Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


A Strange Dream or a Vision from God?

“there are certain people that God made to be objects of His wrath.  There are passages that say that God Himself has blinded people to the truth, that He has hardened their hearts to Him.  It is a frightening prospect to me.  What if I’m one of them?  It simply seems to me that maybe Hell is there purely for God’s entertainment value, as if it’s all a big game and we are just pawns in it.”

I don’t know if any of you go back and re-read the posts on your blog, but I went back through and re-read of few of mine.  I guess I had that statement from my post The Wrath of God on my mind when I went to bed Friday night.  I had the weirdest dream about it.  I had died and gone to what I assume was the judgement.  There were two queues of people as far as the eye could see.  I was in about the middle of the pack.  We were resting on what seemed like clouds.  At the head of the queues was an an enormous desk and behind the desk was Jesus dressed in flowing white robes.   On the desk there was a huge open book.  As the people approached the desk some were allowed past the desk and in through these huge gates.  There was a wall that stretched on either side of the gates that concealed my view of what was on the other side.  The people who weren’t allowed past the desk were sent to another queue before a great throne.  The throne was intricately carved with lions and had huge claw feet.  The man that sat on the throne was gigantic in comparison to us.  I couldn’t see his face, but he was wearing long, flowing, shining robes, almost iridescent.  I’m certain it was God.  A big spectacle was made of the people in the queue before the throne.  They began to sound like goats.  As each person approached the throne the figure reached out with one hand to square them up, then he reached down with the other hand and thumped them off the edge of the cloud and down into a deep pit.  One at a time I watched as people either disappeared through the gates or were thumped down into the pit.  Just as I approached the desk I woke up. Whew!  I have no idea which way I was going.

What a strange dream.  Or was this a “vision” from God? *grin*  What about you?  Have you ever had a “vision” like that?  Some people might actually think that was a sign from God, but I know all too well that the mind can play gnarly tricks on you when your stressed about a particular subject.  No, I did not have pork for dinner! :~)


Talk About Changing Scenery!

Here I am 38 years old and I’d never been any farther east than St. Simons Island, Georgia, no farther west than Alexandria, Louisiana, no farther north than Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and no farther south than than the Bahamas.  Though I love to travel and see new sights I really hadn’t done much of it.  The hubs and I might travel a few hours north to the North Georgia Mountains (foothills really) in the fall, but that was pretty much the extent of it.  He didn’t share my enthusiasm for travel.  So when we parted ways early last year I let myself do something I would have never dreamt I’d do.  Most of my friends would’ve never thought so either.  I’m so conservative and sensible and introverted some of them thought I’d gone off the deep end.  I think some of them were having secret meetings behind my back to discuss plans for a straight jacket and a padded room.  That was the farthest thing from the truth though.  It was more like freeing a caged bird! 

You see they thought I was nutters because I was traveling outside their comfort zone and mine as well.  In July of 2010 I booked a  flight to England in September all on my own. It was a 14 hour flight and I’d never even been on an airplane.  I didn’t ask anybody’s permission, didn’t consult anyone as to whether it was a good idea, didn’t really care what they thought.  Only after I’d booked the nonrefundable flight did I tell anyone.  My very dearest friend was encouraging.  My sister thought it was fantastic and she drove me to the airport.  Other people….not so much.  True to my newfound personality, though, my attitude was “they ain’t paying for the ticket and not a one of them have paid a house payment so it really doesn’t matter what they think”. :~)  I’d grown weary of being a Stepford Wife and dadgummit(sp?) I was going on the adventure of my life!

And guess what?  Nothing terrible happened.  The sky didn’t fall.  I went to England and had the time of my life.  In fact I had so much fun I’m going back again in September of 2011, that is if the Lord doesn’t come on May 21.  Doh!    

Think I’ll share some more about my trip in future posts.  It’s the most liberating thing I’ve done to date and I’m just getting started.


