I remember how it felt, the boldness rising up in me as I would begin to consider getting up from the church pew. The pastor would ask if anyone needed to make sure they were right with God. That was the hook, the doubting of my own security. The pastor seemingly had good logic. It was entirely possible I could die at any moment and my sinful adolescent soul could be sucked into the eternal fiery abyss. After all, I was pretty immature. I had a lot of things I needed to bring before God. I was a wretch, worse than a criminal.
And I was seven.
You see, when you grow up in certain traditions like mine (Holiness) there is a culture of doubt, of fear, of uncertainty. No one really knew for sure if they were “saved” or not. I mean, we had a pretty good idea about other people (like Jews, atheists, gays, Baptists, etc.) but we were “right”. Being “right” meant being held to an even higher standard. Any sin was direct rebellion against what we knew to be right. God was keeping a tally of our sins, and we’d better wipe the slate clean every night before we risked waking up in the devil’s funhouse.
On my trek through the land of Christendom, I became ensued with the question…
“Am I saved?”
As the years went by I was blessed with an ever-widening view of God, one that incorporated theological and philosophical diversity. I soon became more “secure”, believing more or less that God was a good God, and that “good God” didn’t mean “He’s so good he has to burn the evil out of me with a pitchfork.” College and Seminary (aka advanced Sunday School) even left me unable to imagine a God who wouldn’t move heaven and earth to reconcile all things to himself.
Case closed. Right?
Well, awkwardly enough, I’m no longer a Christian, at least not in any traditional sense of the word. My search for truth brought me to the personal realization that faith in Jesus’ power to save me was something I could never verify, never know for certain. Obviously faith isn’t about knowing with certainty, so I don’t pretend to ignore that fact. But I realized that most Christians I know don’t see faith as… faith. They have always treated faith like facts. That is why any competing logic can cause many Christians to basically freak out.
Imagine someone told you gravity wasn’t true, and they could provide evidence that your primitive gravitational fixation was most likely false?
As odd as it sounds, I feel God has led me past faith in the Jesus of Christianity and towards faith in the love of Jesus, which would in turn be the love of God, which in turn would be the same love that I sought to save me all those years ago.
At the end of the day, faith in Jesus was really faith in God all along, faith in God’s ability to save you. Or maybe it was faith that in God, we are already saved. We are already good enough. But like a gift, we have to open the damn thing or else it’s just a box.
But even more so, I believe that God has led me past…
Wait for it…
I’m not a atheist, at least not by my own definition. I simply don’t believe in the God many others believe in. To imagine God is to imagine the unimaginable. Whenever someone describes God, they’re not describing God at all. They’re describing an idea about God.
Here’s where it gets down-right heretical.
If someone’s idea of God drives them to love others, is that not the same thing as God telling them to love others?
If someone’s idea of God drives them to feed the poor, how is this any different?
If an atheist’s idea of love drives them to do the same things, is not the atheist’s idea the same force driving the Christian?
Anywhere in this exercise did you say to yourself, “But the atheist’s good deeds won’t get him into heaven” or “If God is just an idea in someone’s head then what’s the point since there’s no heaven?” If so, congratulations…
Salvation has been packaged all wrong for so long. It has been the prize just out of reach, the mystery you must solve but can’t, the end of a journey where you feel lost the entire trip. But salvation can be known.
We can be saved from our guilt, our hatred, our bitterness, our unhealthy lifestyles, our abusive relationships, our pettiness, our ideologies, our sadness and depression, our addictions…
But what about Jesus?
I have faith that my introduction to the life of Jesus of Nazareth was for a purpose much larger than myself, a purpose wrapped up in a mystery that still draws us in. My salvation moment was the moment that Jesus started being that…
…and stopped being this.
Brett Gallaher is founder of We Occupy Jesus, pretty much the best blog like ever. He resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the place they wrote that train song about. Once he shot a squirrel, but he felt really bad about it afterwards. When he’s not changing the world, Brett also enjoys paying way too much for coffee.