If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you probably have seen pieces of my deconstruction journey.
I’ve wrestled with whether God will save everyone, whether Jesus’ death on the cross was to appease an angry God, how God feels about LGTBQ people (love), how to read the Bible, the nature of God, God’s love and God’s judgment, whether Jesus would be a Republican, creation and evolution, the rapture, pacifism, feminism, socialism, whether I believe in the resurrection…
Until this past week I thought everything was shaken that could be shaken, but that’s a different story.
But in spite of it all, I still wrestled with a narrative that I picked up from talking to people who still hold many of the beliefs I had long since abandoned:
That if I really trusted God and was in relationship with God, eventually I would come to understand why the things I’ve come to believe are horrible are actually loving and holy and righteous and good.
I don’t know if anyone explicitly told me this.
But I do remember hearing someone talk about how at one point in their spiritual journey, they didn’t believe in hell, but now they do.
Another pastor once fell on his face and “repented” of having believed in evolution for 20 years.
“You’ll get more conservative when you get older.”
A friend said she too had struggled with why God would command Israel to kill baby Canaanites until she had reached some more maturity and was fine with it.
They all leaned in to trust in God and finally God persuaded them that it was really best that LGBTQ people stop being gay. Because look at all the ex-gays who “finally gave in to God” and stopped being gay. (Okay, actually just opted in to celibacy or hetero marriage).
That’s the narrative.
If you fully give in to God,
let God transform your heart and mind,
given enough time and faithfulness,
you’ll believe like me.
That was terrifying.
I did not want to believe God is going to send people to hell for being gay, or commanded genocide, or had to kill Jesus in order to forgive us for being so bad.*
I still don’t.
But because of that narrative, I have been on this journey for years of having a sense of deep distrust for God.
I didn’t stop being a Christian over it, but my faith journey was a real struggle for a long time for that reason. You can be a Christian but have a distrust for God’s goodness, I think, and I definitely did.
“Just give God everything. Especially the thing you’re afraid God wants.”
“You mean…. my belief that God isn’t terrible, isn’t sending my gay friends to hell?”
“No. I will never surrender that.”
God was never asking me to surrender that.
I’m still working through the repercussions, but I think I have the foundation finally down.
I had a moment of clarity about six years ago, but it didn’t stick for more than a week or so after I walked out of the chapel.
I said I was ready, but I wasn’t, and that uneasy distrust came back.
During the summer of 2020 I wrestled with it more, including my sense of almost being cut off from the faith of my childhood.
In December 2020 and January of this year, I really felt like I got a new vision for trusting that God is not going to “go back” to being what I grew up believing.
But it wasn’t really until August of this year that I felt like I could reconnect with my own soul in a way that I hadn’t been able to before.
And because I’m a nerd, I did it with a Venn diagram.
I put together a diagram of some of the things I used to believe, and the things I do now, and, well, here.
That’s when it clicked:
The best things I had always believed and/or hoped about God, I still believed.
None of them were threatened by my faith shift.
That night when I took a shower I told God, “Okay, I’m ready to be on fire again.”
(That made my wife anxious because, well, I think for us “on fire for God” usually means somebody is going out on the street with a bullhorn telling people to accept Jesus or something.)
But really it meant no more hiding. No more having to be afraid that God would change me.
I felt I had found my soul and been reconnected with who I used to be. I was put back together. Re-assembled.
The parts of me and my faith that I had been afraid would come back, I no longer needed to fear.
The other shoe is never going to drop.
God is good. No asterisks, no backsies, no convoluted explanations to make bad seem good.
– Postscript –
On Thursday I was reading about Christians who supported slavery and all of a sudden I felt my anxiety transform.
For the better part of a decade I’ve been afraid that God would change me.
Some 15 years ago I had a spiritual experience and went off and ran a bunch of errands for the devil. (That is, I made unwise choices because I had convinced myself this was what God wanted, in love, for my life.)
I was afraid for a long time that God would change me, because that’s what I thought God changing me would look like.
Yesterday, with a broader understanding of God’s love and goodness, and a sharply-focused color photo of people who justified evil deeds in the name of God and refused to be transformed by God’s love before me, I was suddenly afraid God wouldn’t change me.
That I would just be a product of my time, someone whose problematic words and actions my children and grandchildren would describe as “just they way people were back then.”
That, like my father before me, I would step over my empathy and hurt my dear children because that’s what I was taught to do: abuse in the name of God, or just plain abuse in some way.
Or something else that I had never stopped to think about that my kids would look back on as evil because of the harm it did to others.
I said a prayer that I would let myself be changed:
And this morning I realized God had already started answering that prayer.
Over a decade ago.
*Some people, like Tish Harrison Warren, might call these “strawman arguments” because nobody who believes those things would articulate them in that way, or might nuance it differently, but I think really the content of the beliefs ultimately ends up being that way.
If you have a very polite way of talking about people being tormented for all eternity, maybe as just “separation from God” or “they did it to themselves but they still don’t get out”, I’m not really interested in hearing about it.
I had those arguments ad nauseum almost a decade ago. I heard all the “nuance” and I don’t buy it. Truly, I’m good.
Please spare me those comments.
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.
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