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Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
November 25th, 2009

How Losing My Faith Led Me to God

One believer puts aside his childhood religion

 
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losingmyfaith-inside

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

When I was a child, 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.

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.

 
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The Author : Jarvis Slacks
Jarvis Slacks graduated with an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2008, and now teaches at Montgomery College in the Washington, D.C., Metro area. You can follow his life journey at JarvisSlacks.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Don_in_Odessa

    There is a Scripture that speaks of working out your own salvation. It says with fear. For me “fear” has always meant with deference to God’s authority and not necessarily being afraid He will slap me about if I get it wrong.

    When we walk, it is, with but one step at a time. Perhaps some of us have taken a few steps closer to the “truth” than some others. If we believe we see more than our brother, let us speak of our experience with humility and not with condemnation. Lest we take another step and discover that there is more to the story than even we knew. Which in my own experience is the only certainty I can lay claim to. It is nearly always the case.

    To doubt, to question, to wonder about the what-ifs is part of being human. Be human, this is the man that God built. If we don’t ask the questions, if we don’t explore our supposed boundaries we will never make the discoveries that change the world. Good on you Jarvis. God be with you and guide you.

  • Ryan Allison

    Humbly, you’re having a reaction, Jarvis, to an understanding of the Bible and of God that is guilt/condemnation driven. Everything you’ve written about who God is, and your conceptualization of Him, is wrong. See where it says, “We did not receive a spirit of bondage again to fear, but a spirit of adoption to sonship.” It also says in 1 John, “There is no fear in love,” or “perfect love casts out fear.”

    How is this possible? Because the hell, damnation, and punishment that should be reserved to you was accepted and drank whole by the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

    The love you speak of is the result of a love story wherein the God you and I have sinned against took our place for necessary damnation/punishment.

    You feel guilt/condemnation when you think of God? Good! Go look to the Cross. Your Savior has died there. You feel a nagging sense that you have offended the One who created you? Wonderful! Look into your sin, see what it is, feel the sinfulness of sin, then look at the Son of God slain for it.

    But then don’t hold on to the guilt/condemnation! Let it go, it’s driven far away – “As far as the east is from the west, so far have you removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103)

    Trust in God, be still, stop denying the truth.

    “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed.”
    - Jesus

  • Sylvia Gerald

    Friends , I have lost my faith that Jesus still loves me ,knowing that He still do ,but i am not worthy of His love.Things in my life have been so worse that i have lost my faith in everything .I do not believe in anything .I am not able to trust that i am still left with some thing called life in me.Its end !

    • Ryan Allison

      Sylvia,

      In 1 John it says, “But if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father in heaven, Jesus Christ the Righteous One.”

      He intercedes for you. Ask Him to give you peace. Somewhere else it says that He is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our trials/afflictions.”

      Don’t let go. Just keep breathing.

      Think on Exodus 14:14 – The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

  • andrea

    That was beautiful to read! I just wish I could believe it. So much heartbreak and so many horrible things that happen prevent me from believing it. If only I could believe it

  • Erin

    Remember the story of Adam and Eve. The first lie was the serpent telling Eve in Genesis 3:4, “Surely you shall not die.” I don’t like to think that hell was made for humans either. I like to think of God as a loving and personal God who can accept all of our weaknesses and forgive us no matter what. And he can, but that involves truly making an effor to turn from sin.
    Please don’t get me wrong. It’s just in this age of new Christianity, I fear so many people are being lied to. They are taking verses out of context instead of reading the whole chapters and books of the Bible. And Satan is a cunning creature. We see this even with his temptation of Christ. The truth is, there is punishment. The truth is, there is hell. I don’t believe I have anymore right to judge my fellow man than he does me. All of that belongs to God, and God gave us free will to decide for ourselves, so why should I think that I should do what God didn’t and force another man to follow him no matter what? However, I do want to gently spell out the truth for so many. God constantly warns us all through the Bible what will happen to the wicked. While he is a God of love, he is also a holy God who demands us to turn from the ways of the world. It is only with the Devil that we see these half-truths where he twists the scriptures to cause us to believe, like Eve, that surely God will not punish us if we do wrong. Don’t fall into that trap. Embrace God and his love for you as you are one of his, but also read ALL of the Bible for yourself and ask him to help your find the truth of his word.
    I know belief can be tough. I have had my own struggles – ones that I thought I would never have – but I cling to the faith that all of what God said, he meant. Otherwise, why wouldn’t all the good stuff just be half-truths, too?

  • Jay S

    Perhaps the truth goes one step further – that “god”, as a being, simply does not exist.

