I was just a child when I first began learning about Christianity in my hometown in North Carolina, but I was soon faced with a powerful choice: Would I accept Jesus Christ into my heart as my own personal savior?
It is the single most powerful question a Christian can ask a person. If you say yes, you get into Heaven after you die. It is that simple: you have to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he took flesh, that he sacrificed himself for the rest of us, that he was crucified for the rest of us, that he died so that our sins would be absolved. You have to believe that he rose from the dead, and that he is going to return. You also have to believe that if you don’t believe, if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as your own personal savior, you will burn in hell for eternity. You have to believe that there truly are good people and bad people, and that the bad people will be forever punished for being unrepentant non-believers.
I believed all of that back then. I rejected it in college, with some trepidation. I don’t believe any of it now. And that is why I believe in God again.
I no longer believe in the creation story. I have real problems with some of the New Testament, and I flat out don’t believe any part of Revelations. I don’t believe that God will judge us, and I don’t believe that sinners will burn in an unending Lake of Fire for all eternity. I don’t want to believe that there are some people who will be spared, and some people who will have to endure eternal torture. That is something I can neither internalize nor rationalize.
Praying because I want to
It was only when I shrugged off the doctrines I had grown up with that I found God again. I remember the day a few months ago when I first got on my knees again and put my head down and interlocked my hands so that they looked like one massive fist. I needed it. I needed to pray. I needed someone to listen to my problems, to have them out there in the ether. And I had to believe that those problems would be heard. I pray every night now. I pray to thank God that I had a good day, and to ask that I please have a good day tomorrow, too. I ask that God protect my family, that he look after my friends, that he guide me in the way and the truth, and show me the path he wants me to take. I have an intimacy with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords that I haven’t felt since I was five years old.
When I was a child and prayed with my family, holding hands, I did it with the fear that if I didn’t I would burn in hell. I didn’t pray because I wanted to, or because I thought it was the right thing to do; I did it because burning in hell didn’t sound like a great way to spend my eternity. When I let go of hell, when I stopped believing in that horrible punishment, then praying became… peaceful. Not only does it feel peaceful, but it feels like it works. My life is better because I pray. And I keep praying because my life continues to get better. The stick didn’t work, and the carrot tastes that much more sweet because the stick was, finally, tossed away.
I could be wrong. That is something I think about, sure. But it is hard for me to believe that the God I feel beside me now, the God that I know is with me on a regular basis, could toss people into a lake of fire. Vengeance and rage are human weaknesses, rooted in fear and hatred; they’re not divine attributes. I believe in the God that gives us sunsets. I believe in the God that gifts us with smooth spring mornings, that let’s two people meet and fall in love, that allows a person to live a long and beautiful life. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.