Discovering hypocrisy in those I’d loved and trusted to be leaders in my life was only the beginning of a journey that would shift my beliefs about God from fear to freedom. Despite many positive aspects of my early years in church, so much of what I was taught was filled with fear and judgment. It took years to peel back layers of false teaching and see the God found in Jesus’ words and actions.
A challenge of writing personal experiences is sharing our stories without hurting the other people who were a part of them. My intentions are kind toward those who poured their love into my life in my early years. I loved and respected them deeply – and still do. Yet life requires that we learn to sift the good from the things that need to shift and grow.
My love for God has always defined me, from the sincere faith of my youth to this tumultuous time of seeking. I didn’t just go to church for social activities. I wanted to understand and obey God correctly.
Not only did I learn theological concepts and Bible verses because they were required study, I also poured myself into learning because I alternately loved and was terrified by God. My early education was founded in Bible verses and catechisms. My vocabulary included words like apologetics, hermeneutics, God’s omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience and Biblical inerrancy and infallibility. I memorized scripture in Awanas and at school and committed Bible passages to memory in my free time. I “studied to show myself approved to God, a work ‘man’ not ashamed of the gospel”.
Yet, if I were to look for one word to define my view of God throughout my youth and young adulthood, it would be – fear.
I wanted so much to get it right but the idea that somehow I never would threatened to suffocate me. I asked Jesus “into my heart” over and over as a young person. I was never really confident that I was on the right path because I was told God had two wills, the “perfect” one and the “permissive” one, a way of saying God was in charge no matter what but that you were capable of screwing up the plan if you misstepped.
I know. It’s so obviously illogical and crazy now but you can imagine what that kind of teaching did to a young kid.
I’ve often wondered – was my perception of my experience incorrect, an immature childish interpretation? Maybe I just misunderstood, took it the wrong way.
My careful examination of the beliefs and the curriculum used to train me as well as conversations with friends and adults who were part of my education have convinced me this wasn’t just a childish perception that needed to move toward an “adult” one. It really is what I was taught and the filter I was given in my youth to view life – the world around me, God, the Bible, myself.
When I “graduated” into adulthood, I discovered a whole new world that challenged me in ways that would threaten to topple what I believed, to free me from the fear that wrapped around me.
1 John 4:18-19
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
We love, because He first loved us.”
To read part 4, Not a Follower of Jesus After All, click here.