December 3, 2018

Can a Skeptic Be Devoted?

Inside This Episode

When it comes to God, the Bible, and the supernatural, we've all got more questions than answers. So why do Christians ask so few questions, and why do many skeptics feel judged for having doubts? This line of thinking is what inspired Maybe God host and pastor Eric Huffman to write his first book, "40 Days of Doubt: Devotions for the Skeptic." On this episode, Eric discusses how the book came to be, and how his favorite Maybe God episodes helped him dig deeper into the issues he addresses in the book.

For more information, go to Eric’s website.

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Episode Transcript

ERIC HUFFMAN: I never was a very good Christian, believe me, I tried. When I was a teenager, I remember listening to Christian radio in countless five-minute segments before switching back to sports talk or Radiohead. Millennials, ask your parents. I gave it my best effort to watch Christian movies, like Fireproof and The Shack, without rolling my eyes, and despite my best efforts, I failed, sometimes during the opening credits. Over the years, I probably purchased a dozen Christian devotional books, but I found them either too slick: God just wants to make you rich; or, too sentimental: God just wants to hug your neck. I always feared something was wrong with me for not liking what other Christian kids liked. I used to pray about it.

ERIC HUFFMAN: “Why God? Why do I find the goth kids more interesting than Godly ones? Why can’t I like Creed as much as Pearl Jam? Why would I rather watch Game of Thrones than 7th Heaven?” Since that time, I’ve learned two things about God and myself: first, if God is real, then He made me the way that I am, curious and rebellious, with a knack for sarcasm; second, I know I’m not the only one who struggles with being a good Christian. So, I wrote these devotionals for all those eye-rolling, sports talk listening, Game of Thrones loving, part-time believers and full-time skeptics out there.

JULIE MIRLICOURTOIS: Today on Maybe God, host Eric Huffman and Story Houston member Sarah Bolton give the Maybe God community an exclusive first listen inside Eric’s brand-new book: 40 Days of Doubt: Devotions for the Skeptic. They’ll talk about God and sex, why Christians believe Jesus is the only way to God, why we experience pain and loss, and other big issues holding many people back from faith in God. That’s all coming up next.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Hey everyone, and welcome to Maybe God. This month marks one year since the launch of this podcast. What began as a casual, coffeeshop conversation between producers Julie, and Brandon, and me, evolved into a journey that’s been bigger than anything we imagined. It just goes to show how God’s plans can be even more amazing and incredible than our own sometimes. As of today, we have thousands of listeners in 36 different countries across the world. Full disclosure, a year ago, when this podcast began, I was also working with Abingdon Press in Nashville, Tennessee, on my very first book manuscript. It started as a series of 40 emails that I wrote for The Story Houston, which is a church filled with skeptics and doubters like me, and in the emails, I tackled 40 questions that skeptics often ask about God and faith and religion. My lovely and supportive wife, Geovanna, submitted the devotionals to the publisher, and just like that, I had my first book deal.

ERIC HUFFMAN: And that’s when I found myself exploring two new worlds at the time: the podcasting world and the book world. As a result, many of my favorite guests on this podcast made it into the book, and many of the topics that were on my mind when I wrote the book, we dug into them even deeper on Maybe God. Just like this podcast, my book is meant to be an accessible way for people to address their doubts and seek deeper truth. So, tomorrow, December the 4th, 2018, is a very big day for me. 40 days of Doubt: Devotions for the Skeptic will be released on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and on my website, And since we’ve been on this journey together over the past year, I wanted to start by giving Maybe God listeners the first listen to what’s inside the book. So, here goes.

Day One: Is Existence Reason Enough to Believe in God? Atheism makes sense. I may be a Christian now, but I still think people have some very good reasons for rejecting supernatural beliefs and embracing atheism. Just think about all the innocent people in the world who are suffering….

Day Two: If God Exists, What is He Like? If you were born in ancient Greece you wouldn’t have believed in one God, but a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. It would seem that your beliefs, whatever they are, are socially conditioned; therefore…..

Day Three: Why Does God Need to be Worshipped? Let’s face it, worship is weird. For many people, it brings to mind all kinds of bizarre imagery, from ancient rituals like human sacrifice to people literally drinking the Kool-Aid (See Jonestown). As hard as we try to make modern worship less….

Day Five: Why Would God Care What I Have to Say? I recently interviewed an atheist who used to be a pastor. When I asked him what led to his decision to leave Christianity, he said, “I just kept praying for people and nothing would happen. For me, it wasn’t a……

Day Eleven: Why Should Anyone Trust the Bible? The Bible has three serious credibility issues….

Day Twenty-One: What if Thomas Jefferson was Right? Just about everyone agrees that Jesus was a remarkable man. His teachings are timeless; He inspired a movement that undeniably changed the world……

Day Twenty-Eight: Why are Christians No Fun? Confession time: I happen to think sex is fun, whether or not you’re making a baby. I laugh at raunchy stand-up comedy.  I curse….

Day Thirty-One: Why Would God Care Who I Sleep With? One thing that’s always bothered me about Christians is how judgy we can be about sex.


