Rethinking My Beliefs about God Apart From Traditional Christianity

I’d Like To Find A Cave, Cry and Listen To Emo Music

In Hell, Jesus, Life, Love, Suffering on August 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm

During a 7.0 earthquake in 1989 while I was living in Santa Cruz, CA, I remember a very strange feeling. It revolved around the idea that things such as solid floors, walls and even the ground are not as solid as we would hope. Things that aren’t supposed to move were suddenly knocking things down.

22 years later, living 2 states away from my entire (wonderful but dysfunctional) family and having pretty much lost my life-long Christian community, my world continues to prove its instability. Last week I talked about bravely facing the darkness we can’t escape anyway; and my world just recently got darker.

When my brother had life-threatening health issues 5 years ago, I took in his youngest son and he became one of my own kids. But 10 year old Brian has always missed his dad and now it’s time for him to go back – next week.

Brian is ecstatic about finally going back to live with his dad. And I’m happy for him. But my emotions are all over the board. I’ve been finding myself desperately trying to escape the pain of this upcoming loss using all sorts of measures. I see myself tearing down relationships before they even have a chance to be built. Or my commitment to others is feeble and half-hearted. I don’t want to get too vulnerable.

I’m sure that anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows this instability and pain pretty well. I’ve got a friend whose husband of 50+ years passed on. Her pain runs deep and there’s nothing anyone can do to solve that problem. Basically she just has to live through it as best as she can.

When we’re hurting, brain chemicals and hormones can feel like they’re in a panic state. If we don’t remain calm, we can start grasping for things that cannot take away our tears and in fact, will only make the pain feel worse. So, in that shaken up and forsaken place, the only thing we can really do is suffer until it passes.

And suffer we must, at least at some point. We will either suffer by remaining alone or else suffer by falling in love. While my dream of a marriage and family was shattered, I’ve got friends who are in miserable marriages. My friends who are happily married will one day be forced to say goodbye as one set of eyes closes on this realm.

I’m sorry to be so uncomfortably up front but I think we all know these things anyway. We subconsciously strive to ignore them, or we bank on a religious belief that promises to solve them. Whether we work hard to stay happy for as long as possible or we fatally believe that “God has a wonderful plan for your life,” the fear of loss and death still controls us. And there are currently 121 million people in the world who are depressed.

So at some point we will all be abandoned by life itself. But I think this goes beyond abandonment issues. We’ve got to learn to let others or a God connect to our soul knowing full well that it’s going to hurt. We can muster up as much faith in a savior or a Rapture as we want but that savior isn’t going to take away abortion, betrayal, guilt or death – at least not in our lifetime. This is what the evidence from at least the last 6,000 years says.

My friend Jon challenged me yesterday with the idea that there is no afterlife – ha, as if my darkness couldn’t get any more hopeless. I really didn’t want to go there, mentally speaking, at least not at this point in my life. Plus, Christians had always warned me when I left the Christian faith that the other roads lead to meaninglessness. I felt that if I accepted the belief of no afterlife, I would prove them right.

But how much is our belief in the truth worth if we can’t consider the possibility of truth in an opposing viewpoint?

I had to face this when I believed in hell. I had no problem believing in eternal torment as long as everything would end up hunky dory for myself. But what about people who were supposedly going to hell? What did they think about hell? Well, that changed everything. We’ve got to consider other viewpoints if ours means anything at all.

There’s a valid portion of the human race that does not believe in a heaven, hell, purgatory or any other kind of existence after we die. Sure, that might sound pretty meaningless and hopeless, let alone cruel. But from what I understand, those people don’t live their lives much differently than anyone else. I mean, we all just kind of seem to be living and doing the best we can no matter what we believe.

To be honest, I don’t have any solid answers. This is because my solid answers are not as solid as I would have hoped. People fail. Religions fail. Economies fail. Countries fail. Life has an end too. Even love seems to be erratic and non-existent in some situations. Maybe this is how Jesus felt when he asked God why he had forsaken him?

I get asked every now and then if I believe in Jesus. The answer is no. This is because the person who asks me is inevitably thinking of the Christian Jesus. And that Jesus, in my opinion, is a religious tyrant who likes to judge and condemn people. That Jesus seems to have crucified the Jesus that liked to feed, heal and resurrect people. And this Jesus crucifixion has been taking place for the last two thousand years, as far as I understand.

I can hear people telling me now: Don’t give up on Jesus. He loves you so much. Don’t give up on love.

Jesus, whoever or wherever he is, might love me, but love is painful and I’m tired of pretending otherwise. Love cannot be trusted, at least not in the sense that we are saved from suffering. If it saves anyone (in a final sense) from sadness and suffering beyond this hell on earth, well that is yet to be seen and essentially proven in any area of life.

But if there really was a Jesus who went through hell and came out alive, I think I could believe in that one. While “facts” have been known to change, especially when it comes to Bible interpretations, I’d like to think that the death and resurrection of Christ actually did happen, if not in a literal sense then at least a spiritual one. I’d also like to think this is a solid, stable example for the rest of humanity. After hell and death, we’re all going to come out alive – hopefully in some more glorious form.

But the Christian religion really messes with that one by shutting the majority of the human race out of God’s kingdom. So I’m not really sure what is true and what isn’t true. I only know that everyone needs a little glimmer of hope. Life after death could be true. It hasn’t been disproven either.

In fact, I’ve seen people make it through some really intense suffering. Not only that, they come out stronger, with a new serenity and confidence. The fear of pain isn’t as much of a threat to them anymore. Could that be a picture of physical life and death? I don’t think anyone really knows anything for sure. But I am so okay with that. I’m learning to relax and let life and death happen.

So I might lightly hold on to the hope of life after death, which Jesus may or may not have portrayed… even if nothing in life is stable enough to take away my pain… or remain a fact from every viewpoint.

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  1. Dear Elizabeth,

    First let me say that I am very sorry for the uncomfortable and painful situation you are now in with your brother’s, and in your heart, your son. I hope you can find some consolation in the boy’s happiness, but I also somewhat suspect he will always love you too in spite of his joy of being with his dad again. Besides, I also figure you to be good for whatever life brings him down the road in it’s own, sometimes completely unexpected way.

    The rest of your post actually somewhat reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes.

    Take care of yourself too E.

  2. I am sorry for your pain, for the loss of a child going home to his father, and for your insecurities concerning belief patterns. Perhaps if I may just share my universalist belief, that we all will be in the same place together some day, that since God is considered perfect, he cannot create an imperfect ending. Sometimes I find that if I can just take one day at a time, then pretty soon a week has passed, and I’m ready to try to do one nice thing for myself each day. Simple as that sounds, it can be profoundly hard, and meditation has been profoundly hard for me as well. Accepting my faults, my fraile mentally ill daughter, a son expecting a son very soon and ill prepared, I just offer up my prayers of thanks and of help to God each day.

  3. Here’s a thought from someone I talked to recently that isn’t sure if there’s an after life …

    “I don’t know anything about life before I was born, which leads me to think I didn’t have one … so why would I think that I’ll know anything and/or have a life after I’m dead?

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