18 Aug 2010

Did I Give Up on My Faith?

I found out yesterday that a local pastor used me in an illustration recently in one of his sermons. This was brought about because the pastor had seen a conversation or two that I had been in with a friend of mine that attends his church – now, the pastor did keep me personally anonymous but I wanted to hear this for myself.

When I listened to this I expected to become angry and to write a letter or  blog calling this guy out, this didn’t actually happen though. What I felt, as I heard my story story simplified and the death of my god minimized into a decision to “Just give up” a flood of memories hit me as I remembered the great pain I felt for those years as my faith slowly died. All day I sat there reliving much of that pain – as if this wound from over 4 years ago now had been reopened. Just as one might still feel the sting of losing a parent or loved one years after the fact, there are times that are increasingly rare that I remember this long struggle.

Please understand that I don’t share this in order to cause havoc in this man’s life. He meant no harm and we have emailed each other now a few times and I found him to be both gracious and very apologetic….I think he understands my point of view at this time. I would like to share with you both his sermon and my response to him because I feel that it illustrates quite well that for an ex-christian this is rarely something taken lightly and one should never assume that this is the case.

The portion of his sermon where he talks about me starts at around the 20 minute mark – the full MP3 audio can be downloaded Here.

Below is my response.

 

Dr. Daws,

 

Jimmy Garrett provided me with the sermon from August 8th that you gave regarding a Warrior Mentality and Persevering Till The End – in it, at around the 21 minute mark you made a mention of Jimmy’s atheist friend – that friend being me.

I don’t know precisely what conversation it was that you followed that helped you come to some of the conclusions that you did…but as I listened to this sermon a flood of memories engulfed me as I pondered the most difficult time of my life.

 

Words often fail to express what those two years were like, when god was fading away – when I was losing my grasp of a worldview that I was absolutely sure of. I’m going to do my best to explain it though. I’m going to try to avoid tears the best I can in doing so.

 

Part of your premise was that for many believers turned otherwise the point in which they “quit” is a result of bad life circumstances, or an idea that when the going gets tough we simply bail out. This premise seems unreal to me, as I observe this country and this community I see people clinging to their faith or searching harder to find one during times such as these – the worst that have occurred according to quite a few generations. Tough times, it seems, is a catalyst for people to become MORE devoted to their faith – I don’t know that I was any different than the majority of believers in that way. My trials put me on my face, bowing before what I knew to be the almighty – weeping for his guidance.

 

No, tough times had little to do with the final destruction of my deep faith. Mine was ultimately rent asunder by nothing more than a desire to know god better, to feel closer to him, and a willingness to accept whatever purging was necessary to get there. If you will, imagine Isaiah 6 and desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god. My every thought and action was intended to be a devotion to him…I just wanted to be in the Throne Room. – I’d bet that you can’t name one person in your congregation more willing to die to self than I was.

 

It was that greatest desire to know god intimately that allowed me to doubt the beliefs I had previously established. From that point on those glorious yet painful doubts were able to redefine everything about my world.

 

For two years I wished I had left well enough alone and been satisfied with the faith I had. For two years I felt the agony of darkness and emptiness fight with the god I once knew.  For two years my heart was crushed by the weight of the burden of watching the only Father I had ever known die excruciatingly by my own hand. For two years I grasped at the remnants of my faith with no idea that I could ever live a life without my god.  I don’t like to claim that I’ve felt a pain that is particularly worse than anyone else ever has, but I find it hard to imagine any pain greater than that which I felt during these long two years.

 

Much like you might hurt when you lose a family member and you go through the stages of grief, so did I. I denied the reality of what I was experiencing, made excuses for it, called it a trial and convinced myself that I would come out of it eventually with the closeness that I had originally desired. I felt all the pain and guilt that comes with death and leaving behind a ministry and I blamed myself for everything that had occurred. In my anger I bargained for a change in this reality and although it did take two years I eventually worked through it, found peace outside of god, found happiness again.

