Editor’s Note: This is the prologue to an excessively long essay that the Chief has been working on when he feels in the mood. It will be followed by other sections as we manage to pry them out of him. We should note that he still considers this a draft copy and reserves the right to go back and make changes. So if it looks different from time to time you were warned
I grew up in a family of extreme religious fundamentalists. What that means in practice is that our beliefs affected the way we lived and there were lots of kids.
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting around while my father read from the Bible out loud. Sometimes it would be just one chapter. Sometimes it would be multiple chapters. And it would almost always be followed by a discussion lasting at least an hour.
Often these discussions would start off with my father asking if we had any questions. If we were foolish enough to not have any questions, he would ask us questions instead since we understood the passage so well. Other times he would lead off with questions for us. Especially if he thought we were not paying attention.
As a result of my father’s educational efforts I knew my Bible well long before I hit my teenage years. That is a body of knowledge that is rare for a child to have, even amongst extreme religious fundamentalists. In fact, most Christians consider large parts of the Old Testament to be too educational for young children.
Perhaps that is an unnecessarily pejorative way of putting things. But a Sunday school teacher cannot say “Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion” to a room full of six year olds without causing a scandal. And most parents are no braver in the privacy of their own homes. They have enough trouble with the “Birds and the Bee’s” without dealing with such biblical things as gang rape, incest, or sexual acts for the purpose of making political points.
But my father had no such inhibitions. For him, the suggestion that certain parts of the Old Testament should not be read to young children was just short of blasphemy. And he firmly believed that if adults lied or tired to evade a child’s question then they had no right to expect children to respect them when they grew up. As a result, I acquired my sex ed education along with my biblical education.
To be honest, the explanation of the mechanics of sex did not make much of an impression on me as child. The only thing that makes sex a fascinating subject is hormones. When you lack hormones the knowledge of the reproductive practices of the human race only serve to prove that the world is a weird place.
What did make an impression on me as a child was some of the more violent aspects of the Old Testament. As a child I could not identify with the lusts that causes men do what they do, but the extermination of little children hit close to home. Naturally, I asked questions about why it was necessary for Israel to kill little children in its conquest of the Promised Land and I received back answers of sufficient depth and complexity that they would have put St. Augustine to shame. But this did not keep the subject from being something that I wrestled with in my mind.
It was not that I doubted the validity of the explanations that I was given. When you are child, you are not inclined to doubt adults as long as they play it straight with you. But it still was not something I could avoid thinking about. One thing in particular that I remember pondering was the simple mechanics of the act. How do you kill a little baby? What little TV I watched as child (we did not have a TV in our house so I only watched it at other people houses) gave me the illusion that I understood what the killing of adults was like. But I could not comprehend how you would go about killing a little baby.
If I had understood the Bible better as a child, I would have understood that the Bible itself contained an explanation as to how babies were killed. As Isaiah says about a coming judgment on Babylon; Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished. I read passages likes this as a child, but I did not understand exactly how literal the Old Testaments prophets were being when they spoke of infants being dashed to pieces. It was only after I was older and had read widely in history that I found that the method that Isaiah and other prophets were describing of killing babies was pretty constant across time and cultures.
People who are out to kill babies in a businesslike manner usually do so by taking advantage of the soft head that babies have. Thus, they either give a sharp blow to head or by picking the infant up by the legs and smashing it into a nearby hard object a couple of times. This process is kind of messy hence Isaiah describing it as being “dashed to pieces.”
Of course, there have always been those who are out to get some entertainment out of the act of killing a baby. Those people have used (and will continue to use) a wider variety of killing methods. Depending on the time or place, those methods might consist of such things as throwing babies up in the air and trying to spear them as they came down or by throwing them live into a fire. But those methods are not very efficient. Generally, the methods that Isaiah described are used because soldiers out to exterminate a conquered city don’t have a lot of time to mess around. Massacres can be hard enough work as it is without making them unnecessarily elaborate.
But such facts are really beside the point. The crucial issue was that I was aware as a child that Old Testament was not full of simple morality tales with happy endings. I knew that it was full of dark and horrible things. I knew that even on the Old Testament’s own terms, it is often impossible to make much of a distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” (think of the story of the Levite and his concubine for example). This understanding fostered in me a deep distrust for institutional Christianity.