Innocence Lost

By nature, I suppose, I am a bit gullible.  Maybe naive is a better description.  I’ve never viewed that as a bad thing.  There is some appeal in the innocence of naivete.  I tend to take what I’m told or things I read at face value. For those who have never experienced the loss of that, maybe they are skeptical by nature, it would surely be hard to understand the mentality of such trust in the words and thoughts of others.  I have wholeheartedly bought into theologies and ideals that others espoused simply because I held that person in such high esteem, had such an immense amount of respect for them, that I never even really questioned what they said.  There are no words to describe the grief and turmoil that accompany the realization that all that trust has been misplaced. Not because these people have done anything wrong.  They sincerely believe the theologies they espouse, so I hold no anger or ill will toward them. I still have great respect for them.   I have been a sheep content to follow, to my own detriment. 

Those are difficult things to admit about yourself.  Sometimes the hardest person to face is yourself.  That’s what this journey is all about.  I’m finally figuring out who I am and what I believe. This blog has been one of the best things I’ve done in this quest. It’s given me a voice that I wouldn’t otherwise have, it’s given me a place to say how I feel and what I think, wrestle with the reality of my existence and experience in a way that is difficult to do in my local community.  People have come along beside me in support, offered a listening ear and given validity to my doubts.  At one time I thought the only reason anyone came along side another was in the power of the Holy Spirit.  My experience here has taught me different.  Feeling empathy and wanting to reach out to others to lift them up and encourage them, to be a support, is innately human.

I have many questions and no easy answers.  One thing that is changing on the inside of me is that I’m no longer content to be a sheep.  The need to know why I believe certain things has never been greater.  So the search continues but not with nearly the angst I had even a week ago.  There is peace in acceptance.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have doubts and they aren’t going away any time soon. 

The online community of doubters has rallied around me and offered a respite and comfort.  The one thing I don’t have any desire for at this point is to be told what I should believe.  This is something I need to wrestle out.  That does not mean that suggestions and advice are unwelcome.  Surely that would be foolish on my part.  Fleshing out ideas and other perspectives is the entire point of this blog.

There are some 38,000 denominations within Christianity.  Many of those claim to be the “one true church”.  I have never bought into that.  There are certain core tenets that are present within most of those which I believe are requirements to be a “true Christian”, namely the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.  Clearly that means different things to different people. Some groups have a wrong interpretation of scripture, or maybe they all do.  They can’t all be right. How would you know if your group’s interpretation is the right one?  Maybe another is. I would hazard a guess that each one of those 38,000 denominations think they are the ones who have it right or there would be no need for division.  You may be hardcore fundamentalist, moderate, liberal/progressive, agnostic or atheist.  I welcome all ideas and thoughts from every one of these. 

At this point I am leaning toward agnosticism because I don’t feel I can trust scripture as inerrant or the word of God, and if it isn’t what’s the point of twisting and turning and bending myself to follow the doctrines and laws held within them? I mourn the loss of that naive notion.  On one hand I wish I could turn back time to before the moment I decided to research my beliefs, on the other I’m glad I decided that I can handle whatever the truth reveals.  To be certain if I do leave Christianity it won’t be done lightly because I don’t take my faith seriously.  No, it will be most assuredly because I do.


The Wrath of God

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. Romans 2:5-8

 Full context here

The great day of the Lord is near, 
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.

I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. Zephaniah 1:14-18

Full Context  here

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful   Nahum 1:2

I did a quick word search at bible.cc  on the word wrath.  The ones I reference here are just a few examples of what that search turns up.  These are not supplied with their full context, but the full text has been linked so you may read it if you wish.

I’m not trying to do an exegesis on the meanings of these passages.  My simple point is this:  We want to look to God and Jesus and get a warm fuzzy feeling that He is in fact a God of love.  He loves all mankind and wants us all to come to repentance and knowledge of Him.  We want to turn a blind eye to the fact that we are indeed objects of His wrath until such time as we come to believe just the right thing and more than that behave just the right way.  We say that this is because God wants us to choose Him, and because He won’t interfere with our free will.  How much choice or free will is there when the results of not choosing the right way will send you to an eternal Hell of torment, burning sulfur, weeping and gnashing of teeth, loneliness, isolation, and pain.  Doesn’t seem like much of a choice.

Many a Sunday School lesson I’ve partaken in has been on the subject of God’s unconditional love, agape love.  The question remains in my mind, however, how unconditional is this love if we have to meet certain conditions in order to obtain it?  It is clear from many Bible passages that not only is God a God of grace and mercy, but He is also a God of judgment and wrath.