ERIC HUFFMAN: Joining me today in the Maybe God Podcast studio, is Sarah Bolton. Sarah is an avid podcast listener, a member of The Story Houston, and she’s one of the many people in our congregation who inspired me to write the book. Sarah is a really good friend and I’m so glad she’s here. Hello, Sarah.


ERIC HUFFMAN: How are you doing?

SARAH BOLTON: I am doing well.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Good. So, Sarah, how long, for our listeners sake, have you called yourself a Christian?

SARAH BOLTON: About four years.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Four years?


ERIC HUFFMAN: So, I’ve known you almost four years.


ERIC HUFFMAN:  But you were, and we’ve talked about this, you were raised in Bible Belt culture.

SARAH BOLTON:  I was, yes.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  So, you knew of church?

SARAH BOLTON:  Yes, absolutely. I’ve lived in small towns most of my life, and so, that just comes with the territory that churches are a big part of what shapes the worldviews of people in small towns.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  Right. And so, why didn’t you get more involved? 

SARAH BOLTON: I mean, I think as a child, it has to do with your parents, right? They take you there or they don’t. As I got older and started to make my own choices about whether or not to attend, I didn’t because I didn’t feel comfortable attending. I was a bad girl.

ERIC HUFFMAN: You were a bad girl so you didn’t feel like they wanted you there or you would feel judged, maybe?

SARAH BOLTON:  For sure. Yeah. I definitely did not feel welcome in the church?

ERIC HUFFMAN: Was it something that someone specifically said to you? Like, have you seen that movie Saved? Saved is a movie that is kind of a caricature of Bible Belt Christianity. It’s like a inner circle Christian click that Mandy Moore is the lead character and she’s very judgmental and just so hypocritical and hateful. She literally throws a Bible at a person and says,

[Movie clip]

Hilary: I am filled with Christ’s Love. You are just jealous of my success in the Lord.

Mary: This is not a weapon.

SARAH BOLTON: The types of people who went to church and were very involved with in were also the same people that said pretty horrible things about me. So, I just equated the church to a place that judged, and henceforth, a place where I was not welcome.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  Did you know enough about the Bible to know that they were wrong for judging you?

SARAH BOLTON: I knew nothing about the Bible. When I became a believer and really started to study the Bible, it just completely flipped the script on everything I thought I knew about faith, and that’s what’s kept me around.


SARAH BOLTON:  Because once I started to learn what I know today, I’m like, first of all, how did I ever survive without this? And second of all, if everyone just had the chance to know the truth, what a better place the world could be. But, unfortunately, there are a lot of painful untruths. There’s a lot of hateful rhetoric. I think whenever you hear the word Evangelical Christian, that’s not usually positive. 

ERIC HUFFMAN: That doesn’t poll well.

SARAH BOLTON: No, and that makes me sad.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  Yeah, same. So, some of the questions you are raising and some of the things you ran into when you got back to church, are the reasons why I wrote 40 Days of Doubt.

SARAH BOLTON: Look, first of all, I’ll just be honest. When I got the book, when I flipped open the Table of Contents, the first place I went was to the sex chapter. I’m just going to be real honest about that.

ERIC HUFFMAN: I bet you’re not alone.

SARAH BOLTON: But actually, and then I went back to the beginning and started at Day 1, and really, what hit home for me, what really resonated with me was on Day 6.

ERIC HUFFMAN: The entry about why choosing Christianity over other religions. Which is a very touchy subject to get into because we don’t like to think of it that way.


ERIC HUFFMAN: So, I tried to address it as honestly as I could in the book. Would you mind reading some of that chapter?

SARAH BOLTON:  Yeah, for sure.

Day Six: Why Choose Christianity over All Other Religions? Sometimes I wonder why anyone with any knowledge of human civilizations would ever subject themselves to a single, closed religious system. What makes one religion right, and all the others wrong?

If you’ve ever wondered the same, I think you’re in good company because Jesus also spent deconstructing organized religion. He criticized preachers for praying long, elaborate prayers, condemned religious elites for using the Bible to manipulate ordinary folks, hated the hypocrisy of corrupt priests, despised the assumptions made by religious leaders about who will be in heaven and who is deserving of hell.

Jesus was determined to put religion in it’s place by setting the record straight about the Bible. The Bible is not just another religious book; it holds some major distinctions that deserve genuine consideration. Obviously there is plenty of religion within the Bible, but within the text, there is also a clear and distinct movement toward something called gospel. And gospel is not religion.

Whereas religion is essentially a collective bargaining agreement with God (if we’re good to Him, He’ll be good to us), gospel is essentially a free gift. (God is already satisfied with us, so in response to His great love, we want to satisfy him all the more.)

Whatever ill will you might feel toward organized religion, Jesus felt it even more. If religious people have judged or punished you in some way, I promise you they judged and punished Jesus even more. I believe he endured the scrutiny and shame of religious judgement to tear the veil off religion, and show the world world, once and for all, the true face of God.

