The Wall I Built Against the Monster-God

The chapel at Jumonville is a special place. That’s what my friend Drew says, and I think he’s right. Last Saturday I walked in a hardened skeptic and walked out believing just a little more.

Jumonville Chapel

I was waiting for Kristen and her sister to get back from Ohiopyle. I felt drawn to the chapel. I always do. I can’t go to Jumonville without visiting the chapel at least once.

The front door was open. There were flowers hanging over the lamps beside the doors, left over from a wedding earlier in the day.

I crossed the concrete threshold, worn down by countless worshipers over more than a century. The rain from earlier that day had washed in through the open door, and the carpet was damp. I switched on a few lights.

Old habits die hard. My skepticism lived on in full force a few miles away, but here, I took off my shoes. The wet carpet went further than I’d thought.

I’ve been in the chapel dozens of times. Followers of Celtic spirituality believe earth holds “thin places,” places where the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin. I suspect the millions of prayers uttered in that old stone chapel have worn that veil very thin indeed. I call it a thin place not because it’s an accurate description, but because they’re the best words I have to grab at that reality.

“Hey God.” My voice echoed off the walls.

My words were short. Stilted. When most of your prayers are almost perfunctory thanks for food over dinner and “Lord, hear our prayer” as a fill-in for words your heart can’t seem to send to your lips, I guess that tends to happen.

To tell you the rest of that story, I have to tell you a few other ones.

My journey to skepticism started when Kara broke up with me. It hurt worse than anything I’d ever felt in my life. I thought God was running the show, but then this happened. “God has someone better for you.” In retrospect, it was true, but it was no comfort. It’s still no comfort. If God’s plans were so awesome, God could’ve come up with a way to get me to Kristen without all that pain.

I found my way back to kinda-trusting God, but I always had a nagging terror in the back of my mind that God would rip Kristen away from me under the bullshit guise of “I have someone better for you.” Every so often, that old fear would slip back up that God would drive another stake into my heart “for my own good.”

I no longer think God works that way.

The next stop on my journey was Hell. Times before when I’d worshiped in that chapel, I had worshiped a God who damned some people to Hell for all eternity. It was God’s justice and people’s sin that sent people there.

We may not like it, but God’s ways are higher than ours. We may not like it, but this is how God works, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I no longer think God works that way.

Of course there was genocide, too. God killed off all but eight people in the flood, and told God’s people to kill off so many more – men, women, and children. Children. God did that.

We may not like it, but God’s ways are higher than ours. We may not like it, but this is how God works, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I no longer think God works that way.

Penal substitution and genocide go hand in hand. God is wrathful against sin – because God loves us, of course – and God’s wrath and God’s justice mean somebody has to die for every sin, every violation of the law of God, large or small. If you cheat on your taxes, you deserve eternal damnation. Tell your kids Santa is real? That’s a lie. Look at porn? You may as well have committed adultery, and God sends adulterers to Hell for all eternity, because it’s just. Jesus had to die to save us from that God.

We may not like it, but God’s ways are higher than ours. We may not like it, but this is how God works, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I no longer think God works that way.

I no longer think God works that way, but the God who works that way is the God my heart had connected with in this dark silent chapel all those times.

To let go and worship here was to worship a God I can’t believe is worthy of that worship.

The words “As you are, and not as I would have you,” a phrase my brain adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, kept flashing through my head.

I knew what that phrase meant. “As you are, and not as I would have you.” I would have God good, or not at all. My heart wanted to worship, but my head knew that worship would be of a God I couldn’t trust. When I worship now, I keep my guard up – my guard against worshiping a God I used to believe in.

My worst fear is that if I let go and let God be who God is, God will be a bloodthirsty genocidal homophobic devil who damns people to hell forever for telling a lie and can’t forgive people without the execution of an innocent person.

“As you are, and not as I would have you.”

There it was. The reason I started, and didn’t finish, a couple posts here, like “Why Worship Scares Me” last June, and “I’m Afraid of Fire,” from last February. I started another one on worship less than a month ago.

Worship means worshiping the God I believed in then.

I paced up and down the length of the aisle in the chapel, grasping for words to say that feeling that I couldn’t put my finger on. Fighting believing in something because it might be dangerous. Because if I welcomed back God as I used to think God was, I’d be back in that mess all over again.

Standing in the back, I thought of the veil of the temple and how it used to divide up the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple and from the camp outside the temple, and from the place outside the camp, and how Jesus suffered outside the camp.

The answer slipped through my defenses.

God is real.

God is what God is.

What I felt back then did not depend upon me being right about God back then. I only thought it did.

What my heart felt – the grace and love and mercy and peace, and that sense that there was more in this stone chapel than walls and floors and pews – did not require my rightness then. God could have been there then, and could be there still, without me knowing the whole truth of God then, or now.

I told Kristen about it the next day, and she gave me another way to look at it when she told me about her short-term mission trip to Jamaica and how she looked up at the stars and knew God was there too, even though God had only ever been in Michigan and the missionaries had gone off to bring God there. But God was already there.

So maybe my time in the chapel before was a little like the ancient Hebrews looking up at the stars and being struck with awe and wonder at how God implanted the stars and moon and sun in the firmament that separated the waters from the waters. Maybe my time now was seeing the stars through the lens of modern scientific discoveries about the universe.

The ancient Hebrews, friends, were not wrong to wonder at the ancient skies, nor would we be wrong to do the same. If anything, we have more reason.

Me from six years ago was not wrong to wonder at the sense that there was something more in that chapel, and I’ve dragged out far too long thinking it would be wrong to do the same now. If anything, I have more reason.

Am I right, now? Probably not. Am I closer? I hope so, and I believe so.

God, I’m almost ready. I’m almost ready to open up the gates so the King of Glory may come in again – truer than I have yet known. I’m ready to start dismantling this wall I built to protect me from the monster-God I’m starting to believe you never were.

Continue to open my heart to worship you as you are, and not as I would have you… and not as I once thought you were. To praise the God who created evolution; who speaks through the cracks in scripture, man’s inspired words about God; who shook us forward past unlimited vengeance to an eye for an eye, and past an eye for an eye to nonviolent resistance. Praise be to you, God, who entered our world as a teacher of love and was crucified for welcoming those society and religion cast out. Praise be to God who does not give up on any and who is infinitely better than we can fathom, not worse than our nightmares.

Hallelujah for a savior who gave of his body and blood to his disciples and even to Judas, and to the Fathering, Mothering God who never needed a crucified son to satisfy the parent’s wrath, because your justice doesn’t work that way, who would never turn a child out into the streets because of their sexual orientation, let alone damn them to hell.

Help me to find you, God. Come find me.

About David M. Schell







4 responses to “The Wall I Built Against the Monster-God”

  1. Jaye Beatty Avatar
    Jaye Beatty

    God loves you as you are, and it’s good to hear that you are growing to love God as He is. He will reveal more and more of who He is to you. Keep on trusting…. 🙂

  2. Eleanor Katherine Skelton Avatar
    Eleanor Katherine Skelton

    Thank you so, so much for this.
    I am in a very similar place right now. <3

  3. Bran park Avatar
    Bran park

    Hey David,
    I actually have the same current fear about my now girlfriend who I want to marry one day? How did you get over that fear?

  4. […] 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 […]

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