Fallen off the edge (or more words to eat)

I have been quiet for awhile, because I have been thinking, feeling my way along this tunnel of doubt. Normally I have this urge to document the steps on my journey, but not this time. It seemed as though there was too much at stake, and I have done this too many times in my life already. It’s a journey I take over and over again, retracing my steps.

The difference is that this time, I was a really reluctant traveler.

For some reason, I actually want to be a Christian. I want to be a part of the church, the body of believers. I am so inspired by those who do believe, people I admire who take this faith into themselves and breathe it out like it is the only air in the room, whose hearts are committed. I look at them and say, hey, if they can, I can. They are intelligent, caring people, and they can believe, so there must be something there. There is just some key somewhere that I need to find.

I have been looking for it. I have been searching in the Bible, I have been listening, exposing myself to teachings that might contain that key. But it hasn’t been there.

What really trips me up in the Christian faith is the very thing that is supposed to bolster it, and that is the Bible. I actually read this book. All of it. Not just the gospels, psalms and proverbs. I am bothered very much by the sense of exclusivity. Why would a God who had created the universe choose just one single solitary nation out of all creation to be his, and to hell with the rest? This whole idea is anathema to me. And jealousy? Isn’t that a character flaw, something that makes people behave in unreasonable and unloving ways? Yet I am supposed to accept that it is one of the primary characteristics of God? That because of his jealousy, he directed “his people” to kill every man, woman and child who lived in a land he was giving to them, just so that “his people” would not be tempted by the religious ideas of those men, women and children?  Then because of this jealousy, sent against his own people sieges which caused them to cannibalize their own children, sent them into exile and slavery, and then said, “oh never mind, I really love you, so I will bring you back?” What did that do for those who died horrible deaths in this storm of anger and jealousy?

I think that what bothers me here is that the individual lives just didn’t matter. It was “the nation,” and to hell with the individuals, those who lived, loved, feared, perished. And how about God’s Law? The proper response to a rebellious teen is to stone him?

Death removes the possibility of redemption. It is a theft of possibility. All this stoning for all these various “sins” … this law administered by men, who without a doubt used it to kill people who had done nothing at all wrong.

I read these things and I think, this cannot be God. God should inspire me to be a better, more loving, more forgiving, more merciful person. This God I see in the pages of the Bible would encourage me to be destructive and vindictive.

Surely God must be more loving and more merciful than I am.

Yes, Jesus is a nicer guy than this Old Testament God. But still, he says that the road to salvation is narrow and few find it, while the road to destruction is broad. Even Jesus and his followers taught that only a few, only those who subscribe to that story, will be saved. And honestly, if it actually takes the blood of Jesus to atone for the sins of humans, in order to make them clean enough to enter God’s presence, why did God take so long? How about his chosen people, spending all those years slaughtering sacrificial animals, stoning their children, suffering siege, famine and exile because their sins could not be covered by the blood of the animals? God, all knowing, omniscient? He could not have known this, could not have hurried along this redemptive plan paid for in Jesus’ blood?

That is what Christianity is all about, you know. If it was just Jesus, the prophet, the Son of God, teaching us to be loving and kind and to do good and help each other, I could get behind that 100 percent. But that’s not it. The central message is that we have to accept Jesus’ death as payment for our sins so that we can be saved from the torment God is going to send on the rest of humanity for being sinful. All of Jesus’ teaching about being loving and kind and doing good and helping people was really for the purpose of showing us how miserably we fail, of showing us that we are sinners in need of redemption, because we do not, any of us, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick and in prison. Oh, maybe sometimes we do, but every single one of us turns our back most of the time. And that is the purpose of Jesus’ lesson here, to point out that we cannot be good enough for God. He told us that if we are angry, we are murderers, that if we look on another with lust in our hearts, we are already adulterers. Even if we control our negative impulses, we still have the impulses, and therefore we can never be good enough for God, and therefore we need to accept the blood of Jesus to make up for our falling short, of never being able to be good enough.

