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Promises, Promises...

By unoder ~

Believers often declare that the god of the bible is also a god of promises. These Christians will quote bible verses that speak of abundance and prosperity for those who believe, and this is often used as a device to net new converts. This glorified sales pitch for the religion is usually accompanied with personal anecdotes that outline just how god has enriched the life of the believer in question in situations that range from the mundane to the extraordinary. It is not uncommon to hear stories of healing from terminal illness alongside tales of god helping the believer locate a missing ring or pair of shoes. On the face of it, these anecdotes are compelling and do appear to suggest that maybe there is a supernatural deity that is concerned with the minutiae of his followers’ lives, and to someone who is vulnerable or in need, such tales offer a hope that makes Christianity seem appealing. Indeed, 1 Peter 5:7 exhorts Christians to “Cast all their cares” unto god who is held up as the ultimate provider. Jesus, we are told by Christians, has his people’s backs and never fails in times of trouble or dire need. After all, these are the promises of god, right? However, as we shall see from this article, it would appear that the claims and grand promises of Christianity do not bear up under any real scrutiny.

In Luke 11:9-13, the bible has the following to say about the promises of god:
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[a] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The above scripture makes it very clear that god means business when it comes to fulfilling promises in the lives of his sheep. Christians are encouraged to hold on to verses such as these in times when their faith is assailed by doubts (read: reality). They are told to think of the “confessions” of god and may also invoke verses such as Numbers 23:19 which states that “God is not a man that he should lie” (a verse plucked from a very “colourful” Old Testament book, illustrating just how little the average Christian really knows their bible.)

A steady diet of nothing

Back when I was a still a believer, there were several instances where I waited on a so-called promise from god and ended up waiting in vain. I will discuss a few of these here to support this article. Undoubtedly you, as an ex-believer can think of many examples from your own life.

I was only 16 years old when a mental anxiety disorder called OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) slowly crept up on me, eventually serving to make my life a living hell for many years to come. In hindsight, I have been shocked to learn that a lot of Christians and ex-Christians alike struggled with this, but now that I am no longer a part of the fold, I can clearly see why.

For those who do not know, OCD compels its victim to perform irrational, nonsensical rituals that the sufferer feels they must act out to ward off something terrible from happening. Some examples: walk in and out of a room 5 times or someone in your family will die, open and close a door 3 times or you’ll contract a terminal illness, put your clothes on in a specific order or your girlfriend will dump you.

Now, to someone who has never suffered from a condition like OCD, it probably seems baffling that anybody could ever be drawn into living a life ruled by farfetched, irrational fears (or obsessions), but upon closer analysis of the character of Christianity, it certainly makes sense that OCD could be prevalent amongst Christians. Look, for instance at the Old Testament where god instructs his followers to carry out some extremely bizarre rituals that include -but are not limited to- waving jewellery at the sky, cutting an animal in two and walking several times between the carcass, or dabbing chicken blood on ears and toes (which, ironically would not sound out of place in a satanic ceremony), all with pretty dire consequences for non-compliance, much like OCD. One must also not forget the Genesis creation account in which god condemns Adam, Eve and ALL as yet unborn humanity to mortality, suffering and separation from the divine for the simple act of eating the wrong fruit.

Anyway, as the condition worsened, I prayed and prayed and prayed to god for relief. After all, the bible was full of affirmations of god’s healing power, and as a Christian, I was very familiar with these sort of verses. If Jesus could heal lepers and bring dead people back to life, curing a 16 year old boy of an anxiety disorder should be a cinch. Or so I thought…

After repeated prayers, nothing changed. I continued to suffer, and in many respects things actually got worse, and when speaking to the senior Christians in my life, I got no answers beyond the same, unhelpful clichés (I’ll go into those later). I was even told on a few occasions that the OCD was “demonic” and that I needed to “rebuke” and resist the devils that were assailing me, but obviously, being little more than a foolish superstition, “deliverance” didn’t work either. So, I continued to suffer, while the all-powerful, miracle-working god looked on, silently ignoring my prayers. So if god really is a “father” to us as the Christians claim, then he is a father who would watch his own child bleed to death on the carpet in front of him with cold indifference, ignoring his desperate, dying pleas for help without even so much as a comforting word. This is not the sort of parent any sane, rational person would describe as loving. Interestingly, the obsessive compulsive fears and thoughts only dissipated after I left the religion behind for good, which speaks volumes with regard to the possible connection between OCD and Christianity. As such, when Christians try to encourage me back to the fold, this is what they are essentially telling me to go back to. No thanks.

