11/16/2010 | Share this article:By Vyckie @ No Longer Quivering ~
It had already been the longest Thursday of my life ~ way too much to do, not nearly enough time to do it in, constant interruptions, crisis & drama from the kids, the phone, my email inbox ~ all of this conspired to distract me from getting the bills paid ~ a job which I'd procrastinated on much too long.
"Enough!" I told myself ~ "If I don't get this finished, I'll be drowning in late fees and disconnect notices." I sent the kids to their rooms, shut off the ringer on my cell phone, and closed all but one window on the computer so that I could focus, balance the checkbook, and finally pay the darned bills!
The doorbell rang.
Thinking it was one of the kids' friends, I jumped up quickly to shoo the visitor away before all the kids came streaming out of their rooms and chaos erupted again.
"Hello, Vyckie" ~ it was Al, my old friend from bible college ~ whom I hadn't seen in ages. He told me that his wife is in a nursing home ~ she's my age (mid-40s), so I was a little shocked and dismayed at the news. I invited Al to come inside.
Twenty years ago, Al and Laura had been first year bible school students with me. They had an apartment upstairs from where I was living with my family ~ and together we were on fire for God. In class, we studied our bibles and Christian apologetics (à la, "Evidence That Demands a Verdict") ~ on Friday evenings, we witnessed to our lost neighbors at our home bible study. We loved the Lord and spent hours fellowshipping around His Word.
Fast-forward to Thursday evening. Al had read the local newspaper's sensationally-titled article, "Losing Her Religion" ~ all about my loss of faith and how I am "No Longer Quivering" in fear of God. The article was printed in August of last year, but the Lord had led Al to come over and witness to me on this Thursday night. (God somehow had a lapse of omniscience since He didn't realize that I was fairly stressed and pressed for time with the bill paying job ~ this really was not a very good time.)
He took a seat and we looked at each other awkwardly ~ two old friends who suddenly were separated by a far greater chasm than the mere passing of many years. Al began to speak in fits and starts ~ I could tell he was trying to formulate something intelligent to say ~ something profound and convincing which would be just the right thing to draw me back to the faith ~ but before his thoughts could come together into something coherent, he realized that I already knew where he was going, had thought it through, and rejected his line of thinking. I waited impatiently while he tried again ... After a while of this, we both were exasperated. He was getting nowhere and I was not getting the bills paid.
"I honestly fear for you," Al told me with such a grave tone that I almost burst out laughing ~ except, really ~ he was very serious.
"You are fearful of what? That I will go Hell?"
"The thing is," I explained ~ "I've already been to Hell." My life as a devoted fundamentalist Believer had become a living hell of emotional and spiritual abuse. For all our efforts to know God, to love Him, discern His will and live out His precepts in our lives ~ our family was going crazy ~ we hated ourselves and we hated each other and we all wanted to die.
"That's when I think of Romans 8:28," Al began ...
"Oh no," I interrupted, "do not quote that evil bible verse to me!" I told him that "God works all things together for good" is the idea I used to console myself ~ it was the thought that kept me hanging in there ~ long past the point when I should have put my foot down and refused to tolerate another minute of the abuse, suffering and tyranny coming from the "head of our home" ~ my patriarchal ex-husband who had gone off the deep end with the power and authority that comes with biblical headship.
My life as a devoted fundamentalist Believer had become a living hell of emotional and spiritual abuse. For all our efforts to know God, to love Him, discern His will and live out His precepts in our lives ~ our family was going crazy ~ we hated ourselves and we hated each other and we all wanted to die."I kept waiting on God ~ trusting Him to work everything together for good," I said. "But it never happened ~ things didn't work out for us."
Al's eyes lit up ~ he'd figured it all out and had the answer now!
"But you have to consider the second part of the verse," he explained triumphantly, "He works all things together for good ... for those who love God and are called according to his purpose ..."
I cut him off again. So now he's telling me that if the Christian walk of faith didn't work out for me ~ it must be evidence that I did not love God ~ that I was not really called. Ugh!
"Al, you knew me!" I protested, "You were there ~ and if anyone was sold out and whole-heartedly dedicated to the Lord ~ it was me. I was willing to follow Jesus no matter the cost ~ though He slay me! If I was not a true Christian ~ then there is no such thing as a True Christian."
"For your sake, I honestly hope that you were never a true Christian," he responded with a look of genuine fear and confusion in his eyes. (He was referring, of course, to that scary verse in Hebrews 6 which threatens, For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.)
"If there is a God who would burn His creatures in eternal flames," I countered, "such a Being is not worthy of my love and devotion. I couldn't treat my children like that ~ you wouldn't do it to your cats ~ and yet, you are willing to reverence Someone who tortures His children forever?" I was on a roll ... 'cuz truthfully, even as a fully-convinced Believer, I never believed in Hell ~ the idea is so ridiculous.
"But God doesn't send anyone to Hell," (You knew he was going to say that, didn't you?!!) "He gives us a choice."
Now what kind of sense does that make? Free will ~ bah! If one of my kids is rushing headlong into a fire ~ I'm not gonna give a rat's ass about respecting his free will ~ I am going to grab hold of the kid and restrain him with all my might to keep him from going up in flames.
"In fact," I told Al ~ and by this point I was sitting up straight and gesturing for emphasis, "if there's a God who will roast people for eternity ~ then I will gladly go to Hell in protest of such an evil monster!" My hand flew up in the air and I shot "The Big Guy" the bird.
Poor Al. The look on his face was one of oh-shit-this-nightmare-is-real terror. His eyes darted around the room ~ he was looking for a safe place to hide. I seriously think he expected a bolt of lightening to come out of Heaven and zap Blasphemous Me as I sat there defiantly with my middle finger pointed in the Almighty's direction.
"Well, I don't want to keep you ~ I'd best be going now." We both stood and I walked him to the door. He was so scared, I would have thought he couldn't get out of my house fast enough ~ but he lingered. He looked at me. Then he embraced me ~ not a polite "goodbye" hug ~ but a crushing, "Goodbye for all Eternity" hug ~ and he didn't let go. I never felt so awkward. Really ~ it was too much. At last, he let go and took a step back.
It wasn't over. Al cupped my cheeks in his hands, lifted my face toward his, and looked intently into my eyes.
F.o.r... a... v.e.r.y... l.o.n.g... t.i.m.e...
This was beyond awkward. From the look on his face it was clear that my old friend was visualizing the future Damned and Tortured Me ~ crying out in agony for relief from the unquenchable fires which engulfed my writhing, tormented soul ...
Was he praying silently? Wrestling with God ~ pleading with Him to spare me and bring me back into the safety of His fold?
After what seemed like an eternity, Al released my face ~ and with tears in his eyes, bid me his final farewell.
I closed the door and then waited a minute for the Candid Camera guy to jump out and tell me to smile.
But alas ~ Al's visit was no prank. He's a True Believer ~ and he is genuinely terrified for my eternal well-being. Sigh. I really didn't mean to upset him so with my casual blasphemy. He takes it all so dead seriously ~ to him, it is Eternal Life or Death and unless I repent ... I'll be damned.