How Christianity Changed The World Through Human Sanctification, Women’s rights, Slavery, and Science

It’s a lie when people say “secularization civilized Christianity”. No, it didn’t. Quite the opposite. Christianity civilized secularism and other pagan religions. But with the secularization of society, many of the vast influences that Christianity had in civilization are disregarded and/or rejected. This post isn’t only to educate those who are unaware about Christianity’s history and influence in the world, but to inspire Christians today to start, or continue, the work that Christ began. “Without Christianity’s teaching that the Logos is a person, the philosophy of human rights to which we subscribe to today would have never established itself” – Luc Ferry, atheist.

SANCTIFICATION OF HUMAN LIFE

“God created mankind in his own image; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27

Christianity has always had an adherence to the sanctity of human life. So when it came to abortion, infanticide, and child-abandonment, Christians took an opposing stand and publicly condemned these issues until they were outlawed. The Romans had an extremely low view of life. Most were viewed as cheap and expendable1. The practice of infanticide was “infamously universal”2 – including India, Japan, Brazil, Eskimos, and Africa. Infants were killed for being deformed or physically fragile, by being drowned or cut by their throats3. Those like Cicero and Seneca justified infanticide. Early Christians repeatedly condemned infanticide, i.e. Didache, the Epistle of Barnabus, and Callistus of Rome, basing it on the Scripture, thou shall not kill, and that every human being is made in the image of God. Through Christian literary and public condemnation, Emperor Valentinian outlawed it. Greeks and Romans also abandoned babies by “tossing” them away4. Not only did Christians publicly condemn these acts but took in abandoned children into their homes to protect and nourish them. In particular, Afra of Augsbur, prostitute in her pagan life, converted to Christianity and created a ministry to take care of all types of abandoned children – children of prisoners, thieves, runaway slaves, etc.5 Emperor Valentinian also criminalized child-abandonment.

Unfortunately, the sanctity of life – what Christians have fought for, for so long – has now been undermined, even by Christians, today.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS

“There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

Out of all religions and non-religions, Christianity elevates women to the highest level. Too many people are unaware of the low view that was of women. The Athenian women had the social status of a slave;6 they weren’t allowed to leave their homes without their husbands7 and were not allowed to talk to other men in their own home.8 The Greek wife had no freedom either; she was to be kept “under lock and key.”9 In a poem: “We women can’t go out just when we like. We have to wait upon our men.” 10 Jews barred women from testing in court.11 I can go on, but basically, women were deprived of basic freedoms.

“The birth of Jesus was the turning point in the history of woman.”12 Take a look at the way Jesus respectfully and humanely treated the Samaritan Woman – He broke the law by doing so. It seems like a shrug-whatever type thing today but not back then. “One is not so much as to greet a woman” was a rabbinic teaching13. Jesus broke that rule again when He entered into Mary and Martha’s home, and broke it by teaching Mary about Godly principles, since yet another rabbinic teaching was “let the words of the Law be burned rather than taught to women.”15 Broke both laws again by talking to and teaching Martha after His resurrection. He appeared to women first after His resurrection. Women followed Jesus. All this seems to typical today, but extremely unusual back then. The apostolic Church welcomed women and women became leaders, i.e. Priscilla and Phoebe. Women became more active within the church than men (60% of the Christian community was female15…come on, men 😉 ), women began to spread evangelism and missionaries, and built churches.16 This is where Jesus, Paul, and the Early Church broke the social and religious laws that kept women silent and secluded; by treating women equally.

A few other successes – Child brides were common in many places: Babylon, Rome, Assyria. This, however, became less common with the influence of Christianity17. For centuries the custom in India was to burn a widow alive. The Christian teaching is much more humane. Jesus had compassion for and protected widows (Luke 7:11-15, 21:2-3). Much thanks to Christian influence, this practice was banned.18 The Chinese foot binding was practiced for thousands of years, where girls, age 5, would have their feet bound. It led to their foot breaking and having curled toes. This also led to severe infections, leg imputations, or even death.19 Why? To please men. It made women walk on tiptoes and “seductively” sway. Christian missionaries in China led the crusade to have the government outlaw this practice.20 Today, women have rights because of what Jesus exemplified. Women’s rights, without a direct revolution, became a revolution.

SLAVERY

“No longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” – Philemon 1:16

Slavery made its way to Europe from African and Arab countries. Slaves made up about 75% of the population in Athens and Rome.21 Christianity’s teaching on equality – no slave nor free – had an incredibly positive effect on slaves. Christians treated slaves the same they would a freeman and communed with them at the altar. Contrasting this with Romans whose believes were “a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave. Therefore, there can be no friendship with a slave.”22 Christians freed slaves. The number is unknown, but at least, 15,600 slaves (95-400AD).23

Emperor Justinian was sympathetic to what Christians were doing so he abolished all laws that prohibited freeing slaves.  William Wilberforce was a politician who fought for years against slavery, attempting to make it illegal. Finally, just a few days before he died, Parliament passed the abolition act – freeing 700,000 slaves. Many more stories – Elijah Lovejoy lost his life fighting for slaves to be freed. Charles Torrey helped 100,000 fugitive slaves escape. Harriett Tubman liberated at least 700 slaves. “Christianity is not a segregated religion. It offered itself without restriction to all individuals, classes, and nations; it was not limited to one people, like Judaism, nor to the freemen of one state, like the official cults of Greece and Rome” Will Durant.