The god’s of religions say, “My love is based on your devotion, but the one true God says, “Regardless of your devotion, or your lack of devotion, I love you the same.” How radical is the love of God? He loves Osama bin Laden and Mother Teresa the same. He loves Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump the same. He loves the Beatles and Nickelback the same. He even loves cats as much as dogs; if that doesn’t prove the extravagance of God’s love, I don’t know what will.

How can such great love exist? Why isn’t love reserved only for the lovable? Because God is not merely religious; He is pro-gospel. Jesus would never coerce you to submit to His religion so you can be accepted into heaven instead of hell one day; He simply invites you to follow Him because, in His eyes, you’re already accepted today.

SARAH BOLTON: That’s so good. This that I just read, this is exactly what motivates me today to be in this new, crazy place with God. He’s called me into grad school and I’m starting the process to become a local pastor? Are you flippin’ kidding me?

ERIC HUFFMAN: Thanks for censoring that. I can totally see it now. I can’t say that I could have seen it, you know, three years ago when we were just getting to know each other. But now it makes all the sense in the world. That’s just a testament to how grace works. In a religious system, you would have had to spend years working off what you had done before, or you know, getting all the knowledge just right before you’re allowed to ascend the ranks, and that’s just not how grace works. And Jesus tried to tell us. This is not us making it up. Jesus tried to tell His own disciples, it’s like, stop competing for first place here, because the first will be last and the last will be first. Because grace represents and upside-down kingdom, you know?

ERIC HUFFMAN: And so, the fact that Jesus has called you into ministry is no surprise to anybody that understands grace over religion. But man, it’s such a hard mold to break out of because everybody assumes Christianity is just another religion, and when you mess up, I see people just peeling off from church all together because they don’t feel like they should go anymore because they screwed up. When you screw up is exactly when you should go. That’s the point you need God the most because this is about grace and not judgement. Another thing people assume about us as Christians is that we see ourselves as this exclusive club and we think we know exactly who belongs and who doesn’t and what that means for eternity.

ERIC HUFFMAN: We know exactly who is going to go to heaven and we know exactly then who is not. And we’re the lucky ones in here. That’s why I wrote in Day 7, Day 7 is a chapter called, ‘Why Do Christians Believe Jesus is the only way to God?’ That chapter reminds me of our Maybe God episode with John Burke about heaven and hell and the near-death experiences episode. John’s a pastor in Austin who was a skeptic and he was working as an engineer in his twenties until he started studying, more closely, near-death experiences. John became convinced that God and Jesus are legit. Do you remember those?

SARAH BOLTON: Absolutely, yeah. In fact, I kind of had reached this place of, kind of borderline legalism. Listening to those two podcasts really began to reshape my own theology and it radically kind of shifted things for me. Especially the story about the atheist who had the near-death experience and met Jesus.

[Clip - Maybe God: Are Near Death Experiences for Real (Part Two)]

HOWARD STORM: I’m lying there and I heard a voice which kind of sounded like my voice but it came out of my chest, not out of my mouth, and it said, “Pray to God.” And I thought, I don’t believe in God. And the voice said, “Pray to God.” And I thought, I don’t know how to pray. I don’t pray. The voice said, “Pray to God.” I thought, when I was a little boy, I went to Sunday School and they taught us prayers. I didn’t remember them. Finally, I come upon, this is it, “The Lord is my Shepard,” so I gave it a try. When I did that, the people around me were saying, in incredibly vulgar, obscene language, “There’s no God. nobody can hear you, and you’d better stop it because you’re going to make it much worse for you now if you don’t stop.”

HOWARD STORM: I noticed that any mention of God was so repellant that they kept backing away and backing away and that their voices were becoming more and more distant. And so, that encouraged me to keep throwing God stuff at them. Actually, I found that I was the only sound that I could hear anymore. So, I started thinking about my life and I came to the conclusion that I had lived a crummy life, a selfish life, and that I had gone down the sewer pipe of the universe, into the cesspool, and the people that attacked me were people just like me who had lived just, more or less for themselves, and that they had nothing to do down there in this place of nothing except trying to dominate each other. As I sank into the horrible prospect that this was it for me forever, my mind recalled being a little boy in Sunday School singing, “Jesus loves me,” and more importantly, a vivid recollection of that was, I felt what I’d felt as a little boy.

HOWARD STORM: That there was this great guy, this wonderful superhero guy names Jesus who really loved me. I desperately wanted that to be true. And so, I called out, “Jesus, please save me.” And with that, a light appeared in the darkness and came over me, and for the first time I saw myself and I was gore, I looked like roadkill. And he reached his hands and arms out, out of this brilliant white light, down to me and touched me and all the gore kind of just drifted away as if it were dust and I was restored to wholeness. And when He touched me, I was sowed with His love, which is indescribably great. His hands went behind my back and He picked me up and held me very firmly up against His chest. I put my arms around Him and held onto him and cried out of joy. And He carried me up out of that place.

SARAH BOLTON: I love the idea of Jesus just meeting us where we’re at, you know?

ERIC HUFFMAN: Yeah. Well, he met Jesus on the other side, right?