As most people who have grown up in a Christian environment can tell you, there are only certain bible stories that are commonly taught to the children in your average Christian church. There is David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Whale, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the Fiery Furnace, The Parting of the Red Sea, and various miracle stories taken from the New Testament. I am sure that I have left a few out. But every story from the Bible that they will teach children is carefully shaped to have two things in common; a simple moral and a happy ending.
Now I did not receive the full measure of this kind of education. For most of the time that I was child we did not go to conventional churches. As a result, the churches that we went to did not have a traditional Sunday school where children are bundled off to be educated separately from the adults. Nonetheless, when one grows up in a social circle that is heavily populated with Christians of various types, one cannot avoid experiencing a certain amount of this type of education.
There were numerous times when I would go Sunday school when I was staying over at cousin’s or a friend’s house. Furthermore, I once was convinced (I don’t remember how) to go to vacation bible school for a season. And last but not least, I was exposed to vast quantities of Christian educational materials aimed at children.
But all of these experiences had the opposite effect on me as the one that was intended. I could not help making the comparison between the Bible as I knew it and the Bible as it was presented to me by the Christian educators. By presenting only the parts of the Bible that made for good fairy tales they turned themselves into fakes and frauds in my eyes. I could not tolerate the fact that they ignored the issues that I struggled with as a child to focus on the parts that made a good story. They were not presenting the Bible as it really was; they were presenting the Bible as they wanted you to perceive it. And I knew it.
As I have said before, children are inclined to trust. But by the same token, children have little forgiveness for adults that they perceive to be misleading them. Children know that adults are more powerful and more knowledgeable then they are. That makes children all the more furious and frightened when they find out that adults are not playing it straight with them.
Of course, this did not impact how I viewed my father. After all, he played it straight and there was no subject that he was afraid to tackle. But he did not exactly discourage my distrust of the various Christian teachers. In fact, in many ways he encouraged it. Part of this encouragement was rooted in various theological and philosophical differences he had with various Christian teachers. But his overriding concern is was that I not believe in anything just because of peer pressure or out of a desire to be like my mommy and daddy.
My father’s concern that I not believe in anything because of a desire to conform to the wishes of other people existed in a kind of tension with my father’s desire to pass on his faith. He desired, in fact, he felt it to be his duty to see that we knew and understood the Bible to the best of his ability. On the other hand, he made it clear to me as soon as I was old enough to be left by myself (which was quite young in his opinion, my age was not quite in the double digits at the time as best as I can recall) that I did not have to go Church with the rest of the family. I took him up on the offer once, though I don’t remember why. The church we were going to at the time was not something that bothered me (there was no Sunday school for one thing). I think that I just wanted to prove that I could.
But above and beyond such token gestures, my father took care to teach us about the dangers of peer pressure especially when it came to matters of faith. And as always, my father pulled no punches when he taught these lessons. There is one particular lesson that my father taught me in this regard that made a particularly strong impression on me.
The lesson started with my father calling me over from what I was doing and telling me he had something for me read. I knew this was going to be some serious stuff because he told me that we needed to talk about it when I finished reading it. This caused me a little trepidation.
You see, my father often gave me to things to read just because he thought I would be interested in them. These were relaxing affairs. At worst, my father would be off in his assessment and I would not find it all that interesting. But often it was the best kind of fun to be had. Some guys take their kids fishing; my dad had me read things so we could talk about them. It was fun, relaxing, and there was no stress.
But it was different when my father had serious things he wanted to teach me. Then it was like having your father teach you how to box. No matter how much you wanted to learn (and for the most part, I wanted to learn) the lessons could be awful rough. The stuff he gave you to read was almost always really hard to understand. Yet it did not matter if the best minds born to men over the last thousand years had struggled with the issue hand, you had to demonstrate that you could handle it. You had to demonstrate that you understood the difficult passages that he gave you to read. You had to have intelligent thoughts about what you read. And you had to follow his commentary on what you had just read. Since his commentary was often more complicated then the material he had you read, this could be the most difficult bit.
