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Saturday, May 20, 2017

I knew Desiring God ideology is spiritual abuse, but wow.

The topic of this post is pretty horrifying, so please enjoy this photo of a big walrus and baby walrus. Much like us, this baby walrus is good and does not deserve to go to hell. Image source.
[content note: abusive Christian theology, Desiring God]

Wow. I know Desiring God preaches all that nasty abusive theology that I used to believe, but I never expected this. It's an article from 2016 called Hope for the Unhappy Christian, and dang, it's mind-boggling how much abuse is packed into one little article.

Let's start at the beginning:
On the outside, Chloe appears to have it all together. She is single, has a career, and is fairly active in her local church. But she’s lonely, disenchanted by her career, and feels detached from her church. The shell that her peers admire conceals her discontentment and joyless Christianity.

Chloe had envisioned a different life for herself. By now, she thought she’d be in her prime, but she’s found herself in a pit of misery. She thought she’d be married, still connected to her college friends, raising a family, and mentoring younger Christian women. But her present reality disappointed her expectations. Her discontentment has led her down a dark path of sin, searching for relief, but only finding death.
All right, this sounds like depression. General unhappiness with one's life. Yeah. This is an actual medical condition. I recommend talking to a doctor, because you deserve better. You deserve happiness and a good life.

But no, the writer doesn't identify this as a health problem that should be taken seriously and treated. Instead, he says it's "discontentment" caused by having a wrong view of God. This is what I used to believe about depression- at church, they didn't use the word "depression," but the way they described the supposedly-universal "God-shaped hole" sounds exactly like the symptoms of depression to me. Yes, occasionally I heard Christians criticize the church for not believing depression is a real thing, but I never heard them question the "God-shaped hole" teaching. I never heard anyone challenge the teaching "for people who don't have a relationship with God, even when everything in their life seems to be going so well, they feel empty inside and they don't know why- it's because the only thing that satisfies is God."

It's incredibly harmful to describe symptoms of depression and then call it a spiritual problem which can only be fixed by having the correct view of God. I plan to never stop talking about this.

Anyway, next the Desiring God article tells us that people often think they can improve their mood by making big life changes- "I hate being single, so I should settle", "My spouse doesn’t satisfy me, so I should get a new one", "My job isn’t fulfilling, so I should quit", etc. The writer tells us that this way of thinking is all wrong. He says that no matter what situation people are in, they'll always find something to complain about, so the key to becoming happier is NOT changing your situation, but in changing your view of God (we'll get to that in a minute).

Okay, this is just patently ridiculous. Let me tell you something: If you're in a bad job, and you leave that job and get a new job that's way better, you will probably feel like "Wow everything is so much better now, I'm so glad I'm not in that old job anymore." If you're in a bad relationship and you get out, things will get so much better. If you feel lonely but then you make an effort to go out and find hobbies where you can meet new friends, that can also make your life significantly happier. If you are single and wish you had a romantic/sexual partner, and then you find a good one, that can make life so much better too. If you live in a tiny little crappy apartment and can't sleep because of the traffic outside your window, and then you move to a nicer home where you can relax, that can also change your life for the better. If you always think "you know, I should exercise" and then you get in the habit of exercising and you feel confident and strong, your life will be happier because of that too.

All those things may seem obvious, but I'm spelling it out because I literally used to believe that my circumstances didn't matter- only my relationship with God matters, and so I should always be able to be "content" no matter what. Just like this Desiring God article, I was extremely suspicious of any thought along the lines of "if only I had xyz, then my life would be so much better." I considered it idolatry- seeking happiness in my life circumstances rather than in God.

(When you think like this, it's very difficult to set long-term goals for your life, and you find yourself hoping that other people will fail in their own goals. Your friend says "ah I need to find a new job, then things will be so much better" but you "know" they need God and they won't *really* be happy with a new job, and really it would be better for them to stay in their sucky job because then they'll end up hitting rock bottom faster and finding God faster.)

