(Response to Smalls cont.)
Sorry to those who've read this all before but in the context of my responses I just want to reiterate the point that I have come to faith through and after a long and deep exploration and study of many different so-called "paths". As in, I didn't just read a book on something like Zen or Buddhism or Sufism . . . or attend a couple of World Religion courses in college. . . . I delved into the teachings, the history and sincerely put to practice the methods and doctrines taught by each "faith's" leading proponents and teachers. I went far enough into most of the spiritual philosophies and practices I studied to "test their fruits"--to realize experientially what each had to offer spiritually. I went all in.
These would include the more existential types like Zen, Zen Buddhism, Buddhism, Taoism and others like Sufism, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, Shamanism, Gnosticism, Tantra, Vaishnavism, Vedanta, "Urantia-ism", "Swedenborgian", Spiritualism, Mormonism, dualistic, non-dualistic, and a few more obscure others. I mention this only to emphasize that my coming to a Reformed, Born-Again, Bible-based Christian faith was not done casually, incidentally, culturally or without much thought and previous spiritual experience.
Early on, as a boy and early teen, I experienced God and had no doubt that He existed and that there was more to this life than the mere workings of physical chemicals, matter, energy, chance ("naturalism") etc. The question became, "since I know there IS a God and discern and believe that there is indeed primarily a spiritual purpose to this life, which thus has ramifications for me in the hereafter . . . then certainly He must have provided a "way" a "religion" or some guidebook, revelation or program that's intended for the seeker to pursue Him/It and produce character/spiritual growth and development. Oh, I also went into those teachings and "paths" that say that there really is no "purpose" other than, for instance to just "be" . . . in the "here and now" and that ie., the "answer" is that there IS no "answer" to be gleaned in an intellectual, rational sense. But my spirit testified to me that yes, there IS a purpose AND surely He has provided a means to find and be close to Him, such that . . . at last I could say, 'aha! I have found The Truth! This is now what I am to do, to be."
And no, I do not for a moment accept the canard offered up by so many critics, cynics, atheists and the like who assert that people like me and other believers just want to find an easy answer, believe in a God because we can't handle the idea of their being really no ultimate meaning, purpose, truth. It is clear to me, from study and experience, that it is much easier and preferable to my earthly, human self to decide that there is no God and that it all just ends at death; that no One is "watching", no One--no God is there to care or finally judge the thoughts and actions of my lived life. I find, just like every other fallen human, I am naturally inclined to cheat, lie, lust, manipulate, seek power and position, be selfish etc. And it would be much easier if--although inclined also to nobility, forthrightness, selflessness, integrity--I thought I could basically live however I decided to, according to my fancy or inspiration of the moment, without any worry that someday . . . I will have to account for it all.
Interestingly (to me at least) I must say that fear of Hell or eternal punishment was never a driving concern through all my initial searching. According to my own reason and sentiment . . . I simply did not believe that God--Whoever He turned out to be, according to whatever "path" of doctrine or revelation--would be something like a person who would send, for instance, sincere seekers and people in general to eternal Hell and punishment, except perhaps in the most egregious cases. I did not continue to search and study and practice because of fear of Hell. I persisted on the quest for Truth more simply because I believed that God was real . . . and I believed He surely must have provided some way for sincere seekers to genuinely find and relate to Him--to be able, according to His prescriptions, to please Him and expand in spiritual knowledge and capacity. For many good reasons, I deduced that He must be a God of rationality, logic, love, consistency etc., and it only followed that He gave us a way, a "path" which we could finally find and follow, according to this all being the purpose for which we were made. In general I believed that it was enough, even if you were mistaken in the choice of your "path", so long as you were "sincere", God would ultimately bring you in. [I have since learned that no one really IS sincere, even if that were to work, and that being so-called "sincere" in your search is not what brings you in to the Family of God. Such thinking is but a trick of the carnal mind to be able to persist in willful sin.]
For most of the time (pre-Born Again) I believed in things like reincarnation or eternal progression being the likely options pertaining to any "hereafter". Do I believe in Hell now? Yes. It came about initially because I had prayed to God that He give me a greater "heart for the lost". I asked Him to please instill in me and/or show me why it was so important that people get "saved." At the time, if anything, although I was at last a Born Again follower of Jesus Christ, I still did not much think of or concern myself with the concept and teaching of Hell. I suppose I had a kind of "nihilism" conception of what was at stake. That is, if you do not care enough to find and submit to God, or just love your self and the world more, then eventually, He will answer your inclination and deprive you of eternal life with Him through your final death and annihilation.