 

I did not endure those years because I quit. I endured them because I couldn’t let myself quit. Your sermon made it sound so simple, so easy, and I can’t dare sit back and let that idea be promoted.  That simplification of what I experienced hurt me far more than I thought it would. I wouldn’t want anyone to be fooled into thinking that this road is either a choice or an easy one. This is the last thing I ever wanted – but now I can’t go back. I cannot believe. I don’t want to believe anymore but more than that I am simply unable to and when I wanted to I couldn’t. Please, don’t dare make it sound like I took the easy way out. The easy way out would have been a bullet through the temple…and I weighed that option more often than not.

 

You can’t know this unless you’ve been there, so I forgive you for your lack of understanding and for making this sound easy – trivial even. If you would like to use any portion of this message to make an illustration I ask that you do so with kindness, and if you have further questions about a falling away – especially my own, I ask that you ask me rather than make assumptions – I promise to be honest in my answers.

 

I will probably post this, along with your sermon on my website at http://ragingrev.com – but I can assure you that any response you make will be kept private

 

Thank you,

 

Matt Oxley

 

Any comments are appreciated.

 

Edit: After posting this the pastor asked that I post his response as well, so here it is:

 

Thank you for your note. I had no idea that Jimmy had provided you with the message. And I apologize for any offense that this may have caused.
I assure you that I have studied this experience from many hours of my own personal pain.  The old church masters from 100’s of years ago describe a process known as the ‘dark night of the soul’.  I simply call it ‘the Joseph Principle’.  I wish the diary of Joseph was available.  I can only imagine the pain that a 17 year old boy went thru because of the rejection. I can only imagine the nights that he cried out to the God that he had heard about all of his life. I would love to read the prayers for deliverance. I would love to hear his complaints.  I would love to hear of his doubts. I would love to read his words of anger.
I was fired from my church in 2000. I had discovered that one of my leaders was having an affair. I went  thru the biblical procedure of dealing with this but in the end, the church asked me to leave and they kept him.  I had done the right thing and had used the right procedure. But I had gotten the shaft.
I thought that I would just put out the resumes and a church would pick me up.  It did not happen. I received 6 months severance pay.  We were ok for that time period. No church called. I sought work as an interim pastor…no one was interested.  The financial obligations began to mount up.  I have 4 children…at that time, two were in college.  We had had savings and stocks and bonds and all kind of material stuff. We ran thru our savings, 401k, our stocks and bonds. No church called.
I went to the pantry one day and pulled out every remaining canned good that we had. I was praying to the God that I had been taught about all my life…the same God of Joseph.  I got the addresses off of every canned good…I sent out resumes to those companies….I thought, I have 3 degrees.  Surely there is something that I can do to make a living.  I sent resumes to companies all over the southeast. In one week, I sent out 256 resumes and not one responded.
I went 8 years with no income…I even went to Kroger and took a sign off of the window that was advertising for workers. I took the sign to the manager and asked for a job…he said that I had too much education.  I did get some parttime work at Lowe’s making minimum wage.
I still had credit cards…I was desperate.  After selling everything that we knew to sell, I hit the credit cards just to keep a roof over our head and feed my family.  We ran up a bill to the tune of $50,000. I could quote Phil 4:19 with the best of them. Every month when the mortgage was due, we would claim Phil 4:19 and nothing would happen.  Still God was a silent like nothing I had ever seen.
My wife was devastated. My children lost of their friends.  One of my sons ended up turning to cocaine and rebelled. I was ostracized as a pastor. I had a flag on my name. I had been terminated by a church.  We ended up losing our house in Florida.  We moved back to Georgia thinking things would be different.
It wasn’t. God and I had some rough times.  i just could not let go of what I had been taught, what I had personally experienced.  I longed for those times that I remembered my conversations with Him. I remembered seasons when prayers were answered so quickly.  But now…heaven was shut up and no sound was coming.
