Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual AbuseToxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse
Stephen Arterburn, Jack Felton
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Most of us began our journey into faith with trusting hearts. Yet incidents of abuse, media accounts of perverted religion, personal disappointments, loss, betrayal and even unrealistic expectations of God can cause us to develop a warped or damaged view of faith. Too often, what began as an authentic relationship with God deteriorates into a defective faith with an incomplete or poisoned view of God - one that allows the religion, not the relationship with God, to control our life.

Let this volume help you:

  • Heal your distorted view of God as weak, distant, and uncaring.
  • Find release from your striving to earn God's love
  • Break free from an unhealthy dependency on religion.
  • Learn how you can once again grow in the grace and knowledge of God.
  • Learn how you can rediscover the reality of true faith in a loving God as you move beyond the suffocating limits of your own toxic faith.

     

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CHAPTER 1 - The Extremes of Toxic Faith
Rebecca Grant had lived a hard life in the hot desert town of Barstow, California. Her father died when she was very young and her mother struggled to keep her and her sister in clothes. During the day, her mother sold tickets at the Greyhound bus depot; at night she sold tickets at the theater. On her days off she cleaned their small, rented house and did chores. It wasnít a wonderful existence, but her persevering spirit kept the family going.

Rebecca loved her mother and knew how hard she worked to provide the basics. Some of Rebeccaís friends teased her because she didnít have a dad and her mother had to work so much. Their comments stung, but they also caused her to respect her mother all the more.

At fourteen, Rebecca began to work. All the money she earned went into a bowl, along with her motherís money. They took out only what they needed for the essentials. Rebeccaís mother put the rest in a passbook account at the savings and loan for the days when Rebecca and her sister would need help with college fees.

Rebeccaís mother was a woman of faith, a Christian who believed that God had a plan for her life. If she remained faithful, she believed she would see that plan and God would bless her faithfulness. She didnít waver from her beliefs. In the toughest of times she didnít doubt Godís love for her. She trusted him to take care of her and her two daughters. She would do all she could do to provide for her family, and she would leave the rest up to God. She never worked on Sunday and always took the girls to church where they prayed and sang together.

Rebecca was close to her mother, but not to her motherís dad. She enjoyed going to church because of the people there; it was something out of the ordinary routine of the week. She liked it, but she didnít become a Christian. She doubted there was a God, and if he did exist, she felt distant from him. He had never spoken to her or shown himself to her, and he certainly hadnít made life easier for her. She wanted to believe, but she rejected what she heard in church.
Rebecca heard a contorted gospel that continues to be preached from many pulpits Ė a distortion of truth, oftentimes manipulative. She heard that if a person becomes a Christian, life will become easy. God will take care of everything. Miracles will occur and all problems will vanish. She was told that true believers in Christ are protected from the evil of the world. Faith in Christ was presented as an insurance policy against my pain in the present.

But Rebecca had a question: If God is so loving, then why does he allow my life to be so hard, and why does he force my mother to struggle so much? If there really were a God, he would help us.

The expectation of a problem-free life brought about by trust in God led Rebecca into a toxic faith. Her distorted view of what God should and should not do caused her to abandon the search for truth and latch on to anything that would bring relief from her misery and pain. She turned first to alcohol. Then it was drugs. Finally, she became promiscuous and contracted incurable genital herpes. Her suffering seemed to provide more proof that God either did not exist or was not interested in her. Her toxic faith pushed her behavior to become increasingly destructive.

The Promise of Problem-Free Living

I wish I could say Rebeccaís faith experience is uncommon, but it isnít. More agnostics and atheists have been created by a false expectation of an easy life from God than any other false belief. When many men and women find that a faithful life does not free them from pain and discomfort, they turn from God.

Preachers who donít fully explain the life of faith are partly to blame for these spiritual defections. They ought to make it plain that a biblical faith in God changes the believerís perspective so much that the pains of life hit with less impact. God can use each hardship to bring greater faith and deeper peace from trusting that he is in control.
It simply is not true that acceptance of Christ or belief in God will cause all problems to vanish. All difficulties do not go away simply because you turn your life over to God. In fact, just the opposite may occur!

When I first turned my life over to God, problems that I never knew existed seemed to cling to me like leeches. If I had been motivated to live for God by the promise of an easy life, I would have made a serious error! If I didnít believe God had set a standard for my life, I could have given in to every temptation without guilt or shame. But because I believed in God, I had a strong desire to fight the lure of sin that tempted me to stray from the will of God. At times it seemed as if some new temptations had been developed just to taunt me! It didnít take me long to discover that the life of faith is not sugarcoated or pain free.

Although Rebecca heard of an easy life through faith in God, like everyone else, believer and nonbeliever alike, she was forced to endure tragedies and hardships. False expectations of God frequently lead to a toxic faith Ė or the extermination of faith entirely.

NaÔve Faith

My mother grew up with a version of this toxic faith. She believed that dedicating her sons to God would spare them the heartache other children would have to endure. She thought that somehow her prayers and faith vaccinated us against evil and that temptations would not likely come our way Ė but if they did, we would not succumb.
The first blow to her toxic faith came when her father committed suicide. It hit her much harder than it would most others because she thought she and her family were protected. Even so, she didnít give up her belief in a God who would prevent the natural course of nature or evil from harming her family.

When my brother contracted AIDS and eventually died, my mother was confronted in a most painful way with the fact that her faith, the faith of her family, did not supernaturally vaccinate us from terrible events. She struggled with his illness and with her faith at the same time. She sank into a deep depression, and at times I didnít know if she would return to being the wonderful lady she had been all her life.

Fortunately, she did return to being that person. She made it out of her depression and back to reality. How? By dealing with her confusing ideas about faith and God. She yelled at God. She told him it wasnít fair. She admitted she had come to her faith as a way of making life easier. As she shared her anger and frustration with a God who did not do things according to her fondest wishes and expectations, she recovered from the death of her son. In the process she also recovered her faith. It is no longer toxic; it is whole. It has brought her into a new understanding of who God is and how he works. She is more deeply committed to God than ever before and is better equipped to help others looking for someone who understands.

Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton. Waterbrook Press, 2001.