It has been suggested that these verses pertaining to all of this wrath are fallible man’s attempt to understand God, but have in the process completely misunderstood His nature.  I’m not sure I can buy into that view.  Either these were prophets of God, or they weren’t.  Many of these verses in their full context reveal that this was God’s pronouncement Himself, “this is what the LORD your God says”.

These are difficult passages to reconcile in my mind.  It seems to suggest that there are certain people that God made to be objects of His wrath.  There are passages that say that God Himself has blinded people to the truth, that He has hardened their hearts to Him.  It is a frightening prospect to me.  What if I’m one of them?  It simply seems to me that maybe Hell is there purely for God’s entertainment value, as if it’s all a big game and we are just pawns in it.

When I step back and look at these passages with no presuppositions, not trying to find ways to rationalize them so that I can hold on to my faith, they simply make no sense to me.  I can’t continue to find ways to soften and dismiss them.  I find it difficult to take a liberal approach to scripture.  It is too difficult for me to know which passages I should take with a big ol’ boulder of salt and which ones to take seriously. Am I missing something here?  I’m getting to the point that I question whether I can continue to believe. 


Evolution of Adam

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
                                                                                                                                      Romans 5:12-21

This passage is so very foundational to my faith – almost the bedrock of it.  God made Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden and everything was good.  That was God’s own declaration, not mine.  Adam and Eve were innocent and naive until the serpent tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit.  Let’s just bypass the talking snake, forget that apparently snakes used to do that.  The fact is according to Genesis that there was no death before they did the dirty deed and brought sin into the world and thrust upon us all the curse that needed, demanded, an atonement.  And that a benevolent God sent His righteous Son into the world to be the propitiation of our sins.  No longer separated and at enmity with a Holy God would we be if only we conjured up the right words and repented of our unrighteous deeds. The basis for this belief begins in the garden where there is no death and no separation. God comes and walks with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day because they too are Holy and He can be in their presence. They do the unthinkable, the break the one rule God gave them and then have the ability to feel shame and know good from evil.  They are banished from the garden and sentenced to certain death apart from some form of atonement, one which God provides to them at that time as well.

Here is where I begin to have a problem.  It’s at the very beginning. If I accept a literal creation account just as it’s spoken of in Genesis I can follow along through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus without questioning much, because essentially I’m questioning nothing.  To go along with this I need to start with a lot of presuppositions, not the least of which is that the Bible is indeed the inspired, inerrant word of God.  I’m at a loss for how to reconcile any other explanation of the origins of the earth and life as we know it.  There are lots of folks that somehow count the creation story and the first 3 chapters of Genesis as allegory.  Maybe it’s my fundamentalist, conservative background, but I have trouble doing that.  It seems to me that to account for it in any other way scripture must be twisted and bent and stretched to fit that world view.

If I’m honest with myself at some level I’ve always questioned that account in Genesis.  I’ve always wondered why if things were so fantastic in the garden Eve would have succumbed to the temptations of a talking snake.  It’s always puzzled me that God created Adam and Eve and called them good even though He obviously created them with a sin nature.  If He created us with a sin nature why are we punished for having it?  Why make sin so tempting?  God surely created that too.

That brings me to evolution and/or intelligent design.  I’ve tried to defend the literal creation account always having wondered about the age of the earth.  I felt it was something I must believe as foundational to the entire rest of the Bible and I’ve turned a blind eye to the reality intentionally.  I’ve tried to subscribe to the Ken Ham school of science.  If I remove that foundational principal then I’m left to ponder the existence of Adam and Eve. If there’s no Adam and Eve, there’s no fall of man.  If there’s no fall of man, no need for a Savior, at least not based on the scripture above. 

I’m not a scientist, I’m not even a college graduate.  But the more I learn about evolution the more I can see that it’s the truth of how we got here.  I’m sure someone with far more expertise than I could read this and  laugh at it’s simplicity. What can I say?  I’m a simple girl.  I look at the fossil record, one which YEC’s try to use to substantiate the global flood.  Makes me wonder though why the different layers appear to be different ages.  And does a flood cause the biggest bones to settle at the bottom?  Why don’t we find modern human fossils in the same layer as dinosaurs?  What of intelligent design?  That leaves me wondering why God would use evolution as a mechanism for some developments and then decide some things were just too complicated for that.  Either way, short of a young earth and literal creation, death was a certainty and requirement for the development of life.