SARAH BOLTON:  Yeah. But, I mean, how do you explain someone having a second chance at life and just radically transforming? That doesn’t happen because of a fluky dream, you know? This is real, it’s real.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  His whole life changed, fundamentally, like relationships and everything because of that experience he had with Jesus, after death.

SARAH BOLTON:  Yeah, exactly.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  Which was the issue, I think. Because you mention legalism being a part of your walk at that point and I think what happens when we start giving into legalism, which, if that confuses any listeners, that’s just this idea of, if I do this then God will give me this. Oftentimes, we tie that entirely to our behavior in this life, and so, when we die, game over. Whatever your score is at the end of the game, that’s where you land, right?

SARAH BOLTON:  Yep, it is what it is, yeah.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  This episode with John Burke called all that into question, and more. But that was a big one for you, it sounds like.

SARAH BOLTON: Yeah. That podcast just really opened my eyes to the vastness of God.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Me too. I was in that interview—

SARAH BOLTON: I can’t imagine how powerful—

ERIC HUFFMAN: My mind was just blown, and my mouth was wide open the whole time. I was just amazed. I had never heard a pastor talk this way.

[Clip - Maybe God: Are Near Death Experiences for Real (Part Two)]

ERIC HUFFMAN: I’ve only heard a few people in my life talk the way you talk, and they were all high.

JOHN BURKE: Thank you.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Has anybody ever said that to you before? I think there’s something here though. I think there’s something universally true with this. And I mean high in the best possible way. Like, you’re seeing a different reality. You’ve seen a different dimension and it’s so much better.

JOHN BURKE: I would agree with that in that I do think, you know, I’ve never had one of these experiences, but, I’ve talked to so many people now,

ERIC HUFFMAN: You’ve experienced it by proxy.

JOHN BURKE: I feel like I have, somewhat. I get excited about it because, and that’s why I finally wrote it. I wrote it knowing, ok, I’m going to take a lot of—I won’t say the word, for this.

ERIC HUFFMAN: You can. You wouldn’t be the first.

JOHN BURKE: But I think God wants people to know how real heaven is and how real the life to come is and that the whole reason there is pain and suffering and evil in this life is because we’ve gone our own way, not God’s way. And we are feeling what it’s like to have God not rule. God doesn’t rule. He only rules in the hearts of those who are wanting Him to rule. And so, heaven is the place where only those who want Him to rule would even be happy there. God will let anybody in, anybody.

ERIC HUFFMAN: One thing I’ve noticed is most of the flak you are catching about this book isn’t from neuroscientists or medical professionals, it’s mostly from Christian types, Christian leaders. There seems to be a lot of fear-based reactions to the stuff you’re bringing to the surface. I understand it, but I think I understand it too well, because I was raised in a fear-based kind of Christianity where I think what the aim is, is to keep all revelation of God, all knowledge of God confined to the four walls of a church, right? So, when stuff like this starts happening, we’re saying that non-Christians go and see Jesus and Christians don’t. It gets really scary really fast for institutional Christians.

JOHN BURKE: But I think it’s because it’s back to what we were talking about doubt and questions. It’s because people don’t ask questions enough and they don’t wrestle with their faith enough. Why should Christians be surprised that everybody would see Jesus, when Revelation 1:7 tells us that? All will see Him, event those who pierced him.

ERIC HUFFMAN: It messes with those core beliefs we talked about.

JOHN BURKE: It messes with a certain Phariseeism, which says, I’m special, God likes me more than them. You know, you would never say that, but it acts that way. Like, God somehow doesn’t want anything to do with them until they become like me. That kind of attitude is actually what got Jesus crucified in the name of God, by the way. They were trying to protect God’s reputation, supposedly. Now, reality is they were trying to protect their own power and control.

ERIC HUFFMAN: We were also, at some point in the interview, talking about people who have had very hard lives. I asked him if he thinks God grades on a curve. And he said, without hesitation, yes. God grades on a curve. And I’d never thought about it that way before. But what he meant is so clear in scripture. What he meant is that God takes into account the ways in which the deck has been stacked against people, and God expects more from people who, basically, have been given more. That’s the most scriptural thing you can say, right? Those to whom much is given, much is expected.

SARAH BOLTON: But think about it this way. As a parent, right, when your baby does something or your toddler does something, you don’t expect as much of them as you would your elementary school aged child or your junior high aged child because they know better, right?

ERIC HUFFMAN: Yes. And we say that all the time in the church but I think sometimes what comes across is we don’t really think God grades on a curve. We think God judges everyone based on the same sort of metric, which is, have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and savior, period. In this life, before you die, repentant of your sin, and all that. What John seemed to say, which just blew my mind, is that God is infinitely more understanding and merciful than we are, in our religious constructs, could ever be.


ERIC HUFFMAN: So, Sarah, we talked about your biggest stumbling blocks in coming to faith and coming to church being other Christians and feeling judged. For me, that was never the case. I was always, well, frankly, I was the other Christian. I was the Christian judging you.

SARAH BOLTON: Thanks for that.

