Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Journey

From early childhood, religion presented a problem for me. I grew up in a religious family, and my identity as a Christian was just assumed.It was never a conscious choice made on my part, it just was.

My grandfather had taught me to read even before I entered kindergarten, and I devoured numerous books. It was around this time my interest in science became apparent. At first it was biology. I loved reading about animals, especially reptiles. Later, I transitioned into astronomy after learning about the constellations at summer camp.

Around the same time I began to attend Sunday school, where I was taught many Bible stories. Even at a young age, I noticed inconsistencies between what I was taught in school and read in books to what I was told the Bible said. I remember asking my mother how cave men fit into the story of Adam and Eve. Since she had grown up in the Catholic Church, with its more accepting attitude towards science, she explained to me how the Bible stories were not necessarily meant to be taken literally, but were stories told thousands of years ago to help people make sense of the world. This made sense to me, and for a time everything was fine.

Just before my 5th birthday, my family moved to Oklahoma when my step-dad received a job offer. Almost immediately, we began attending a church which was much more conservative, both in its politics and its theology. Since it was also a small church, Sunday school was not offered, only a nursery for children under 7, so I attended regular sermons with my parents for the first time. It was at this time religion, and specifically Christianity, became a destructive force in my life.

Although not a fire and brimstone preacher, the pastor at my church often talked about hell. He made it clear that those who did not accept Jesus Christ as their savior would suffer eternally in ways that could not even be imagined. But, more frequently, he talked about what he called "false" Christians: those who believed they were saved, but because they did not live a life free of sin and measure up to the perfection of God, were actually damned by the judgment of a vengeful and wrathful god.

Being a rather sensitive child, I took these messages to heart. Although most people would not have described me as a bad child (I got good grades, usually did my chores, never got in serious trouble, etc.) I began to fear that I was somehow one of these "false" Christians, and that I was destined for hell.

For many years, I went through a vicious cycle of determination to be a good Christian and destructive failure whenever I felt I had done something to anger the god I was taught about every Sunday. Adding to this was an unhappy home life. My biological father had abandoned my mother during her pregnancy with me when she refused an abortion. Afraid of being a single mother, she quickly married my step-dad. Because of this, my step-dad's family, with the exception of my grandfather, never truly accepted me. When my little sister was born, my step-dad's attitude toward me turned cold. I was no longer necessary. Stuck in a series of dead-end jobs, he took his anger out on me, both emotionally and physically. With the deaths of my grandfather and all my mother's family occurring before the age of 10, I was left in a family that did not want me. I felt exceptionally alone.

Often, I thought these tragic events were a punishment from God because I was such a bad person. Eventually, I lost all hope. During my teenage years, I ignored God. I felt he hated me, considered me worthless, and was going to send me to hell no matter what I did. Why bother trying to please God when he wanted nothing to do with me? I became depressed. I would purposely injure myself. I even attempted suicide twice.

My life began to improve in high school. I had a wonderful group of friends. Although I never shared my religious struggles with them, they discovered my depression, self-injury, and the marks my step-dad left on me and made sure I received proper help. Because there was not enough evidence, my step-dad has never been punished for his abuse of me, but the investigation alone scared him enough to stop him from physically harming me.

With this help, I began to recover from my childhood. Religion was no longer important to me. I dedicated my life to science and felt that God was not necessary for that life. I began to call myself an agnostic. Yet, I was never able to move into atheism. As much as I desired to not believe in God, I could not. He was always in the back of my mind. Part of me knew he was there.

The problem was, along with God, was overwhelming fear. The thought of God still terrified me because it brought with it the certainty of my damnation to an everlasting hell filled with indescribable torments. It was a thought that made me physically ill.

Yet, once I left home for college, and despite my immersion into the scientific community, I longed for more. I felt that my life was missing something, and although I loathed admitting it to myself, deep down I realized this longing had something to do with God. But I did not know how to get past my terror. The metaphors of "God as a loving Father" were useless for me. "Loving" and "father", in my experience, did not belong in the same sentence. And "God is Love" was equally pointless, because an entity whose very nature was love could not have created an eternal hell and actually send the people he supposedly loved there.I had a vague idea of the God I wanted, but I had seen nothing to show me He was real. I felt very isolated and alone.

Eventually, the desire for answers was stronger than my fear. So, I did what I had always done: I began to read. I combed online for people who felt the way I felt. And I was utterly shocked when I actually found them. Lots of them. I discovered entire websites devoted to the idea of universalism. I read stories of people who had the same disillusion with Christianity and terror of God as I. I found arguments for why an everlasting hell is not consistent with God's loving character nor is it even Biblical. I saw how believers of universalism reconciled their belief in God with their hatred of conditional love and damnation.

Yet belief still eluded me. My fear was as strong as ever. What if I was wrong? What if this was a trick? How could I be sure?

This inner conflict came to a head one sleepless night. I was angry and I was scared. I wanted God. But I did not know how to trust Him. How could I? After everything that had happened to me? How could I ever overcome my fear? I spent several hours that night, crying softly and silently, feeling scared and alone. But suddenly, everything changed. I was surrounded by a feeling I knew to be the Love of God. I felt Him inside myself, almost too much to bear, but not painful. Words cannot describe it. I knew at that instant to God loved me more than I could possibly comprehend. He loved me and He was sorry for the terrible things that had happened to me. I cannot tell you how long this lasted. I just remember finally falling asleep immersed in the Love of God, the fear I had struggled with for so many years wiped away like it was nothing.

Since then, I have become a dedicated universalist. I believe that God is Love and this means that God will save every single person in the end. I still have many questions, and readily admit there are many things I still do not understand, and might not ever understand, but I know in my heart that the God I have found through universalism is real and I have nothing to fear from Him.

1 comment:

  1. Gosh, you've been through so much! I'm so glad you found the Love of God - or the Love of God found you! Religion can be such a purveyor of fear so much of the time, but Perfect Love does cast out fear - AND sets us free! Thanks for sharing your journey...