Story of Recovery: Anonymous
When I was five years old, Mom took me to my bedroom ? just me and her ? to tell me about God?s redemption story.
I remember the setting well. It was a late summer afternoon. We lived in a little house in Tacoma, Washington. A melancholy sunlight diffused through the white sheet curtains of the bedroom I shared with my older brother.
There, Mom told me about Hell. Because God hates sin ? that is, disobedience ? He prepared a place of eternal fire and torment called Hell. And when sinful people died, they went to Hell. It was God?s punishment for sin.
But God sent Jesus to this earth to die and bear that sin for anyone who believed Him and asked Jesus into their heart. Those who invited Jesus into their heart had the promise of heaven when they died; those who did not awaited Hell.
My older brother had asked Jesus into his heart. He was bound for heaven.
Mom left me in my bedroom to ponder her words. Mom wanted my conversion to be genuine, thoughtful and real.
So there I was, alone in my bedroom. I was terrified of a God who hated disobedience so much that He would condemn people to Hell. I felt abandoned and alienated. I pondered this terrible knowledge as the rays of late afternoon sunlight penetrated the white curtain sheets, illuminating the dusty air. The sunlight that once warmed me felt eery and horrible and cold. The sun?s rays represented the distant foreboding flickers of a hateful eternal fire waiting to torment the souls of the lost.
I stood there in that room all alone, condemned, diminished and stripped of all human dignity. God hated me for who I was. I was to learn, later, that I was made in God?s image and likeness. But that status counted for nothing. It was eclipsed by my sin, by the horror of my disobedience. Without submissive faith and repentant surrender, the fact that I bore God?s image and likeness would not keep me out of Hell.
That knowledge alienated me from my Mom. I could not help but think, after what Mom told me, that Mom hated me for my disobedience too. I was her flesh and blood. I bore my Mom?s image and likeness too. Yet all of that also counted for nothing, for Mom embraced without reservation or objection the doctrine that I ? in my created, original state, in the form that Mom brought me into the world ? was worthy of Hell.
I didn?t stay in my bedroom long. I went out to the kitchen and asked Mom to help me pray Jesus into my heart. And so I became a Christian.
But the alienation I felt on that eery summer afternoon stayed with me and never left. And although my parents did not subsequently emphasize Hell in their conversations, I never forgot it. (Child Evangelism Fellowship (see graphic above) is keen about reminding children about hell too, in much the same way). I could never forget something like that. It became the fearful cornerstone of my understanding of God.
That understanding was soon layered with countless stories from the Bible. Story after story emphasized the virtue of faithful obedience and/or the terrifying consequences of disobedience. I will never forget the melodious refrains we sang again and again: ?Trust and obey, For there is no other way, To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey,? and ?The B-I-B-L-E, That?s the book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God, The B-I-B-L-E!?
In my early to mid-teenage years, I was indoctrinated with, and drawn to, pre-millennial eschatology and the New Testament?s many passages about persecution and apostacy. I learned about the threats of communism, secular humanism, the New World Order, globalism, and liberalism. In my longing to be regarded valuable, worthwhile, and worthy, I dreamt of becoming a fierce defender of the faith. That dream, vision, and mission ? encouraged and validated by those around me ? shaped my sense of purpose and meaning for almost 20 years.
Also impressed deeply into my consciousness as a teenager was the evil of the natural self, reckoning one?s natural self crucified and buried with Christ, the conceit of self esteem, and the virtue of complete surrender to Christ. Life was to be guided by daily Bible devotions and soul-searching prayer. And so I devoted myself.
But I struggled with Christianity?s exclusive truth claims. At the age of 15, after several weeks of intense self-directed Bible study, I produced a 15-page apologetic single-spaced, typewritten treatise on why all are without excuse. My Dad made copies, and I distributed that tome to several of my high school classmates.
By the time I was 20, the apologetic I had produced ? with its extremely dualistic view of people ? proved unsatisfactory to me. From time to time, until I was about 33 years old, I periodically wrestled with Christianity?s exclusive truth claims. I read several deeply unsatisfactory apologetical works and repeatedly struggled ? but never to my own satisfaction ? to develop a more compassionate and sensitive context for those claims. Each time, the quest drove me to the brink of despair, the very same despair I felt as a five year old. The few minutes I was left, as a five year old, to ponder the thought of going to Hell, meant that I would forever identify with, and anguish over, the great mass of humanity heading toward Hell. Each of my apologetical quests failed because I cared, I grieved, and felt the pain, and all the apologetics only deepened my sense of alienation from God and the masses of unsaved humanity. After each failed quest, I gave up, buried myself in work or some other intellectual activity, and tried not to think about it for a while.
Much of my life has been beset by melancholy and mild to moderate depression. Counseled to immerse myself in yet more Bible study, prayer, and devotion, I did. I read the Bible every day devotionally, and the harsh dualistic passages of the Bible always cut me to the core. They made me ever more conscious of my sin and my intrinsic worthlessness. The countless hours I spent reciting, meditating on, and praying over passages about reckoning myself, with its evil desires, dead, crucified, and buried with Christ produced self-loathing, but no victory over my natural self. Also, the abundant life and overflowing joy that those same passages promised eluded me.
Just over three years ago, and despite the persistent but gentle urging of my wife, I stopped reading the Bible. Much of it made little sense, and much of what did make sense produced pain and despair. But we kept going to church, and for the most part I just tried not to think about theological matters.
Then, in December 2008, we adopted our son, Nathan, on the eve of his fifth birthday, from Ukraine. Very quickly, I bonded with Nathan and felt the deep, primal parental love to which most parents can relate, but which I had never felt or understood before. My love for Nathan is not dependent on his obedience or behavior, but goes to his very nature. I love Nathan for who he is, not for what he does, and not for any theological commitments he makes. Nathan is, from the inside out, beautiful and inestimably precious to me. His dignity is intrinsic, and I love Nathan much deeper than I could ever love myself.
As I interact with Nathan, and look into his eyes filled with a child?s deep trust, innocence, and secure sense of belonging, and as I respond to Nathan?s deep and fundamental need for love and affirmation, my thoughts often go back to my own childhood.
How could I possibly teach Nathan what the Bible teaches about God, Hell, the great divorce between the saved and the unsaved, and the evil of his intrinsic nature? It brings me to tears to even consider it. I tremble at the thought of Nathan loathing his natural self the way I loathed mine, or of Nathan experiencing the same deeply wounding sense of alienation, abandonment, and despair that Christianity?s sacred text produced in me.
I love Nathan. I also want to learn to love and value myself again.
I have come full circle. The very revelation Mom gave me as a five year old ? the one that produced my panicked conversion ? planted the seeds of my present deconversion.
And so, over the next many months ? and maybe even years ? I plan to write. I write to protest and prosecute the text that enslaved me. (But I plan to do it in a dignified, non-dismissive way.) I write in hopes of connecting with others wounded as I was. I hope that writing also helps me to heal from what I was taught. I write for Nathan. And I write for the great ? and generally perplexed, unsympathetic and non-empathetic ? crowd of Evangelicals that still surrounds me. I challenge them to reflect on what Christianity says about intrinsic dignity, and what, when standing before God?s judgment throne, does it count for? I challenge them to affirm my intrinsic dignity in spite of my unbelief; for I will continue to affirm theirs in spite of their belief.
- Recovering From: Evangelical Christianity
- Hometown: Tacoma, WA
- Date: April 21, 2010
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