The Testimony of Kevin
Saved From a god Who Abandons Humanity
I have always been someone who has questioned his own worth. It has always been easy to spot the parts I dislike about myself, but terribly difficult to acknowledge the parts of myself which are desirable and good. I have always feared the rejection of other people, and also their abandoning of me. I have rarely felt secure-anxiety and depression have been companions which come and go as they please in my life. It makes sense then, that I am all too proper a candidate for believing in a hateful, angry, quick-to-judge, long-to-forgive, abandoning god. I have long engaged in the worship of this awful god. Each prayer to him only makes me feel more distressed and ashamed. I have often wished to die-hoping that the atheists are right-and that I can at last achieve some peace, even if it means that there is no "I" any longer.
The idea of an eternal hell has harassed me throughout my life-particularly during the past year I have spent in a Christian graduate program. To some degree, I have been surrounded by believers in Universal Reconciliation all my life, but their theology has been foggy at best and totally inexistent at worst. I grew up in the United Church of Christ, which most of you will know as the gay marriage-embracing, liberal laughingstock which conservative evangelicals love to hate. Despite such a stereotype, I must assure you I was taught about hell there by my Sunday school teachers-a hell whose screams were, at that time, "recorded on tape by scientists" investigating a deep hole in some distant region of Russia. As an 8-year-old boy, such descriptions are easily committed to memory and replayed again and again. If I was terrified of the rejection of my playmates?how much more terrified I was of the rejection of God! At the age of 12, I was confirmed (as is the tradition) and "accepted Jesus" as my Savior. However, I did not understand who this Jesus was-I was just glad that my parents and the congregation approved. To this day I admit I struggle with being a prostitute when it comes to doing what I must to "win people's love."
Time continued on, and as I gained stronger reasoning faculties, I began to find my religion too inconsistent and contradictory to believe in. However, more detrimental to my faith than the seeming inconsistencies was the labor of holding onto its fear any longer. Middle school had come and I was formally introduced to evolution?a theory which made sense in light of the sexual activity occurring around me. I saw myself as an awkward, unattractive, thoroughly unpopular kid. Those having the traits opposite my own were already engaging in sexual activities and dating, meanwhile I was not. How I admired them! Further, how I hated myself for admiring them! I was a volatile mix of self-loathing and anger. A quick and dirty Darwinian analysis concluded that my social status was proof enough of evolution, and I secretly affirmed myself an atheist. By the age of 13 I was already experiencing a Major Depressive Episode-though an "atheist," I prayed to God that He would let me die in my sleep so that I would not have to undergo the humiliation of attending school and marring the Earth any further with my disgusting presence.
As high school approached, I began to recognize the hopelessness of my worldview. It became clear enough that I had no real reason to be alive if I was going to go on in my atheism. I decided to reflect a bit on my resources, and determined that I might as well give my faith another glance. "Besides," I thought, "a third of the world population considers itself Christian-and many others believe in some sort of god-so maybe there is something to this." The summer was coming to an end, and my self-consciousness was as high as ever. I did not want to experience high school in as awful a way as the previous few years, and I wondered what I could do to alter my course. The night before 9th grade began, I sat in front of the living room TV only to see "Jesus Christ Superstar" come on. As corny as it may seem, I felt I had found my answer.
My faith was beginning to take root. I sought in my faith what most people seek in a therapist-a safe haven from judgment and pain, an understanding ear to listen to me. I wanted Jesus to protect me from all my classmates who I believed hated me-I wanted Him to give me the love I wanted so badly from the people in my world. My TV offered me another way to Jesus-the 700 Club. I cannot describe the excitement I had when Pat Robertson (funny now, as I look back on it) offered an invitation to accept Jesus, and I "gave my life over to Jesus" all over again. Unlike my confirmation, I felt this very serious-I felt something had actually happened this time while I kneeled there alone. That night my bedroom became my own personal monastery, and I became some sort of contemplative monk. I dug out my Bible, bought others, and began a two-year binge of meditation and prayer. I read scripture, meditated on it, experienced shakes and all sorts of mystical happenings. I watched more evangelical programs, devouring incompatible theologies whole, yet not experiencing any indigestion. I finally gained self-esteem-I was Jesus' "boy." Despite my spiritual "mentors" I somehow decided that everyone was going to be saved. Thoughts seemed to enter my mind spontaneously-thoughts which I was absolutely certain were not my own. I can remember shaking one evening and suddenly being blasted with a firm conviction that all people were going to be saved-even the devil himself! I kept this to myself, of course, because on some level I realized it would seem absurd to most people. However, I became certain that God would not forever go on tolerating resistance to His love-He was going to win us all over sooner or later.
