Everywhere you look today it seems we are met with more and more reports of churches in decline, people walking away from faith, and people giving up on God. Why this is happening? Unless we are willing to ask what I think can be some very real, but very difficult questions, we will never understand. Does God even deserve a second chance? Would God give me second chance? What would life be like if no one gave God a second chance and what could it be like if we did? All important questions. And we will try to find answers for these in the coming weeks.
But before we can consider any other questions, we have to start at what I believe is the fundamental question, the question that all the other questions are built on. Why did I give up on God?
I have to admit one of my glaring character flaws. There are many flaws I could pick from but one that always seems to jump out at me is my amazing ability to jump to a conclusion. I can make a snap judgment even when I know better. It is common on my house for my wife to come to me to start telling me about her day. Usually I hear about things the kids have done. Often there is a a story of how one of the kids misbehaved or acted up in some way. Before she can get the full story out I am ready to act. I am ready to discipline the child who has been difficult. Usually this ends with my wife telling me she has already taken care of it and there is nothing left for me to do.
Has that ever happened to you? I can almost guarantee if you are married this has happened to you. You have jumped to a conclusion prematurely only later to find out your conclusion was wrong. When that happens in marriage though, if you are committed to the marriage and don’t see divorce as an option, you do what you can to work through the issue. In a dating relationship, though, if the issue is damaging enough, you might use the conflict as a reason to walk away.
I believe this is what happens in our relationship with God. Maybe you came to faith as a child and in childhood, it was great. But as you grew older, the rules that seem to come with religion seemed to be stifling. In high school, you saw your friends doing things that you wanted to do but “faith” kept you out of. In college, the stories of the Bible started getting picked apart and you began to see a huge rift between science and the Bible. And there were questions raised you couldn’t answer and gaps that seemed to be uncrossable.
Or maybe life just dealt you a bad hand. You’ve personally experienced trauma. You watched or are even now watching someone close to you suffer. And even though you have done your best to live a good life, you can’t make sense of why this has happened to you and it has caused you to doubt God. You doubt his goodness. And maybe you even begin to doubt his existence.
And what you‘ve found is that as you have grown up, what led you to faith as a child no longer seems valid. And we are faced with the question what happens when the reason we came to faith is no longer good enough to keep us there? What happens is we slowly begin to give up on God.
Doubt Your Doubts
If this describes you and you have walked away from God, or if you are still trying to stay with God, but are really struggling, I would ask you if you are willing to question the reason you walked away in the first place. Was it really a good enough reason to walk away from faith? Was God truly the one to blame? Or could it be that God got the blame when there was really more at work than we want to admit or realized?
A Story of Giving Up
In the New Testament, we find a parable that Jesus told that gives us insight on reasons we might give up on God. In Luke 15, Jesus is giving his time and attention to those who needed him most, those who society had written off: the sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes.
In fact, there were a lot of “undesirables” attracted to him. One of the main criticisms against him was that “[Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2 NIV) To the religious people, this was seen as unacceptable. In a religious system that was incredibly concerned with staying pure and clean, associating with these type of people made Jesus unclean by association.
Jesus then begins teaching by using three parables about lost items: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. All three stories are tied together, but the last one shows us two individuals who gave up on their Father. Read Luke 15:11-32 here.
Reasons We Give Up on God
Reason 1: Giving Up By Choice
This is such a powerful story. It highlights for us the reason Jesus came to the earth. In this story we see that God himself came to earth to pursue those who were far from him offering forgiveness and love to those who will seek him and repent. But in it we also see why people might walk away from God. We first see this in the younger son at the beginning of the story.
The younger son looked at life and his current situation and thought, “You know what, the grass is greener over there so I am going over there. Sitting at home, working for dad, living under dad’s roof with dad’s rules, that’s not what I really want to do!” Before we become too critical of him though, we need to consider, have you been there before? I have a daughter there right now. We try to be sensitive to her as a twenty year old who has lived on her own for two years overseas, but there’s still difficulty.
