the world.  

So, seeing this young woman’s post, at first, I was angry.  Publicly denying God on Easter, the day He let his own Son be sacrificed, the day Jesus willingly gave His life, for her – I couldn’t imagine anything more blasphemous.  Shortly after, though, I began to feel sad for her.  She is looking for her happiness in a place that she will never truly find it.  The world is going to let her down.  No matter how much she tries to be her own strength, some crisis will come along eventually where she comes to the end of herself – and there will be nowhere else to turn.

Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.” – 
– Jeremiah 17:5-6

I don’t know what happened to this woman, except what little she shared, which was that she felt judged by people at her former church.  Leaving a church should not equal leaving God, though.  Here’s why I say that:

  1. Churches are full of sinners just like you and me.  They are full of people who have past traumas that they may not have acknowledged and worked on healing yet.  Inevitably, someone there is going to let you down, but there is nowhere in the world that you are going to escape from that.  Schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, friend groups – they are full of sinners, too, and you will find yourself in the same position eventually, although what they judge you for may vary.  The only One who will never let you down is the One who is without sin – Jesus.
  • Wherever you go, you will still be there.  I’m acquainted with the lady who wrote the post.  I tried to be friendly to her, but she wouldn’t respond in kind.  I don’t know why she behaved that way, but if you go through life, not addressing your own issues, it will affect your relationships with others.  You can’t run away from yourself.  In fact, sometimes our own insecurities make us project intentions on to others that aren’t there.  I had a family member attack me earlier this year, accusing me of judging her and viewing her in a certain light, and would not take my word for it when I assured her that she was mistaken, and those thoughts had never even crossed my mind.  She’d been harboring hurt feelings for years over something that never even happened.

Sometimes, churches start to go in a direction where they are relying too much on their own intellect or their own holiness, instead of relying on biblical Truth and the completed work of Jesus on the cross.  There’s nothing wrong with finding a new church and praying for the one you left to be renewed.  If my grandparents hadn’t taken that step, I doubt that I would have accepted Jesus when I did.

We can hardly take a moral high ground, though, if we are unwilling to forgive those who have wronged us, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  Just as in our personal relationships outside of the church, it’s OK to forgive from a distance, if that’s what you need to do.  However, it is important to directly confront the person who has wronged you first, in order to see what they are really thinking and give them a chance to repent.  Afterwards, if they don’t see the error of their ways, the act of forgiving is more for your benefit than for theirs. Praying that their eyes will be opened, and truth revealed to them can benefit them, and others around them, in the long run, though.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’  And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17

“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” – Mark 11:25

I pray that God will heal her broken heart and lead her to the right church for her.  Despite her words of rejection, He still loves her and is patiently waiting for her to return to Him.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.” 
– Jeremiah 17:7-8