I remember one night sitting on the side of the bed in my daughters room.  With tears in her eyes, she looked at me and said, “Daddy, God has abandoned us!”  I don’t know if you have children, but at that moment, I was broken.  I turned to look upward, I screamed, “God, get off your butt and do something.”
In the back of my mind, I still knew that I had done the right thing…that was what was so hard.  Eight long years.  My daughter was 12 when it started.  When our dark night of the soul ended, she was 20.  Her teen years, she heard nothing but questions of ‘how are we going to survive or what are we going to do?”
Joseph went from slave pit to being falsely accused to prison to being forgotten and scripture says that the whole time…he had the favor of God on him.
Matt, I have no desire to have a running battle with you. I apologize for using an illustration that I should have gotten your permission. Please accept my apology and I hope that some of my people have not been a problem to you. That will not happen again…and no one knows your name…at least not from me.
This was my Joseph experience…similar to Job’s. It was what the masters call ‘the dark night of the soul’. It is that time when God throws out the cute little formulas and the ordinary and replaces it with ‘resistance training’.  These are the times that God was testing me to see if I valued the blessings or Him.  For Joseph and Job, it followed this pattern:  pain, perplexity, and promotion.  It is my contention that many fall away during the perplexity part of the process.
I have only shared a small portion of the eight years. It left us with scars.  There are still things that we remember and it is like a shadow that hangs around.  But…my faith in God has never been stronger. My wife serves at my side.  We still have a massive debt…that I believe God will one day pay off for me.  I have two sons who lived thru these 8 years of darkness and are now serving in Hollywood as missionaries to the film industry.  My third son came thru the cocaine and is now serving God and is married to a wonderful Christian girl…he witnesses in the music industry.  And that 12 year old girl is now 23…graduated from college and made a conscious decision to keep herself pure all thru college and now serves the Lord faithfully.
Was it hard…yes!  I am 61 now…I lost 8 years of my life. I cried so many tears and I told God off so many times you would not believe!  But in the end, I looked up into the heavens and I told Him one day, that no matter what you do to me, no matter how long this goes on…I will still trust you and I will still serve you and I will still love you.
Joseph came thru the pain and perplexity…God promoted him to the second highest position in the land.  Job came thru the pain and the perplexity…and he said, ‘God, though you slay me, I will yet serve you.’  And then God restored to him his property and gave him more sons and daughters.
I don’t share these kind of sermons out of a heart that has never experienced pain.  This was an awful period in our life.  My guts were hanging out most of the time.  Everything I believed in and preached was challenged and shakened.  I considered suicide.  I considered walking away. I even told God the same thing that Jeremiah the prophet said, “I am not going to say one more thing about You.”  But in the end, I made a decision to hang with God and He brought me through.
God used a book by a lady named Nancy Missler to help bring us thru this. It is called ‘Faith in the Night Seasons’ and it is located at http://www.khouse.org/articles_cat/2010/nanscorner/faithinthenightseasons/ .
I am not sure where your journey will take you.  It is certainly not my intention to create any more pain or discomfort for you.  I would love to one day sit and share war stories.  But I assure you there will be no more references to you even in an unnamed version.
I hope this has helped you to know where I am coming from.
Matt, I believe in prayer. Can I pray for you from time to time when God brings your name to my mind?  Call me sometimes…we will sit down and talk about war stories.
Sincerely,
Billy Daws
written by
Matt is a former Christian who, through facing his own doubts found a life without faith. Now atheist he dedicates his life to helping people transition through stages of belief via private counseling. Matt is currently working on his first book - Embracing Doubt, and contributing to the dialogue between atheists, Christians, and skeptics.
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  • WarWeasle

    Wow.
    It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one that struggled over my faith and persevered to reality. I also mourned God. Some days I miss having an all-powerful go-to guy. But it is a lie, and I had to face it eventually, better to do so before my deathbed. I don't know if I've been used in sermons, I'm sure I have, my family was too active in the church to not be noticed.