Slowly, over time, I began telling myself that God was obviously rewarding me with such insights since my life was "so awful"- my mystical experiences were repayment for all of the things I was missing out on that the other kids were doing. Though God took me in graciously, I began wanting Him to be tough on everyone else. Besides, if He was easy on them, then what value did I have? I began praying less, meditating less, and reading the Bible less. The less I did these things, the more I began demanding things from God. Finally, one evening, I decided I wanted to put all this on the back burner and go after all those things I had been missing out on. I wanted to date and go out on the weekends, and whatever else other people were doing. It was that evening I had a "dream" - or, rather, a vision. I awoke with a start to see an angel in my room. Intense light shone from him-in fact, he seemed to be the definition of "intense." He lifted his left arm and pointed at some words in the form of golden embers-words in another language I have never seen. I slowly lifted myself from my futon, concerned as to what type of response was expected of me. With that, the angel left. I kneeled there dumbfounded. A moment passed and then my room was flooded with light-as though some explosion was occurring in front of my eyes. It was not an explosion, however, but a Presence-it was Jesus Christ. I found myself forcibly laid out on the floor under this obliterating force. The power and awe is indescribable-there is nothing I have experienced which comes near it. I "awoke" there, on the floor-my face pressed firmly into my carpet. I got back into my futon and laid there shaking-thoroughly grateful for this experience of all experiences! However, I was equally confused. I still, to this day, do not know what was trying to be communicated to me.
Despite such an experience, I continued on with my desire to make contact with other kids and grow a social life. My spiritual life continued to decline-in fact, it seemed like some door had been shut-as though some new era had swept in. I did not feel as though I was abandoned-I still had some form of peace-but I was not as "connected." I thought about my selfishness and repented-but the mystical experiences went away. Although I wasn't happy about this, I pushed it aside in light of the fact college was approaching.
I have to admit, I put a lot of hope into college. My parents assured me I would make lots of friends there and might even find the love of my life. It was a chance to make up for my bland high school experience (a time I now look back on fondly). Feelings of entitlement abounded, and I felt certain I was going to get my fill of life in this new environment. It was a chance to start over, to reinvent myself. However, as soon as I got there, a short (non-sexual) relationship I had gotten into over the summer turned into a dramatic, life-draining ordeal. I explained to the girl I had dated that the distance and timing of our relationship was unfortunate and I didn't want to go on with it. She, in turn, threatened to kill herself. I felt terrible guilt and terrible loneliness-I was not making friends, and already my grades were awful in comparison to my National Honor Society status back in high school. A few more weeks went by and my mom called and told me to come home. Once arriving home, she announced she had breast cancer. My mother has always been the closest friend I've had-she did not know how bad her cancer was, and I assumed the worst (she survived it, got it again, and survived it again). However, I was totally unable to gain stability at this point. I began drinking heavily and going to parties. I tried to date girls who would lead me on to think that things were great, and then reject me soon after. My confusion, bitterness, and depression culminated into a breakdown in which I drunkenly screamed out at God-whom I felt was intentionally laboring me with all these torments. I regret that moment more than any other moment in my life; it has caused me unmentionable guilt, shame, and fear that I have forever lost the one good thing I've ever had-my friendship and fellowship with Christ. I have prayed for His forgiveness countless times since. Sometimes I have despaired that I committed the unpardonable sin. It haunts me continuously.
College continued on, my faith went into a downward spiral as I was plunged into the political and ideological philosophies of my school. Atheism abounded there-not the kind I experienced at 13, but the real kind-the kind which was intellectual and sophisticated. My textbooks were all built on a materialistic foundation. My professors actually stated that belief in a god is "insane." I pushed the issue aside and tried to "live it up" only to become both physically and mentally unhealthy. The list goes on. However, one morning near the end of college, I stood in the shower and felt the most awful, putrid cloud come down over me. I had experienced panic attacks before, and this was not one. This was an existential crisis. I felt the meaninglessness of my life like never before. It was as though I was being commanded to account for myself-to justify my existence. I realized at that moment that I had to find a way back to God. My life had to change .