SCIENCE

“Christians, the pioneers of science” – Alvin Schmidt

Although Christianity had a huge impact on education in general – first university, public schools, Deaf and Blind education, etc., – I want to focus mainly on science. Because there are both Christians and nonChristians alike who believe science and Christianity don’t mix. The reason there were so many prominent Christian scientists was because they wanted to study God and His nature, through His works.  This post is getting long, so very quickly to name a few Christian scientists… Gregor Johann Mendel – founder of the modern science of genetics. Nicolaus Copernicus – formulated the model of the universe where the sun (not the earth) is the center of the universe. Johannes Kepler – established the heliocentric theory, and developed the laws of planetary motions. Galileo – father of observational astronomy. Sir Francis Bacon – established the scientific method. Isaac Newton – formulated the laws of motion, and universal gravity.

But today it’s “Science and Christianity are incompatible”, and, even though faith played an enormous part in these scientists’ lives, this is omitted in most educational institutions today. “The Heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the works of His hands” – Psalms 19:1.

We cannot forget that while Christians were changing the world, they were heavily persecuted and killed. And yet, Christianity still survived, and grew. My plea for Christians is to get back to the core of Christianity – to change the world, to love others, to treat everyone equally, to speak out and fight for those without a voice, through Christ; to become Christ-like. But to also accept any backlash or persecution that comes your way. When Christians were trying to outlaw widows being burned India, society backlashed severely saying that the “Hindu society would be shaken if widows were not burnt alive.”18 Whatever Christ has put in your heart, whether it’s to love everyone or fight for equal rights in a country that has none, do it. Accept God’s will for you and commit to it wholeheartedly.  Do everything in love. “Let my life be the proof of Your Love; let my love look like You and what You’re made of.”

References

  1. Richard Frothingham – The Rise of the Republic of the United States, 1910
  2. Frederic Farrar – The Early Days of Christianity, 1882
  3. Moralia, 2.171D
  4. Will Durant – Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity…, 1944
  5. George Grant – The Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement…, 1991
  6. Charles Albert Savage – The Athenian Family: A Sociological and Legal Study, 1907
  7. C.M. Bowra – Classical Greece, 1965
  8. F.A. Wright – Feminism in Greek Literature: From Homer to Aristotle, 1923
  9. Plutarch, Lycurgus 15.8
  10. Aristophanes, Lysistrata 16-19
  11. Yoma 43b
  12. L.F. Cervantes – Women, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967
  13. Berakhoth 43b
  14. Sotah 4.3
  15. Rodney Stark – The Rise of Christianity…, 1996
  16. W.E.H. Lecky, – History of European Morals…, 1870
  17. Keith Hopkins – The Age of Roman Girls At Marriage, 1965
  18. Rawlinson – India: A Short Cultural History, 1952
  19. Howard S. Levy – Chinese Foot Binding…, 1966
  20. Lin Yutang – My Country and My People, 1935
  21. David James – Slavery and Involuntary Servitude, 1992
  22. Nichomachean ethics 8.11
  23. W.E.H. Lecky – History of European Morals, 1927

Modesty: It’s More Than What You Think It Is

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Our society places value on women based on their sex appeal. Rarely, if ever, do we see value placed on women because of their character, because of who they are. I’ll attempt to show both a biblical and scientific/psychological perspective of modesty in this article.

Biblical Perspective

Women, we are not to feel guilty when a man looks at us. It’s important to recognize the difference between attraction and lust. Attraction is something that provides pleasure or delight, whereas lust is something uncontrollable, obsessive, and of strong/excessive craving. Christ protects us from the latter. Jesus states, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). The blame is not on the woman or her clothing, but on the man. Each man (or individual) is responsible for their own sin: “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed” (James 1:14). To add, Muslim women who wear burqas, covering themselves completely, still have men lust after them.

That being said, I personally believe that we can help our brothers in Christ, to lift and share their burden. “But whoever causes one of these little ones to sin…” (Matthew 18:6), “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat…” (1 Cor 8:13); “Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor8:9).

There are mainly two passages that deal with women and their modesty. 1 Timothy 2:9-10:“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But which becometh women professing godliness with good works.”

‘Modest apparel’ in Greek is Kosmios katastole.  Kosmios = orderly, decent, modest, well arranged. Katastole = to send, lower, down, referring to a long flowing garment. ‘Shamefacedness and sobriety’ = aidous and sophrosyne. Aidous = sense of honor, modesty, bashfulness, shame. Sophrosyne = self-control, sobriety. Paul is contrasting Christian women to Pagan women. The first part of the passage deals with dressing, the latter on how Christian women should clothe themselves with good deeds. Rather than focusing on our outward appearance, our primary concern should be on our inner attractiveness, our heart, our character.

The other passage is found in 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold, or on apparel— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

Both these verses show that modesty is not all about the appearance, but it is also about our inner selves, our character, how we behave.  We have made the mistake of making modesty solely about the way women dress, completely overlooking the second part of the passages. We’ve also made the mistake of making modesty about men, also missing the point.

Jeffery Holland beautifully and eloquently addresses young women, here’s a small quote of his talk: “Young women, choose your clothing the way you would choose your friends—in both cases choose that which improves you and would give you confidence standing in the presence of God. Good friends would never embarrass you, demean you, or exploit you. Neither should your clothing.”

Psychological Perspective

The psychological perspective is a little hard to swallow; it shocked me when I read the different studies. There are countless studies that show that females who dress in revealing clothes are seen as and feel sexualized/objectified. Evidence for this is seen through the Media: TV, advertisement, magazines, music lyrics, movies, and internet; Through products: dolls, clothing, and cosmetics. And, the consequences? Too many: appearance anxiety, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, smoking, plastic surgery, etc. For a complete list of influences and consequences, APA lists them here.