ERIC HUFFMAN: You’re welcome. It was what I was raised to do, and so it was all I knew. We thought that was right. We thought that being a good Christian meant behaving well, and people that didn’t behave well weren’t Christians, or weren’t good ones. And so, the stumbling block for me wasn’t Christians, it was, really, anti-Christians and people that levied devastating critiques of the Christian worldview in college classrooms. After spending eighteen years of my life surrounded by Christians in a very thick bubble in my Bible Belt world, I was off to college and I met the one man, Professor Otto, who I’ve talked about, who with his own intellect really in his approach to the classroom, derailed my faith. Here’s what I wrote about Dr. Otto in the book:

Day 23: Isn’t Christianity Anti-Intellectual? Theoretical physicist and militant atheist Dr. Lawrence Krauss, author of the article All Scientists Should be Militant Atheists, was asked during a public debate whether there’s anything that could ever make him believe in God. He said, “Yes, any empirical evidence whatsoever, because there is none.”

That reminds me of the day that I decided to leave Christianity. It was my junior year of college, and my religion professor, whose anti-Christian bent was almost as vitriolic and condescending as Dr. Krauss’s, strolled into class wearing a black t-shirt that read “Christianity: The belief that a Cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever in his cloud kingdom if you telepathically accept him as your master and symbolically devour his flesh and so he can remove an evil force from your soul which is there because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. Makes perfect sense.”

Above the sound of my fellow students’ laughter, the most brilliant intellectual I’d ever known proceeded to verbally eviscerate my most basic Christian beliefs. I left Christianity behind that day because I didn’t want to anchor my life to something so foolish anymore. I wanted to be an intellectual, but I came to believe that you can’t be academic and Christian. You have to choose between proven facts and blind faith.

ERIC HUFFMAN: When I started writing that chapter, Sarah, I had no idea that our producer, Julie, would ask me a few months later to go to Shreveport, Louisiana and confront Dr. Otto for the first time in seventeen years. We spent two episodes looking back at my past and how I went from Bible Belt religion and the certainty of that, to the certainty of this secular humanist atheism that I claimed for a while, and then back to this relational faith in Jesus. Do you remember those episodes?

SARAH BOLTON: I do. When I listened to those a couple of things came up for me. The first one was that it made me incredibly grateful because you would not be the pastor you are today and this, The Story, wouldn’t exist had you not walked through this, you know, existential crisis, if you will. And the second thing that came up for me was, man, the pain that he has just been living in for so long. That just made me really, really sad,


SARAH BOLTON: Because there are a lot of people out there like him who develop a hardened heart.


ERIC HUFFMAN: Here’s a clip from the Season Two, Episode one:

ERIC HUFFMAN: I’m looking for David Otto.

DAVID OTTO: I’m afraid he’s dead.

ERIC HUFFMAN: I’m not surprised. The way that guy lives. How you doing, man?

DAVID OTTO: Fine. How are you?

ERIC HUFFMAN: It’s good to see you. How much time do you have?

DAVID OTTO: How much time do you want?

ERIC HUFFMAN: I started the interview by telling Dr. Otto how grateful I am for him, and it’s true, I am. Even though I’m still bitter about things and resentful, I’m also grateful for the ways he’s made me the man that I am today. And then we picked up right where we left off seventeen years ago.

DAVID OTTO: I remember a very young man who seemed, initially, to think he had it all figured out in terms of faith. You had what I’d call a pie-crust faith. It was something easily made but easily broken. When the pieces started falling apart, I noticed you scrambling. The scrambling is what I remember; you looking for a way to put it back together again.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Do you see that a lot with students?

DAVID OTTO: All the time, yeah. It’s an occupational hazard, it just happens. My area is the academic study of religion, and in particular, Biblical studies. If you’re raised in a church, you don’t learn how to look at the Bible from a scholastic point of view. If you never looked at the text that way, it’s just mind blowing, because it is absurd.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Say more. What do you mean about that?

DAVID OTTO: Well, you think about a Jewish peasant over 2,000 years ago, pissed off some Romans, was crucified, and rose from the dead three days later, continued teaching, and eventually ascended to heaven. Well, that didn’t happen very often and it’s rather absurd to make that claim unless you have something that you can rely upon to back it up.

ERIC HUFFMAN: I remember you describing Christians as ignorant on more than one occasion.

DAVID OTTO: Yes, but not unredeemably. I think people of all religions are called to have some degree of intellectual rigor.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Sure, I agree.

DAVID OTTO: And not to have intellectual rigor is, in many ways, to renege on your responsibilities as a believer.

ERIC HUFFMAN: yeah, I agree. I think that churches, in particular, must do a better job of introducing intellectual reasoning for believing in the stuff we believe. I want to push a little further on this because I think there was some anger then. I don’t know if it’s still there, but there was some legitimate anger in you about organized Christianity that really manifested itself at times in your teaching.

DAVID OTTO: Yes. As an openly gay man, I have been used by the church when it was convenient by then and then dismissed and belittled by the church when I wasn’t of use. I just got to a point where that type of ecclesiastical abuse was not acceptable.

