Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
I haven’t written much recently, mostly because I’ve been preoccupied with the heavy course load that I have this semester. I’m more focused on doing well than ever before. I think things are finally getting “serious.”
That being said, I’ve gone through a few changes since my last entry. I am speaking to my Al-Anon sponsor again, determined to try one more time at wrapping my head around this concept of “powerlessness” that is the foundation of the steps. We’re back discussing religion and the changes I’m going through, and I’m finding it therapeutic, so I’m going to hold off on making a permanent decision on the 12 steps, sponsorship, or this idea of “surrendering” to a higher power. I still have a higher power, but my definition of said power is murky at best. I’m definitely not totally prepared to trust my life to it, or even sure if that is something that is essential for living a quality life. As the Big Book says, though, hopefully “more will be revealed.”
I am though, continuing to make steps away from the faith of my childhood. As I stated before, I continue to participate in church services from time to time, but especially the young adult church group that I attend. There’s food, fun, and fellowship in addition to worship and a sermon. With some reluctance, I have left after the three F’s, skipping the sermon altogether, but that seemed in many ways to defeat the point.
Anyway, today was an especially strange night for me emotionally. I didn’t sing along to any of the songs, but I felt deeply moved. I sat there scrutinizing the lyrics posted on the screen, trying to remind myself why I couldn’t agree with them anymore, while at the same time being strongly affected by the emotion in the room. My knees felt heavy, my head felt dizzy, and I was actually holding on to two of the chairs in front of me to hold myself up. I felt that tightness in my chest that usually accompanies weeping, and I must admit a few tears came into my eyes. Was this the “conviction” that Christians so often speak of?
Things intensified when after a supercharged sermon about the importance of praying to God with respect to him as a glorified, elevated father in heaven with limitless power- and our best interest in mind- that the pastor declared that God was telling him that there was one person there who had been struggling to get freedom from something. He said, “We’re not leaving tonight until that person comes forward” and I found that very bold since he had never made that declaration before. Then when the worship band started all over again, singing Out of Hiding (Father’s Song) I felt a strong inclination to step forward.
That’s when I realized that my relationship with the faith has been like an unhappy on again/off again romance. It’s like I always leave when I can’t handle it anymore, but the warm, romantic, and intimate things always tempt me back. There’s always something positive mixed up with the negativity, but am I willing to accept things? Would running to the arms of “Father” take away the downside of a God who is willing to send people to hell for not believing in him, of the dark side of a God that had to send His son through unimaginable suffering in order to muster up the will to forgive us? Can I ignore the fact of a God that encouraged his Holy people to commit genocide, of a Christ of Revelations that is prophesied to slaughter so many unbelievers that the “blood will be up to the horses bridle”? (By the way, Revelations was almost excluded from the Bible by the early Christians because of its violent portrayal of Jesus.)
Can I accept all at once the scriptural inconsistencies or the fact that three of the world’s most prominent religions originated from the same place but none of them can really agree on much of anything? If I do accept this, how do I know that I’m in the right one of all the three? How do I know that people who haven’t had “expounding” revelations that twist or change the faiths from which they’ve sprung are really cults? (I explore this in my post “What is a Cult?”)
So, even as I stood trembling in that worship service, wanting with all my heart to return to the faith that I was with much reluctance giving up, I turned and walked out. I walked away because even as I heard the lead singer’s angelic voice and envied the peace and passion she seemed to possess, I heard my own voice in my head singing a song I had written called “Pray Have Me Excused”. It is based on the parable of the people that all refused their invitations to the King’s banquet (the king being God/Jesus) each with some different excuse. I had to decide in my mind that I didn’t write that song out of confusion- though I was a little uncertain why I wrote it when I did- but I wrote it because it was one of those rare moments of self-honesty that I was blessed to have.
So what about the “conviction”? I wondered more and more if I was that person they were talking about, before coming to the conclusion that they didn’t know- and couldn’t possibly know- whether or not I was. I tried to shake off the eerie feeling that this was one of those “last chance encounters” like they talk about so much in Pentecostal literature.