If you have not listened to Jessica Rey’s presentation, “Evolution of Swimsuits”, I strongly recommend it. She talks about a Princeton study that was conducted on how men’s brains responded to women who wore bikinis versus women who dressed modestly. The results showed that men see women as objects, not people, when they’re dressed in bikinis. Another separate study at Princeton was conducted that resulted in similar findings. She ends her speech with, “We need to teach girls that modesty isn’t about covering up our bodies because they’re bad, modesty isn’t about hiding ourselves, it’s about revealing our dignity.”

Similarly, a study of women ‘aimed to assess the link between clothing, a neglected area of women’s appearance management, and self-objectification.’ The results showed that scenarios involving revealing clothing led to greater state self-objectification, body shame, body dissatisfaction, and negative mood, than the scenarios involving more modest clothing.

Many women and feminists, such as Barbara Fredrickson and Ariel Levy, argue that women exploit their sexuality by wearing revealing clothing and engaging in lewd or lustful behaviour which ultimately encourages and leads to self-objectification. Some, however, disagree, and see it as empowerment.

This goes far beyond the simplicity of certain clothes being modest or immodest; it has negatively and profoundly affected women. Parents, guardians, older siblings, teach your girls to love her body, not to be ashamed of it. More importantly, praise her character. We need to actively stand against this culture that places value on our sex appeal, and embrace and adopt the values that God places on us: our character and hearts. Help your girls to build and have a strong self-worth and self-esteem foundation that is based on their character. Basing it on their appearance is a weak and shaky base, which will result in many negative consequences that we have seen above; I can attest to that.

Christians Follow the Entire Bible. Yes, Even Leviticus

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I don’t think there’s anything worse than being accused of cherry-picking the Bible, by both Christians and atheists. I’m not about to throw out a bunch of “grace” and “we’re not under the law” verses, I want to get into the actual theology of it all.

Quick basis: the OT laws are separated into three components: civil, ceremonial (i.e. clean/unclean animals), and moral (i.e. don’t murder) laws. I’m going to focus on the last two.

Adhering to ceremonial laws and simultaneously ignoring what Jesus did would mean that He died for nothing. Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfill the law (Matt 5:17) – one type is the ceremonial law (Matthew Poole). For example, we don’t sacrifice animals because Jesus was the Ultimate Sacrifice. We don’t need to stay away from certain foods. “You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud” (Lev 11:3). A split hoof represents “The Way” – being Jesus (since its split and has a ‘path’). Chewing cud is “partially digested food regurgitated from the first stomach and other ruminants to the mouth for a second chewing” and its second definition is “to reflect or think over something”. This represents an individual meditating/reflecting on God’s word – which is what the Holy Spirit is for, today (Matthew the Poor). Jesus already came, so did the Holy Spirit; so adhering to this law without Jesus’ fulfillment would mean rejecting both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I can give more examples of other laws but you get the point.

Moral laws, however, are still intact and are to be followed (such as idolatry, loving your neighbour as yourself, coveting, murder, stealing, etc). People in the OT lived under a theocracy; everything that was moral was legal, anything that was immoral was illegal and punishable. For example, Leviticus 20:10 says, “‘If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death” (emphasis added). These laws/punishments were originally given by God but man had the authority to execute the punishments.

Most of us are all familiar with the Adulterous Woman in John 8: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery…and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses commanded us to stone such women.’” And Jesus responded with “Let any one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” In this moment, God took away the authority that man had over another (Matthew the Poor). Because the Law of Moses clearly states that both the adulterer and adulteress should be held accountable. The Pharisees only brought Jesus the woman. Where’s the man? So people found loopholes, cheated, or lied with these laws, like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law did. Man couldn’t be trusted so God took His authority back from mankind, meaning, man has no authority to punish like they did in the OT. That is now left for Judgment Day.

So, in a way, we do follow the OT laws, but through the way that Christ has fulfilled them.

How Unawareness Destroys the Self

“Every person that wounds has been wounded.”

Codependency, in its broadest sense, is defined as “an addiction to people, behaviours, or codependentthings…it is trying to control interior feelings by controlling people, things, and events on the outside.” It’s to blame for disorders and addictions, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse, eating disorders, workaholics, and low self-esteem or self-worth. Depending on the source, 75-96% of Americans are affected by it. Experts in this area focus heavily on an individual’s past – why and how they act and behave now is all shaped by their past. It is mostly due to abuse. Not necessarily physical or sexual, but smaller, more subtle things, like disrespect, or inadequate nurture. For example, the son who comes home wanting to play or spend time with his father but his father’s busy watching TV and responds with “later”. This happening repeatedly is what experts call abuse.

Yesterday I got my eighth rejection letter from graduate school and it was pretty much the end of the world for me. We all base our self-worth on something, whether it’s financials, praise, family support, etc. Mine happens to be academia (which applies to most students too), or a better fit: performance. If I performed well (I.e. grades, duties at work), I’d get praise and feel loved. If I performed badly, I’d get critical and negative feedback, pretty judgmental too. This happens with most, if not all people, whether it’s done by family, friends, or teachers. It makes one feel like they’re not loved when they do something wrong, which, by the way, is the complete opposite of how Jesus told us to love.