What’s so amazing about this is that the younger son didn’t just pack his bags and leave. He goes to his dad and says, “I want what’s coming to me when you die. In fact, I want it right now.” As the younger son, he was entitled to 1/3 of the father’s estate. The older brother would get the other 2/3. By requesting his portion before his father’s death, this son is saying to the father, “I wish you were dead so I could have your money.” In this culture and time, it would have been perfectly acceptable for the father to respond negatively, to refuse the son’s request and even kick him out for requesting such a thing.
Such a request was at great personal risk to the father not to mention the emotional toil it would have had to hear you child say they wish you were dead. But the Father did it. And let’s not think the father was naive. He didn’t think that this son was going to go and start a new business to improve his financial situation. He knew the son. He knew this was going to be blown on “wild living.” But he gave the son his inheritance and allowed the son to leave.
What looks like life to the younger son was way more appealing than staying with the father. That is the trap many of us have fallen into. We think about Jesus and church and Christianity, and the furthest thought in our minds is “fun.” Entertainment, partying, success, the American dream, career, and kids’ activities can all have a greater appeal to us than a life of faith. This is the walking away from God that is solely our choice. On the surface it looks appealing. It even feels appealing. It is fun. Things that pull us away from God usually are. If sin wasn’t fun it wouldn’t be tempting.
Maybe this is you. Maybe you’ve walked away from God because you desired something that seemed more fun or better than what God had to offer. If it is you, please don’t hear judgment here. I am not trying to make you feel guilty. I would just ask you to consider this: is it really worth it?
One of the most difficult individuals to talk to about Jesus is one whose life seems to be ok. Jesus isn’t a part of it. Everything is going good. Life is good. Job is good. Family is good. And typically you are even a good person. You might donate to good causes and even donate some of your time to them. But when life is good, often we see no need for Jesus.
But… even when life is going good, if you are living the American dream, do you ever wonder if this is all there is? Do you wonder if there is more to life than this? Is there a greater purpose than just living, having a career, acquiring stuff, being active all the time?
When we look back at the parable Jesus told, we find a young man who willingly walked away from the Father, a Father who represents God. And after he blows through all his money, after he lives the good life, he finds himself empty, destitute, and in great need. Not just financially, but relationally. He finds himself all alone. No one cares about him enough to even give him food. He realizes that after he pursues everything that he thought would make him happy or give him purpose, he is empty.
Reason 2: Giving Up Because Something Happened to Me
There’s another aspect to the younger son we see keeps him from the Father. Something happens to him. A famine hits the land. He had zero control over this. It happened anyway, and he finds himself on the losing end of a bad economy; no food, no job, no anything. He was a victim of circumstances. And this may be a bigger reason people move away from God.
Something happens to you. You lose your job even though you were a good employee. You don’t get into the school or program you wanted. Your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse decide to end the relationship and you didn’t see it coming. A parent dies when you are young. Your child is diagnosed with an incurable disease. When life deals us a bad hand, it is very easy to get angry with God and to feel wronged by God. We wonder where is God in this? Why is he not answering my prayers? Why is he not healing my child? We wonder, where is God?
We blame God for what we are going through. We feel so out of control that we NEED to blame someone and God is just as good as anyone. And because we pin it on God, we find ourselves getting angry and disconnected until we finally convince ourselves God doesn’t care, that God is not good. God must be absent.
What if God isn’t the one doing these things to you? What if instead of seeing God as a distant, uncaring deity, in reality he is a loving Father? What if instead of seeing him as the harsh judge sitting over it all, disconnected and unloving, what if he is the loving Father whose heart breaks every time your heart breaks? What if instead of blaming God, we realize that maybe it isn’t God’s fault? We realize that we live in a broken world full of broken people. God has taken it upon himself to make right what is wrong, even taking the brokenness upon himself in the person of Jesus Christ. He is actively working to bring about a day when once and for all, all pain and all suffering, and all heartache would be wiped away.