The stories usually go like this: X felt the Spirit, knew that the Spirit was talking to him/her, acknowledged that he/she was “that person” but simply couldn’t bring his/herself to make a commitment to Christ. Later on, X was going home from the meeting when he/she had a terrible event/accident and lost his/her life. X is now in hell. If only X had taken that one final opportunity that God was giving him/her…
Now, this kind of thinking assumes a lot. It assumes that when people reject God, he punishes them by taking their lives. It also assumes that the fact that they died shortly after rejecting God, that was the cause of their death. We know, however, that just because two events occur close to one another does not mean that that one was related to the other in any way. In other words, co-occurence does not mean causation.
I know of a website where a man relates all of our weather-related disasters to America’s decisions regarding abortion, homosexuality, and the treatment of the nation of Israel (God’s “chosen” people). He had some compelling evidence to back up his claims, but none of it really proved anything. After all, we know scientifically what causes our weather patterns- positions of the sun, moon, rotation of the earth, gravitational forces, oxygen and carbon emissions, so on. Now if we do have an omnipotent God pulling the strings somewhere, then maybe it makes sense that he shows his “anger” or “sadness” through the weather. The thing is though, that we can predict the weather with a fair amount of accuracy, and have been doing it for years. People joke about God “smiting people with lightning” and the funny thing about that is that we have lightning rods and other devices and methods to protect us from that very thing. (So then does scientific practicality so easily trump the Divine?)
Also there are so many myths about God(s) having the power of life and death over humanity that we would be hard-pressed to determine which is right. The Greeks believed that lives were represented by threads on a loom, and three spirits were able to cut these threads and end lives as they saw fit.
I’m starting to see a lot of Biblical stories as just that- myths. The parting of the Red Sea, rivers turning to blood, sand turning into gnats, a wind blowing over a ton of grasshoppers to eat everything green in Egypt (and then conveniently reversing to take them all away) and all of that sound like a pretty extreme stretch of the imagination. If that happened then, why isn’t it happening now? It seems like as it’s recorded in the Old Testament, when God did something it was very obvious that he was the one responsible, but nowadays people can only give vague speculations.
Maybe it’s because none of these stories were meant to be taken literally, but are to be accepted in an allegorical sense to teach us lessons about God. Maybe God doesn’t actually kill anyone. We do autopsies now, we see exactly what caused a person’s death. It was either another person, an animal, a disease, extreme environmental shock (burnings, drownings, poisonings), or old age. (Though of course, we still don’t know why people age, apart from the universally accepted fact that for some unknown reason everything goes to entropy, but that’s another topic entirely).
If we believe that God holds the ultimate power of life and death, then we may even see events such as murder, genocide, and mass abortion as simple expressions of His Will, and that is some disturbing thinking. If God is truly responsible for everything, then how can he judge humans for merely carrying out his will, as chaotic as it may seem to be?
I know, I know- Romans chapter 9 actually addresses this, responding with the question, “Who are you, O man, to reply against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that made it, ‘Why have you made me this way?’”
I would ask that question, indeed. “Why have You made us like this?”
Maybe if there is a higher power that governs everything, then maybe he/she/it is a lot wiser than I am. I don’t think that means that I should just swallow my questions, though, because obviously if I am a product of a Creator he/she/it has created me with an inquisitive mind for a reason.
Now in the end though it seems that when we try to get to the bottom of things, we’re forced to begin from the top all over again. If God has always existed since the beginning of time, then how did he/she/it come to be? If that Force made God, then how did that Force come to be? We could be going on and on continuously.
An old symbol for time was actually the serpent swallowing itself, which presupposes that maybe time is just a very long loop perpetuating over and over again, to the point where the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end ad infinitum. Maybe the lives we live today have actually been lived hundreds of times before. Let me not get into the “Donnie Darko” type of stuff right now though.
My point is, just because I felt all of those emotions at church, and the preacher happened to mention one person needing to come forward, doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit was convicting me. All of those things could’ve easily happened independent of one another, but it’s easy to see them through a specific lens just because it’s the lens I’m familiar with.