“But if I just do X, everything will be better.” “If I were better or tried harder, things would be alright.” “There’s nothing wrong with me. The other person needs to change and be fixed.” Ah, denial. Gotta love it. You don’t need to get 100/100 to feel loved or get praise. If you did your best and you ended up with 70/100, that’s great! Good for you! You’re still loved! Why? Because you did your best. So what if you didn’t get 100/100 in a specific area? Einstein’s quote comes to mind: Everybody is genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

Codependency is linked to people pleasing – to the point where your own image is so important that you’re constantly thinking about how other people perceive you and hope to death they like you. It’s linked to perfectionism. Linked to never feeling like you’re wrong – why in the world would you be wrong?! Linked to having a hard time being assertive and/or saying “no”. It’s linked to depression, anxiety, and will eventually lead to self-resentment. Codependency destroys the self, and destroys relationships – parents, friends, spouses, God. These problems are caused inadvertently by our parents, which is caused by their parents, which is caused by their parents, and so on and so on. Ultimately, it’s not the parents’ fault; the fault lies in being unaware. Every individual is responsible for being aware of themselves and their actions – to know why they behave a certain way; why they act the way they do; what in their past shaped them to be who they are today; what sets them off and why. These are all connected. Being aware, breaking down these habits, and creating new and healthy patterns is vital to a positive and loving view of yourself, to loving and understanding relationships, and to a much better relationship with Christ.

Our past is vital and should be dealt with and accepted, but in a compassionate matter. Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a perfect example of this. He knew all about her past and told her about it. He didn’t ignore it or pretend it didn’t matter. And He accepted and loved her. This is what we need to imitate. Be who you are, who you want to be, not who you think others want you to be. Failures don’t define you. Setbacks don’t define you. Successes don’t define you. You define who you are by being the best that you can be. You are defined by being a child of God. You are defined by Christ’s constant and unconditional love for you.

Find your inner freedom. No one will give that to you, but you.

Some of the best-selling books in this area: Codependent No more, Love Is a Choice, and, The Disease to Please.

Unanswered prayer: God, where are you?

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Image credits to Rick Canton

Suffering. Failures. Unemployed. Hurt. Loss. Financial setbacks. Death. Loneliness. Personal disappointments. Unanswered prayers always have and always will be one of the most difficult topics. I’m going to attempt to write about skeptics of prayer, hindrances of prayer mentioned in the Bible, unanswered prayers, prayers, and the Enemy. It’s a little long so bear with me.

SKEPTICS OF PRAYER

Many, even some Christians, are skeptical of prayer. And they’re very quick to present studies where prayers have failed. But what about studies that have shown prayer to work? There was a blind study where the both the patients and medical staff didn’t know who was being prayed for. And study after study showed that the anonymous prayers had an effect1. In another more popular study, people prayed for half of a group of heart-attack patients. That group had a significantly smaller death rate, faster recovery with little use of drugs, and none of them had to be put on life support2. There are other skeptics who argue that answered prayers are only coincidence, and to that an English Archbishop said, “It’s amazing how many coincidences occur when one begins to pray.”

HINDRANCES TO PRAYER

  • Unconfessed sin – Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:1-2
  • Bad treatment of spouse – 1 Peter 3:7
  • Ignoring the poor – Proverbs 28:27, Proverbs 21:13. A lot of us pray for the poor. But that is not enough. Prayer and action must go together. I’m a huge fan of this quote: “Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you.” None of us would buy a field and sit there and pray, “God please let these crops grow.” That’s not how prayer works. Just like you cannot pray for the poor without acting on it yourself. Anthony Bloom says that there is no point in telling God about things when He gives us strength to do something. Are we just going to sit back and wait until He does it for us?3 (Which He probably won’t; James 1:25, 2).
  • Doubt – James 1:6-8
  • Not being persistent in prayer – Luke 11:8. When was the last time we prayed diligently and persistently for something?
  • Asking with wrong motives – James 4:3. This one is sometimes difficult to be aware of. For example, when a priest/pastor asks God to help their church grow and it doesn’t…is it because it’s for God’s glory or because he wants to be known for having a big church – his own glory?
  • Unresolved conflict – Matthew 5:23-24,
  • Unforgiveness – Mark 11:25, Matthew 6:14-15
  • Incorrect request – we see this, for example, with James and John asking to be seated next to Jesus in Heaven.
  • Prayers are too vague – Andrew Murray (and others) says that prayer *must* be specific. He provides the example of Blind Bartimaeus, who shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus responded with, “What do you want me to do for you?” Wasn’t it obvious? Murray writes, “Such definite prayer teaches us to know our own needs better. It demands time, thought, and self-examination to find out what our greatest need really is. It searches us and puts us to the test as to whether our desires are honest and real, such as we are ready to persevere in. Some ask to be delivered from sin, but fail to mention what sin – by name. Others ask for blessings to be poured out on the land – but they fail to mention which land or what type of blessing.”4

UNANSWERED PRAYER

I think Watchman Nee gives one of the best answers. He takes a different perspective of answering this question – simply, prayer for anything outside of God’s will, will not be answered (unless it doesn’t directly affect God’s plan for us). The power of prayer lies not in how much we pray, but in how much our prayers are in accordance with God’s will. “If God is almighty, why can He not open the door all by Himself – why instead must He wait until we knock? By asking these questions we come to realize that prayer is a great mystery. For here we see a principle of Gods’ working, which is… His will is only to be realized through the prayers of those who belong to Him: the prayers of the believers are to accomplish His will: God will not fulfill His will alone—He will perform only after His people show their sympathy in prayers.”5 In simpler words: consent between God and the individual praying. “The true meaning of prayer is the occasion wherein to express our desire for God’s will. Aside from this, there is no such thing as prayer.” Take Jesus at Gethsemane. He prayed and asked “Take this cup away from me…but Your will be done.” This is ultimately what our prayers need to be like.

