There's More to Life Than Meets the Eye
At my age, I should have most things in life figured out, but what I’ve discovered is that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. I should’ve written my autobiography years ago when I knew everything. : )
My parents took me and my siblings to church every time the doors were open. Church provided the lion’s share of friendships and activities for our family for most of my growing up years, and my memories of church in the different communities in which we lived are, for the most part, wonderful ones.
I began to sense God’s presence as a young child, and although I didn’t completely understand what it was all about, I went through the customs of my church that meant committing my life to Jesus, who I believe is mankind’s link to God, our Creator and Father. For much of my life, I’ve practiced the traditions of evangelical Baptist churches, whose main goal is to introduce Jesus to everyone. But more personally than that, I felt the guidance, protection, provision, and especially God’s unconditional love for me. When I did something wrong or failed to do something I should have done, I felt a conviction to make it right and ask God to help me do better. I'm convinced I would be an insufferable narcissist without Christ in my life. I also believe I wouldn’t continue to be part of a church today without this personal connection to God.
There should come a time in people’s lives, though, where they step back and question their beliefs. That time came for me in college when I questioned if I believed what I believed because I was raised to do so, or if I had sincerely embraced those beliefs, too, because they were right and true. I came out the other side of that question believing the latter statement. I loved God and Christ Jesus and was immensely grateful the Creator chose to have an intimate relationship with humankind, and especially me. That concept continues to astound me.
For some reason, possibly because of a lifetime of glossed over Sunday school stories and avoiding questioning troubling parts of the Old and New Testaments, it was easy to disregard some of the Bible stories and traditional teachings that I would be very concerned about if I thought more deeply about them. There are stories about God’s harsh response toward mankind or pagans in the OT that is inconsistent with the God I believe I know— the God of grace who loved the whole world and was willing to sacrifice His own Son for a relationship with anyone and everyone, even infidels.
If God wanted mankind to have a free will to choose to love Him, why have so many churches worked so hard to frighten people into accepting Jesus primarily to avoid hell? I’ve even told family members in years past that they should accept Christ so we would all be together in heaven. That takes God out of the equation and turns the purpose of “salvation” into family reunions and fire insurance. Why would God want to spend eternity with a bunch of beings He created who were there primarily to be with their earthly families and friends and especially to avoid hell?
I’m sure I’m not the only Christian that just to be able to get out of bed has to live in denial that so many people I know and love may spend eternity in hell because they haven’t “accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.” When I do let that seep in, the grief is overwhelming and joy-stealing.
So I am again in the midst of a time of questioning some of the things I was taught in the past six decades, and I’ve concluded that man (used both generically and patriarchally) has too often put words in God’s mouth, or applied manmade cultural practices out of time and past their usefulness, or even interpreted scripture in ways God never intended. All we have to do is look at history to see how man has used scripture to justify some horrendous wrongs. A good practice I’ve begun to follow is to see if the actions I’m doing or words that I’m saying are causing more harm to people than good. Everything I do and think should be filtered through love.
I’ve experienced enough of God’s grace and touches throughout my life, and some of those were even miraculous, that I believe there is much more to this physical life than Homo sapiens claiming the top of the taxonomy of living organisms because evolution and survival of the fittest got us there. I believe this brief life is preparation for the main event to come, and that the relationship I have with God wasn’t and isn't just to avoid hell.
This time of questioning has not jeopardized my relationship with God. I don't believe He is intimidated or insulted by my questions; otherwise, He would’ve made this process of seeking and knowing Him easier and more obvious to everyone. I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts and experiences with God over time, not for the purpose of changing anyone's doctrine, but to document my journey and hopefully inspire others to seek God through Christ.
Donna Van Cleve
Archived - "Faith"