I was listening to some of my old albums recently and came across “Automatic For The People” by R.E.M. When I got my first CD player, this was the very first album I got to play on it. I listened to it over and over back in 1992/1993. One song that really stands out is “Everybody Hurts.” I used to think this song was just a sad song that people listened to when they’ve given up on life, but when I hear it now, I hear a different song. I hear a song of hope. I hear a song that encourages and lifts up rather than a song used just as a send off when people let everything go and give up.
Listening to this song this morning on my ride into work, I found myself really paying attention to the words and really thinking about my own life. Life is hard. There are times when you feel like it is more than you can bear and more than you want to take on. There’s something in everyone’s life that makes them hurt and creates a struggle. Not all the time, but it’s there. Sometimes you may even want to throw in the towel and just give up. Not all feel that way. I don’t feel like giving up, but that doesn’t mean life is a breeze. There’s always the threat of pain, anger, financial struggles, loss, family issues and a million other things that make life difficult at one time or another. What do we do with that? Do we give up or do we fight through and think of who and what we’d be leaving behind if we just quit?
When you worry, the stress can be like a boulder in your path. It seems immovable and it seems like you’ll never make your way around it. Where does the support come from to push ahead? I once sought comfort and strength from my faith. Christianity was my answer. Jesus was my rock and my reason for not giving in to the struggles. In fact, it was a slap in the face of God if you gave in to worry, doubt, pain or anything else. Ask any church leader. The honest ones (good luck finding one) will tell you that the church’s position is that we should lay all of our worry “at the foot of the cross.” All we need to do is “give it up to God” and release our worries. Anybody ever try that? How’d that work out for you?
One Christian group says when you doubt, all you need to do is pray, change your thinking and then repeat. Another group says that worrying is sinful. “..our worry leads us astray and allows Satan a foothold into our lives. Since “sin” is, at its core, “missing the mark” that God has set for us, then worrying is not living up to God’s standard.”
What about grief? Grieving is something that can be, and often is, considered sinful. I don’t need to provide a link for an example because I witnessed this first hand at a church I used to attend. I had friends who had become expectant parents. They soon learned that their son would not survive past birth. They carried the child to term, delivered and had to suffer the enormous tragedy of watching their son die. They were understandably distraught. They grieved for a long, long time. The husband was an elder in the church. He and his wife were taken aside and spoken to by the pastor and other members. They were basically told to get over it and get over it quick. They were told that their grief had become an idol in their lives and it was not godly. It was taking their focus off of Jesus. They had to be strong leaders for the rest of the church to see. I was disgusted that anyone could tell another person how to grieve the loss of a child. But that’s religion for you.
We all need something in our lives to help us cope. To help us process the hard times. To help us survive and be better people to those around us who love us. Religion is a good crutch for a while, but after enough time passes, that crutch becomes weak and you find yourself no longer held up by it. You need something more. That’s why people go “church-hopping.” They lose their support and their good feelings in one church so they look for it in another. It’s a losing battle as the underlying message is the same no matter where you go. So many of us are programmed to believe that a man in the front of a church building has all of the answers. If we submit to his every whim and hang on his every word, we’ll somehow find the peace we’ve been searching for.
Why do we need religion to give us that good feeling? Why do we need to look to an unprovable, implausible creator to fix our lives? The church would have you believe that it’s because we have a “God-shaped hole” in our lives that only he can fill. Not only is there no evidence for such a ridiculous statement, we most certainly don’t need God to do the things we are more than capable of doing ourselves. Voltaire once said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” I think that for man having the desire for unchecked control, explaining the unexplainable to get people to stop looking for the true answers and maybe for excusing bad behavior here on earth, God is necessary. Not as a savior or a loving father, but simply as an excuse. If you use God as the scapegoat, you can do all kinds of bad (or questionable) things and just say God ordained them so it’s okay. But as far as solving our problems, an invisible friend is counterproductive and nothing ever gets fixed.
A god or creator of some sort may or may not exist, but one thing is clear. There is no god who cares about our lives. Not one bit. There is no god stepping in to comfort the grieving, end suffering, end hunger, end oppression, end discrimination or stop the hate that keeps our world in a state of constant turmoil. That god certainly does not exist. The evidence is quite clear on that. No amount of faith can make it true. We are all there is “down here.” That’s okay because we are all we need. When we shed the coat of faith, we free our arms to embrace those who are hurting. We can lift up those who hurt, who grieve, who cry without an end in sight. We don’t need God to be decent people. We don’t need God to help us get through another day.
We all go through tough, tough times. We all go through times where we ask ourselves, “what’s the point of all of this?” We all lose someone. We all get down. We all hurt. We all need to pick ourselves up and get through whatever challenges we face. Waiting on a god to do anything when that god has never done one thing when we ask for help “in his name” is not only not going to produce results, it wastes valuable time and valuable resources. This world could be a Utopia, but rather than working together to make that happen, we instead hit our knees and pray for a Utopia in the next life.
Look, everybody hurts, and that’s okay. It’s not sinful to worry. That’s how we solve our problems. It’s not sinful to grieve. That’s how we figure out how to move forward when a loved one is lost. It’s not sinful to get down in the dumps. It’s not weakness. It’s human nature. Even as a believer, you are human. You are as human as the next person. To deny that and instead “give it up to God” is to ignore the reality that is the world you live in. You can believe in whatever higher power you want to but look at the track record of all the gods combined. They all ignore us at all times and always have. Don’t feel guilty because you call it for what it is; a godless world.
When you pray and get no answer, you feel alone. When you read your Bible and the world you live in doesn’t reflect the words in there, you feel alone. When, despite your faith, you feel like God isn’t there, you feel alone. That’s the feeling you would expect to feel when you’re calling out to an empty sky. When you keep looking in an empty hole, expecting each time for it to be filled by a god made up of only words on a page, you will be disappointed. It will remain empty. The only time it’s gets filled is when we fill it up. Slapping a “God” Label on it doesn’t change the fact that it was us who took an empty hole and filled it with meaning.
Stop looking up and instead look in front of you. Look to your spouse, your partner, your children or your friends. No scripture is necessary to stop the hurt. No scripture is necessary to make you feel like your life is worth living. No scripture is necessary to fix your problems or give your life purpose. Sometimes, all you need is some well-timed song lyrics:
If you feel like you’re alone…no, no, no you’re not alone.” -Michael Stipe