Everything about the way I viewed God and the way I approached my faith started to change one summer night during the “altar call” of a church service. Now typically, when you think of someone’s life changing during an altar call, you think about the person getting saved or baptized or speaking in tongues – something that brings him or her “closer” to God, generally speaking. I can’t explain why this service in particular had such a dramatic impact on my faith, because I had been to probably hundreds of ones just like it before. Maybe my worldview had been shifting all along; I suspect it started at the very legalistic institution where I attended high school. But this night, and particularly this service, stick out to me as the catalyst for it all.
So I was sitting in the back of the sanctuary while attending a church service, which was normal for me at the time. I was new to the church, so I only knew a couple of people (which made the experience pretty impersonal for me, allowing me to have a more objective view of the events). During the service, missionaries from the youth group were giving “testimonies” about a recent mission trip. I can’t remember where exactly they visited, but I know it had been a developing nation. Part of their mission was to attend to the bedsides of people who were sick and/or dying, where they would pray for and witness to them (tell them about their need for Jesus) – again, all normal.
The missionary on stage talked about how the team visited a hut that was inhabited by an older woman who was dying from AIDS. According to the speaker, the woman hadn’t wanted anything to do with the missionaries. She refused their prayers, because she questioned the love and faithfulness of a God who would let her contract such a horrible disease with no means of cure or comfort. The general consensus was that it was her loss that she refused to accept the Lord. Like, poor lady for being so sick and having basically nothing, but it’s her fault if she goes to hell.
And then the show went on. I honestly don’t remember what happened or what was said after hearing about that lady. I’m sure the kids showed pictures and shared more stories about how much fun they had on their trip and how fulfilling it was. I know that the band played and the pastor came up and spoke (mostly because this is what always happens toward the end of any church service).
When we were asked to bow our heads to pray, I just started sobbing. Other people were crying too, but for different reasons than I was. I was at a complete loss as to how an all-knowing and all-forgiving God could allow this woman to feel such pain and then allow her to go to hell because she did not accept what she heard about Him. And I wondered, with fear and grief and guilt, how I would feel about the idea of God had I grown up in poverty and suffered a terrible illness the majority of my life. I wondered how it could be that a God so big could have such strict, trivial rules for entering into His kingdom for eternity.
I’m going to pause for a moment, because this is the point where people always say, “We don’t have all the answers; we just have to trust in God.” And I get where that notion comes from, I do. I mean, the whole point of “having faith” is that you don’t exactly know everything, right? “Faith is the evidence of things unseen,” right?
Well, here’s my problem with that message. When people say, “Just trust in God,” what they’re really saying is, “Just trust in what you’ve been told.” I have a professor who always says, “Trust the process.” She says that when her students are overwhelmed. I can tell you that it doesn’t help ease our anxiety at all.
The problem has never been that I don’t trust God; if I’m going to believe that there is one singular God who created this entire universe, then I’m going to believe that He’s perfectly capable of taking care of it in His own special way. The real problem is that I don’t trust the messages that have been conveyed to me about who God is. But have you ever noticed that the second anyone mentions that they believe anything differently than others, that’s when the backlash and the rejection starts?
TO BE CONTINUED