I’ve struggled for years with Bible reading. After I was thrown out of a church in 2000, I started having more and more difficulty, but particularly after I moved to a new city and a new church. So for 16-17 years, I’ve struggled. I knew the push for reading the Bible in a year was part of the problem, but recently I’ve realized there is a whole lot more to it.
So much of what I was taught in the church I was thrown out of was oriented to a judgmental, punishing god. This was a god who wouldn’t answer prayers (at least not mine), who would stand by and watch as someone tried everything and was still thrown out, a god who would give up on people or turn his back on people. This was a god who would send people to hell for wearing pjs or brightly colored tights or a wedding band. Sermons that were respected were about god cutting people off, about people never being able to get back to god if they ‘fell away’, of warnings about people going to hell… I was told that they didn’t even know if I could be saved, and then was warned at the interim church I ended up in that I should never talk about what had happened or that I’d been kicked out, which added more fear to what I was already dealing with, and with no outlet but only shame and secrecy.
When I moved to a new state and a new church, there were many more ‘good’ sermons about how people were going to hell in addition to what I’d already heard. People quoted scripture at me to justify themselves and excuse their behavior as well as to blame me for whatever was happening. It became harder and harder under all the condemnation to see God in any other way.
I could see that the god my former churches taught about wasn’t a realistic picture of God, but I couldn’t reconcile what I read in the scriptures (as much as they’d been twisted) with what I thought should be a loving, faithful, forgiving, merciful God. So I avoided the Bible. I didn’t need another daily reminder of a malicious god.
In all this time, all these years, I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’d heard that God valued us or that he loved me personally. Not as a platitude, but as a real, heartfelt statement. I didn’t realize how much I’d been taught and how much I believed that Jesus died the death he did because he had to die the most gruesome death possible to take the punishment that I deserved. I didn’t realize the guilt or even the illogic of that — there are plenty of types of death that are gruesome and involve torture. Crucifixion was terrible, but men have thought of other gruesome modes of death, too. It’s not about my sin. It’s not about how awful I am, but about how much God wants a relationship with all of us — not so much that he would die, but so much that he came as a human, grew as a human, lived as a human, and died as a human, experiencing everything that we do in order to relate to us, even including death… to restore relationship. The one who relates best, after all, is the one who’s walked in our shoes. And so Jesus did.
Sin doesn’t separate us from God because he can’t be around sin… it separates us from God because we are too ashamed, too guilty, too whatever to be with HIM. God knew Adam and Eve sinned, but he still came for his walk with them in the garden. It was they who hid, not God. God never stopped trying to connect to us. Everything I was taught even as a child was so backward.