ERIC HUFFMAN: So, it would be impossible for you to keep that out of your teaching, out of your classroom in its entirety?

DAVID OTTO: Unless I didn’t want to be authentic, of course. 

ERIC HUFFMAN: And there it was, the missing link in my understanding of Dr. Otto’s anger toward Christianity. By his own account, he felt used and judged by the church….

ERIC HUFFMAN: Man, I so wanted to go toe to toe with him that day and just have it out. I got there and I didn’t know about Parkinson’s, which had set in. I think in the episode I said he had signs of Parkinson’s, but it turns out he actually does have Parkinson’s and I didn’t know all that he had been through. I hadn’t talked to him in seventeen years. It was very hard to be anything but merciful. I felt this overwhelming desire for him to know that he’s loved, even though he’s made mistakes, in my view, and led people astray.

SARAH BOLTON: Yeah, but the beauty of the promises, God’s promises, is that he uses everything, right, of those who love him. And I believe that, so even if someone does walk away or they think about things differently, God’s able to use that too.

ERIC HUFFMAN: That season of my life taught me to see through the religious façade of church. You don’t lose that when you come to faith in Christ. You bring that with you, and I’m glad, because now I’m all in with Jesus but I still see through the façade of religion in church.


[Clip from Maybe God – Season 1, Can Sex Bring Us Closer to God?]

DEB HIRSCH: So for me, I think I don’t seem to have the same hang-ups as other Christian’s do. What does it say about God that he created the orgasm? Think about that. This is a God of pleasure and I think in the church we find that hard to embrace. I’m writing, at the moment on the senses, and I’ve been thinking about taste buds. God didn’t have to give us taste buds, but he wants us to feel the pleasure, to feel the delight of the different flavors that we have. So, what do our taste buds say about God? This is not some bound up, crazy, kind of moralistic sort of being. This is a God that can have a lot of fun. I think the church, we’ve misrepresented, haven’t we, throughout history, misrepresented our God.

ERIC HUFFMAN: And in this particular moment of the church’s history, the LGBT community seems to be on the forefront of everyone’s minds and churches, like, who are we going to be to our LGBT communities? So, I’ll just kind of pose the same question to you. What do you wish LGBT people and communities knew about God that maybe they’re not hearing from churches?

DEB HIRSCH: Oh dear, that’s a big one, isn’t it? First of all, I mean, the obvious thing for me to say, and I don’t just say it, but I believe it, you know, God is a God of all. He created humans in all different shapes and sizes and colors and expressions. God’s table is open to all. I mean, that’s really important to me. God has a big table, and everyone is invited.


SARAH BOLTON: One of my favorite episodes of the Maybe God Podcast has been when you interviewed Deb Hirsch, the author of Redeeming Sex. What an amazing lady.

ERIC HUFFMAN: She is incredible. Did you read the chapters in the book where her name comes up where we talked about sex and sexuality?

SARAH BOLTON: Yeah. You know, Day 32, what really struck me on this topic is because within the Christian faith, the LBGTQIA++ community, I mean, that is a hot, hot topic right now. It’s like splitting up churches—

ERIC HUFFMAN: Denominations and everything, yeah.

SARAH BOLTON: Yeah. It’s crazy, which is exactly what I think the enemy loves. He’s having a field day with this. This really jumped out at me. There’s a part in the book where you write,

“Maybe sex isn’t really what any of us want. Maybe what we want is love. Maybe we really want God. Nevertheless, it’s a truism that we become like that which we worship, and it’s possible we’ve worshipped sex for so long that we’ve come to see sexual appetite and identity—which used to be a small part of who we are – as our very essence.”

SARAH BOLTON: I think we’re focusing on the wrong things here.

ERIC HUFFMAN: You think just Christians, or you think the whole world?

SARAH BOLTON: The whole world. Christians, too. Christians, because it’s like, I think we look at sex as like this bad thing with all these terrible consequences, and then the whole world because sex is complete idol.

ERIC HUFFMAN: One of the most helpful things, actually, that I heard Deb say wasn’t in our interview, it was the first time I met her at a conference that I saw her speak. One of the first things out of her mouth was, “When someone comes out to you, they have told you very little about themselves. And so, when someone tells you their sexual orientation, you know about them, maybe, two percent of who they really are. There’s much, much, much more to learn about them.” I think it’s a reflection of our bending the knee to sex as an idol.

SARAH BOLTON: Absolutely, on both sides of the fence. I mean, back to like the, for me, feeling judged as a high school kid, I was sexually active, promiscuous even. Looking back on that I can see that it was about me being just lost and looking for love. I was looking for the love of God, but I didn’t realize that’s what I was looking for, and so I found this really, sort of, cheap substitute for that. I think that’s really why our society today is so sexually charged. I mean, we are all built with this innate desire. We are designed to seek the love of God, and if we’re not seeking it from God, we’re going to seek it from somewhere.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Right. All right, Sarah, let’s talk about the episode of Maybe God that I like to talk about the least. It’s the episode that I had everybody sobbing and in tears. It’s our most listened to and downloaded episode, but I have not gone back and listened to it at all. I’ve heard clips here and there, but I can’t listen to it all the way through.


