I have always been practical and fact-driven, influenced by a childhood spent on a farm, an education focused on biology, and a career as a physical therapist. I was never one to put my confidence in anything speculative, so, despite a Christian upbringing, I long-doubted the existence of God. It’s not that I didn’t try to believe, or want to believe — I just didn’t. Or maybe I couldn’t.
As it happened, twenty years ago life for me became excruciating. I had exhausted all options to stop a person from destroying my family. I was desperate enough to consider God once again — if he did exist, I needed his help. Honestly, in directing a “prayer” to him “somewhere up there in the sky” I was more prepared for no response than for divine intervention.
I remember vividly the afternoon soon after — I was alone on a long, country run when a “presence” suddenly appeared next to me. It was so outside my paradigm of reality, I was more stunned than comforted. The unseen “presence” that matched my strides that day had an actual personality. Similar to how we can discern personalities of humans, I could discern some of his:
Foremost was his overwhelming purity — I felt filthy by comparison the second he appeared. I braced myself for him to point out my contaminants: I was very aware of my hatred toward the person destroying us, not to mention a sudden awareness of more filth within me. To my amazement, no judgment came from him. I could sense his restraint, as if to say, “No that’s not me. You thought that’s what I do … condemn and judge … that’s not who I am.” There were no words, just an emission of that truth about him. He was pure himself, aware of my filth, but he was not there to compare, judge, or condemn.
That was all. It lasted only seconds and rocked me for weeks. I did some digging and found “him” in the Bible: the same personality, the same purity, the same “being” came through the stories. Though I knew many of the Biblical stories were controversial according to scholars (and I agree that many stories are likely metaphorical, not literal), I could care less about that — the God I found in there was the “being” I had met.
Was “he” that I had experienced on my run that day God himself? — I don’t think so. Jesus? — Probably not, though inexplicably I knew Jesus was part of “him” somehow. An angel? — No. The Holy Spirit? — Yes, from what I found in the Bible on my own, that was whom I had met.
I remember telling a close friend, “Why didn’t anyone tell me the Holy Spirit makes himself palpable on the Earth today? I went to church my whole life and nobody told me. That would have been helpful, so I could have avoided my whole thinking and world being upended.”
Why God responded as he did that day and not the countless times I had reached out to him previously, I do not know. Perhaps it was because he knew there was a shipwreck just ahead for me. Perhaps it was to offer himself as a lifeline even before my young sons and I were dumped into an inhospitable sea.
The “why” did not matter — he had shown himself once; that was all I needed to want his constant, ongoing presence. Infrequent visits and aid were unacceptable to me — I wanted him alongside every minute of every day. I put a demand on him — I expected him to be with me, “speak” to me, advise and guide me.
I thought I was prepared for what I was asking. I was not. Nowhere near.
For the first few years, unexpected spiritual experiences startled me: “knowing things” placed there by God; “seeing things” that perfectly provided answers I needed in ceaseless problems I faced; visions and dreams of grand concepts I could not possibly understand, and his frequent palpable presence, which I loved but which also overwhelmed me. Each experience left me steadied, helped, and deeply honored to be in his confidence, but they also emphatically disturbed my understanding of the world. I had no one to turn to, no one who had experienced God in the same way. Whom could I tell who wouldn’t think me crazy? Who would believe me? I never felt more alone.
In my quest for information and human comfort, I sought “serious” Bible-teaching churches. I assumed those who were especially “religious” would understand the spiritual world that had collided with my earthly one. Those I confided in identified everything I had experienced as happening to plenty of people before … in Bible days. That was little comfort to me. I thought, “It’s the 1990’s and I’m a freak!” It sounds funny to me now, but initially I resented the very God that was keeping me afloat — I never asked for all that he was. He had rocked the world as I knew it. In doing so, I had become a person even longstanding Christians eyed with suspicion.
I am indebted to the accepting, knowledgeable, and helpful people I met in those early years. At the same time, in the very places I sought refuge, the harshest, cruelest of people came out of the woodwork to confront me. That was when I first saw unchecked evil hiding behind “religion” within the Church. It persists today — the mismatch between our pure Creator and the religious institution that is often nothing like him.
Hard-hearted, legalistic religious people pursue others uninvited. They begin harmlessly enough, but quickly move to their agendas. They always want something: power, control, attention, exaltation, limelight, money, endorsement, insight, silence regarding their abuses, or to gain one more pelt to sling over their predator backs. If they meet resistance, they don’t hesitate to impose, manipulate, and bully. They fancy themselves as “gatekeepers” to God.
Yes, there is much ugliness in the Church …
I refuse to blame God or all Christians for the perversions of some. He gives us free will — what people do with it is theirs to own.
Jesus addressed religious people like that as, “You brood of vipers”, “snakes”, “strangers”, “wolves”, “evil doers”, “of the devil”, and “fools”. You would think hate-fueled “Christians” (are they really Christians?) would learn — they only make the rest of us more determined to advocate for the people they condemn; they only expose their own hearts, making it easier to know we must route around them.
People are not the keeper of the gate to God. They never were, and never will be. No human can block the passage of anyone on Earth who wants to enter. Jesus corrected the Pharisees who played bouncers and gatekeepers in his day with this:
“Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10: 7-10