The idea of God as a punitive, threatening task master is not a new one. Just read the old testament and that would solidify anyone’s conviction that God is out for blood. And I would agree. But how has this image stood the test of time and still today being preached from the pulpit? Let me start by saying I am no expert, I hold no theology degrees. But, I am an observer of life and church culture. And yes, I call myself a Christian. I got “saved” at age 12. It was a very real and life changing event, even at age 12. I got on board quickly with the Southern Baptist way of doing business. Church twice on Sunday, Wednesday night prayer meetings and Monday night door knocking. Selling God door to door by “cold calling”. In my impressionable 12-year-old mind this was how church was done.
From age 12-18 church was my life. My BFF and I were there every time the doors were open and I have a lot of very good memories stored up in my early church days. And I never questioned what was being preached or discussed at church. I had a church home and it never crossed my mind at that tender age to question anything. These grown ups were just that, grown ups and they knew what they were talking about. My parents were not big church goer’s however, but, even so they too eventually got on board and got “saved” and baptized. But for my dear parent’s church 4 times a week was not something woven into their secular life styles. So, for the most part it was me,my two younger brothers and my BFF jumping on the neighbor hood church bus and heading to out when ever possible.
The church I attended in my youth was an interesting tapestry of good old boys, nuclear families, church ladies and kids of all ages.And I loved it. But there was another side of me that was being tapped into. Fear. The kind of fear that says if you don’t say a prayer a certain way your whole life will be splashed up on a screen for all of the pearly gate’s population to see. What? My horrible, corrupt first 12 years will be made heavens public knowledge if I don’t say a four-part prayer? Oh, h%@# no. Sign me up, lay it on me. How does this prayer go? Here is how. And don’t leave anything out. 1) Confess that you are a sinner, 2) Ask God to forgive you. 3) Ask Jesus into your heart and 4) Turn away from your sins and sin no mo. Done and done. Whew. I just received my get out of hell card.
I am not mocking anything here, really. I am just analyzing my church experience. No feelings should be hurt in the making of this blog.
Fast forward more than a couple of decades. All things come full circle. Is God really out to send what he created, invented and labored over to a deep, dark, fiery pit to burn forever and ever? Why?. Why did he create us only to destroy us? I started asking the questions that I was so afraid to ask for so many years. And my questions only begat more questions. Why would I want to worship a God who says he loves us and then puts two humans of his own design in a garden, with some forbidden fruit and then expects them to spend all of eternity eyeballing that luscious fruit without any temptation. Really? Would you set your kids up for a certain fall? After all we were made in his image and (except for a few exceptions) we almost universally want our kids to stay out of harms way and we would certainly not tempt them with something we know is above their pay grade. I know my parents (as wonderfully imperfect as they were) didn’t leave piles of candy on the kitchen table or porn magazines lying around and then telling us:” OK kids, we are going out to dinner now, have fun. After all you have the TV and record player and healthy snacks in the refrigerator. BUT, don’t even think about touching that “forbidden fruit” on the kitchen table. You kids have a swell night now”. Any good and loving parent would not set their children, their very creations up for a sure fall. We don’t expect or condone that in human parents, but we openly except it from an all mighty God who is supposedly for us and not against. That simply doesn’t add up.
I never felt safe breaking ranks at church and asking hard questions. It was just more comfortable to smile, pretend to be perfect and I certainly didn’t want to rock the boat.But I do remember on many occasions struggling with the concept of hell. I remember losing grandparents, neighbors and others to death and feeling so horrible that I never got around to saying that 4 part, formulaic prayer with them and now they are burning in hell, all because I was too lazy, fearful or uncaring to knock on their door and go over their fire insurance with them. That is pretty weighty stuff for a child or even an adult to carry around for life.
Like I said, I am an observer of life and church culture. I now find myself after much soul-searching and more than a few real life church “experiences” coming to a slowly churning conclusion: God is not out to get us. If you believe in God, then you too, like me may come to the conclusion that he is good, he doesn’t sit on high with a very large club in his hand, just waiting to mess us up. In fact he did send his son to walk among us. To teach us, love us and remind us of the very goodness of himself.
I suppose my next question is this. How did this peaceful, likable, down to earth rabbi become the Jesus I see being touted today? Why to hear a lot of people tell the story, 21st century Jesus is a right-wing, American flag cloaked, conservative, family values dude. How in the world did it come to this?
Here is my opinion, since mine is the only one I can give. I have heard it said by people (much more knowledgeable about the bible than me) that a punitive, scary God has come to be by several avenues. One, the bible is only a partial representation of “the bible”. That during the Nicene Counsel (among other church big wig church get together’s back in the day) that it was up to these dudes to say what stayed in the book called the bible and what was left out.It was entirely left up to their discretion! Interpretations of the bible beginning with the King James version have been subject to the culture, convictions and a world view of society at the time they were written in. And “that time” was called the Middle Ages, the dark ages. It makes sense to me that one can only interpret something, including the bible from the stand point of where they sit on the time line of history. So naturally, if you are living in the dark ages, your slant, yea, interpretation of scripture is going to largely hinge on what you see going on around you (Game of Thrones anyone)? Dark and dangerous to say the least. But, let me go back even farther. When Paul “called things out” back in what is referred to as ancient history, he too had the lens of a man who’s only reference point was ancient history. There were not words or customs or views that would even remotely resonate with 21st century people.
Back in ancient times and the middle ages,women and children were property, slave-owning was the norm and mythical creatures abounded in the minds of the community. God was to be feared and you basically had to buy your way to heaven in the dark ages,by something called indulgences. OK, like I said I do not hold a degree in theology or history, all of this is just reading, listening, and observing here.
Coming full circle is something I am embracing. I love moving forward with a progressive, fresh view of God, Jesus and the bible. This has been a mountain top experience for me. God is not stagnant and unchanging for me any longer. He is fresh, new and inviting me to experience his love and peace on a new level. God is love, and yes, he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Indeed he is. But his creation is not the same. And the God I love and worship knew this all along and loves me just the same, even through all of the changes. And my beloved community that I have the privileged to call church, is a new, fresh, exciting and completely lovely way to do life. In fact, my community looks and feels a lot like Jesus.