As a kid, I was taught many different stories in the Bible. I can still remember my Nana acting out the stories of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Jezebel and King Ahab, Samson and Delilah, the Tower of Babel, Esther and the king, Ruth and Boaz, David and Bathsheba, and especially Joseph and the coat of many colors (my Nana’s favorite).
I still remember hearing stories at my childhood friends’ house, as their mom would tell us about Samuel the prophet, Deborah the prophetess, and Jael, one of the most bada** women of the Bible. And I remember reading excitedly in the books of Daniel and Revelation about the world’s impending doom, knowing me and my friends were safe in our Father’s hands and that Jesus was coming for us soon.
Those stories had always felt so real when I was around others who believed in them so whole heartedly. My Nana has unwavering faith, and as a child, of course I believed everything she ever told me. I still do. And when I would hear about prophets in the Bible and the amazing women featured there and the prophecies not yet fulfilled, I would believe it all. So unchallenged to accept everything told to me in faith, because that is what I was always taught, so it all must be true. I still do believe it is all true, those stories all really happened. Jael drove a peg through an evil man’s head, God spoke audibly to Samuel as a boy, the sun stood still and time froze during a battle, the Red Sea and Jordan River split, Joseph’s brothers coldly sold him into slavery and he ended up saving them from death, God spoke through a burning bush to Moses, Esther saved all the Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego hung out with Jesus in a fiery furnace and lived, Daniel was thrown into a lions den and was not harmed, and Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
All of these really happened, but for some reason, as I was reading through the Old Testament by myself, the enemy tried to convince me these stories were just that, stories.
At first, I was like “Ha, nice try Satan! How ’bout you back off so I can keep reading about my God?” But then I began to read through Leviticus and Numbers, soon I was in Judges, and then I made it into 1 King’s, when I just stopped believing the words on the page. Everything seemed ludicrous and no matter how hard I tried to suppress it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was reading wasn’t real. And I was so angry with myself for even allowing these thoughts any where near my head, but, sitting on my bed alone, reading about David screwing up for the thousandth time, I felt disconnected with the characters. I felt as if they were just characters and I couldn’t shake this feeling that this hadn’t really happened and whoever wrote it must have one heck of an imagination.
Just so we’re clear, throughout this process, I still believed in God. I still believed he was a good and faithful God whom with I had a personal relationship and spoke with daily. It was just the stories I was having a problem with, I couldn’t wrap my mind around them.
Today, in church, the pastor said in order to grow, we have to be open to allowing Jesus to reveal in us “pollution” that is hindering our production of fruit. This “pollution” can either be known or unknown, but the second you admit it’s there, that is when you have to deal with it. When he said that, I finally believed that I had a problem with the stories of the Old Testament. Before today, I wasn’t able to admit to that. It felt very unchristian of me to doubt the stories that basically make up Christianity. But once I accepted that the problem was there, I was able to search for a solution. The rest of the sermon was about Matthew 5:13-48, how we are the light and salt of the earth, meaning we are new creations in Christ and should act like it. In church, I find it so much easier to fall in love with God’s word. Not only is it such a beautifully written masterpiece, but it is also the WORD OF GOD, the God I serve! I noticed in my excitement where a lot of my problem with the stories of the Old Testament lies.
I get excited about God when I surround myself with those who love him. It was easier to believe the story of Joseph when my Nana would tell it. It was easier to believe the story of Jael when my friends’ mom would tell it. It’s always easier to believe in God when others do. Now, no my identity in God should not be wrapped up in the fact that everyone around me believes in him. And I know this to be true because even in my questions about the Old Testament stories, my faith in God didn’t waver. I just had questions I was afraid to ask. I still do have those questions. But when I surround myself with others who are excited about God, I can explore those questions in a healthy way. There is a reason God made us communal beings and calls us the body of Christ, it is because we need each other. It is very difficult to have faith in God by ourselves (yes, it is possible, look at Job, but I don’t think it is what God intended, I think he wants us to love him together), and that’s why we need each other. We learn about God communally and we hear from him as a body. While all of our faith goes in Christ alone, we encourage that faith in one another as we worship and learn about him together. It’s okay for me to have questions, but I shouldn’t try to answer them alone. Yes, personal Bible study is important, but where two or more are gathered together in his name, Christ is in their midst. I think my problem was I was trying to learn about him on my own, without any outside help in an attempt to feel like I could do it alone, and in that, I got stuck in my own head. The enemy came in and planted thoughts I never thought I’d have and I let him. By trying to serve God without his help and the help of others, I entertained unbelief.
I realized all of this in a single moment during the church service today.
We were in the middle of communion, singing songs and reading Bible verses to ourselves as they displayed briefly on the screen. I had been trying to keep my cool throughout the sermon and even more so, I held my breath for fear I would break down if I didn’t during the worship. Then they placed Romans 8:38-39 on the screen. I read it to myself and half way through the first sentence, I felt something in me break. It hit me hard and tears began streaming down my face. I read the rest of the verse and silently cried. As the worship leaders began singing again, I tried to sing along, but my chest was too tight and the knot in my throat too big so I just cried and raised my hands. I’m not sure when I finally drank the grape juice, or when the Pastor prayed us out, or when we even began packing up. I just remember suppressing my sobs and trying to get ahold of myself. I swallowed and breathed, but God just kept whispering in my ear “I’m here. I’m real. And I love YOU.” And then I’d feel my chest tighten again and my heart beat uncontrollably and I wonder, how could I have allowed the enemy to flirt with me? How could I have forgotten my first love? Though, in hind sight, I do wish I wouldn’t have suppressed my feelings and would have just cried, but I was with friends and had to catch a bus back home, so I guess my cry-sesh with God would have to wait. I gathered myself, asked if my makeup was running, and put my thoughts on hold until I was able to sort through them.
As we got on the bus, one of my friends admitted to crying as well and we both realized it was at the exact same moment, while reading the verse in Romans. She expressed to me about how all the things she had been learning about God keep connecting and blowing her mind. As she spoke, God’s love crept around me again and I had to look out the window to keep myself from crying again. Even as I type, I have to breath deeply and calmly so I don’t start weeping. God was good to me today, too good. I didn’t deserve the reassurance he placed in my heart, but he loves me so much that he was willing to tell me he loved me again. I was stupid to have forgotten, to have played with the idea that his stories aren’t real, to have relied on my own flawed mind, but my God loves me so much that he gently opened my heart and revealed in me what I wanted to pretend wasn’t there. I was questioning him, I was wondering about the wrong things, my eyes wavered from his presence, and I stumbled. But he caught me, my God caught me, dusted me off, and said, “Come back, child. Keep your eyes on me and you won’t fall. Give me your heart and I’ll make it new. You are light.”
Romans 8:38-39 says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Though I may have questions and doubts may try to hurt me, my God’s love is never ending. He loves me too much to keep me the same and I am ever growing in Christ-like maturity.
Thought I don’t have much of an answer now, God has placed this question on my heart “If everyone around you spit on God and stopped believing, would you still love him? Would you still serve him?” I challenge you to ask yourself this questions as I ask myself. (Shout-out to Job for being the epitome of faith in God).
[Photo by: Hannah Nicole Martin]