I decided to apply to several Christian graduate programs in order to find a community that could intellectually back up their faith. I wanted hard arguments which explained evolution, which explained the inconsistencies in theology, which could break down all the resistances I had built up over the years. I also wanted forgiveness, reassurance that God still loved me, that He would take me in like He took in the prodigal son. Well, I am concluding my time here at a Christian graduate school, and I must tell you that I found none of the above. Unquestioning faith has been demanded of me, forgiveness must be earned, and grace is not free. Though the words spoken may say otherwise, actions speak so much louder. Further, the Calvinist theology here has only horrified me with it's implications of God's character. It has also horrified me as to what it makes seem so clear-my status as a reprobate-and my status as a man destined to sin and be condemned to an eternal, fiery hell. It has made me look around me at all the people of the world. I see a face at the McDonald's drive-thru, and I wonder if that person is elect or reprobate. I see a small child in a stroller, and I wonder if that child is elect or reprobate. It goes on and on.
I spent a great deal of my first year here crying and in emotional agony. I have spent it visualizing what hell is like. In my mind I try to find some way to make it seem not so bad, but I quickly visualize the most horrid, unspeakable things. I have prayed and begged for some form of sign that God might show me I have been forgiven-that I will not be sent to hell upon my death-but no sign has appeared. I have experienced countless hellish nightmares. There have been times where I have not been able to enjoy anything-where I am barely aware of what is going on in front of me, because of my preoccupation with obsessive thoughts of hell. People have avoided talking with me because it was not long before I would start talking about hell, if a conversation arose. The idea has tormented me so thoroughly that I was certain I was going to experience a psychotic break-in fact, I nearly welcomed it-if only it would relieve me of my anguish. When I read the school paper, I would often see an editorial where a student minister would warn that if we didn't shape up, we would all be sent to hell. Someone even wrote an article about some students discussing a Seinfeld episode they liked. He said that he "cried tears of sorrow" at hearing this conversation, as they could have used it to "discuss all of the great things the Lord had done for them." The letter ended with the statement: "The cross of Christ takes two full hands to carry! Either use them to embrace the cross, or to embrace the flames of hell forever!" I was stunned. The world which had once seemed to offer so much hope and promise, now only offered despair and damnation. I actually became physically exhausted from all of the anxiety I was experiencing. I broke down in tears in front of students and professors when I discussed how I couldn't bear the idea of an eternal hell-only to be told that I was resisting the will of God-that it was my depravity which poisoned my perception and didn't allow me to see hell as something wonderful. I tried reasoning with myself, although I was nearly crazy. "If I am so depraved that I cannot even tell right from left, up from down, then how can I make any decisions at all! How can I trust anything I experience!?" Each day seemed like an eternity, I drank at least eight large cups of coffee each day to keep myself from collapsing from exhaustion. Everywhere I looked I desperately hoped to find some modicum of compassion-only to find indifference, or cold heartedness.
I wish words could thoroughly express the pain I experienced. It was not only for myself-but for the whole world. I recognize looking back on it that Christ was with me the whole time. It was not until this time that love for all mankind was being cultivated within me-otherwise, how could I weep for everyone? Further, it was during this time that I learned that I could not earn God's love-that I had only to ask, only to give up my insistence on my being unlovable-and He would be there. It was also during this time of struggle that I found the Tentmaker site.
I cannot express how greatly this site has aided me in coming back to my original belief in Universal Reconciliation-the resources here have truly given me a sense of legitimacy. They have also given me a shield against the external (and fading internal) attacks on my frail psyche. You have given all people a safe haven here, a place which truly instills hope and inspiration. I am not one to raise my hands in the air and sing, but when I envision our beautiful Lord eagerly, and tenderly, reaching out to all mankind, I cannot help but cry tears of joy and even sing some praise. My happiest experiences in the last year have been a result of the materials on your site. It has offered me the experience of Joy-something I have not felt for a very long time. I pray that the Lord blesses all of us who only seek the Truth-who truly wish to love our brothers and sisters as Christ loves us, and who eagerly await that time when we will all be made one in perfect love.
God bless you.