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Why I'm Still on the God Squad

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

February 17, 2023

My Reformed Theology class is triggering me all over the place. My spiritual abuse is as visible as a scarlet letter. It comes out in everything I say, every time I shake my head, close my eyes, put my fingers to my temples to try to quiet down the anger inside so I can listen to the lecture, listen to my cohorts, and simply learn. And I am learning. But every reading cuts me through to that painful place deep inside of me that has come from years and years of being told by Christians I am unworthy and in desperate need of salvation, that I am destined for that Hell that God has designed especially for the wicked like me.

So what good is God, anyway?

On the face of it, God has really done a number on me. But you see, so much of the God I’ve learned is not the God I know. I know God. She lives inside of me, and even when I say the word “God”, I feel her love. A little place inside of me smiles and receives that love. And when I’m not depressed, that place that recognizes her presence smiles more readily and more easily. It’s just There, all the time it’s There, I feel that love and acceptance. There is never any condemnation. And we are intimate. We are One.

There is never a time I feel she has turned from me. When she has felt distant, it is because I have been preoccupied with life, or I have fallen into the darkness again. And when I am making choices I know are dishonoring to others and myself, I turn away from her. Not because I’m afraid of her. Because you know, God is not deterred by our doubt or anger. She can pretty much handle anything we can dish and never stop loving us completely. That goes against much of Orthodox Reformed Theology, but it’s the Truth. My Truth. Capital T.

How can I be so sure?

I really can’t answer that question, even when I ask myself. For so much of my life, I bought into the notion I was most certainly destined for hell. When I thought about that, what might await me after death, how it might feel to be in that place where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, I wondered how it could be any worse than the demons I wrestle with right here right now. Sometimes, actually much of the time, it seemed a suitable tradeoff for leaving this place. I was ready to take my chances. I thought that just maybe the hell there might be easier and less painful than the hell here.

Why am I still here?

I’m still here because every moment of my life, I feel God, I feel her love, complete acceptance, affirmation, and unwavering support. It feels as if she holds my entire being in the palm of her hand, gently, lovingly, always providing the assurance my suffering will not destroy me. She makes sure I know, every moment, she is right there, all around me and inside of me, enveloping me with her hope and love. These words I use to explain my God sound flat and trite. No words can ever capture the depth of love and acceptance I experience just knowing to my core she’s right there with me. She has never left me, she will never leave me.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

How can I be so sure?

I can’t. All I can say is that every time there’s any discussion of God’s wrath, God’s perfect justice that demands payment, God’s judgment, something inside of me recoils. I feel God inside, and she’s smiling gently, lovingly, continuously assuring me she and I are One. There is no separation from the love of God. I am in her presence now and forever, and she in mine.

How can I be so sure?

I can’t explain it. But the last few months of study have only strengthened my connection with the Divine. I knew this would happen, that the discipline of study would draw her even nearer. And why is that? When so much of what I’m learning are the ugliest parts of the history of Christianity? I signed up for seminary in the hopes I’d gain knowledge that would reveal the answer to the Why. And I am.

I’m learning about the massive distortions handed down through thousands of years, not just in the misinterpretation of scripture, but in the warped traditions that are handed down through generations. I always suspected but now I know beyond doubt that people believe fear is the one thing sure to ensure obedience.

Untold generations have grappled with God’s wrath and judgment. Massive suffering, indeed, perhaps the root of all suffering, is rooted in religion, all religion. I recognize that. I have known that for a very long time. But the knowing that it doesn’t have to be that way, that it truly isn’t that way, grows stronger as I immerse myself in study.

In learning who people think God is, I compare it to who I know God is, and the gap is as far as the east is from the west.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

God is love. God only wants us to love. People forget that part.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8

Jesus came to liberate. People forget that part.

If anyone hears my teachings and fails to observe them, it is not I who judges him. For I have not come to judge and to condemn and to pass sentence and to inflict penalty on the world, but to save the world. John 12:47

For every Bible story that depicts God as cruel and arbitrary, there is a passage that depicts God as perfectly good and perfectly loving. Those are the passages that match my experience. Am I a Cafeteria Christian? Picking and choosing only the parts of the Bible I want to believe? Maybe. Maybe. I’ll own that possibility. What I will not own is that judgment. I contrast every scripture against what I know the Truth of God to be, the God inside me, and there is much that doesn’t fit. But there is much that does.

People want to focus on the judgment parts, because fear is a motivator, fear is actually the single most powerful motivator. At the root of all evil is people acting out of fear. And the biggest fear is the fear of losing power and control. At our core, we believe power and control are necessary to our very survival. And instinctively, evolutionarily, there is much truth in that. The message has always been “survival of the fittest”.

New evidence from Duke University researchers Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods outlines the theory of “survival of the friendliest”.