ERIC HUFFMAN: I’ll be honest, I’m not sure we did the best job offering people hope at the end of that episode, because we were in a place of dark, shell shock.

SARAH BOLTON: We were still grieving.

ERIC HUFFMAN: We were still grieving, yeah. So, I guess you know which episode I’m talking about.

SARAH BOLTON: Yeah, about Casey.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Did God Save the Catfish? We recorded that just a few weeks after losing our brother and our close friend, our larger in life bear of a man, father of five, Casey Smith. His wife, Dorian and I were still both deeply in grief at the time, which is what I think made that interview so real. That’s why it resonated with so many people the way that it did.

[Clip from Maybe God – Season 1, Did God Save the Catfish?]

DORIAN GRAY: You know, Casey had a unique ability to be like, “Chill out, Dorian. It’s never as bad as it seems. We’ve got this. God’s got this.” And I miss that hope that he always had. Hope against hope. Hope like a puppy dog is hopeful, because they’re kind of dumb and they don’t know better, right? He had this eternal hope and optimism that it was just going to be ok because he was Casey Smith.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Toward the end there we exchanged a couple text messages about, like, how and why God? I remember one text from you in particular where you were like, why would God let me know someone so amazing and wonderful and perfect for me only to take him away from me? If this was his plan, then why? Have you had a chance at all yet to reflect on that and to deal with those questions?

DORIAN GRAY: No and yes. I find that I have more questions than answers, even now. I was asking why and now I feel like my questions are more centered around what’s next.

ERIC HUFFMAN: You continue coming to church.

DORIAN GRAY: I had to, because it’s such a spiritual wasteland to be with the person that you believed with. We prayed together, we read the Bible together, we talked about God together and now he’s gone. I start to wonder, kind of the place I’m at now is, I feel like our friends are really moving on from the why and the how and they’ve embraced that he’s gone, but I’m still not quite there yet. I feel like maybe they’re wondering why and how I still believe in a God that took my best friend. And I worry about that, in some ways, you know? Am I stupid?

ERIC HUFFMAN: Everyone who looks at this from the outside would say, you know, from your Facebook page, God didn’t save the catfish.

DORIAN GRAY: Right. God didn’t save the catfish. So why do you keep believing? And what’s interesting to me, and the thing that I’m praying about to the God that I’m not sure listens to my prayers, is that I can keep clinging to the rod and the staff and that I will be led to a place where this doesn’t feel impossible. I don’t know how I’m going to walk out of here today. Some days I don’t know how I’m going to feed my kids in ten years, or how they’re going to go to college, or how God might disappoint me next. I just keep praying that I can cling, and that even if people think I’m dumb for continuing to serve and believe in a God that has failed me, Casey used to say all the time, “No matter what happens to me, God’s son hung on a cross, nailed in front of his mother, betrayed by his best friends. No matter what happens to me it won’t be that bad.” And that’s my hope right now. That no matter how bad this is, it’s not that. That God that loved his son and let it happen, he can love me through trial, and he can love me through pain.

ERIC HUFFMAN: We always like to leave our listeners asking questions at the end of every episode. We don’t feel like it’s our role to clean everything up and to spoon feed answers. I don’t think the people we’re aiming for would want us to do that anyway. But this one episode about catfish, I think, deserves something more. I’d like to offer our listeners a little bit of perspective on it all. Maybe a little bit of hope. It’s from a chapter in the book. The chapter is called Will God Really Never Give You More Than You Can Handle?

When Christian’s say things like, ‘God will never give you more than you can handle,’ it feels condescending and dismissive to those who have been utterly broken by the hand they’ve been dealt.

There are two things to remember about that phrase. First, it’s taken out of context. “God will never give you more than you can handle” is rooted in 1 Corinthians 10:13, where Paul is clearly talking about temptation and sin, not pain and loss.

Second, we need to deal with the assumption that God gives us everything that comes our way. Some Christians talk as if everything that happens in the world must be God’s will, but not even Jesus believed that. That’s why he taught us to pray for God’s will to “be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:11).” If it was a given, we wouldn’t need to pray for it.

Some things that happen to people are not the will of God. Some things that have happened to you were not the will of God. And sometimes it’s way more than we can handle.

God’s promise isn’t to be the almighty helicopter parent who protects you from every awful thing. Instead, when it all falls apart:

  • God comes near to you. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He doesn’t wait for you to get it together. He doesn’t wait for you to get back in church. He finds you in the darkest places to help show you the way out.
  • God grows your character. Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” God will take something that wasn’t His will for your life and turn it around for good.
  • God restores you. 1 Peter 5:10 says that, “The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” As you heal, God will strengthen and establish you, giving you the courage to shed the victim mentality that often keeps people in darkness.”

You may not believe it now, but there will soon be a time when you’ll look back on your worst day and see how God was with you all along.


ERIC HUFFMAN: So, Sarah, you story is very different from Dorain’s, obviously, but you’re a single mother who has dealt with a lot of pain and uncertainty in your life, and you’re one of the best examples I can think of to speak to how God restores through pain.

