388. the spiritual lottery (part 2)


Photo by: John Carleton

A Brief Review

In the last post, I talked about how when it came to dating, the church taught people that if (subtext: “and only if”) they kept themselves pure then God would bless them with an awesome marriage. Unfortunately,very few relationships happened the way they described it. The stories they shared, the stories that got air time? Those were exceptions that were carefully selected in order to support the narrative they were preaching.

The fact of the matter is:

A 2005 survey of 12,000 adolescents found that those who had pledged to remain abstinent until marriage were more likely have oral and anal sex than other teens, less likely to use condoms, and just as likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases as their unapologetically non-abstinent peers. The study found that 88 percent of those who pledged abstinence admitted to failing to keep their pledge.1

We never got to hear the stories of couples who had sex before they were married and still wound up with thriving, healthy relationships. On the flip side, we never got to hear stories (like mine) of people who had remained pure and ended up losing desire altogether. In fact, for some couples, even after getting married, they still found sex to be problematic because of the desire-denying teachings of purity culture.

And when it came to tithing, we were taught that if we tithed then God would bless.

But we never got to hear the stories of people who stepped out in faith, tithed when they couldn’t afford to, and then wound up going into debt. Those stories never made it into sermon illustrations.


[Don’t] Ask [Difficult] Questions

It took me a long time to see this pattern, primarily because questioning the obedience/faith/reward narrative meant questioning (their interpretation of) the Bible which meant questioning (their understanding of) God which meant I was a bad Christian (in their eyes). And really, there was no room to question because the only stories that got shared were ones that fit the narrative – those people who did A, B, and C and as a result saw God do X, Y, and Z. We never heard the stories of people who did A, B, and C but didn’t see God doing anything so they kept pressing on to do D, E, and F. And when they talked to their pastor about why God wasn’t showing up, maybe they were encouraged to try G, H, and I (or to go back to A, B, and C only with more gusto and sincerity).

In short, we never heard the stories of people for whom X, Y, and Z never happened – the stories of people (like me) who did all the right things in regards to dating (not lusting, not dating, etc.) and still wound up single, or people who faithfully tithed even when they couldn’t afford to and then wound up bankrupt (financially and spiritually).

And we probably never heard these stories because the people who were living them eventually stopped going to church. Or at best, they never got the chance to share.

The Lottery Cycle

And here’s the most insidious bit. The pastors who preached this formulaic version of Christianity? Many times they were also people for whom the formula had worked, Sometimes the fact that God came through for them was a large part of the reason they chose to become pastors – so they could show people how awesome (their view/understanding of) God was.

Because if it had worked for them so well, why wouldn’t they want to help others to experience the same?

And then this creates an unfortunate cycle. The pastor lives a certain way and begins to see all the good things in their life as a result of this faithful living. And so they teach their congregation that if they will only live the same way that God will bless them as well. And then when they hear congregant stories that fit this pattern, they get to share their testimony or get mentioned in sermon illustrations.

And the people who keep waiting for the blessings keep wondering what’s wrong. They think maybe they’re wrong or that God doesn’t love them or that the church is full of shit. And so they leave. And then back at church, maybe the pastor points to these people who don’t attend anymore as examples of people who were unfaithful and who would never see blessings.

And the fortunate ones nod their heads in agreement while the (still) waiting ones cower in fear, shame, and expectation.

These people? The ones who stay, who remain faithful to the teachings and yet continue to await blessings? I was one of them for far too long. And all these years later, I’ve met with many friends who were also faithful and waiting. Many of them don’t go to church anymore. Some of them don’t believe in God anymore – and why should they? Can you blame them?

Me? To be honest, I think I’d say that I still believe in God, but barely.

And why do I believe? And what sort of God do I believe in, if not this transactional God-machine/lotery?

I’ll get to that in the next post.


I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you resonate with any of this, I’d love to hear your story in the comments section below.


Photo by: mendolus shank

3 thoughts on “388. the spiritual lottery (part 2)

  1. Pingback: LoneTomato808's Blog | the spiritual lottery (part 2)

  2. “But here’s the thing. God really does seem to come through for some people – they do receive the blessings they prayed/worked/gave for. However, for others, the hoped for blessing never appears, and this can be devastating. This formulaic theology can paint God as a cosmic lottery. People plug in various inputs (more purity, more tithing, more prayer, more Bible study, etc.) and hope for the promised blessing. And the bigger the buy in, the bigger the hoped for pay off.”

    Even more difficult is when people who don’t work the formula still get what they want. Like the teen mom who enjoys the planned pregnancy, loving boyfriend and beautiful baby, whose 30-something single sister suffers some relational damage from the whole “courtship culture theology”, but is still fighting for purity and running hard after God, and now is starting to wonder whether she’ll ever be able to enjoy the blessings of romantic love and sex and motherhood? Like the countless couples that engaged in pre-marital sex, yet still enjoy healthy marriages today, while those who are still waiting are still…waiting–even at 30, 40, 50…

    God is not Santa Claus with a naughty and nice checklist, He’s not a vending machine that will give you the product you paid for and He’s not the lottery that will only grant your every desire if you play the game.

  3. Pingback: 389. why would anyone ever want to be a Christian when we treat one another this way? | Flavor and Illumination

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