Here’s an excerpt from an article in The Science Times:

“The idea of ‘survival of the fittest’ as it exists in the popular imagination can make for a terrible survival strategy,” Hare said.He added that some research shows how being the biggest, strongest, and the meanest animal can cause lifetime stress. Social stress drains an animal’s energy budget, leaving a weakened immune system, resulting in fewer offspring. Hare is the founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Centre, being an evolutionary anthropologist and one who studies humans, primates, and dogs. He told the Washington Post that dogs are ‘exhibit A’ when it comes to being friendly and using that as their advantage to survive.

Ya, I know. I was surprised when I learned about this, too. But it sure makes a lot of sense, it sure explains a lot. It’s a supremely effective counter-argument to the Christian assertion that non-Christians are devoid of morality. Instinctively, evolutionarily, people naturally tend towards cooperation, which is necessary for not only survival, but to create opportunities for loving, collaborative relationships and to thrive in larger social contexts.

How do I explain the parts of the Christian story that depict a cruel, arbitrary, callous, capricious, and evil God? I can’t. I wish I could make sense of it, but I can’t. The whole of the Bible doesn’t fit together as one continuous, cohesive, consistent story. It just doesn’t. Why? That is the question for which I have no answer. That is a question millions of people have grappled with throughout the ages.

Learning about the culture and traditions that existed when particular texts were written helps make sense of it, but not all of it. Probably not even most of it. Yet what has come from my immersion in the texts does illuminate. I do make connections. Things start to make a bit of sense. And that was what I sought in returning to school, after all. I sought to make the connections between what has been written of God and what I know of God.

Even Reformed Theology is helping me make connections that further my understanding of why “Christians” have done to me what they did, all in the name of God. When I can see the motives behind the acts of my abusers, I take small, incremental, but consistent steps towards forgiving them. Oh geez. It’s so so hard. But this is also what I sought in returning to school. I wanted to make the connections so I could understand, so I could somehow get hold of our common humanity, because I knew that would result in a move towards forgiveness, and after that, serenity.

It is clear we humans create the law to control others, then interpret the law to our benefit. There is evidence of this everywhere, throughout time, it is an integral part of the human experience.

What is Trump promising over and over? He’s promising the things that appeal to what most American’s fear most. The deportation of millions who are poisoning the blood of America, “on day one”. That’s only one promise of thousands of promises he makes and lies he spouts, and to what end?

I posit the root of everything Trump says and does is FEAR. Fear of loss of power and control. The man is enamored with power, he’s absolutely drunk with power. He has proven time and again he will do anything to maintain power.

I caught a podcast last night with a sound bite from a Trump interview. He was talking about how people want to touch him. He doesn’t understand it at all. It used to bother him, he explained, but now he sees it as a sort of compliment. He sounded uncharacteristically perplexed. It is very unlikely he’s ever heard this:

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment. Mathew 9:20–22

Although I’m sure someone explained it to him along the way.

Then there’s this:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Romans 13:1

Picture yourself here.

You might well believe you are in power because you were chosen by God, ordained by God. How very comforting it would be to know this. What a sense of peace it would provide. Over time, that peace would absolutely give way to confidence. But here’s where things go south. Your confidence might grow so big it morphs into arrogance, and then entitlement. Having power and a following might change you in profound ways. Your goals might change, your priorities might change. You might begin to fear losing those things you have come to believe you legitimately earned and deserve. A responsible, disciplined, ethical use of power might give way to abuse of power. You might find yourself going to greater and greater lengths to ensure your power, which is derived from your loyal following, stay exactly intact.

Apart from those few wealthy people who are interested only in the financial benefits of a Trump presidency, the rest of his supporter’s believe he was sent by God to liberate them from lives of misery and lack. They find great solace in resting on his false promises, they don’t know it’s all lies, a house of cards. They believe that Trump has the magic to “Make America Great Again”.

And then there’s the fantasy that Trump is pro-life. That’s simply a convenience, a way to placate his followers. That man has paid for many abortions. But maybe that’s OK. What are a few aborted babies compared to outlawing abortion altogether? A few deaths to save tens of thousands. Pretty good bargain, for many. But it’s another lie. “We have to win elections…” he says.

I’ve probably lost you by now, this piece is way too long. But there’s some really good stuff in here!

So yes, the Bible was written by people, imperfect people. But some of those people captured the truth of God as I know her to be, and those Truths draw me nearer to the ultimate Truth, who is God. I can rest in her, she does indeed provide me with the peace that passes all understanding.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. Philipians 4:7

Now you just wait! I still struggle mightily with bipolar depression. I still struggle mightily with food addiction, and I am slipping on that one, I tell ya. My problems aren’t magically eliminated because I’m on the God Squad. The biggest thing is a sense I’m not alone, that a power greater than me is walking with me as I fight to cut through all the ugliness and suffering with dogged tenacity. The hard work remains, every day, it’s right there. There are no shortcuts. There is no magic. Just plain faith and hard work.

And, as always, I Persevere. And life goes on. And I learn and I grow every single day. And that is a very good thing.



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