In my early twenties, one of the most salient promises I was lead to believe god would one day come through on was the promise of a mate. Some Christians hold the view (as did my family) that every Christian has a special partner that god himself has selected for them, and that at some undisclosed point in the future, god will play the role of cosmic matchmaker. Thus, a diligent Christian should wait for “god’s best” and evaluate every potential mate against this promise, so as not to sell themselves short by “settling” for someone god does not want them to marry. Apropos of this, many married Christians will affirm with surety that god brought them together as a couple (how sweet!), yet puzzlingly, the marriage and divorce rates for Christians are no different from that of non-believers, which makes you wonder why god would lead people to marry knowing in advance that it will end in divorce, which he considers a sin. As usual, Christians have a multitude of excuses and justifications for this glaring discrepancy and again, I will address these in detail later on.

I used to pray earnestly for god to bring this specially appointed mate into my life; I was a young man and, despite not having problems getting girlfriends (which was something of a grey area anyway since dating someone I probably didn’t intend to marry might lead to “sin”), I was becoming frustrated owing to the harsh constraints Christianity places on sexuality which made keeping girlfriends extremely difficult (a lot of exes lost interest when they realised sex was completely off the menu). Crucially, I wanted to meet somebody suitable without any of the usual hassle and drama one usually goes through on the path to true love. Unfortunately, this never happened, since every time I met someone whom I thought might be “The One”, things eventually ended up going horribly wrong. Outside of Christianity, I now see this is just a pattern of life: you win some, you lose some, and through this process (as painful as it can be at times) you eventually come to learn, grow and be certain of what you want and don’t want, culminating in you (hopefully) meeting someone suitable.

However, if as a Christian, you’re told god has a special somebody just for you, it is not unreasonable to expect god to make that clear, especially after lots of fevered prayer; after all, the bible clearly states that god won’t give a stone to someone who asks for a fish. But with each and every mounting disappointment, I found myself with enough stones to start my own rock farm, so if there really was a special person that god had in mind for me, he wasn’t really giving me much to work with. As before, these dramas are all simply part of growing up, but through the lens of Christianity, this process becomes distorted and warped, leading to much frustration and angst, and in the end all the to-ing and fro-ing and general uncertainty made me very unhappy, insecure and unduly afraid of rejection. And once again, it wasn’t until I left Christianity behind altogether that I was able to form relatively normal relationships free of the baggage that thwarted me on so many occasions.

The final and probably most glaring example of a failed promise from the god of promises came in the twilight years of my faith. A few years ago, I developed a kidney complaint that landed me a short stay in hospital. Once I was discharged, I was given a course of medication to stave the problem. I was also instructed to see a consultant every few months who would monitor my progress, and I still attend these consultations to this day. The plan was for me to start on the highest dose of the medication, which would gradually be whittled down until I was able to continue without it. To cut a very long story short, it got to a point, after several months, where I was taking the meds every other day and was more or less ready to come off them altogether, since I appeared to have responded quickly to the treatment and was still stable on the lower doses. So eventually, with my consultant’s approval, I came off the tablets altogether.

Within two months of being off the pills, I started to notice some of the pre-hospital symptoms coming back; my consultant actually warned me this might happen, and that if it did, I was to contact him immediately and resume to course of tablets for a longer period.

At the time this was happening, I was encouraged to ignore the consultant’s words and hold on in faith instead. I was told that the symptoms were just Satan trying to discourage me, that I should “stand on the word of god” rather than listening to the word of man (even if said man is a trained medical professional). I was told that with continued, fervent prayer, the demonic manifestations would eventually pass. They didn’t. I was told to ignore the reoccurring symptoms which suggested an imminent relapse, and I did so to my utter peril. Instead of getting better, I got worse and I had to go back in hospital and back on the meds.

Fortunately, this story does have something of a happy ending, and you may be pleased to know that I’m doing OK right now. Yes, I’m still on the tablets for the time being, but my consultant tells me that since I’ve been on them for longer than I was previously, things are more likely to eventually stabilise and return to normal by the time I stop taking them again. However, until that time comes, it’s difficult to say, and there is always the chance it could come back again. Either way, this whole experience was the final straw for me as far as my faith was concerned. In spite of the collective faith and prayers of my family and I, god failed to come through on his “promise” of healing. Fortunately, the medical professionals were able to come through for me where god didn’t, and it is only for that reason that I am on the road to complete recovery. That said, I can’t help but shudder as I consider my possible fate had I decided to “hold on in faith” waiting healing; I would’ve ended up permanently damaging my kidneys culminating in eventual acute renal failure. Had that been the case, I would not even be writing this now.

Apparently though, I am to be thankful to god for guiding the consultants, doctors and nurses that helped me both in and out of hospital when I was still sick. It’s funny how that works for Christians, isn’t it? God continues to do nothing, but gets the all the credit when people step in and do what he failed to. In other words, heads he wins, tails we lose. And we always lose.

Excusing god’s inactivity

In all of the above personal stories, there was one, singular pattern. In every instance, the Christians around me made me feel as though god’s inaction was somehow my own fault, which understandably made me feel a lot worse than I did already.