SARAH BOLTON: Thank you, I guess.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  Well, I’ve had a very easy life compared to most people that I talk to. I hear you telling your stories and it’s a wonder to me that you’re sitting here today.

SARAH BOLTON:  My parents pretty much hooked up. My mom got pregnant at sixteen. I was very close to being aborted, but instead my parents got married, back to that Catholic thing, right? They were divorced by the time I was six months old, so I never knew my parents together. And then my mom was in a series of relationships, a lot of them unhealthy, and I saw a lot of domestic abuse growing up. That sort of shaped what I thought relationships looked like. At age eleven, I started to drink and smoke marijuana. By age twelve, I was sexually active, using cocaine by thirteen. I mean, so, you know, there were a lot of traumatic things that happened early on, but somehow through all of that, I was a straight-A student, and eventually student council president and so everyone was like, ‘Oh, well she’s great. She’s good, look at her life.”

SARAH BOLTON:  And I went to college and the same thing, had a full ride, but got arrested three years. The same thing, it’s like, “Oh, well, she must not be doing that bad because she’s kept her scholarships. Good job, way to go.” And then I get out of college and, boom, find out I’m pregnant with this guy I dated on and off who was a lot like me, an engineer student, but a drug dealer. And then we got married and tried to make it work, and guess what, it didn’t? I don’t think that should come as a shock to anyone, and just trauma after trauma after trauma. Losing jobs, losing a marriage, almost losing custody of my child and that kind of being the final wake up call for me, which led me to sobriety, which led me to the church, which led me to sitting here in front of you today, being interviewed on your podcast.

ERIC HUFFMAN:  That was a mouthful.

SARAH BOLTON: That was a lot in a short period of time, but here’s the cool thing about God, all of those things, none of that was in vain. He’s used all of that to equip me today to be able to help other people that are perhaps struggling with similar situations. He’s given me a voice, and so I think that God’s like, “Hey, baby girl,” in my mind, God calls me baby girl, 

ERIC HUFFMAN: I like it.

SARAH BOLTON: “This is what I want you to do now.” It’s crazy, it’s radical, the thought of pursuing higher education.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Oh, and people that would never think of opening up to someone like me in a one on one setting, would totally open up to you and find healing and hope.

SARAH BOLTON: I hope so.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Because it’s so easy when you go through stuff, I think, to turn cynical about it, and you’ve decided not to. It’s a choice. I think you credit God for that and I’m all about it, I like it.

SARAH BOLTON: It’s the only thing that makes sense. God is the only thing that makes sense. What I know from my life, from thirty-one years of living a certain way, and then it all literally changing overnight, is that those changes did not come from me. Now, granted, I put forth the effort. I put in the work. Faith without works is dead, but that radical shift, that did not come from me. And so, I have to give God the glory.

ERIC HUFFMAN: It’s the only way to make sense of it.

SARAH BOLTON: It’s the only way. It’s the only way to make sense of it.



ERIC HUFFMAN: So, Sarah, I want to end today by reading to you an excerpt from Chapter 26 in the book, 40 Days of Doubt. Day 26, I asked the question, Why Doesn’t Belief in God Make Your Life Easier?

Jesus won’t keep you from pain; in fact, sometimes following Jesus will lead you to feel more pain. But the difference Jesus makes is this: He always works in your pain to redeem it, to make something beautiful out of your mess.

Jesus never promised to make your life easier. He promises to make your life matter.

ERIC HUFFMAN: And I celebrate that when I hear you tell your story today and everytime I’ve heard you share any part of your story. That’s exactly what I see happening to you. I see Jesus taking whatever you’ve been through, whatever broken pieces of glass there are on the floor and piecing it back together and making something beautiful. Thank you, Sarah.

SARAH BOLTON: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

ERIC HUFFMAN: Absolutely.


ERIC HUFFMAN: I’m so grateful to Sarah for sharing her story, because to me the most powerful proof of God’s existence isn’t found in any substantive arguments, but in stories like hers. I can’t deny God like I once did. There are too many people in my life bearing witness to Him, including Sarah and countless others at The Story Houston. 40 Days of Doubt is by no means a perfect book, and I’m sure the Maybe God Podcast hasn’t resolved every single question you have about God, but if this book or this podcast help you somehow to find the courage to run toward your questions and your doubts instead of shying away from them, then I think we’ve achieved something. Because I believe that when we run toward the questions that matter, God meets us there.

ERIC HUFFMAN: I love our Maybe God community and I want to thank all of you for your support. You’ve been incredible this year. If you want more information about my book or any of the books that you’ve heard about from past Maybe God guests, please head to our brand-new website, That’s To end today’s episode, here’s the dedication that I wrote in my book about my wife, Geovanna.

            To the woman who never stops talking to God –

You saw this book before I ever sat down to write it, and you saw the man who wrote it before I knew he really existed.

Every day with you is an adventure full of grace and wonder. Your determination, wit, and those big, brown eyes set my heart ablaze, now more than ever.

            I love you, Geovanna Elizabeth.