EVANGELICAL DECEPTIONS

God’s Will for Your Life

The con and the secret

Beverly Garside
ExCommunications
Published in
7 min readMar 14, 2023

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Photo by Kostiantyn Li on Unsplash

The Con

Evangelicals eat their young. Join any evangelical community with an observant eye and you will notice a divide. The middle-aged and elderly are generally a settled group, indistinguishable from the rest of their local community — they have families, jobs, homes, pets, and comfortable routines.

The youth and young adults, however, are in crisis. For they are not just struggling to break into adulthood — they are also desperate to find God’s will for their life. They are not allowed to just push through and make their way in the world. They have a holy mission to serve God and spread his Kingdom on Earth.

Kids raised in evangelical communities are taught that they are not here for their own benefit, but for that of the god called Yahweh. They are the ones tasked to set the stage for Jesus to return to Earth. They must reverse the ungodly culture that is causing God to turn his back on the U.S. Or they must evangelize everyone on the planet. They must relinquish their dreams to instead do what God wants.

But what is it God wants?

The voice of God

I first encountered this expectation as a relatively new convert in a Baptist club in college. The other kids in the group agonized over it, especially the seniors. They prayed for it. They tried to read “signs” because “when God closes a door, he opens a window.” They beat themselves up over failing to discover this, the most important task in their life.

As graduation neared for the seniors, however, the answers seemed to pour in. Marriages were announced, acceptances to seminaries and missions came in, and jobs were landed. Prayers had been answered. God had “spoken” to the seniors.

“I heard God telling me, this was the way he wanted me to go.”

“This is what I feel the Lord steering me to do.”

“I am led of God.”

Sometimes it was announced triumphantly. Sometimes it included a hint of uncertainty. And sometimes it was declared as a defense against parents or others who didn’t like the decision.

Observations

In my freshman and sophomore years, this whole scenario impressed me. I looked up to the seniors, who had advanced so far in their faith that God actually answered their prayers. God spoke to them. I looked forward to the time when God might speak to me like that.

In my junior year, however, the first little cracks formed in my faith — the observations that would later lead me into full-blown deconstruction and abandonment of religion. One of those cracks was this yearly ritual of God telling the seniors what to do with their lives.

I started noticing little things, like how most of the boys were going to Southern Baptist seminaries. Going to seminary and pursuing ordination or missions was the thing God called them to do. In our club this put them up on a pedestal.

They were dedicating their whole lives to God. No more guilt trips for them about failing to evangelize or serve the Lord. They had splayed themselves over God’s altar.

Boys who were not going to seminary or into the mission field announced their plans sheepishly. Joining your parents’ business or taking a job with an ordinary employer were much less prestigious choices. In their cases, the Lord’s steerage or instruction was offered as a defense.

All but a few boys went into ministry — even some who struck me as ill-suited for the field. Being a pastor or a missionary requires strong leadership instincts that not everyone has. I sometimes wonder how it went for them.

As for the girls, the end of college brought even more agony. A few announced wedding plans, but with most of the boys heading off to seminary, marriage dreams were reduced or delayed. Some of the girls went to seminary themselves, en route to the mission field. Others took regular jobs in teaching, nursing, or whatever they had majored in.

They too were “led of God.”

Except for a few. These girls just went home to mom and dad, still unsure about what God wanted them to do. God had not spoken to them. They felt this slight acutely and fell into a funk over it.

Why had God seen fit to talk to every other senior in our club, but not them? It was because they didn’t have enough faith. They were unfit for duty in God’s army.

Really?

The observation that confused me most was how unchanged the kids were who had heard God’s instruction. For if God had spoken to me, either with words, a strong sense of urging, or just the opening and closing of doors and windows, I would never have been the same again.

If I ever experienced an actual communication from Yahweh, I would have found the legendary faith of a mustard seed. I would no longer worry about the future. Everything I prayed for would be granted to me. And I would be so excited to tell people about Jesus that I would not worry about them rejecting me for doing so.

I would be so radically changed that everyone would notice.

But no one in our club whom God had allegedly spoken to was changed at all. The boys who were going to seminary fretted over financing for tuition, housing, and separation from girlfriends. And the girls continued fretting over similar issues and beating themselves up over how their worrying demonstrated their weak faith.

They all behaved just like the girls who had failed to hear God’s voice at all.

The Secret

Photo by saeed karimi on Unsplash

It’s clear to me now that these girls’ main flaw, the thing that made God unwilling to talk to them, was their honesty. God hadn’t spoken to them. He didn’t talk to them verbally, he didn’t put a strong sense into them about what they should do, and if he closed any doors to them, he hadn’t bothered to open any windows.

Not because they lacked faith, but because they had failed to notice the secret.

The secret was that Yahweh hadn’t spoken to any of us. The seniors had just found themselves in crunch time and made decisions based on what they most desired. Or they had taken the only course available to them at the time. And then they had convinced themselves that this had to be what God wanted for them.

Because it was happening, right? Isn’t everything that happens God’s will?

If they wanted to go to seminary, they went. Maybe it was because they had always wanted to go into ministry. Maybe it was because they wanted to assuage the guilt we had all been saddled with over our failure to serve God and win souls for the Kingdom. Maybe it was because they didn’t want others in the group to look down on them.

For better or worse, right or wrong, it was what they wanted at the time. Ditto for everyone else. The couples who wanted to get married did so. People who got ordinary job offers took them. Boys who failed to find any desirable opportunities made do however they could.

And then everyone declared God’s stamp of approval on it.

Except for those few girls who hadn’t caught on to the secret. They were still flailing themselves for their failures, waiting for God to speak.

But it really happens!

Undoubtedly, some Christians will dispute my assertion that God never speaks to us or guides us to a particular path. Because they have personally experienced it themselves.

To these Christians I say this — I believe you. You may have indeed experienced supernatural guidance or rescue. I know because I did too. On several occasions I felt a sudden, unexplained urging to “do this, not that” and was later glad I followed it. Other times some weird, improbable occurrence saved me from disaster.

My father even experienced it. He was high up in the sky testing a new fighter jet for the Air Force when suddenly the voice of a dead comrade burst into his head, telling him to “ease back on the throttle.” He did it, only to discover later that this had saved his life.

A miracle from God? Maybe, but my father never believed in God. And all of my own experiences with this mysterious instruction or salvation from calamity happened after I rejected Yahweh and became an apostate.

All kinds of people have experienced this phenomenon, not just Christians. Nobody knows what it is. We only know that it is a rare occurrence in our lives, always unpredicted, and is not exclusive to any particular beliefs. It seems to ignore prayer. We can’t summon it on demand.

I suspect that many older evangelicals know this from experience. Things that felt indisputably like God’s will at one time turned bitter later (at least one of the marriages within my Baptist club ended in divorce). And if they did experience voices of guidance or miraculous rescues, it was likely about something they hadn’t prayed for — something they never even saw coming.

It happens but doesn’t fit the mold. It’s one of those little unmentionables about faith that few will admit, especially to the kids.

Toxic Lies

For them, this evangelical rite of passage is simply abusive. Nobody should be led to expect that heaven will guide them through the scary gate to adulthood. It doesn’t happen.

Likewise, nobody should be expected to sacrifice their dreams to toil for a god who is allegedly “all-powerful” to accomplish his own goals. Most evangelical young adults ultimately pass on this. After all the trauma and guilt, they end up doing what they want and calling it God’s will for their lives.

And who’s to say it isn’t?

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Beverly Garside
ExCommunications

Beverly is an author, artist, and a practicing agnostic.