Note: In this article, you’ll see quite a few embedded links to other posts on this site. As an “explain why Christianity” site, these topics come up a lot. Follow the links for more information and perspective on my “because’s”.
Have you ever been rejected over a misunderstanding? I have. An especially memorable time was during a situation at work.
As a supervisor, I had the task of calculating the overtime pay for a couple of people on my team in a very unusual situation. I spent half a day researching and comparing different ways to go about it, and turned in the one that I felt was most advantageous for my people. It was a bit less in actual dollars, but was more favorable in another area: It avoided impact on their personal-leave balances, which were in danger of going negative and risking leave without pay.
My folks, not realizing that I was the one who had done the calculations, were angry that their overtime checks were lower than they expected. They complained to HR, got the pay changed, and caused an uproar that resulted in revised policy throughout the organization. Then they were proud that they had overcome “the man” trying to shortchange them.
My people actually liked me as a supervisor (or so they said, at least!) They were surprised to learn afterward that I was “the man”, and that I had really had their best interests at heart. It’s been years since that incident, but the hurt of having my work rejected by people I cared about, because they misunderstood my motive, still stings.
I think that happens to God all the time. People reject Him without really knowing Him or understanding His heart. Here are some of the ways that I believe it can happen.
Anger About Tragedy
Tragedy can send us in one of two directions: We can draw closer to God, seeking His protection. Or we can run away from Him in anger. Many people do so. As a result, they don’t allow themselves to experience the comfort that would otherwise be available to them.
This may be the very most common and most challenging explanation asked of Christians: Why does God let horrible things happen? I explore the answers that I find in Christianity in the article “Why Bad Things Happen” elsewhere on this site. Among those answers is one similar to my work incident: We see the immediate bad, like the lower overtime pay, and don’t see the longer-term good, like the increased personal-leave time. We don’t understand the full motivation.
Let Down by Christians
One very sad reason that people reject Christianity is…Christians. Unfortunately, Christians have been known to do or say very un-Christ-like things. We can be self-righteous hypocrites; we can be legalistic nit-pickers like the Pharisees; we can do really hurtful things; we have even contributed to evils like anti-Semitism.
The problem with this reason, though, is that Christians are not Christ Himself. We have been rescued by Him, and should act as good representatives of Him. But we are still flawed sinners who don’t always do a good job as ambassadors. That is our fault, though, not His.
Conflating Christianity with Other Issues
A variation on the above theme would be an unfair projection of other issues onto Christianity. If I don’t like someone — maybe we are on opposite political sides, or root for different ball teams — I could fall into the trap of saying “I don’t like them; they are Christian; therefore, I don’t like Christianity.” Not only is that unfair, it is also a logical fallacy. Point A and point B do not logically lead to the concluding point C.
The Christian may indeed be wrong. There may be good reason not to like them. But it is not reasonable to then assume that Christianity is false. If the comparison were instead “I don’t like them; they are a dancer; therefore, I don’t like dancers”, would that make any sense?
If you’re tempted to respond “But they say that they choose that political side (or that ball team) because they are Christian”, or “But Christians are supposed to be better than everyone else”, please re-read the above paragraph. Saying that I am acting in Jesus’ name does not necessarily make it so.
I once read, and have found it to be accurate, that much of our anger and disappointment in life is the result of our expectations not being met. If the service or food is not particularly impressive at a fast-food joint, I may not be too surprised or angry. But the same poor service and food would not be acceptable at a top-ranked steakhouse. The difference is in what I believe I have the right to expect vs. what I actually receive. That’s OK, unless…
If I go into a fast-food joint expecting fancy-steakhouse service, I’m going to be disappointed. The problem in that case is not with the restaurant. It’s with me. I have unrealistic expectations.
We often do that to God. We expect Him to do what we want, that He will bend to our will instead of expecting us to follow Him. We have our own image of what God should be, and reject Him for not matching it. The first-century Pharisees had a major problem with that. It’s why they wanted Jesus crucified!
But if God really is the Almighty Creator, the Source of All That Exists, then He is not obligated to match my criteria. Who am I, that I would have the gall to dictate to my Maker?!
Desire for Autonomy
Another reason that people sometimes reject God is that they don’t like the position He puts them in. To acknowledge God is to admit that I am not the one in charge of my life. He has ultimate authority over me. I answer to Him, not the other way around. He has the right to make the rules and expect me to follow them.
That doesn’t sit well, with me or with any of us. We want to run our own lives. That’s pretty much the definition of sin, all the way back to Adam and Eve.
The problem is, we forget that we are not self-existent or self-sufficient. We didn’t bring ourselves into the world, nor did we bring the world itself into existence. We are dependent on circumstances that we don’t control. Not to acknowledge that fact is self-deceiving, not self-empowering.
Many, perhaps even most, people have developed their impression of God, Jesus, and Christianity from secondary sources. Faith is not always presented objectively in our culture. Media, TV, movies, news sources…All of them often show Christians as caricatures: Stuffy, intolerant, out-of-touch, “extreme”, “radical”, “fanatic”. They are portrayed as either villains or else as the comic-relief characters 1.
Even those who have been “in church” — maybe were taken to church as a child — can fall prey to this kind of inadequate education. Being told the Bible stories, sitting through Sunday School lessons and hearing Sunday-morning sermons are not sufficient on their own. Everyone who hears the information must engage with it personally before they come to a conclusion that they can internalize for themselves. Many young people, especially, don’t do so. Then they leave home to go out into the world and encounter challenges to their un-tried faith that they are not prepared to answer.
When making a decision about whether God exists or the Bible is true, the best way to be accurate is to go to the original sources. Read the Bible — actually read it and understand what it teaches — before deciding whether or not it is teaching the truth.
For that matter, when choosing any worldview or religion, wouldn’t it be wise to study exactly what they teach? Why base life decisions on a foundation chosen at random, with little or no research? And why choose that foundation based on hearsay evidence that would never hold up in court?
Fully Explored, and Found to be Wrong?
Is it possible that someone could honestly, thoroughly, objectively research Christianity and still reject it? Inherent in Christianity is an actual relationship with Jesus. Could someone have such a relationship, and then decide that Jesus is not the answer after all?
Personally, I am not at all sure that such a thing is even possible. But I am quite sure that it is not the main explanation for rejection of Christianity. Most people simply don’t take it that far. Instead, they give up on Christianity much too quickly.
If this has been you, please give Christ — and yourself — a chance. You will be glad you did!
Footnotes and Scripture References
- In fact, we all would probably be surprised at the stew of sources that have provided input to any of our opinions. We can’t help absorbing information from everything in our world. How often can we clearly answer exactly why we believe something?
If “they” say that something is true, how much do we just accept…especially if more than one “they” says the same thing? How often do we dig far enough into who “they” are, how qualified they are to speak on the subject, or where they got their own information? Is it a circular echo chamber, where everyone repeats what they’ve been told but no one has ever checked the original source?