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Theophobia

By Rach ~

When I was a child I went to Sunday School class every week. We learned a bit about the "Old Testament" God, but mostly we learned about Jesus. We would sit down at little tables and tiny chairs in front of a "flannel board" and while the teacher gave the lesson for the week we usually had a colouring page to work on.

I sort of liked going to Sunday School with the crafts that we got to do but I struggled terribly with understanding the lessons. I am native-blooded (sorry for privacy's sake I am too afraid to say more than that about my racial identity for fear someone will read this-like a former Sunday School teacher- and know who I am), so I just wasn't mentally and emotionally understanding the lessons the way that the white children did. Colouring a picture of an ancient Israelite priest in a temple made no sense to me. What's a priest? What's a temple? What's an Israelite? However it was during all of these many lessons that I came to learn about Jesus. I didn't understand how someone who lived so long ago could be important to my life.

But I started to grow fond of Jesus. I was taught that he loved children (here we'd colour a picture of Jesus holding some children on his lap) and that he worked miracles to heal a paralyzed man (here we'd do a finger puppet craft to show Jesus healing the man). I was taught that he got nailed to a cross for me and all I needed to do was pray and accept this gift of eternal life. One day he'd have a mansion in heaven for me (here we'd see a flannel board picture of a throne with a rainbow and some clouds and pearl gates), never mind that I'm native and my own idea of "heaven" is endless trees, mountains, animals and plains. What really moved me though was a play I saw in which Jesus' crucifixion was acted out right in front of me (fake blood and screams and all). It was very heartbreaking, touching and I could not understand why anyone would not want this Jesus to save them and be part of their life. They told us he never sinned, never did a bad thing, and he died only for us. Who can hate a man like that? Grandfather had a picture at his house called "Last Supper". For some reason I was quite drawn to it, I felt peaceful looking at it.

When I became a teenager I wanted to "get serious" about Jesus. I wanted to make sure I was really saved and not going to go to hell. So I decide to find out everything possible about Jesus. As soon as I started this spiritual journey I became shocked by the difference between the Jesus I'd learned of in Sunday School and the Jesus of scripture. To me they were like two separate people. I didn't recognize the scripture Jesus. I became very, very scared. In a way I liked this new Jesus I was learning about. He was certainly passionate, he had what I call "fire in his spirit", he got outraged about certain things (like hypocrites), wasn't afraid to say things that were socially unacceptable, he sweat tears of blood...he was not this one-dimensional ever-smiling high-fiving guy from the flannel board. I have to admit I was a bit creeped out by the robotic Sunday School Jesus who had no real emotions except a very sterile "love." Flannel-board Jesus from Sunday School was not even remotely human. But I was not prepared to encounter scriptural Jesus and the trauma that resulted.

As for Sunday School Jesus, which I could always count on to keep me safe and never hurt me, there was scripture Jesus telling me it is better to mutilate my body than go to an eternal fire. "It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire." We didn't talk much about eternal fire in Sunday School. We talked about "eternal separation from God" for "the wicked", but not people-ordinary people- living forever in a literal fire and never being able to die. Is the fire real, I wondered? I walk close to a bonfire. I stick my hand close. It is too hot to be this close. I cannot imagine my hand being inside this flame, even for a few seconds. I decide that I must stop sinning for I cannot bear the flames. My flannel board image of Jesus, all white robe and blue sash, welcoming me into his bright eternal kingdom (he's giving me a ruby crown, naturally) is now replaced with white-haired, flame-eyed, burning bright Jesus "dressed in a robe dipped in blood." Dipped in blood? Whose blood? His enemies? "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them--bring them here and kill them in front of me."- So clearly he does not love everyone. He does have enemies and he does want them slayed. I am becoming very very intimidated by this Jesus I am reading of in scripture. I know that I don't want to be his enemy, for he is too powerful. I decide I will work very hard not to sin so that I do not become the enemy of this fearsome god- man. I become the world's most painfully honest person- afraid to tell even a little bitty white lie. "Every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." Again with the fire. And by tree, he means person. And good fruit must be good deeds, or something. It seems like almost everything I read from the lips of Jesus revolves around this fire. I begin to have nightmares of people being set on fire. In my mind I can no longer separate Jesus from the fire, they are like two sides of one coin.

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." I think of the things that people, enemies, could do to me. A serial killer could get me. He could take me to his basement and torture me slowly until I finally die. I am scared, very scared, of what an evil person could do to me or my loved ones. Bible Jesus says that the horror that he and God can inflict on me is so much worse, so much more infinite, than what the serial killer could do that I should not even worry about the serial killer. Even if I am tortured by an evil killer, it's nothing as compared to eternal hellfire. I try harder..harder...harder....not to sin. I try not even to say a curse word (thats a sin,right?). I stop listening to music. To love Jesus with all my heart, somehow, even though he really scares me. I wear myself out.

I break down. I lose myself in all the fear. I "revert." I start praying at night not saying the name "Jesus" but rather "Great Spirit". It feels okay. It's the same prayer. In all the confusion I become agnostic, remain agnostic. That's where I am right now. I continue to have both a love and horror of Jesus and whether he exists or not I do not pretend to know. What I do know is that the difference between the Jesus presented in Sunday School/movies/story books and the Jesus presented in scripture shocked me in many ways and that my investigation into scripture traumatized me, enlightened me, intrigued me, repulsed me. I'm glad I've taken this journey of spiritual discovery because I am a person driven to get to the truth. I have not arrived yet and don't expect to know the deepest truths until I have died and left this world behind. This universe is just too vast and I am a little ant crawling around trying to find a few grains of truth. The only thing I know for sure is to follow the "golden rule".


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