“When did you meet Jesus?” Even if it takes some pondering and putting into words, just about every person who claims to be a Christian can tell you the story of how they encountered Christ or how Jesus became real to them. But for every conversion story, there are probably a dozen of what I call deconversion stories—stories of how people lost their faith and left Christianity.
And these stories help us realize that at some point in your life, if it hasn’t happened already, something or somebody will challenge your faith in Jesus.
But those challenges don’t mean you need to lose your faith.
Most of the time, people walk away from faith not because of anything about Jesus but rather because of the things they have assumed about Christianity. In this way, many people have deconverted from a version of Christianity that never existed but rather was told to them.
What ideas unnecessarily cause people to abandon their faith? I’m glad you asked!
Unfortunately, lots of intelligent people abandon God because of the pain and suffering they see or experience. Sometimes people assume that if God is good, only good things should happen to those who somehow tap into his power through faith. When you look around at the world, it’s clear that bad things happen to good people all the time. But God’s goodness is not based on whether good or bad things happen. In the Bible, there are countless good people who had bad things happen to them. Most of the disciples who followed Jesus were put to death. And when you think about it, Christianity actually started with a terrible thing happening to the best person there ever was. Pain and suffering in the world does not prove the inexistence of God, nor should it cause you to lose your faith.
Has there ever been a time when God didn’t respond to your circumstances the way you wanted or expected? It happens like this: You pray and ask for something reasonable and good for yourself or somebody else. You believe you should get it. But then your prayers are not answered, and you wonder if there is a God. But who told you that God should always respond the way you expect? In Scripture, there are just as many seemingly unanswered prayers as there are answered ones. For every person healed by Jesus, there are hundreds who aren’t. God may not do what you’d like him to do—even if it’s a good thing you want him to do. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.
What are some places you’ve felt God’s presence? Sometimes we assume that if God is real, we should always feel him nearby. But then there are times—months, years—that we don’t feel him at all. And we doubt whether he ever really was with us. But just because we don’t feel him doesn’t mean we should give up our faith in him. Most of the time, we are most unaware of the things that are the most constant in our lives. You don’t tend to notice the temperature of the room you’re in if it’s not too hot or too cold. If you’ve been a citizen of the United States since birth, you might not be attentive to the fact 24/7. God’s presence and reality is not based on whether or not we feel him. Mother Theresa, possibly one of the most sacrificial Christian women in modern times, wrote in her journal for years about how she didn’t feel God’s presence. Yet, she kept her faith.
A common thing happens when kids graduate high school and go to college: someone in their academic circles tells them that they can’t believe in God if science is true. They assume that science can tell everything there is about the world. Science must win, right? Alternately, maybe someone told them that you can’t be a Christian if you embrace science. But both approaches are incorrect. Christians have always believed what we discover (science) describes how God did it. Science is not the enemy of believing in God because it simply describes the physical world, not the reasons it exists. Christians actually birthed the modern science movement.
This is a big part of why people lose faith. Mahatma Gandhi, who inspected Christianity from the outside, once said it like this: “I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians.” When people tell their stories of deconversion, many times they share names of people—people who were jerks or turned them off or who showed no evidence of any difference in a Christian’s life. First, we must realize that being a Christian does not make someone perfect in the sense that it makes them faultless. Christians still mess up and do terrible things. But second, just because someone believes in Jesus doesn’t mean they get to act and live however they want. If you’ve been turned off of Christianity because of your encounters with believers, you’re not alone. But don’t let that be the end of your story. Perhaps God wants to work through you to change them.
The truth is, people stop believing in God and trusting in Jesus for a number of reasons. The sad thing is when these reasons are based on unnecessary assumptions like the few listed above. If that’s you, I encourage you not to give up on your faith but rather allow your questions and doubts to be challenged. Do your homework. Use the brain God gave you.