“How many prayers nowadays truly express the will of God? How much in our prayers is self completely forgotten and the will of the Lord is alone the thing that is sought?” He asks many questions like this throughout his book. It makes one feel a little guilty, and rightly so. Our prayers as a Christian community have become so weak, self-centered, and worldly, that the results are fruitless and futile outcomes.

“God works so slowly.” We’ve all said it. Nee pretty much tells you to blame the person next to you for God’s slowness. He writes, “Prayerlessness does effect a change, because God will let many of His resolutions go suspended due to the lack from His people of prayerful cooperation with Him.” God works in such an intricate and complex way with us all, that many of us are all connected together, literally. My waiting on an unanswered prayer could be the result of someone else not praying or delaying their prayer, it could even be something random such as an airplane landing; because everything is so dependent on another event/person. “God’s timing is perfect.” We’ve all said that too. Until we see God’s timing to be off, right? “Here is clearly stated the relationship between prayer and God’s work. God in heaven will only bind and loose what His children on earth have bound and loosed. Many things there are which need to be bound, but God will not bind them by Himself alone. He wants His people to bind them on earth first, and then He will bind them in heaven. Think of it! All the actions in heaven are governed by the actions on earth! And likewise, all the movements in heaven are restricted by the movements on earth!”5

Anthony Destefano touches on this a little bit. He writes, “God can see your life, from beginning to end. He sees all the choices we’re going to make ahead of time. In order to accomplish His will, He takes all these choices and arranges them in such a way that his plan is ultimately achieved. Some way, somehow, God is able to orchestrate freely what happens on this planet, in order to produce the outcome that he desires – without taking away one iota from our freedom…While we’re busy circling, He’s busy clearing obstacles, solving problems, and moving people around until things are just right. Then, and only then, does he permit us to come in for a safe smooth landing.”6

It’s vital to remember that we worship a suffering God (Philippians 3:10), “So when we suffer, we are most in union with God.”6 And, it’s *really* important to pray that out. Sometimes, it’s okay to doubt. Complain. Yell. Be angry. Even Jesus complained! Philip Yancey challenges skeptical thinkers such as Voltaire, Russell, or Hume to find a single argument that is not included in the Bible; like the Psalms, Job, Lamentations, and/or Ecclesiastes. The authors here talk about hurt, betrayal, life not making sense, how they feel that God doesn’t seem to care, or that He is absent, etc. And the beautiful thing is that God allows these kinds of prayers. He wants your doubts, complaints, your anger, *even if* it’s directed at Him.7 “It is better to shake a fist at God than to turn your back on Him” – Lucado. The Hasidic tales tell a good story. Reb was approached by Din, suffering in a crisis of belief and whatever Reb answered, Din dismissed. After hours, Reb asked: why are you so angry with God? The question stunned the man. He said, “All my life I have been so afraid to express my anger to God that I have always directed my anger at people who are connected to God. Until this moment, I did not realize.” Reb told him it was time to express the anger he felt toward God, and for over an hour Din struck the wall with his hands and screamed his heart out. After that he began to cry and could not stop crying, and his cries turned into sobs, which turned into prayers.

So, what would happen if God did answer our prayers? What if He answered Jesus’ prayer for the cup to be taken away? What if Paul’s prayers were answered? “What would he be like? A more agile missionary but with insufferable pride?”7 It’s easy to look back at stories like Paul’s, Jesus’s, and Joseph’s and understand why God didn’t answer their prayers. But when it comes to our own stories… Hezekiah’s prayer was answered, to live longer, and we all know what happened afterwards. Can we say that God’s will for Hezekiah to be taken up trumped Hezekiah’s will to live a little while longer? Can we apply this principle to other areas and situations in our lives? Monica, Augustine’s mother prayed for 15 years for Augustine to come to Christ. One night Augustine was going to Rome and Monica prayed all night long to not let Augustine go to “wicked Rome”. Augustine went to Rome anyway, and it was there that he became a Christian. Reflecting later, he said that God denied his mother once in order to grant her what she always had prayed for. Can we apply a principle like this into our lives too? I know that sometimes things take a little longer than, but, God is so patient with us, why can’t we be patient with Him?

Sometimes, our prayers put God into a dilemma. If He fails to answer our prayers, God appears mean and distant; if He answers our prayers, we end up worse off than before8. Sitser writes about how if all of our prayers were answered, we’d be worse off than Hitler or Stalin, because answered prayers are power. It may not start off like that, but it will end up like that – everyone will be praying for health, wealth, success, domination, rather than for the good things that God wants for us, like holiness of life, faithfulness in service, and goodness of heart. He concludes: “Unanswered prayers protects us. It breaks us, deepens us, exposes us, and transforms us.”8 Additionally, as I said before, prayer is complex. Take the civil war – Abraham Lincoln speaks of how both sides praying to the same God for victory over the other. Both prayers cannot be answered fully.

The question isn’t if God can or can’t help or heal. Because He does. We’ve witnessed it, or at least heard countless stories of it. The question ultimately is, why this person and not that person? I recently went through a ton of books and testimonies of how God had healed, and others of how God hadn’t healed. Not many had answers to the question posed. Three stood out to me. “I always remember an alcoholic friend who expressed to me his frustration at praying daily for God to remove his desire for drink. Was God even listening? Later it dawned on him that the desire for alcohol was the main reason he prayed so diligently. Persistent temptation had compelled persistent prayer.”7 Rob and Ann’s son was born with a disease, later, their daughter was diagnosed with cancer. She was healed, but the son wasn’t. Why? “It increased our longing to know and follow God, we changed the way we prayed. We now pray with the desire to surrender to God’s will. God used our circumstances to change us.”8 And for those who didn’t have an answer, dealt with it: Stephen Schmidt was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He’d been praying for 23 years with no answer. He now says that he has accepted suffering as part of being human. He had to be healed of the need to be healed. He now prays for strength to endure, for meaning in his suffering, for faith to believe in a God and loving God even when he has to go in once again for a painful surgical procedure.7 This, too, is how the early Christians dealt with their regular persecutions. Full of boldness and confidence they’d stand and pray in the Colosseum waiting to be physically torn apart and eaten alive by animals. Their prayers? Not riches, wealth, health, length of life, but for strength and endurance through their persecution, for forgiveness of the persecutor, to help the needy, heal the ungodly, to not forsake them, for peace, and so on.

