My earliest recollections of who I thought God was were that of a man (who looked like the pictures of Jesus, only older) who sat on a throne high up in the sky and who was looking down with a fiercely scorning face, waiting to punish any one of us who dared defy his orders. I was young when I was taught the story of Adam and Eve, and young when I learned all about Noah and the ark. Each of these stories were taught to me in a way that propelled my belief that punishment would befall upon those of us who sinned against him. Somewhere in my childhood – I honestly can’t remember when, where or by whom – I remember hearing the threat, when misbehaving, that “I will put the fear of God into you” as a way to attempt to change the behavior.
Although I had a maternal uncle who was a preacher and who did often have sermons about “fire and brimstone”, that wasn’t necessarily true in the church where I grew up. But neither did we hear about a kind, benevolent, loving God. My mother was active within the church – organist and choir director and serving for some time as treasurer, as well as different committees – and as kids, we went to Sunday School and church and Vacation Bible School, and, without choice, always.
I have memories of thinking that when something bad happened to me, it was God’s way of punishing me for some sin I’d committed. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t recall the sin – my belief was concrete that the simplest thing, from hurting myself falling off my bike to the most traumatic things that could happen to a child, were all punishments that I deserved, and all handed down from God.
I was well into my 40s before I began to meet people who saw God as a kind and loving figure. At first, I was extremely envious that these people were so good at Christianity that they had never felt what I understood to be the wrath of God. I felt unworthy to be in their mere presence, much less have them like and want to be around me. I didn’t think that it was because I was likeable and fun to be around…instead, I saw it as a further step of their faith in the Christian belief of “love thy neighbor as thyself” based on the tenet that God loved all of us, including the sinners.
One of my earliest blogs was about the “shades of gray” and the fact that my thinking tends to be in black and white. This is never more true when it comes to things about Christianity. For me, God is either a kind and benevolent and loving figure, or he’s a tyrant. There is no in between! I still struggle with this – and this whole pandemic makes we wonder how benevolence is being shown to the people and the families dealing with sickness and death due to Covid-19! Why has God chosen to make people across the earth suffer? How is that kind? How is that benevolent? How is that loving?
In addition, I have seen people that I sense of being ‘good and faithful Christians’ suffer through horrible things. Why are those ‘good and faithful Christians’ losing their fight with illness despite prayers and unceasing faith? I mean, we all have a limited life span, but wouldn’t a kind God let these people come home to Him in a gentler way?
I honestly don’t know that I’ll ever find a place where this black and white can meet and become gray. It remains an either/or in my mind no matter how I try to look at things. I’ve had too much experience in knowing alleged Christians who tout their Bible knowledge and faith and still speak and act in ways that exemplify how I think Christians aren’t supposed to be! I’ve seen alleged Christians repeatedly commit the same sins because they believe that they can simply ask for forgiveness and they’ll be granted it. I’ve heard alleged Christians boast about their faith and then easily take the Lord’s name in vain.
I just don’t get it! And I don’t know how to get over the fact that I don’t get it! For now, I’m getting by simply by not believing that anyone is a Christian until their actions prove it. I’ve been disappointed by too many who have loudly crowed of their faith by words but don’t live up to it by action.
I don’t know if I qualify as a Christian. When asked, I say I’m spiritual but not necessarily religious. I have a basic belief in a higher power that I call God, and I believe in always trying to act morally and think about other people when I’m saying or doing something. Sometimes I fail, but I think I succeed more often than not. But I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason I do those things comes from ‘the fear of God’. I believe in the concept of heaven and hell but I’m not 100% sure I believe in an afterlife.
And I can’t help but wonder if my writing this blog is, in some way, committing a sin by questioning God. Ah well, it isn’t the first time I’ve sinned and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last. The one thing I do know for certain is that I’m being honest about my faith and not leading anyone to believe I’m an amazing Christian!