    I didn't go straight from god to atheist, however. I when through various other religions and was baffled at them as well. I finally found something real, alcohol. I spent about 10 years in the church of Jack Daniels. I'll tell you and you can tell others, there are no more answers there either.

    Now I'm an atheist in AA meetings. It's annoying, but I've gotten over it. I'm finally comfortable with my beliefs. Still I find it ironic that a religion which says "Do not lie" is based on lies; while atheism promises nothing, demands nothing and makes me a more compassionate person.

    • BigDaveyB

      What lies are you implying?

  • BigDaveyB

    Matt, you said:
    "No, tough times had little to do with the final destruction of my deep faith. Mine was ultimately rent asunder by nothing more than a desire to know god better, to feel closer to him, and a willingness to accept whatever purging was necessary to get there. If you will, imagine Isaiah 6 and desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god. My every thought and action was intended to be a devotion to him…I just wanted to be in the Throne Room. – I’d bet that you can’t name one person in your congregation more willing to die to self than I was."

    Explain to me how someone who says they hear God audibly when they pray could know God more than that?
    Also, during this time of "desiring nothing greater than to be within the perfect and whole will of god", you seemed to forget what Isaiah realized, ""Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" The will of God is for you to repent of your sins and trust Jesus.
    I am glad you found out "your god" is dead. Now maybe you will someday see that the real GOD is alive and well.

    • http://channelsforthelight.com Jeff

      The will of God has nothing to do with adhering to narrow interpretations of particular religions or to any sectarian viewpoints. God is to be found in all religions and is present in all of us. The will of God is for us to love each other and live a life of service to others. The will of God is for all of us to do our part to lift others up, help those in need, and do what we each can to make the world a better place for everybody — in the here and now and for future generations to come.

      • BigDaveyB

        Sorry Jeff but it is illogical to say that all religions are right when they contradict themselves. All religions can be wrong, but they all can't be right.

        • http://channelsforthelight.com Jeff

          Nope, Davey, it's not illogical at all. I didn't say that all religions are "right", as in "literally true". I said that God can be found in all religions, and that is true.

          • Jason

            Not a true God.

          • RevOxley

            True is a word that implies the ability to prove something.

            You lack that. So you don't get to use the word True in relation to your god.

  • Epistemic Faith Crisis

    Wow. Reading this while going through my own crisis that either our faiths are very different or my faith was never deep.

    • RevOxley

      Both, in some way, are probably true.

      I would have considered my faith to be very "deep" but had a desire for it to be deeper.

      Shallow (not necessarily describing your own) faith is the predominant faith – I fully believed that we had three very obvious choices for faith – as Matthew 7: 21-23 puts it – we can either be Cold, Hot, or Luke Warm – and luke warm is disgusting to god and was to me also.

  • Mike aka MonolithTMA

    Great post, Matt. Unfortunately, many Christians will blame you for your lost faith, and think that somehow they understand your motivations, even after you explain yourself they will tell you that you weren't doing Christianity the "right" way. Of course they ignore the multitude of "right" ways to do Christianity, each in which some people live their whole lives in without leaving, and each in which people do leave, either for other denominations or leave the faith entirely.

    • BigDaveyB

      Mike,
      Christianity isn't something you "do", it is either something that you have become by the working of the Spirit of God or not. True Christianity has nothing to do with an individual's good works.

      • RevOxley

        Irony strikes again!

        • Geoff

          @BigDaveyB

          How to eliminate calm and rational discourse before it starts:

          1: Make a post structured as "I bet the (XYZ people I don't respect … this time, insert "many Christians") say your (Insert issue here — this time "loss of faith") is (Insert valid argument you intend to attempt to invalidate by calling it absurd, this time "not God's fault").