When I struggled with the OCD, apparently, god was testing me or “trying to tell me something”. When I tried voicing my confusion to other Christians, I was told to keep quiet in case I weakened anybody’s faith with my “negative talk”. So, even though I was being afflicted, I had to pretend otherwise or simply not talk about what was really happening to me because it wasn’t convenient. Thus, I had to resign myself to the fact that for some mysterious reason that would never ever be explained to me on this side of mortality, god specifically wanted me to suffer with OCD, that it was my “cross” which I had to bear willingly for Jesus’ sake. I was to closely examine my life to try and figure out what it was I could have done to make god so angry, that he had no choice but to psychologically drive a 16 year old boy to the very edge of himself. Or maybe… it was all the devil’s doing! However, even this notion carries a strong element of self-blame because if a believer becomes convinced that their affliction (physical or psychological) has a demonic source, when deliverance doesn’t work, they might feel as though are so wretched and lost that even Jesus couldn’t help them and that satan will continue to exercise his “legal right” to torment them. Either way, just trying to resolve all these almost contradictory justifications is, in itself mentally exhausting. When you’re suffering and in need of relief, the last thing you need is to be trying to figure out what you did to “deserve” it.

Let us also consider once more the Christian divorce rate, and its alarming similarity to that of non-Christians. As discussed earlier, if Christians believe they marry as per god’s will, then how does this even happen? Apologists may argue that such couples went against the will of god by marrying the “wrong” person, but what about those who prayed earnestly for a partner, thought they found someone suitable and still divorced? Perhaps the Christian apologist might assert that the couple should have remained together having made a vow in the eyes of god, but what if the relationship was abusive? Why would god will anyone to marry and then stay with an abusive partner? How does destroying the life of someone who trusted and believed in faith that god was guiding them into a destructive marriage they have to remain in glorify god? As you’re probably starting to see, this line of reasoning becomes a game of infinite mirrors, resulting in a constant slew of never-ending questions and feeble justifications that don’t hold up. What is certainly apparent from all of this is that if god really is playing the role of a Cosmic Cupid in the lives of “his children”, then he has appalling aim.

As I mentioned earlier, when my prayers for a nice Christian girl met with disappointment, I was told that I had myself to blame because I rushed ahead and “missed god” by doing my own thing instead of waiting for “god’s best”. This, however didn’t tell my why god didn’t make his intentions clear in the first place or why, when I was praying for someone suitable, I kept meeting people who turned out to be unsuitable. In effect, I was getting the opposite of what I was praying for and being told it was my fault. Again, on hindsight, these are ways of justifying the fact that the god of grand promises fails to deliver when crunch time comes, which firmly suggests he isn’t really there at all. This is something Christians cannot even bring themselves to contemplate, hence the insane and dispassionate justifications for god’s perpetual silence and inactivity.

Fortunately, nobody tried to blame me for the hospital incident, but even so, I certainly blamed myself for a while, thinking that my lack of faith was the reason god didn’t heal me, and so there I was, asking forgiveness from the same god who broke his promise to me for the fact that I didn’t believe in his healing enough. Madness!

Adding insult to injury

Aside from the insubstantial excuses, Christians also have a get-out clause for god’s tardiness in the form of the following, oft glossed over scripture:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” -- Hebrews 11:13

In short, this scripture is saying “Even if god never shows up, keep on believing anyway because you’ll get your reward on the Other Side”. Perhaps one of the cruellest and most manipulative tenets of Christian thought is the idea that those who are not rewarded in this life will be in the hereafter. To prey on the anxieties of a vulnerable person by feeding them false promises that cannot be positively verified in any way is, to my mind monstrously evil. Even if one doesn’t have an answer for a person in dire need, lying to them and exploiting their fears is not a credible substitute. It is heartbreaking to see people hold onto empty promises that do them no good because they falsely believe that “one day”, god will magically fix everything for them. Equally, it is just as galling to see people choose a path of suffering in this life on the promise of an entirely unproved “eternal reward”. How can training someone to live for their own death really be held up as moral or virtuous?

So when all is said and done, the bible contradicts itself once more by exclaiming the promises of god and then saying “…but you might not get it anyway, but never mind, at least you’re going to heaven where everything will be much, much better!”. If anything, this sort of thinking shows that Christianity really has nothing to offer anybody. The extravagant miracles shown in the bible are NEVER seen anywhere in the real world even though Jesus promised(!) that his followers would do miracles that exceeded his own, and believers delude themselves and others with all sorts of excuses when their wishful thinking doesn’t appear to be working. In instances where people have had promises met, it can be chalked up to effort and hard work on the part of those people (and others concerned) or plain coincidence rather than divine intervention (or else god’s intervening is extremely sporadic, selective and arbitrary).

In conclusion, the promises of god, and indeed the promises of Christianity are empty and vain or to quote the very book that birthed such poisonous, deceitful lies “…meaningless, a chasing after the wind”.