Please don’t read into what I am saying. I am not telling you that you don’t have the right to be upset or angry. What I am telling you is that God is with you. He comforts those who mourn. He is with us in our suffering. He never leaves us or abandons us, even though at times it may feel like he has.
Is it possible that God isn’t to blame for what you are experiencing and that even though it may look like he’s abandoned you, he’s been with you the entire time?
Reason 3: Giving Up and Staying Religious
There’s a third perspective from the story that I believe is equally important. It is seen in the older brother. What is interesting about the older brother is that physically, he never leaves the Father. He never walks away, but as he interacts with his dad, we see that he may be physically present, but he certainly isn’t present in any other way.
This is the person who does all the right things and says all the right answers, but God is nothing more than an insurance policy to getting what they want out of life. And apart from showing up at church occasionally and maybe dropping a $20 in the offering plate every once in a while, there is no evidence of God in their life at all.
This person looks at the message of Christ and gets angry. Angry because the grace and love that Jesus offers, especially to those who don’t deserve it, seems so reckless. “I’ve been a good person,” they reason. “I’ve believed the right things. I’ve earned my status with God,” so they think.
The problem with this thinking is that it isn’t the gospel. This isn’t Jesus. In fact, it is what Jesus came to correct, those who honor him with their lips but their hearts are far from him. This person would never admit to giving up on God, but their faith is really in themselves. They really have no need for Jesus or the cross. They are so good that they believe God actually owes them. This giving up actually has to confront the question, “Who are you really trusting in?” Maybe you wouldn’t say you’ve given up on God but have you trusted more in yourself that in God?
Reason 4: Bad Theology
There are other reasons than what we get from this story as to why people give up on God.
We could talk about bad theology. Our faith is built more on tweets and bumper stickers than on Jesus. A friend shared a story this week about his brother who when he was in high school attended a youth group meeting. The leader called everyone down to the altar and told them not to leave until they “had experienced God”. One by one teens got up and left the building. In the end, this friend’s brother was there by himself. He prayed and prayed for God to reveal himself. He desperately wanted to experience God, but nothing happened. Finally he got up and walked out of that church and walked away from God.
Why did he do this? Bad theology. God doesn’t always reveal himself to everyone the same way. And to put pressure on someone like this is asking for disaster. We could go on all day listing the bad theology we believe. Yes it looks good on a bumper sticker, but it is dangerous when real life hits and we are looking for answers. Bad theology leads to inaccurate beliefs and unmet expectations.
Reason 5: Bad Christians
Another reason we give up on God could be bad Christians. You know them. The judgmentalism, the hypocrisy, the close-mindedness, the unloving ways they treat one another and others. The history of Christianity certainly shows us many times we were at our worst.
What we need to realize is that families have stuff. I am flawed. You are flawed. There are no perfect families. There are no perfect churches.
Just this past week, Pastor Stephen from Alive Church shared with me that so many Africans who come to America end up walking away from God. Why? Because a big struggle for them is approval. They want to be seen on the same level as Americans. They want approval and to be seen as equals. And as Stephen said, “Because they can’t find approval in the church, they go look for it elsewhere.”
Don’t allow the imperfection of those who are sincerely trying to follow Jesus to keep you from giving God another chance.
Is God Really to Blame?
When you think about God, faith and religion, I get it. This faith thing, following Jesus isn’t some “nicely-all-answers-come-neatly-packaged-with-a-little-bow-on-top” kind of thing.
Even so, what I want to make sure you hear is simply this: What if the reason you gave up on God wasn’t really a good reason to give up? Could it be you blamed God for something that wasn’t his fault? Were you taught something that has given you the wrong impression about him? Was it the imperfection of someone else that has pushed you away?
I realize that this post doesn’t really give you a single answer as to why you should give God a second chance. For that, you will need to check out the next post. But right now, all I would ask is to evaluate why you gave up in the first place? And is there any room for the possibility that God might deserve a second look in your life?