There have been many times in my life where I thought, "Wow I'm so glad I'm doing ABC now and I'm no longer doing XYZ, wow things are SO MUCH BETTER now." Yes, that is a thing that CAN REALLY happen in people's lives. Quite often, actually. It's absurd that I actually have to make an argument for this- isn't is OBVIOUS? Isn't it OBVIOUS that if you're in a bad situation, and then things change and you get into a better situation, you'll be much happier overall? But back when I was a good evangelical, I truly believed that if I have God, I can be content in any situation, and if I don't have God, then I'll never be content, no matter the situation- so any thoughts along the lines of "if I make this big life change, I will be happier" was dangerous, borderline idolatry. And that's what this Desiring God article is arguing here.

After the article tells us that we can't find contentment by making big changes in our lives, it presents its solution: We need to adopt the correct view of God. Warning: This next part is shocking in how blatantly abusive it is:
The Christian’s unhappiness, discontentment, and view of God are directly linked. Discontentment screams, “You deserve better!” and whispers, “God is not giving you what you deserve.” The former screams are blatantly false, but the latter whispers are profoundly true. Satan is the master of mixing lies with truths.

It’s a lie that you deserve better. The statement also assumes that you know what’s best and that God’s gifts aren’t best for you. The lie leads you to believe that you’re wiser than God and interprets his direction for your life as an attack rather than a mercy and gift.

It’s true that God is not giving you what you deserve. We deserve God’s wrath, yet daily we receive new mercies. How can sickness, suffering, and other tragedies be considered mercy? By realizing that every morning we don’t wake up in hell is an example of God’s mercy toward us. Even when we’re feeling our worst, God is showing us more mercy than we deserve. There is no calamity or tragedy that we can face that is worse than the holy wrath of God. At the same time, there is no earthly pleasure that can compare to the glory that is to be revealed. This is how the apostle Paul faced suffering: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
HOLY HELL.

To be clear: This is EXACTLY what I used to believe, and I'm very aware that this is what Desiring God teaches. But HOLY SHIT I didn't expect them to actually lay it out here so explicitly. I mean, y'all know God called me to write blog posts speaking out against the harmful theology of John Piper and Desiring God, but it's like they did my job for me. "... every morning we don’t wake up in hell is an example of God’s mercy toward us." I mean, HOLY CRAP. Yes, of course this is the logical consequence of the belief "we all deserve to go to hell," which I was explicitly taught in church. Yes, that belief leads to incredible heartlessness toward victims of tragedy. They're getting better than they deserve anyway, so they should quit complaining. This is spiritual abuse.

I mean, what can I even say? Just look at that excerpt from the article. Marvel at how completely terrible it is, recoil in horror at the realization that there are people who actually believe this crap- that there are nice Sunday school teachers who teach it to children and call it "the gospel."

It's exactly the ideology I used to hold, but I'm honestly shocked to see Desiring God state it so directly. Usually when I blog about why believing in hell completely ruins Christianity, I have to connect the dots and explain why that's so harmful, how it leads to abuse, depression, and heartlessness. Wow. They really published this. I just... wow.

So let's review: The article starts out by describing symptoms of depression but not calling it "depression"- claiming that "discontentment" is caused by having an incorrect view of God. Then it claims that our happiness is based more on our view of God than on our actual circumstances- so people who try to make changes and improve their lives are totally misguided and they'll never find contentment that way. And finally, it says that you can develop the correct view of God and learn to be content by accepting the claim that you don't deserve anything good anyway. You deserve to go to hell, and anything that happens to you in this life- no matter how bad it is- is a merciful gift from God. Isn't God so nice for not sending you to hell? Be grateful and stop feeling bad about yourself.

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Related:
"The Authority of Scripture" is One Hell of a Drug
Accepting Myself (or, I'm Great, and It Doesn't Matter What God Thinks)
I Deserve God's Love

Remember, everyone, you're great and you deserve love and happiness. Desiring God is taking the Lord's name in vain.

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