One of the most damning realizations of my deconversion was that, despite my years of prayer, of studying scripture, of earnestly seeking to draw closer to God, I was no closer at all. I had never heard the voice of God like some claimed to have heard. I had no miraculous experiences, no unbelievable coincidences, nothing that seemed out of course for a workaday life. I prayed for things, and sometimes I got what I asked for, sometimes I didn’t. It was as if the act of praying had no influence on the results of the prayers. Sure, I gave God credit for a lot of things, but stepping back I wondered where exactly God was acting in these situations.
For example, when my wife and I bought a house, our friends and family praised God for his favor in providing us with this wonderful house. Even as a Christian at the time, I wondered where God fit into the process. Did God save our money for us? Did God contact the realtor for us? Did God sort through dozens of listings, visit house after house, make the phone calls, fill out the paperwork? Why is God being given the credit for our hard work?
How many Christians go to the doctor when sick? Why don’t they do as James says:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. [James 5:14-15]
That’s the Bible’s prescription for your ills. You may as well throw away your antibiotics, your insulin, your heart medication, your Viagra. Take off your casts, your splints, your hearing aids, your glasses, and stumble blind and deaf, guided by your faith alone!
But what if you do this and you don’t get better. Is that God’s fault? He’s in control here. He could heal you in a second if he wanted to – wouldn’t even break a sweat. Will you blame God for your ills? Or will you assume God has a bigger plan in play, that somehow your suffering, even if it leads to your death, will somehow result in a greater good?
Christians tend to “see God moving” in retrospect through the rosy filter of confirmation bias. They assume that any trifling benefit came directly from God while completely ignoring the times when God has failed to move, either in their own lives or the lives of others. The situations where Christians find comfort believing that “God is in control” are the same situations that would be avoided if God was actually controlling things. Why does God help people find their car keys but not a route to work that will avoid that horrific accident?
Christians regularly pray for the sick to be healed. If the person gets better, hooray! God (not modern medicine or highly- trained doctors or the body’s own immune system) has healed them. But what if they don’t get better? What if they suffer a horrible, painful, unnecessary death? This might be looked at as “God taking them home” or “God’s higher purpose,” but it is rarely looked at as “God choosing for unknown reasons not to expend the tiniest bit of his supposedly limitless power.”
Seemingly, God chooses to bless people but never chooses to curse them. This does not hold up to reality. He may not directly cause suffering, but he consistently causes suffering indirectly by not using his unlimited power and foreknowledge to prevent harm.
Would we graciously thank a doctor who didn’t use every tool in his arsenal to cure our loved ones? If a sick man could be cured by a simple penicillin shot, what would we think of a doctor who refused to administer it? To paraphrase the Simpsons, God is the cause of and solution to all life’s problems.