PRAYER

If there is one thing that all the books I’ve read had in common it’s this: silence. Be still. “Be still and know that I am God” The Latin imperative for ‘be still’ = vacate. Simon Tugwell says, “God invites us to take a holiday (vacate), to stop being God for a while and let him be God.” 5, 10, 15 minutes a day of just being still, meditating on God and His word, contemplating on God’s word, leaving some QUIET time after prayer to let God speak to you. Most of us pray and then leave after we’re done, and God’s like, “wait, what? Give ME a chance to speak to you!” Being in silence is not just “an absence of noise, but that silence has substance, it was the presence of something. The silence had a density, a richness, and it began to pervade me. The silence around began to come and meet the silence in me. All of a sudden I perceived that the silence was a presence. At the heart of the silence there was He who is all stillness, all peace, all poise.”(Some good books that I strongly recommend: The Orthodox Prayer Life – Matthew the Poor, Prayer – Timothy Keller, Falling into the arms of God – Megan Don)

THE ENEMY

Every time we pray, we overlook something important – the Enemy aspect. We should know that there is an enemy who lurks around to hurt us. Our prayer is directed towards God, for men, and against Satan. If Satan accuses us day and night (Rev 12:10), should we not also accuse him day and night? Have we not suffered enough from him? He has caused us to suffer terribly. Why do we endure his persecution without speech or prayer?5

I’ll end with something Lucado said: You represent a challenge to Satan’s plan. You carry something of God within you, something noble and holy, something the world needs – wisdom, kindness, mercy, skill. If Satan can neutralize you, he can mute your influence.

 

Many of us associate God with good THINGS. This is wrong. This is the downfall of so many Christians. Like I said from the beginning, this is one of the most difficult topics to discuss because sometimes we just don’t know. And that’s okay. If anything, it’s good to be aware of what some of the causes and reasons for unanswered prayers are.

 

Sources

  1. “God and Health: Is Religion Good Medicine? Why Science is Starting to Believe.” Newsweek, November 10, 2003, p. 48
  2. Koenig, H. (1999). The Healing Power of Faith. NY: Simon and Schuster, page 9
  3. Bloom, A. (1970). Beginning to pray. New York: Paulist Press.
  4. Murray, A. (1898). The ministry of intercession: A plea for more prayer. New York: Revell.
  5. Nee, W. (1977). Let us pray. New York: Christian Fellowship.
  6. DeStefano, A. (2007). Ten prayers God always says yes to: Divine answers to life’s most difficult problems. New York: Doubleday.
  7. Yancey, P. (2006). Prayer: Does it make any difference? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  8. Sittser, G. L. (2003). When God doesn’t answer your prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Part 3: Testimonies of Christians who deconverted and reconverted

Testimonies

*This is a three-part series. Part 1: atheists’ claim of why they left religion is usually false. Part 2: why atheists actually leave Religion. Part 3: testimonies of Christians who deconverted (atheist/agnostic) and then reconverted back to Christianity*

While most leave Christianity because of emotional reasons, many come back for both emotional and intellectual reasons. Here are some beautiful testimonies to show that. Thank you guys for sharing this with me and everyone else, I know it was tough for some of you having to relive these moments. FYI, some are anon due to their story.

Ron

I was raised a devout Christian. My so-called pastor of a father sexually abused me until I was 15, and my mother knew and did nothing. I left at 19, leaving behind my family and religion, never able to confront my family, and never able to forgive God for the hell he put me through. 3 years later I come back to confront my father…only to find out he died. From what? A stroke. He went too easy, I thought to myself. I asked my mother why she never protected me from him and she claimed it was all in my head. I almost physically attacked her that day. A few years later I took up biology with an interest in human sexuality, understandably, and years after that I taught science. Oh, the wonders and the intricacies of the human body! There has to be a creator! After substantial and extensive research I returned back to my Creator. It was also time to reconcile my relationship with my mother, and when I told her I found God, she cried and through her sobs and moans I understood that she had been praying for me since the day I almost tried to hurt her. That was 6 years ago. Today, I am at peace, happily married and serving God daily.

Haley Fernandez

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. I am the daughter of an alcoholic man, and a short-tempered woman. I was brought up to be a Christmas and Easter Catholic. But I did go to Catholic elementary and high school, and that was always enough. I met my former identity in 3rd grade. He was a sweet and kind boy. He gave me plenty of attention, and served as a great distraction to the chaos I faced at home. He became my salvation from the wreckage of my broken home and heart. At the age of 13 he questioned our parent’s God, and belittled any simple minded person who claimed validity over this “flying spaghetti monster” in the sky. I soon followed, after all, where had God been my entire life? We dated for almost 4 years. He was good to me. He protected me from the ongoing war at home, and pursued my heart. A few months before our end he casually suggested that I needed an identity. I relied too much on him, and it was suffocating. The only person who had ever known me completely, and still loved me, was sick of me. I begged for a second chance, a chance to change and be deserving of his love. He took pity on me and gave me a few months, but with a quick 20 second phone call, it was over.

