There’s Nobody there to take the Wheel

Let go and let God.

Jesus, take the wheel.

It’s in God’s hands now.

At various points in my life, when the chips were down and I was struggling with whatever the seemingly cataclysmic issue or event, I would receive the above advice. Usually delivered lovingly and with a sense of profundity, these platitudes never really helped. With a sigh of long suffering, I would accept that the problem, whatever it was, was not in my control, god knew what he was doing, and I was to renew my focus on staying obedient to him and everything would work out. Whatever the result, it was god’s will. Pray fervently for the strength to endure, and the wisdom to know what to do. Pray for god’s will to be done. Don’t fall into sin, or god will remove his blessing. The outcome may be worse.

Any natural consequence can be explained away as god’s will. He gets credit for the good, and is absolved of the bad. The underlying belief is that god is in control of everything, and he is working all things toward some master plan that we cannot possibly comprehend. Our suffering, in the meantime, is for his glory – our character is being built and shaped. We may not understand what he is doing now, but we will in time, even if that takes until we go home to glory.  When we get to heaven, we’ll finally know why all those children had to die of cancer. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way.

There have been times in my life that I trusted and obeyed, as well as I could, given the labyrinth of scriptures, doctrines and commandments one has to navigate in order to pursue holiness. Then there were other times. I got trapped in a cycle that went like this:

  1. When things are good, I must be in the Lord’s favor. Rejoice!
  2. When things are bad, I must be out of his favor, because of some sinful condition. This phase was accompanied by crushing shame, depression, and hopelessness.

What I started to notice as the years stretched on is that the only tangible result of any given behavior was its natural consequences, whether good or bad, helpful or hurtful. Both good and awful things happened to me regardless of the status of my faithfulness or faithlessness. In fact, I started to see that many of the decisions I had made in the past, out of a sense of duty to obey god’s will and commands, were resulting in unnecessary present day pain and consequences. I made a lot of decisions over the last thirty-nine years based on a sense of duty and obligation; decisions I never would have made had I been true to myself and viewed all the details and considerations rationally, as opposed to seeing them in a Christian funhouse mirror that others had built and put in front of me. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, especially when you take off your blinders.

It took a surprise, high-conflict divorce after fifteen years of marriage, with three children, to realize I didn’t even know who the person closest to me really was. To acknowledge that I was in an abusive and treacherous situation, with a liar and a cheat. I was so wrapped up in what should be, flogging myself for my failures, that I was blind to reality. That is a dangerous place to be. During the divorce, I reviewed how I had felt since year one of my marriage. I felt trapped already, at the outset. I wanted out. I got married for the wrong reasons – I felt a sense of obligation, because my wife and I had become “one flesh” already. The marriage was a mistake. Not all in the Christian community would have counseled us to get married, so it was MY mistake. I believed I had a responsibility to this girl, and to god.

We could have corrected the mistake easily, shortly after we made it. But divorce is biblically forbidden, except in the case of adultery (although some would argue it’s forbidden even then). Being in the marriage wasn’t good for me, and it wasn’t fair to my now-ex-wife, either. But hey, the Bible says we do this no matter what, so let’s hang in there until kids are involved and it gets much worse!

If I had been honest about who I was and what I really wanted – if I sought truth instead of submitting myself to authority and dogma early in life… Things would be much different.  I would have made decisions that were healthier for me and others, and saved a world of hurt. The best thing to come out of all this is my wonderful kids – but they have experienced the pain, too. They continue to experience it. I wish that wasn’t so.

Some things are good to let go of. Bitterness, anger, resentment, control over things you have no control over. Let those things go.

It’s the “let god” part that I have no faith in anymore. There is nobody there to take the wheel. If you trust god to tell you who you are, make your decisions, clean up your messes, bring all the right people into your life and work everything out in the end, you are likely going to be brutally disappointed, and probably highly deluded. You just might waste the only life you’ve got.

I reached a point where I couldn’t stand the cognitive dissonance anymore. I had to become intellectually honest. I had to let go of god, and embrace the responsibility that comes with freedom. I do not regret it for a moment.

Good Things

It is not all bad growing up in a fundamentalist evangelical Christian home and community. I took a few moments recently to reflect on the things that I appreciate about my religious upbringing, in order to share them here.

At the end of the day, Christianity is about love. Loving your neighbor, putting other’s needs before your own (there’s a dark and co-dependent side to this particular coin, but I’ll get to that later), self-control, self-sacrifice, humility; these are values I learned, and learned well. To their credit, many followers of Christ put these values into practice daily. They are more important than lists of do’s and don’ts, and condemnation of behaviors and lifestyles that are considered sinful, such as homosexuality and abortion. Don’t get me wrong, those things are condemned, but the Christians in my life are not Westboro Baptist Church types, known for hateful rhetoric (see the Westboro web site here, if you are unfamiliar: In fact, the Christians I know would condemn Westboro Baptist Church and their tactics, and so do I. Westboro is not the face of biblical Christianity, though it is one of the faces that anti-theists like to call attention to when arguing that Christianity is harmful; and let’s be fair, people claiming Christianity have done awful things over the centuries. Finding examples of those who give Christianity a bad name is easy, dating all the way back to the first century A.D. People are people, and you can find bad apples in any basket. Any group of adherents to anything is going to have a contingent of hateful people (see supporters of any political candidate, left or right). I do not identify with those who search for the worst, find it, and paint an entire community and its figure-head with one brush (see the 2016 election cycle).

Christianity taught me about forgiveness. I learned to let go of blame, bitterness, and anger – all are toxic if indulged, though there are healthy and proper expressions at times. I learned to give charitably. I learned to be a good listener. I learned that I can be just as wrong (if not more-so) as those at whom I’m pointing my finger, and I learned to examine my thoughts and motives carefully. I learned to grieve for and encourage others. I learned that hope springs eternal. I learned to stand up for what I believe in, even when the chips are down.

Could I have learned all these values without faith and religion? Arguably, yes. Such was not the case though, and here I am.

I will carry many of the values I took from Christianity for the rest of my life. I have some wonderful friends, many of whom will spend time praying for my soul when they hear that I no longer place faith in their doctrines.  They will call me spiritually blind. Many will choose not associate with me, or think of me as a sad, deluded individual. I will be grouped with the Lost… I am okay with all this, because I must be honest with myself and others. I am open to whatever honest inquiry reveals.

I am grateful to Christians, and Christianity, for much. That will never change.

I am also saddened by much. I will deal with that in the next post.