Every once in a while, God seems to stop me to show me the “whys” of how he has led me. This isn’t to muddle around in the past, but more to encourage me to put more faith in him by showing me how he’s already working. A lot of my current journey started about two years ago, though it had been slowly building up over a lifetime prior to that point.
Over the past two years, there were some things God led me to do. I didn’t understand fully at the time, but I was to a point in my spiritual journey where I was learning to trust him, especially since everything else I’d put my trust in wasn’t sufficing. For some time, I’ve had inklings as to why, but never had quite a full grasp. It seems he has led me like he has so I could focus more on what he was saying instead of what I’d traditionally known.
First, he led me to study the Bible more. Like most, I dreaded it. The Bible had always been confusing and I was afraid that if I did come to different conclusions than those around me, I would be labeled a heretic. That fear has been removed now.
I read through Matthew and kinda understood it. Then I started reading Romans and the other epistles of Paul. I started seeing Paul talk a lot about the concept of not being under the law anymore (i.e Rom 6:14, Gal 2:21, 5:4). As the congregation I was in pressed a law based lifestyle all my life and continued to, I started feeling more and more isolated. As any good parishioner might do, I approached an elder with my concerns. At the time, I really didn’t realize this outright, but for every verse I brought up, there was a verse to contradict it. When I stated that it seems like Paul talked several times about not being under law, but grace, the response was “Jesus said he didn’t come to destroy the law” (to which my response was, “Yes, he said he came to fulfill it”). As the conversation went on, it seemed to quickly become evident that anything I tried to present was going to be countered with another scripture. This depressed me greatly because, even then, I knew the Bible wasn’t to be manipulated to contradict itself. When the elder realized I had some knowledge of the Bible because I’d been reading it, like he himself kept insisting that we all should, he changed tactics. He filibustered with a lot of religious stories that had little to do with the Bible or were heavily manipulated. For about an hour and a half, I tried to listen and take into account his words, but they were so loaded with agenda that it only depressed me. I would interject a sentence in every once in a while that would completely blow the previous rant, but after a few second of stuttering or silence, he would go back into another dictation that had little to nothing to do with my statement or was otherwise just a denial with no Biblical backing of any kind. I tried for some time to make sense of his stances, but there was nothing there.
I spoke with another elder after that. While he tried more to understand, we didn’t quite see eye to eye on how to grow towards Jesus. I spoke with many others from the congregation and while they had some surface level agreements, it seems most were comfortable to continue in their traditions, doctrines, and rituals until either they died or the congregation could no longer sustain itself. Reluctantly, and with a heavy heart, I left to find a real relationship with Jesus.
I’m not saying any of this to beat anyone up over it. I’m trying to give a fair evaluation of the happenings as pertinent to my spiritual growth over the past couple of years.
Looking back over those times, I see why God led me away from that. I could have stayed and faked it, but I didn’t feel like that was the honest thing to do. I tried understanding that viewpoint and adapting myself to it, but that just drained away the little spiritual joy I was discovering. There was such a limited space to present God’s love to others and even that was heavily regulated.
A lot of the reasoning of God’s leading I’m now seeing. The Bible is an overall story of humanity’s awakening into the fullness of God’s Kingdom. It was never meant to be a static picture of “how to be a Christian.” That view just creates confusion and allows verses to be pitted against each other depending on the agenda we’re supporting. We can take a stance for grace and deny justice. We can take a stance for law and deny grace. We can take a stance for judgment and deny mercy.
But I digress.
As I talked with more believers, I saw varied stances. Often, if I didn’t agree with a stance, I was told, in a not so loving manner, that I needed to go back and read the Bible again. Ironically, I often complied with this (but more so because of God’s prompting) and found even more amazing things.
Several months ago, I was beginning to get the urge to read the New Testament again, stopping at every difficult verse to find a reasonable explanation. I got to Matthew chapter 5 (again) and contemplated that for a while. After several more months, I started to see how it fit into Jesus’ overall message. This didn’t seem to be how many Christian were operating though. Love your enemy, pray for them, do good for them, bless them. Like the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, many Christians seemed to pray, do good, and bless themselves, their friends, and those who will support their views. Enemies were generally condemned to a hell fire of eternal torment.
For a while, seeing how I should treat those I considered enemy, my heart became more softened to those I’d been told I should avoid. Many Christians didn’t seem to like this and again I was told I needed to read the Bible because I wasn’t seeing things the way they insisted I should.
So again I started at Matthew. I started researching what all this Gehenna and Hades talk was about. What I discovered blew away all my preconceptions about the afterlife and eternal punishment as I had traditionally viewed it. Again, I was told I need to read the Bible because I wasn’t getting it.
So again I started with Matthew. I re-researched much of what I had learned, even into the original Greek and Old Testament cross passages, to ensure that I knew what I knew. I got all the way to Chapter 24 this time and wasn’t seeing anything yet in Jesus’ teachings that contradicted my views. Matt 24:1-3 hit me like a ton of bricks though. I carefully read the rest of the chapter taking into account the first three verses and looking for any type of transition that might indicate Jesus was speaking of two different times. However, I found nothing. In fact, I found that Jesus was being very specific that his coming would be in that generation (Matt 23:36-38 and 24:34). This cross references with what he also says in Matt 16:27-28. As I continued reading the New Testament, I saw that Jesus and his followers all had a firm belief that he would return very soon. As I compared the symbolic language of things like “heavens and earth,” “coming in the clouds,” and “age,” I found an amazing correlative story that runs through the entirety of the Bible.
So, this is basically where I stand now. I know this is quiet long and if you’ve made it this far, thank you for hearing me out. I feel it is only fair to lay all my cards on the table as often as possible and not be elusive or confusing on anything. No, I don’t have all the answers, and I never will. However, the vast majority of the Bible now makes sense when placing it in the context of the original recipients and what the message was about for them.
This has been both an amazing and liberating journey as well as a harsh and depressing one. Having everything I’ve known stripped away was brutal, but I can say, I wouldn’t change the relationship with Jesus that has been developing for anything. There is nothing else that will suffice.