I had a Sunday School teacher once who said, we believe the earth to only be about 6,000 years old.  The question was posed to her about radioactive dating and her response was “God is sovereign, He can make things look as old as He wants to”.  The question was dropped and I bought into that ideology without even thinking about it much.  I thought to myself “yeah, God can do what He wants”. And that was that.  Now I have burning questions.  Like why would a God who wants love and devotion and worship try to trick people into not believing in Him?  Why would He intentionally make the earth look older than it is to deceive people into the untruth?  It makes no sense.  I thought the Bible says that God doesn’t tempt us.  Then why would He make the truth so obscure?  Does He want to see just who will follow Him with undying allegiance beyond a preponderance of evidence to the contrary?


Rambling Thoughts

The doubts of the existence of a God, much less the God of Christianity swirl in my mind constantly.  Thinking about topics that I’ve previously given little or no thought to such as cosmology, evolution, archaeology, deep theology and listening to debates on the origin of the New Testament and the historicity of Jesus have left me in a fog.

Yet for some inexplicable reason I want to hold on to the naive notion that somehow that Christianity could all be true.  I suppose for emotional reasons I want to preserve my child-like faith.  But that seems almost impossible now.  It’s like catching a glimpse of your parents putting the presents under the tree on Christmas morning and then trying to pretend you don’t know that they are really Santa Clause.

I’m yearning to pray to some unknown entity, yet the prayers I used to pray seem so hollow and pitiful now.  I no longer even know where to begin.


Maybe It’s All In My Head

I’ve had times when I felt really close to God.  You know those mystical experiences that transcend understanding.  A presence felt so deeply that it touched your very soul.  Moments while meditating on God’s word, singing along really loudly to a particularly meaningful hymn or praise and worship song, gazing at a magnificent sunset, standing at the edge of the ocean and peering into the vastness, or sitting fireside at a cabin in the hills of North Georgia in the fall where it looks as if God took an artist’s brush to create all the colors on the mountainside. Yes, I’ve had those moments of being in utter awe at how amazing the world around me is and how God could just speak all of this into being in six literal days just six thousand years ago. That was when I actually believed in a young earth.  I’ve felt God in the little things, looking for His hand at work in everything around me.

I’ve heard others who have had the same experiences.  They trust God with every aspect of their lives.  They throw up popcorn prayers for the perfect parking space at Wal-Mart on a Saturday.  Prayers of thanksgiving ensue when just the perfect one opens up after they’ve been driving around the parking lot for ten minutes looking for a space.  What do you know?  God really does care about the details of our lives.  Friends proclaim how the awesome God has helped them pull of the perfect wedding for their daughter.  Another who proclaims how God is good because he helped her to finish her college classes in just the way she planned to in the first place. 

Then one day it occurred to me that all of these things really were just coincidences. I opened my eyes to what’s really going on in the world around me.  Christian women and children are abused by the thousands at the hands of those claiming Christ themselves and in His name.  Non-Christian women and children equally abused under different guises.  There are people starving to death the world over.  There are persecutions against every religion, not just Christianity.  Orphans without mothers or fathers to care for them.

Ah yes, but God really does care more about that parking space than He does any of that.  The one entity who could orchestrate the healing of all of that is more concerned with my friend’s daughter’s perfect wedding dress.  I’ve wondered if God really does play favorites like that.  Being prostrate on your face before Him begging for things that you know to be His will only to be met with silence can cause a lot of doubt.  Somehow I doubt if God cares about the colors of bridesmaids dresses or parking spaces or what kind of car you’re parking in that space.  And I think we all know my friend worked her butt off to accomplish the goals she set for herself for her college classes. 

I’m not saying there isn’t a God.  But I’m beginning to believe just as an observation of the world around me that he isn’t all that interested in being a personal God.  A lot of people might come here and think that I’m just angry with God.  I’m not.  I’ve just opened my eyes to the possibility that the God I’ve been taught about, the God I thought I was serving, isn’t the real true God.  I’ve opened my eyes to the possibility that there could, in fact, not be a God.  Maybe all those warm, fuzzy feelings I’ve had when I’ve been in awe of the Almighty have really just all been in my head.