I was a heartbroken teenager and left abandoned by my god. The person who served as my family, my friend, my savior, and my comforter was gone. I was alone, all because I wasn’t good enough. I was fatally flawed to live out my parents mistakes. It was inescapable. I just wasn’t capable of changing; I had tried relentlessly. When you mix a drunken man with an angry woman, you get a liar. So that’s what I did, I lied. I destroyed that boy’s reputation because he destroyed me. I started every single disgusting rumor I could make up just to hurt him the way he hurt me. I did not deserve this insurmountable pain. I was abandoned by any person who was left in my life. I spent countless nights waking up in a silent agony, followed by vomiting and pleading for the universe to just end it all. I sought forgiveness to no avail. I needed to be freed of it all. I needed to be new. I don’t know how I got through those months. I can’t pinpoint the moment the pains in my chest ceased, or when the screaming cries silenced. Truly I can’t even remember the moment I first believed. All I know is suddenly I kept the promises I had dismissed as a child close to my heart, that He loved me and that He would forgive me.

My dad is 4 years sober, and my mom is a Proverbs 31 woman. I’m no longer a ruthless liar, I’m the daughter of the King of truth. He met me, a hopeless case, where I was. I was someone who belittled those who loved Him, trying to sway them away with reason and a pinch of arrogance. Yet, He saved me. He carried me through my agony, even though my actions had caused His. I can’t describe it any other way except I was blind, but now I see. Jesus is my safety. He is more than enough. He is my portion. He is everything I will never deserve. Those silent prayers of my heart that I didn’t even know existed were answered–I found my identity. I am His.

Fabian Fioretti

I grew up in a secular household but was a cultural Christian. I was mesmerized by who Jesus was, but I didn’t accept/believe in the God of Israel. I got to High School and the subject of God was never mentioned except when it came to mockery. And it was this mockery that got me interested in the other side of the coin: that deep contempt for the mere concept of God. Why do people feel the necessity to viciously mock something they do not believe in? And so I realized what their biggest problem was, their greatest objection, against the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition: the Old Testament and its character. Either way, I joined the tendency: I started to mock and even resent the God of Abraham. It was terrifying to think over 2.3 billion people believe in such God. Thankfully, this didn’t last long and I gave up my anti-theism and went back to my usual agnostic stance, simply because I felt happier.

At 18, I began to study in different academic areas, such as the origin of the Universe, the fabric of reality, life itself and how it began, morals and ancient history. This constant thirst for knowledge in philosophical matters ultimately led me to many conclusions concerning each one of them. These conclusions led me to a long journey through different concepts, uncomfortable truths, logical analysis, and revisiting “established” truths. The obvious need for a transcendent being drove me to analyse & discard many different systems of belief. The process ultimately brought me to the Abrahamic faiths, not based on sympathy but on inevitable conclusions, and to Christianity over modern Judaism or Islam. The evidence for the existence, life, character, death and resurrection of Jesus was abundant and clear, from both Christian and non-Christian sources and points of view.

I was ready to accept Christianity as the truth I was looking for, but I needed more. So I had a personal experience with God, I did the one thing the Bible says you must not do: “Do not test the Lord your God”. In a way, I tried to blackmail God with a prayer, an ultimatum to see if he would answer, time limit included, and I prayed in the name of Jesus. My prayer was answered exactly in the only possible way I wanted. It was scary, almost terrifying, but that settled everything for me. After much consideration, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I turned 24 years old. It is ironic that things ended exactly how they started: with curiosity towards who Jesus is.

Cody Bancroft

I was raised Christian. My family and I would attend church a few Sundays of the month, but the presence of God was missing from my life. Years later we stopped attending church, until my parents divorced, then we attended church again. I was a rebellious teen and had to be forced. I hated it, I professed agnosticism, and I hated it. I was spiritually torn apart. At this time I was heavy in sin. I was disrespectful to authority, was drinking underage, behaving promiscuously, and experimented with drugs, basically I was a wretch. I don’t think it helped that most of the religious people around me were judgmental and unloving. I felt very ostracized and alone. At 17, a Christian friend of mine invited me to a youth service. That’s when everything changed and a whole new world was opened up to me. Minus being wretched, the kids and youth pastors were just like me. We shared the same musical tastes, styles, and aspirations but they weren’t like other Christians I had met before, they were loving and welcoming. I repented of sins, asked Jesus into my life, but I realize now that doesn’t inherently mean regeneration.

When I say a whole world was opened up I wasn’t kidding, and as a result my mind was opened and hungry for knowledge. I began dabbling in and reading everything from Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and finally settled with Buddhism. But the Buddhist conversion didn’t last long. Flash forward to 22, a switch had clicked on it seems or perhaps that inner longing had finally pierced my heart of stone. I began attending church again, this time with structure and zeal for God and God alone. I picked up a Bible for the first time in years during this time and began meditating on Scripture.

I can’t entirely explain what happened to me but I’ll do my best to try…I was listening to a For Today song when a spiritual occurrence fell over me. It felt like immense Love poured into gold was coursing through me. I was startled but overcome with joy at the same time. Eyes swelling from the emotion I whispered naively to myself “God, is that You?” and though the response wasn’t audible I had the answer I had been waiting for, for so long. It was He who had answered and in that moment after all of my running I was in the presence of the Almighty God. My testimony is this: You can construct your idols but God will knock them down. You can pick a path but the Spirit will redirect you. You can run and go astray, but Jesus knows His own. We are never alone because He is truly always with is.

