When my wife came down with cancer in 2011 I had a hard time believing people when they said, “Let us know if we can do anything for you, we’re here to help.” I doubted their intentions, especially when they said, “We’re praying for you.” And frankly, my faith was pretty shaky at times, but in the course of that experience, I discovered a depth of Christianity that can’t be reached through popular-level, Sunday-school, Christian culture. that portrait of God looked more like Santa Claus than Jesus Christ. I’m an atheist towards that Santa-God. I don’t believe in Santa Claus and I don’t believe in the simplistic pictures of the Almighty that are filtered through so much Christian sloganeering.
I had to discover the God of David–“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” (Ps 22.1), the God of Jeremiah–“My joy is gone; grief is upon me, my heart is sick within me” (Jer. 8.18), and the God of Habakkuk–“O LORD, how long shall I cry for Help and you will not hear? . . . the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth” (Hab 1:4).
When Christians preached at me their glib cliches, “Romans 8:28, all things work together for the good of those who love Him,’ or when people said, “We’re praying for you,” I wondered if they realized how brutally honest and realistic the rest of Scripture is. Those promises of hope are situated in the middle of doubt, death, and despair. Their glimmering words didn’t look like rarified diamonds but just cheap sequins. I’m sure they thought their words were precious jewels. Their words sounded, to me, like “We don’t want to get involved in your mess but we can look like we care if we say ‘We’ll pray for you.’ Meanwhile, let’s judge your weak soul for feeling sad when God’s still good.”
Maybe I was right in that assessment. Oftentimes, I was probably wrong. I did find, however, that a lot of people are shallow and insincere, and a lot of reality is confusing beyond recognition. Not everyone is like that. Some people do have a good heart, and really meant what they say, even if the words were clunky and feeble. But most importantly, I found a deeper, unshaken basis of faith whereby I can recognize evil for what it is, I can see how evil will eventually and fully be punished, and where I can rest easy not having to play God or beast.
[portion from a letter to a skeptic 12 Nov. 2012; adapted originally from “Santa God and the God of Habakkuk”]