I first started questioning when I was fairly young, probably elementary age. The question: why was Judas Iscariot punished when 'Satan entered him'? That bothered me for years. I added other questions to my list as I grew, and then, while in college, began reading George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis's self-described mentor. I love his writing! He was my first introduction to what some call 'universalism' -- though MacDonald himself never used those words. But he was kicked out of a number of churches (he was a pastor) because of his nontraditional beliefs. And he wrote so many wonderful sermons about the all-encompassing love of God....
All these thoughts and questions came to a head when a colleague of mine gave me a book about hell. I can't remember the title, but the gist of the book was that this woman visited hell with Jesus as her guide. There she saw horrible things, of course. But the thing that struck me -- and at this point I stopped reading the book -- was when this woman saw another woman, a tormented woman. The tormented woman called out to Jesus and said (I'm paraphrasing, of course), "master, please forgive me. I regret everything I ever did against you. Please! Even death and oblivion would be enough for me." In this book, Jesus turned to the other woman and said, "It's too late. You can't run to me after the deadline and expect forgiveness." The message was that there's a time limit on forgiveness...well, needless to say, that's all it took for me.
I realized I utterly and wholly believe in a God, Yahweh, who loves unconditionally. And that doesn't leave any room for the traditional hell -- once I realized that's how I believed, I saw many passages in the Bible that supported my new thoughts. One of the key passages for me is I Corinthians 15:22: "For as in Adam all die,so also in Chris all shall be made alive."
The amazing thing about faith is the passion it produces, I think. Boy, did I discover that! Naive as I was when I first made these new discoveries about my own faith, I immediately began sharing them with others. Who didn't want to hear them. Now, I'm not saying anything against people who don't want to hear something different than what they are used to -- or even something that to them is heresy (which this apparently was). But in relating my experiences of faith, I have to include this reaction -- we were asked to leave the church (we being my entire family). The pastor and others agree to a discussion on the matter, but when they couldn't refute what we said (and it's all semantics, anyway -- as they say, the devil can use the Bible for his means, as well), they asked us to leave. so we did.
It was hardest on my mom, who had many close friends in the church -- most of whom, I might add, turned their backs on her. It was an eye-opener to me -- not that people can be cruel, for that's inherent; but that people would turn their backs on something concrete like friendship for something nebulous, like faith. It's been 15 years since this happened, and I feel my faith has only grown, although I no longer attend church.
so as we enter this precious season, I'm reminded of Christmas as a child, where church and traditional Christianity were at the core...do I miss it? Sometimes. It was a very comforting place to be, as long as I ignored those little niggling questions. And I think anyone who has experienced it will agree that the power of worship is awesome -- you can worship alone, of course, but joining your voice with many is...indescibable. Would I return? Of course not. I'm pleased that so many can find their faith in the church, surrounded by those who think as they do, for the most part. It's nice to see the joy they give one another. But Yahweh is gracious, and He has given me great joy in other areas, areas I would never have suspected back then. Faith is ever-growing, ever-changing, ever-seeking...I am honored to be allowed a portion of it at all.
Merry Christmas, everyone!