Christianity promises hope. But when prayers aren't answered and salvation is uncertain, the Christian wonders what they're doing wrong. Christian assurance of an eternity with God may turn into anxiety.
Christian hope promises a lot but doesn’t deliver.
Let’s continue our list of reasons why Christian hope is not a good thing (part 1 here).
5. Christian hope produces frustration and anxiety
This is how theologian John Piper says hope is supposed to work.
Christian hope is when God has promised that something is going to happen and you put your trust in that promise. Christian hope is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass….
If our future is not secured and satisfied by God then we are going to be excessively anxious.
But does it really work that way, that we’re anxious without God? Actually, the reverse is true.
Suppose you admit that you’re powerless to solve your problems, and you lay them at the feet of Jesus. This is a great relief until you eventually realize nothing’s changed for the better. When you check up on those problems, they’re still there. Jesus hasn’t resolved them. Maybe you had cancer and you still have cancer, or you were broke and you’re still broke. You could respond by living in an intellectual fog, ignoring this unwanted reality, but that won’t do for many of us.
What do you make of God ignoring your prayer—are you unworthy? Are you not doing it right? Does God not like you? Someone else in your church says that their big prayer was answered, so why not yours?
Your Christian friends offer platitudes. They say that God helps those who help themselves (ignoring the fact that the Bible doesn’t say this and indeed says the opposite). God always answers prayers, but his answers are Yes, No, and Not yet (wrong again—Jesus said that prayers are reliably answered). The trials in this life help make us a better person (true, but that’s what you say only when there’s no evidence of supernatural justification for the problems life has dealt you).
Christianity is clearly not the route that avoids anxiety, so let’s try Reality. Dismiss the supernatural, and God’s silence to your prayers is no longer your fault. You needn’t lie awake at night wondering how you might be unworthy of God’s answer to your prayer. You’re no longer a pawn pushed around by God in some inexplicable way.
Ask yourself which is harder to accept: (1) we’re not alone, but it’s not God who helps with our problems but people here on earth vs. (2) God exists, but he might as well not for the evidence we have of him. Compounding the problem, now we must struggle to figure out why he’s ignoring us. Talk to any Christian who has dealt with serious doubt. Ask how frustrating it is to preserve God belief while one’s intellectual side keeps pointing to the man behind the curtain.
Are you believing correctly?
Let’s add to that frustration with the problem of belief.
Calvinists say, “once saved, always saved.” That is, once you’re destined for God’s Kingdom, there’s nothing you or anyone can do to jeopardize that salvation. But what if a (supposedly) saved Christian becomes an atheist later in life? Is that a counterexample that falsifies the rule? Nope—they’ll respond that that person must not have been a true Christian, so they never were saved.
But think of the Pandora’s Box they’ve just opened. Now they can’t be sure of anyone’s salvation, including their own! This piles yet more anxiety onto the Christian.
All Christians must worry that they believe the right thing. Their theology promises bliss in heaven, but it’s a package deal, and hell comes along, too. The naturalist thinks that what happens to the deer or dog happens to the person—when you die, it’s just lights out. But with hell, you must get it right or you burn. (And no, don’t argue that the gates of hell are locked from the inside. Jesus’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus [Luke 16:19–28] makes clear that hell is a place of torment, praise the Lord.)
How can you sleep at night with the anxiety? If your theology doesn’t imagine a tormenting hell, you must hope you guessed right, because other denominations disagree. With 45,000 denominations, that’s a lot of disagreement. You might believe in Jesus, but how do you know you believe in the right one?
Think about how people pick a church. It’s not by poring over the Bible, finding the best interpretation, finding the church that best honors that interpretation, and then moving within driving distance. Instead, people find a church that’s convenient to where they already live, has good music, has nice people, and maybe has daycare for the kids while Mom and Dad are at the church service.
How can Christians make this decision so casually? This is a very high-stakes game, and there are infinitely large consequences for getting it wrong. No matter which church they’re in, there’s another church that thinks that they’ve picked the wrong one and are therefore bound for hell.
Looking even broader, how do they even know that Christianity is correct? The hells of other religions aren’t pretty, and you don’t want to spend eternity there, either. The example of Mother Teresa personifies the problem. She wrote of her anxiety and frustration when God was silent. What message was he sending?
Only by not thinking about it can Christians avoid the same fate.
When we don’t see as far as others
it is because we are standing on the toes of giants.
— commenter grasshopper