Alejandro 

I grew up in a nominally Catholic household. My brother developed an illness which eventually became a permanent disability and it completely tore my family apart. It also didn’t really help that I was afraid of God. Not God fearing, legitimately TERRIFIED of God because I associated God with death, my family was completely unable to answer my questions and calm my fears. So around the age of 12 with my family a dysfunctional mess, my brother disabled, my spiritual life non-existent I figured there were two options: either there is no God, or He hates me. I couldn’t prove one way or the other so I decided there must be no God. Ironically, my last prayer was after my atheism. Grandpa had always been the most important person in my life to me and he had an accident. It wasn’t much of a prayer, more of a shout saying “where the hell are You!?” into a void that I didn’t think would have anyone to listen.

Regardless, he got better and I continued in my unbelief. However, I was never able to shake the feeling that something was off. Grandpa had gone the exact opposite route, his accident had opened his eyes to the reality of God. Grandpa dove headfirst into the Bible. A few years later he decided he’d teach me God’s way. My family’s inability and ignorance to answer my questions helped fuel my leaving. Grandpa was not like them. He had answers, evidence, history, fulfilled prophecy and, most important, he actually answered questions rather than the insufferable “just have faith” of nominal believers. I became a believer again and found a church with a strong base. We would get together, study, debate, interpret, and often rebuke each other. That’s when I transitioned into being a true Christian, forever seeking more knowledge of God.

Part 2: Why Atheists Left Christianity – Emotional Reasons

*This is a three-part series. Part 1: atheists’ claim of why they left religion is usually false. Part 2: why atheists actually leave Christianity (it was really hard to find anything on religion in general, so I changed it to Christianity). Part 3: testimonies of Christians who deconverted (atheist/agnostic) and then reconverted back to Christianity*

Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism

Paul Vitz, ex-atheist, now Christian, has a thesis, built on Freud’s theory; it is this: intense atheism is linked to those whose fathers were weak, abusive, or dead (applies to certain professions, such as philosophy/politics; not scientists/artists). Vitz writes about some of the most prominent atheist thinkers, whose rejection of God was central to their intellectual and public positions. The book goes into a lot more detail, whether you agree with it or not, it’s an intriguing hypothesis.

Atheists: Nietzsche, dead father, David Hume, dead father, Bertrand Russell, dead father, Thomas Hobbes, distant  father, Voltaire, quarrelsome and angry father,  Jean d’Alembert, who did not know his father’s love or even have an official father, H.G. Wells, whose father neglected his wife and was distant to him, and others. Vitz writes about substitute fathers, which Voltaire had. Vitz says Voltaire’s deism (not an atheist) was because he had other male figures in his life.

Comparing it to the religious whose fathers were present and strong: Pascal, George Berkeley, Edmund Burk, Moses Mendelssohn, Kierkegaard, G.K. Father-and-Son-SilhouetteChesterton, Albert Schweitzer, Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer, and others. It’s interesting that after Kierkegaard lost his father, he rejected God, but then came back to God because he understood the importance of fatherhood and its relation to God.

He then writes about female atheists. There is a psychological difference between males and females. “For men, God seems to function primarily as a principle of justice and order in the world… for women, it is their relationship with God which is primary.” So, in other words, most of the female atheists would embrace something akin to feminism or relationships. Simone de Beauvoir rejected God, following her father’s footsteps. At 20 she met Sarte, and he became her God. Ayn Rand has a similar story to Simone, except Ayn’s love was a fictional character whose name was Cyrus, and she worshiped him. Kate Millett grew up adoring her father, but he later left for a younger woman. She later substituted her Christian faith for witchcraft and had an exclusive involvement in lesbian relationships – all within the framework of a feminist world view.

All these atheists left their religion because something deeply wounded them.

Other

This article presents a couple of anecdotal cases. A Christian foundation interviewed college nonbelievers about how and why they left religion. It turns out most of the nonbelievers were wounded or deeply hurt by something that happened within the Christian community. Another reason was that the message/sermon from pastors/priests wasn’t strong or effective. The sermon may be about “being good” but never about a relationship between an individual and Jesus.  Another reason was that the Church’s answers about life and the unknown were superficial rather than authentic and genuine.

This article mentions how Christians are leaving the Church because of the Church and its pastors. This corresponds to the article above.

In the article “Unreasonable Doubt”, Jim Spiegel writes “We humans are not only reasoning beings. We also have emotions, desires, and free wills, and these influence our beliefs. As important as it is to remind atheists of the rational evidence for God, the real problem in many cases is moral and psychological in nature.” He also quotes the contemporary philosopher, Thomas Nagel: “I want atheism to be true …. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I’m right about my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

Dr. Thompson writes about the many different causes of unbelief. He uses Darwin as an example of having a bias against God. Since his religious sister died, Darwin rejected God. Under parents and upbringing, he quotes psychology experts such as Liebman who state that “…Much atheism has the ground prepared for it in the disillusionment with the parent which has arisen in the child. Disbelief in life, skepticism about humanity, the denial of God—all sink their roots in the soil of emotion long before exposure to courses.” Dr. Thompson writes about education, pride, immorality, and a few other reasons that cause unbelief.

There is a lot of information out there on this issue. Of course, this may just be a generalization. Regardless, I think it’s unfair for most atheists to say that they’ve left because they started to “think”, when in reality, this is not true. In my opinion, emotional reasons will always trump our intellectual ones. I’d just prefer some honesty, atheism is not rooted in reason and it is long past due to bury this inaccurate canard.