    Speaking of hell, remember that the vast majority of people simply do not and cannot see a particular “god”, be it the Christian one or any other. So the idea that “hell” exists only for those who choose to reject a relationship with “god” is not true – it is not that people actually KNOW a god exists, and maliciously choose to ignore him/her, rather they are not even convinced of god’s existence. Why should a loving god be so hidden from the vast majority of people? He could show himself to everyone and people would still have the free will to follow or deviate from him/her.

    Ask yourself, how sure can you be that what you have felt is actually the “presence” of some god? That what you have heard is actually some god speaking? How sure can you be of this “feeling” when all religious ideas, all manner of superstitions, are “supported” this way? By wrongly appealing to some subjective experience – experiences that we know can be easily misconstrued…

    Perhaps the abundance of contradictory religious experiences cited as “evidence” of people’s, also, contradictory religious ideas shows us beyond a doubt of only one thing – that people’s experiences of some “god”, the feeling of his “presence”, are emphatically poor at revealing what is true in this world.

    Atheists regard the faithful’s religious experiences in the same way that Christians view the religious experiences of people from every other faith – we are sure they do no prove the truth of any religious claim, or even the existence of god for that matter.

    We just go one religion further.

  • James R. Cowles

    I would go even one step — maybe several steps — farther: religion and God have nothing to do with one another. Religion is important. Religion is essential. God is optional. At this point in my life — I turned 60 in April of 2009 — I have concluded that there really is such a thing as healthy religion. “Healthy religion” is not an oxymoron. But, in order to be healthy, religion has to center itself on people, and leave God on the side, assuming God is involved at all. (Marginalizing God is not the only thing a religion has to do in order to be healthy. But it has to start the getting-healthy process by de-emphasizing God.) The more religion centers itself on God, the more religion becomes just one more power trip, one more way for people to lord it over one another and to oppress one another. JC

  • Steve

    “I believe in the God that gives us sunsets. I believe in the God that gifts us with smooth spring mornings, that let‚Äôs two people meet and fall in love, that allows a person to live a long and beautiful life.”… I believe in that God too, which is easy considering where I live in the Pacific Northwest… But what if I lived in Burma or Somalia or any other war torn and ravaged place? Does God not exist for these people too? We love to make God in our own image and tame God to fit our understandings of who he is but God says “I Am”, regardless of how you think I should be “I Am”,that thought pushes me away from the desire to conform God to my image or understanding and pushes me to want to give Him room to be God a God who is not tame but very good. Even if his ways are beyond my understanding.

  • Michael

    I agree with Cindy; it is ourselves and our free will that causes us to go to Hell. If we do not want to be with God, then He won’t force us to be with Him. He desires an open relationship with Him, not a guilt-filled one. This is what’s so beautiful to me about this article: the author’s transformation from what felt like a duty or job to a relationship with our God who is Love.

    This website has plenty of resources about everything Catholic, but this link is specifically about Hell.
    http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2006/11/hell-devil-eschatology-last-things.html

  • Cindy

    My understanding is that God does not banish people because He wants to. I always understood it as people who don’t want to be with God, who want to stay away from God, in effect banishing themselves. Using Gabriele’s analogy, it’s more like your children banishing you than you banishing your children… I do believe in God’s infinite mercy.

  • Gabriele

    Thank heavens you had the courage to put this into words. I have also had difficulty beleiving in a God who is supposed to be Love who will banish a majority proportion of His creation to Hellfire and Damnation. Makes no sense to me. I love my children, no matter what they do and how far they go ….. I wouldn’t be able to banish them if they didn’t do what I wanted. So why does God? I don’t know what happens to people, but I do wonder why it is God’s plan that I get to beleive and another doesn’t.

    I don’t know what the answer is and I can only go forward in the light I am shown and I pray often that I am seeing a true light.

  • Jarvis Slacks

    Those are both really good questions.

    1.I tend to trust in the parts of the Bible that speak to me. I know that answer seems a bit white-washed, but it is how I’ve come to terms with it over the years.

    2. I don’t know what happens to them. But I don’t believe that there is a hell they will burn in. I believe that God is above such small ideas as punishment and retribution. However, as I said in the piece, I could be wrong about that. Thanks for commenting.

  • Khris Roberts

    I’m a bit lost on this one. The title caught my attention, but you lost me not long after you said that the Bible isn’t true and that the disobedience of the world will go unpunished. I have a few questions for you and hopefully you can clarify a bit.

    1. How do you decide what parts of the Bible are true?
    2. What becomes of those in the world that reject the gift of salvation?

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