          2: When Christians respond, "Your loss of faith was not God's fault," mock them as being bad, ignorant people, instead of merely acknowledging "That sounded like a Christian."

          You're doing it right.

          P.S.:

          How to necro a thread:
          I'm doing it right.

      • Mike aka MonolithTMA

        I meant "do" in the modern colloquial sense. Regarding Christianity having nothing to do with works, what is the parable of the sheep and goats about?

        • tabitha

          About one's heart, not about one earning the right to be saved.

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  • andrew

    I'm sorry you feel this emptiness and pain.

  • http://www.projectviatu.weebly.com Allie

    Wow- what an incredible story from both of you. I randomly came across your blog and will continue to read it. Life is crazy sometimes and I think happiness is what makes it worth while, i think :) (im only 22 so… I have a lot of life to live and learn) Anyways, thanks for posting your thoughts.

  • http://diggingalot.org/diggingalot/ Graham

    I am moved by both you and that pastor's honesty. I wish that many conversations around this area were so filled with that amount of raw grace.

    I am a Methodist Minister in the UK- I carry scarsand questions. I resonate more with your honesty than other's bland certainties (that occasionally drop into aggression when anyone questions).

    I sometimes don't know where my faith is…. but that doesn't bother me as much as it did. I kind of think following Jesus is more about His faith and hold on me…

    Thanks you once again for your (well both of your) honesty and grace.

    • RevOxley

      I never responded to this Graham, but I appreciate your kind words. If you are ever up for a discussion let me know.

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  • Sarah

    I can't help but think about how miserable of an existence it would be to spend 8 years crying out to a god that is suppose to love you as much as a parent loves a child, yet ignores you and allows you to go through hard times.

  • Big Ben

    I have laughed and roamed through beautiful foreign lands, fought and suffered in deadly war zones, seen the Atlantic and driven alongside the Pacific, and I've paid in blood for doing the right thing and gotten away scot-free with wrong. But out of all of my experiences, it's people like this that give me the greatest hope for humanity's future.

    I'm tired of a lot of things in life. The endless bickering and meanhearted comments and of mule-headed people choosing "their team" over any other alternative regardless of the consequences or ignoring any evidence contrary to their beliefs. I'm tired of that, to the point of weariness. So much unnecessary death I have had to see because people could not talk to each other.

    Let both these men teach you, do not harden your heart toward others, though you may want to. Because I have lived on the raggedy edge of the world and seen what exists on the opposite side. It is hate, and an endless death.

    • RevOxley

      Wow Big Ben, thank you sir for such kind words and for your insight. It is much appreciated

      • Big Ben

        You're welcome. I'm glad that I can be a sensor for others, to share the experiences that I've had in hopes that others may combine their own and use it to move closer to the truth of life. I suspect it may be to respect and care for each other.

        • RevOxley

          I suspect that you are correct though I'm not sure I'm eloquent enough to quantify that truth into words or concepts that are scientifically explainable.

    • CMEast

      Exactly this! You're a good man, thank you; comments like these keep me feeling optimistic.

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  • Shawnelle

    Matt, I understand what you're going through. In times past I too have questioned my Christian faith. The things that keep me believing are my experiences in bad, dark times and the prophetic words spoken over my life by complete strangers.

  • Shawnelle

    I've seen Jesus save my mom from being strangled by my dad by the simple call upon His name. I have seen Him take my dad out of dead religion and sin and raise him up to preach. I've seen Him preserve my parents' marriage. I've been prophesied to on many occassions about my personal and unspoken prayers, opinions and thoughts. I've been told so many things about myself from God through prophets.

  • Shawnelle

    Jesus has shut up the mouth of a pitbull from attacking my mom and I. He has healed many of my friends from HIV/AIDS. Jesus has been so real to me that even if I wanted to stop believing I couldn't. He teaches me daily through His Word. Trials had me feeling depressed at times but for Jesus and His faithfulness I stood strong. He took me through. I know it will be difficult for you to go back and start believing again but the King is calling you to be with Him.

