I have a lot to be thankful for, and I can’t emphasize that enough. So I wrote a whole post on it and strategically placed it in the series right before this one.
However, for my own safety, I can’t live as if God is watching over and guiding me. When I assumed that God was usually teaching me something if only I’d pay attention, it was harder to take the life lessons I learned with a grain of salt. When I believed that God would guide me into a healthy church it made me more susceptible to being fooled.
As a Christian, I felt I would be doing someone a disservice if I encouraged them to become a believer based on the promise of being personally guided and transformed by God. So, in the few times I evangelized, it was purely on the basis of Christianity being true. I was drawn to Christian evangelism methods such as the Way of the Master’s focus on sin and redemption and even their banana argument as proof for God (seriously I used it in a college paper). Today, my critique of this reasoning would be this: in considering the friendly features of the banana, I would have to take into account all the ways humans have made bananas and other fruits friendlier to us. It’s been quite a process with lots of twists and turns and benefits and harms along the way, hardly the fruit of divine intervention. It would be like saying that the loyalty of Golden Retrievers is evidence that God loves us, and then learning about dog breeding.
I digress. If I gained a conviction or insight while experiencing God, it would be hard to talk me out of it. And that’s where the danger comes in. I can’t risk that. Below is a private post from 2016, now shared publicly for the first time:
Faith Healing and the Problem of Evil
After reading about several instances of adults harming themselves in their quest to get help from God (such as Alex Jacobsen), and several adults [rejecting medical care] for their kids (kids such as Mariah Walton) in the name of trusting God, I have to say two things because I want less deaths and less pain in the world. One is that people should be careful about discerning the difference between their inner thought lives and what counts as the voice of God because of the life and death consequences. The second thing is that if you are a sincere believer trying your best to follow what God is calling you to, there is no guarantee that God will correct your path from what you think God told you to do if you’re mistaken, (full disclosure: this is also one of the main reasons I doubt God’s existence).
I understand that believers do not view God as a fairy godmother who always uses direct intervention. I understand that many denominations do not buy into faith-healing, and those that do tend to have safeguards such as always checking with a doctor. However, even when I was a Christian who had moved away from anything resembling faith-healing practices (although I was still open to the possibility) I still thought about the people who believed it. I wondered how God could allow sincere believers to drift into harming themselves and others out of their love for Him.
I could get away with labeling some of the people as malicious charlatans, but I couldn’t do that with the sincere followers. They have transcendent experiences and wrestle through their problems in prayer and feel that they are in communication with the supreme loving intelligent Creator. They probably have moments of doubt where they wonder if they’re on the right track on this part of their beliefs, followed by moments of peace and reassurance. God allows Himself to interact with us in those ways, but, God doesn’t allow Himself to inform us that we are in danger, while He is providing us with peace and incredible highs while we worship. Without that clear guidance, we are left with a very human trial-and-error process. Some people don’t even find out they can’t trust those experiences until they almost die from it. To make matters worse, in most faiths there is at least a small element of admiration for following something or someone even if it doesn’t make sense or seems dangerous or immoral to our little human brains, and the danger happens when that part gets emphasized. Given the fact that people inside and outside of extreme faith-healing groups both report these incredible experiences and hear the voice of God in various ways, and see that as confirmation from God for their beliefs, I believe there is danger in anyone increasing their confidence from these experiences, and I wonder if a loving God could allow trust in those things to be built.
It does not make sense to think that God is the one creating the emotions and visions that make people feel like they are on the right track, because these manifestations also happen in other congregations while their beliefs are actually killing people, or while the clergy is molesting their child in the back room, or while some other ill is going on in the congregation that could be easily stopped if God told people about it. If God is allowed to whisper “I love you” into our ears, why is He not also allowed to whisper, “by the way I want you to take your meds,” or “this will kill you,” or “that priest is bad for your kids”, or “here’s how to tell when it’s really me or just your imagination”… since He’s supposedly communicating something already anyway!? To make matters worse, the people who are most in danger are those who are the most obedient and hungry for God’s voice to say something of substance, so why wouldn’t God guide them?
Some have told me that if God made His voice more clear, it would violate free will. In some cases I buy that. But suppose someone of their own free will has already said “God I’ll do whatever You say.” If anything, God saying something would enhance his free will, not violate it. The man who threw all of his faith on God and threw his pills away and almost killed himself would not have had his free will violated by God saying, “this isn’t going to help you.” God might actually violate free will when he allows a sincere believer, suspending reason in the name of obedience, seeking help, to be harmed himself or to harm her kids by what seems like a personal relationship with God or message of God.
Some have told me that on certain beliefs the only thing that would change their mind is God talking to them directly, but what I’m trying to suggest is something on another level. All I’m saying is they ought to do exactly what they would ask someone of another denomination or faith to do, which is be open to the possibility that they are wrong and to not increase their confidence in their beliefs from those transcendent experiences in worship that we all know we all experience. What I’m suggesting is that they may have mistakenly elevated their inner thought life to be GOD without having tests to make sure they aren’t just talking to themselves or an impostor. If people of extreme faith-healing groups can’t trust their inner sense of peace from God to guide them, which is one of the places where it really is a matter of life-and-death, why should anyone?
It is hard for me to see any way back to believing, when I want to protect people by encouraging them to behave just like we would have to if God was not real. And I know there’s a spectrum, it’s not all black and white, but everything seems to tilt more and more in that direction.
If I tried hard enough, I could figure out a way to make it work. I could believe just enough to get the peace and security of belief, but still kind of be aware that this might not work out without safeguards. But like bananas, it would seem incorrect to look back on the trial and error process of figuring it out and say, “God did this.”