And if you don’t accept that blood payment, then you are on the broad road to destruction. You lived before Jesus? Too bad. You live in another culture where they don’t tell you about Jesus? Too bad. You just don’t give intellectual assent to the whole story, even though you do feed the hungry, visit the sick, love your sweet little heart out and shed oceans of tears for the suffering in this world? Well too bloody damn bad. Off you go into “eternal punishment.” (Matthew 25:46 for those who don’t believe the Bible says this stuff.)

Again I say, surely God must be more loving and merciful than I am.

I actually had to open my Bible to get that reference right. Opening it, its pages before me, honestly continues to just fill me with desire. I want to read it, to love it, to follow it. But I can’t. I just can’t do that any longer. It has betrayed me. If you can show me a better way, can help me understand what I don’t understand, please, you are more than welcome to do that. But I have struggled and struggled with these things, and this is where that struggle has left me.

I’m on the shore now. I do not, cannot believe. I recently asked for prayer for a loved one, and it kind of gave me prickles.  I prayed myself, and it made me afraid. This is a new thing. I have doubted, walked away before. I have been hateful and resentful even, but never before have I been afraid. Now that God chose to do awful, horrific things God to “his people” has made its home in my heart now. That God is a God to be feared.

I don’t believe this.

But the fact remains that when I pray, I don’t feel my prayers bouncing back to me from the ceiling, or disappearing into a never ending uncaring vacuum. God is real to me, will remain real to me. In the past I have referred to this god as “the universe,” and that is not inaccurate, but I can call this “God,” and I can even refer to this as “him.” They are words, conveniences. In this leg of my journey, I am setting out to discover who this God is.

This is my prayer, to know God. I think it may actually be beyond what is possible in this lifetime, but that is my prayer, my journey. There are some things that have helped me along the way, some things I have observed to be true, some I do feel innately to be true, apart from what I have been taught. I will share some of those things at a later time.

One of the difficult things for me about writing this is that I know there are a lot of people who will be disappointed, not only in me for not believing, but in me for not holding a standard up for Christianity. If my old friend Anonymous has followed me from my older blogs to here, I expect to hear some scathing judgment. It’s bad enough to not believe, but here I am potentially doing damage to others who might believe.

I’m sorry. I will try not to delineate the reasons I do not believe again. I will go on from here to what I do believe, to what I do discover along the way. I’ve honestly been living on the edge for a long time. I have been trying to fit in where I do not belong, and that is just too hard to do. But everybody has their path to follow, and their reasons for following it, and I respect that.

Let’s just try to build love along whatever path we are following. I will fail at this, and you will fail, but let’s try anyway, and let’s agree to forgive each other when we don’t make it.

This is something that is so central to who I am, this limbo has left me tongue tied. Hopefully now I will be able to get back to blogging.

Doubt

I do what I am supposed to do. I read the Book, so that I can know God. My reading schedule has taken me recently through Deuteronomy and Joshua. Their contents is not a surprise to me, but it is something I probably try to forget, to close my eyes to when it’s not right before me. It’s a hard thing, reading that my God of love is so jealous that he wanted all the men, women, and children in the land killed just so that their religions wouldn’t influence, wouldn’t call to the nation he had chosen to be his own.

How can this be? I shake my head. I can’t tell you how many times in the last few weeks I have wanted to completely repudiate my faith. I have wanted to come here, to this space, and say, “Look, I am not a Christian. This stuff just doesn’t make any sense. And if I try to convince you at some time in the future that I really am a Christian, don’t listen to me. Just turn me away from your church.”

I come this close. But then I glimpse something. I lie in my bed, and as I get ready to drift off to sleep, I find myself murmuring unknown words, and I almost stop myself, saying no, we don’t believe that, but I allow it. Deep calling unto deep, the Spirit praying what my mind does not know.

I am so tired of this struggle.

I seek the love of God, and the God of love, the one who feeds the poor without questioning whether or not they are worthy, the one who welcomes the homeless and the refugees without counting to see if he has enough, the one who looks on the love of two human hearts for each other and smiles, and it doesn’t matter if it is a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man.

Sometimes I think, why do I try? Why do I allow myself to be pulled back in? It would be so much easier to just let go, so much easier to leave.

God, who are you? Where are you?