A Hill On Which To Stand

…that was the title to the Sunday School lesson I participated in this past Sunday.  Well, the Sunday School lesson I mostly silently sat through anyway.  I’m a member of a Southern Baptist Church but for the last three Sundays haven’t been able to muster up the motivation to go.  The Sunday before this I went to an Episcopal Church service which was quite nice for a change of pace.  I’m trying to figure out where I fit in since my views are so radically changing.

Let me set the stage a bit.  I’m in a Sunday School class where about 8 of us attend on a regular basis.  There were about that many of us there this past Sunday.  This lesson was a continuation from the previous Sunday when I was not there.  The teacher had provided an outline of each of the four points with questions that followed.  The scripture was 1 Kings 18:16-19:18.  This is where Elijah challenges King Ahab to a duel of the gods.  And his God won.  Jezebel threatens his life because he had all the prophets of Baal killed.  These are the four points:

1.  Choose your camp
2.  Trust in God’s help
3.  Watch for slips
4.  Climb back up

I missed the first two points, but if you’re at all familiar with the text it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out.  So I came in on points 3 and 4.    Point 3 was about how when we’ve had these amazing mountain top experiences we need to be oh so careful not to slip down and fall.  What caused Elijah to run?  Fear.  But God had just done this miraculous thing.  Why would he be afraid?  After he runs away he sits down under a tree and has a pity party and falls asleep (I’m paraphrasing obviously). An angel comes to him, touches him and tells him to get up and eat and drink a cake of bread and a jar of water.  Twice.  This sustains him for a 40 day journey. Really, two cakes of bread and two jars of water sustain him for a 40 day journey?  When I eat breakfast I’m hungry again by 10 am.  Now normally I’m right in line with the questions and can give the typical “right” answers.  I know what they are.  Having been mostly quiet to this point and wondering what I was doing there, I piped up and said “why doesn’t God do that today, why doesn’t He send an angel and some cakes of bread to us in our discouragement?”. In unison the rest of the class says…”oh but He does…He does it and you just don’t recognize it”.  Uh huh.  That’s a platitude that a year ago I would have chimed right in on.  But really, I think they missed my point entirely.  I’m not asking for signs like the Pharisees.  I’m asking for a sign like Gideon.  There’s a ginormous difference.

In point 4 the teacher went on about how gracious God had dealt with Elijah in his discouragement, how God had personally shown Himself to Elijah.  She asked the question:  Has God ever asked you “What are you doing here?”  Everybody’s nodding their heads in agreement. I’m thinking…nope…God’s never spoken to me in a audible way.  To be quite honest I don’t think He’s spoken to any of you that way either, but to each her own.  Definitely, without a doubt, if God comes to me and speaks to me personally I’ll take back all my questioning.  But I’m not holding my breath.

See He sends Elijah out to stand on Mount Horeb so he can see the LORD.  God sends a great wind that tears the mountains apart and shatters rocks.  He sends an earthquake.  Then came fire.  God was not in any of those.  He was in a gentle whisper.  Now I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m questioning how it is that Elijah survived the mighty wind, the earthquake and the fire.  Then beyond that I’m telling you I have BEGGED God to just whisper in my ear and I swear all I hear are crickets chirping.

Then the teacher summed it all up quite nicely with additional questions.  How can self-pity cripple your efforts?   Ouch!  Biting my tongue hurts.  She continues…How can you keep from feeling sorry for yourself?  Hmm…..I’ll have to think about that for a minute.  Here’s a novel idea:  How about we stop waiting around for an invisible worker of wonders to whisper in our ears the answers to all of life’s problems and get off our butts and do things for ourselves?  That’s usually the way things get accomplished, right?  I mean when all is said and done, at the end of it all, don’t we normally ask for God’s help and then go about making what we asked for happen anyway?  So is God doing it or are we?  And if it’s us doing it (I’ve never seen Him lap up a sacrifice on an altar drenched with water), why not skip the middle man and just get on with it?  Isn’t that a hill on which to stand?