    • Joe

      Thats awesome God stopped a pit bull attack, was that the same day that 20,000 children died a slow death of preventable disease and hunger?

      And please PLEASE demand your friends HIV doctors and medical staff to submit whatever data they have of their multiple AIDS cure-cases to the Journal of Medical Science. Obviously they will have pages and pages and pages of data, measurments and charts for each patient. Your failier to do so would be unethical and a crime against Humanity. Many lives will be lost if you do not convince your friends HIV doctors to do this.
      As soon as the media get hold of this, I bet you would win some Humanitarian Award from Africa, it would be Global News and you will forever be mentioned in Medical Science textbooks

  • Shawnelle

    He says He misses your company and He loves you. Jesus wants you to come back to Him. He says that trials will come and they must in order for Him to take you through. Trials also come to teach us lessons. What did you learn from your trial?Please listen to me and hear me. Jesus is coming soon and He wants you to be with Him in glory when He comes. A return to faith after disregarding it is not impossible. All things are possible with God. ALL THINGS.

    • joe

      Jesus told you this during your luncheon with him? Please remind Jesus it would require no effort for Him to tell RagingRev himself, instead of going thru a representative such as yourself.

  • Shawnelle

    If you would have stayed a while longer you would have witnessed the glory of God. Please come back to your loving Father who wants to fill the gap you have from losing your biological one. Please note I said I understand what you ARE going through in terms of your position now. You have not let go of any of the scars from your trial time and what you refer to as your falling away but Jesus can heal those scars too. Just believe again. Let go of your witheld emotions and tears and hold on to the hands of a loving God who wants to take you places.

  • Shawnelle

    The majority of the church nowadays is not very credible in terms of sinlessness or heart but for the works' sake believe. For the testimonies' sake believe. I know God wants to make you a powerful evangelist and preacher. Your testimony is a great one and it was given to you so that the call upon your life will be fulfilled. Answer Jesus and live and if ever you feel burdened at any time I'm a tweet away. I love you with Jesus' love brother and I'm always willng to listen and help. Thanks for reading and God bless. I know you will realize that Jesus loves you. Yes you. Eventhough you let go He still has you in His sight and He still has you in His plan. You touch His heart and He heard your prayers but wanted to birth a testimony in you that will save others in similar situations as you. Jesus did it all already. All He wants is your heart's focus and your mind's focus. He will keep those whose minds are stayed on Him. He hasn't let you go yet. He hasn't given up on you yet. He still wants to use you. JESUS LOVES YOU. God bless and keep you. I'll be praying for you alot and I see you as a brother. God bless you.

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  • JOe

    ok Shawnelle,
    Maybe its time to ask God that he spend less personal time with you and maybe direct his magical energy towards the 20,000 kids who die everyday in misery and suffering. Your hogging all the face-time and not letting anybody else hang out with The VIP.

    You demand so much of Gods time and attention,, that even God has to tell you everything to tell Raging Rev, instead of just telling Raging Rev himself in person. Please give God some freedom to speak for Himself, stop being so protective and controling towards your VIP. We all want some face-time with His Majesty
    Thank You.
    In Love,
    Jesus

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  • Roger

    Thank you for your honesty. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

  • @Joe

    @Joe I hear you. It's amazing that he talks to loony wackos like Shawn yet he will not talk to any people in any sane frame of mind. If I see one thing (just one) that has been saved/helped/worked in the name of the Lord then I will accept. For know I have members of my family with cancer and "The Lord" is nowhere in site, but science, e.g radiotherapy and chemotherapy has extended their lives so I have seen something performed by science. I think I will stick my faith there.

    @ Shawnelle By the way can you explain to me something? In the bible god kills 250000 people yet the Devil kills 8. Am I wrong in thinking that you're worshipping the wrong person? If you're interested read the testament of Job. Read about what "God" does to the high people of his flock.

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