But as I sincerely had prayed to be shown the importance and imbuement, as a Christian, to "have a heart for the lost", I started to get a Response. What He began showing me . . . was Hell. It was not what I expected nor what I was looking for. I didn't much believe in the traditional concept of Hell and eternal punishment and had more been expecting Him to show me something like just how much better and fantastic it is to be a believer . . . and/or the glories of Heaven and eternal life etc. THAT'S what drove the passionate "heart for the lost."
Instead, I was led into a study of the concept, reality and teachings about Hell, given in the Bible, given by scholarly and inspired experts, and most importantly, by Jesus Himself!
One of the most profound and clear things I learned in this . . . was why people have such a dismissive and cynical view of the Christian idea of Hell; and why they can't See it or accept it and consider it simplistic, childish even.
And it is because of a couple things. People do not come near appreciating or comprehending the Holiness of God for one, especially in contrast to OUR fallen, depraved nature. Also, they do not realize just how serious sin is, if they believe in sin at all or not. And they do not comprehend how serious and profound is/was the rebellion and rebellion in general against this Holy, perfect God.
They project their own, very narrow, shallow, corrupt conceptions of "holiness" . . . "sin" . . . "rebellion" . . . "selfishness" . . . "good" and "evil" . . . and are as far from realizing the severity, meaning and ramifications of this spiritual contrast as an ant is able to realize, for instance, rocket propulsion. . . .
and . . . . . I gotta run for now... back in a bit . . . [is this interesting to anyone? should I continue? just wonder sometimes:).... well, and anyhow, I will continue because I do want to respond to Smalls....]
I never thought I had much faith, though I wanted so much to be secure in the knowledge and love of God. As a child I believed, simply. Couldn't really bring myself to 'accept Christ' until the end of high school, partly because of the crap I'd been taught about not sinning anymore after you're saved else you're eternally screwed. I finally said 'the prayer' one day. It was unexpectedly emotional, and afterwards I felt like I was getting a handle on things. I read the Bible, prayed, sinned, 'repented'... all the while I never felt like I had a relationship with Jesus, with God. There were synchronicities, the Bible seemed like a living book sometimes, and I convinced myself that I was getting sustenance in times of unbelief. For a long time I was stuck in the endless cycle of 'binge and purge', giving in to my natural urges and then begging forgiveness, over and over and.. it was this blog, along with Zeph Daniel's audios and other stuff from like-minded, that really encouraged me and gave me what I thought was a solid understanding of the Gospel. I read this quote here on your blog, I believe, from F. Fenelon:
"Thus it is not by incessant care that we become faithful and exact in the smallest things, but simply by a love which is free from the reflections and fears of restless and scrupulous souls."
That really stuck with me, and I felt I finally was able to let go of trying so hard to be a Christian and rest in the simple knowledge of God's love and sovereignty. I still love that quote, but no longer in a Christian context.
There were many things that led to the death of my faith. I dunnno, maybe I still have a tiny spark somewhere, and that's why I'm writing this. I used to fancy, when I experienced almost none of the awesome things that I'd been assured would happen after I got saved, that I was just being tested, that perhaps I would be one of the "blessed, who have not seen and yet have believed". That thought helped for a while.
About a year ago I kind of decided to take a break from the whole Jesus thing. I've been trying to simply live life, without the constant Christianese chatter in my head. Obviously, I haven't been able to turn it off completely. If I'm honest, probably one of the biggest reasons I keep looking back is fear of the future. I should know better, having seen so many dire predictions end up being dust in the wind. At least I no longer have a nauseating fear of hell. That part of my faith I don't miss. What I do miss is the surety (even in doubt) that I have the Truth and that God's got me. But I'm okay being in limbo, as it were. No pressure to 'measure up', to read the Word and pray, to listen to 'good preachin''. I realize that much of what I am leaving is nothing more than a perversion of Jesus' teachings, promulgated by men who are either ignorant of the meaning of grace or simply out to make a buck using tried-and-true methods of emotional manipulation. I don't know if I'm ready to sift through the b.s. to try to find something worth keeping. So for now, I'm letting go.
Thanks for reading. I would appreciate your thoughts on my sitch, either here in the comments or on the blog if you'd like.