I’ve lived for a long time with the haunting worry that I’m wrong about God. The fear that all the good things I have hoped and tentatively believed about God might not be true.
Probably ever since I first started believing them, maybe starting in 2007 but especially starting in 2010/11.
A year ago – it turns out, exactly a year ago today – I wrestled in an unpublished post with what it might look like to commit to it, to dive all the way in. To call Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr. heretics because their view of God is so radically different from mine.
I need assurances that the monster-God is never coming back, that this expression of the Christian faith, as I have come to know it, is the genuine, authentic, real-deal Christian faith… and not the bullsh*t I grew up with.
That God is love, and that’s at the center of everything.
That God is good, and that good and love are words whose meanings I understand well enough that, while they may mean more than what I understand them to mean, they don’t mean the opposite of what I understand them to mean.
The question, I suppose, is whether I need to call out these other expressions as heresies, distortions of the authentic Christian faith – even if they are heresies I have embraced. And I am starting to think that at least in my own heart, that answer may need to be yes.
I’ve been wandering in this wilderness for a long time now. Five years ago, I wrote a blog post called “The Wall I Built Against the Monster God,” and every so often I go back to trying to build the kind of connection I felt I had with God back when I was a borderline fundamentalist, and I always seem to start in the same place.
Every time, I rediscover that I have been along this road before. I read that post about encountering God in the chapel at Jumonville. I read poems I wrote that I called “Psalms for Doubters,” and journal entries, and I realize that I’ve been here before.
In some ways it feels like I’ve been wandering in circles in this wilderness.
About two months ago, I was preaching through the entire Bible on kind of a whirlwind tour. I got to the part after the Exodus, after Israel has entered the promised land, and I read these words:
Now therefore revere our God, and serve God in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.Joshua 24:14
That is the verse before the famous “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
I felt like God was speaking to me, saying that all those versions of God that I had believed in once, even that fear that maybe I’m wrong and God turns out to be not better than I can imagine, but worse… those are gods I need to let go of. I need to put them away.
It’s funny how after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and even after entering the promised land, even after watching their parents die in that wilderness because they refused to trust in God, they still had these idols.
They still had these artifacts of what their parents believed in. Maybe they were making sacrifices to Yahweh but they were still also hedging their bets on Molech a little. “We’re going to only serve Yahweh, but I’m a little worried that the Egyptian sun god Ra might strike us down for not worshiping him instead.”
And Joshua got up on his soap box and said to them (and to me), “Quit hedging your bets. Go all in. It’s been 40 years. (In my case, 5+). Don’t you think it’s time you put those gods away?”
Put away the gods your ancestors served over the river and in Egypt.
Put away the gods your ancestors served.
Put away the gods.
The gods who were anti-gay. The gods who demanded a blood sacrifice. The gods who wouldn’t hesitate to crush my heart “for my own good.” The gods who were angry, who had no space for nuance; the gods who killed off baby Canaanites because their parents were evil.
Put away those gods.
The gods who were mean and cruel and hung you like a spider on a string over hellfire, who only gave a sh*t about you if you obeyed their bizarre rules. The gods who demanded that children obey their parents without question and threatened them with hellfire for disobedience, who demanded respect for abuse.
Put away those gods.
The gods I have been afraid of because I feared God might secretly be them, or turn into them.
Put away those gods.
The gods clamoring to replace the one true God, who is ahead, who is love and justice, who cares deeply for the poor and the alien, for the rights of the downtrodden.
Put away those gods.
Leave them on the other side of that river you crossed to get into Canaan.
Leave them in Egypt.
So where does that leave people I disagree with, like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham and evangelicals who have decided Democrats are following the devil and the current Democratic presidential candidate might be the anti-Christ and Donald Trump is the second coming of Jesus?
Are they heretics?
Is it my job to say they are?
I don’t know.
And it turns out, I don’t need to.
The verse immediately after “put away the gods” is “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
I don’t have to call them heretics, or call them anything. (But I for sure can’t worship their god).
“The Lord,” as you may know, is an English translation of the word “Adonai,” Hebrew for “My Lord,” which represents the vowel markings under the Hebrew word “YHWH,” the tetragrammaton, Hashem, The Name of God which observant Jews may not pronounce.
The name means “I Am What/Who I Am,” or “I Will Be What I Will Be.”
The God who isn’t held down by people’s self-serving agendas.
The God who is love and goodness, the God who is for justice. Whose goodness is beyond human understanding, but not against it. The God who liberates.
The God who is like Jesus, dying for his enemies.
If Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham and my evangelical friends want to worship the gods my ancestors served in Egypt and beyond the river, the ones who are vindictive and send gay people to hell, that’s up to them.
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Okay, technically I can’t decide that for my house; they’re going to do what they’re going to do, but I can use my influence to encourage it.
Note 2: Apparently this thought has its roots in an idea I had two and a half years ago.
David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.
3 thoughts on “put away the gods”
I’m not sure one can call the apostle Paul or Peter a heretic and still be in the borders of orthodox Christian faith.
But then again, isn’t it a fundamentalist impulse to demean those who have “wrong views” as heretics?
Christianity is a wide tent. It has room for monster gods, and for those on a journey from monster gods to more loving gods. It has room for you to wonder every two years if there is some truth to a monster god, and room for you to reject the monster god. Progressive revelation is like that, have grace for those from whom you first learned the term grace, even if you don’t find their version going far enough.
It wasn’t my intent to call Peter or Paul a heretic.
I imagine if I could hop a time machine and have a chat with the Apostle Paul, he would have disagreed with me re: sexual ethics. We might’ve found a good many things to disagree about.
But Paul and Peter are not here insisting to me over and over again that my interpretation of their writings are wrong and my gay friends are indeed definitely going to hell because that’s the justice and righteousness of God.
Paul isn’t a heretic for having had his first-century understanding of natural and unnatural superseded by further revelation anymore than Moses was a heretic for instituting animal sacrifices.
The line I was tempted to draw a year ago was not around those who decline to believe God’s love is as inclusive as I do, but around those who loudly demand that it is not, to the detriment of those *they* cast as heretics and sinners, and to the detriment of the good name of God.
But as I said, if others wish to serve the gods I’ve left behind, that’s up to them; if I’m going to live in the light of my current revelation, that’s up to me, and up to God to carry me along in it.
Thank you, Thank you, I needed to read this. Your posts help me every time I feel about to give up on God since I live on an island of those who worship the ancestor gods.