A sister in Christ shared this note with me and decided to try and address this young man's concerns.
You showed us that Scripture in II Thessalonians 2:11, "And for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie." That's made me scared of God ever since. How, if I truly am deceived, can I know what His way is, and what His church is on the earth? Is it the Baptists? Is it mine? Is it yours? Who is right? Obviously God is, but why is there so much confusion and fighting among Christian religions? Why can't we all become unified in the body of Christ? What's wrong with me? Why can't I feel Him? There are so many accounts where the apostles were teaching and people were pricked in their hearts. I want to feel the love of God. I just can't seem to.
I need healing. I wish Jesus would come down to me and heal me as he did that poor leper. You're a teacher of some sort. You might have some words of healing or whatever.
"The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (II Thessalonians 2:11-12).
You asked how you can know what is the correct way, so I quoted the verse that has disturbed you in its context because your question is answered there. Paul's point is that people follow after lies and deceits and so perish for a very straightforward reason: "because they did not receive the love of the truth" which could have saved them. It was for this reason -- their lack of love for the truth -- that God sends them a strong delusion. It is not an arbitrary choice by God, but a measured response to an unreasonable position taken by some people. God is not forcing people to believe lies, they already have swallowed them hook, line, and sinker. Rather, God has lifted his restraint that was holding them back so that they would show themselves condemned.
The language is no different than what Paul expressed concerning the Gentile society. Three times Paul states that "God gave them up to" increasingly severe sins.
"Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:22-28).
Like the passage in II Thessalonians, the people first went into sin and eventually, God stopped holding them back from the path that they chose. Yet here we see that God didn't let them go all at once; only when they continue to push further did God let them go another step. You shouldn't be scared of God. It is God who is trying hard to steer you toward the truth. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). But if you are stubborn about it and truth doesn't interest you, God won't hold you back forever.
Why do so many denominations abound? For the same reason: people aren't interested in truth. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (II Timothy 4:3-4). People, in general, will prefer fables to truth if those fables make them feel better about themselves and give them what they want out of religion. Truth doesn't matter, personal desires -- personal feelings -- are more important to them.
Apostasy then becomes the dividing line between the true follower of God and the corrupt. "For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (I Corinthians 11:18-19).
But there is also something implied in all these verses that you missed. Truth exists! There is truth in front of people to choose to believe or disbelieve. Nowhere do you find God giving an impossible task, such as "find the truth, if you can." Jesus told us where the truth is found, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). This then is the standard by which God measures our commitment to Him. "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). And it is by this standard our actions will be judged. "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).
If truth exists, then it must be singular. Two plus two has only one answer. Insisting that two plus two is five doesn't change the truth, no matter how many times it is repeated. Claiming that you have faith that it is five doesn't change it either. People can have faith in truth or they can have faith in lies -- that is what Paul is warning us. Personal faith doesn't establish the truth. It is the other way around. Truth can establish our faith. "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe" (John 19:35).
I cannot look into your heart to find out why you don't feel close to God, but I can make a reasoned guess. "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. ... If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:21, 23-24).
John said much the same in his letter, "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:3-6). In other words, it is not guesswork on our part. We don't depend on a vague feeling, but knowing what God wants of us and knowing that we are conforming our lives to it, we are confident of God's presence with us. "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:1-3).
If I had to point to the one core problem, it is the concept of belief. Too many people use the word belief as if it was the opposite of facts. But this isn't what the word means nor is it used this way in the Bible. Faith is your trust and confidence in someone or something. For example, you and I believe the sun will rise tomorrow (barring the Lord's return this night). Why? Because we have seen the evidence that the sun rises and sets every day and we know that God has said, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease" (Genesis 8:22). Because of the evidence before us, we have confidence that it will do so again and again. The fact isn't yet established, the sun hasn't yet risen, but we have absolute faith that it will. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).
How do you know that George Washington was the first president of the United States? After all, you never saw it; nor have you met anyone claiming to have seen it. Yet we have absolute confidence that it is a fact. Why? Because we see evidence that it had happened and we trust sources that state it was true because those sources have proven themselves to be reliable.
This is the same trust God asks of us. "Tell and bring forth your case; Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me" (Isaiah 45:21). We have ample evidence of the Bible's age, we can see things being described in it far in advance that has come to be in the smallest detail. We see a book in which people have tried to poke holes in its details for endless centuries only to learn in the end that the Bible is always right. It is men who have forgotten their own history. God invites examination. There is no fear of consideration because the truth is evident.
The love of God has never been far from you. It only requires you to open your eyes and see that it is right in front of you. You won't find it in man-made religion. You won't find it in any of the denominations. It is in your Bible, waiting for you to examine it to see if it is so. "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). People were pricked in their hearts because when they heard the Gospel taught they recognized that it was the truth. Their confidence in that truth changed them to the core. The word in Acts 2:37 that is translated as "pricked" or "cut" is the Greek word katanusso. It means to pierce through completely. That is what God's word is able to do. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
"Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions" (Psalms 107:19-20).
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."" (Romans 1:16-17).