Through it all, you would be desperately trying to avoid that most horrible of fates: disappointing your father. And disappoint him you would, if you stood there like a deer in headlights, unable to make sense of it all. The only thing worse would be to try to fake some kind of understanding.
So as I said, I was a little bit anxious when out the blue my father said he had something I needed to read so that we could talk about it. When he said that we needed to talk about something it generally meant that it was something serious. And as I have said, that generally meant it was going to be a struggle to both understand it and answer my father’s questions. But what he gave me to read was nothing like what I expected.
It was a short autobiographical story written by some famous jazz player. I wish I could remember his name so that I could find the story again and save it in some safe place. But all I can remember is that it was in some kind of collection of essays that my Dad had.
Whoever this author was, he had a gift for writing. There was little bit of back-story in this essay about how he went to live with his aunt and uncle in New Orleans (it may have been his grandparents, it has been awhile since I read the essay) who were strict Pentecostals. But the main focus of his essay (and the part that sticks in my mind the most) was the efforts that were undertaken to get him saved.
He was such a good writer that I felt like I was there when his Aunt and Uncle’s particular Pentecostal church decided to save all the children in the Church who were not yet saved. I could feel myself sitting up there on the front pew with all of the other un-saved children. I could see how everyone crowded around them and prayed over them with all of the energy that the Pentecostals can muster. I could hear the preachers whooping and hollering as they promised hell fire and implored the children to make the right choice. And how easy it was for me to picture the rejoicing as one by one the children did the right thing and got saved.
Then the essay got even more painful. As the day wore on the author of the essay and a boy who was known for his irreverent wickedness were the only ones left on the pew. This boy turned to the author of the essay and said “I am tired of this tomfoolery; I am going to tell these fools that I have been saved.” And suiting actions to his words, he joined the company of the saved.
And so the author of the essay was left all alone on the pew in shocked confusion. He had been praying all day that he might be saved. But nothing ever happened to him. He knew from what he had been told that when you where saved, you saw Jesus or you experienced overwhelming joy. But nothing had happened to him though he has been praying the whole day long. Now he can see this boy whose reputation for blasphemy had made him infamous smiling like the cat that ate the canary from amongst the saved.
No lighting struck that boy for making a mockery out of salvation. No sigh of heavenly displeasure made its self known to prove that boy was lying when he was claiming the heavenly gifts so dear to the Pentecostals. And the author of our essay was still surrounded by people praying for his salvation and preaching hellfire and damnation.
None of his own prayers for salvation were being answered. But the pressure of being alone on the pew surrounded by people who were determined that he be saved became too great to bear. So at last he gave in and with much rejoicing in the Church, he joined to the company of the saved. That night he lay sobbing in his bed. His aunt thought they were tears of joy brought about by his salvation. But he was crying because he knew that he had lied.
My retelling from memory does a poor job of representing the power of that essay. Although the author made no bones about the fact that he had no use for Christianity, he had none of the bitter anger and contempt that characterizes the writings of so many atheists. Or at least, if he did, my young self was not able to perceive it. As I remember it, the essay was straight up attempt to honestly relay the experience of a young boy as it happened overlaid with a deep sense of sadness.
Regardless of how well I understood the underlying subtext of the essay, it made a profound impact on me when I read it. I was somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12 at the time I read it, and I could identify with it all too well. At that time I had not had much experience with Pentecostals per say, but I knew the type of pressure he had been under.
To be sure, in my limited experience as a child I never knew of the pressures being taken to the extreme depicted in the essay. But I was aware of busy bodies whose idea of serving the Lord was to collar children and ask them if they had accepted Jesus as their savior or not. This put you in an awkward spot for there was no good answer to this question. You could hardly say that you did not believe what your parents and all the other adults professed. Indeed, you did not want to say that even if it had been an acceptable response. What child wants to repudiate his family’s faith? But as kid confronted with an adult, I could not articulate what it was that was keeping me from jumping on the bandwagon.
I could hardly say that I was not going to be lectured on the magical spell that they called the sinners prayer by a group of people who edited the Bible down to series of pleasant fairy tales for children. It would not have been polite. Besides, it missed the real issue. I honestly did not know what my problem was. Of course that would not have been an acceptable answer to those demanding to know if I had accepted Jesus as my savior. So my preferred response was to pretend I had not heard them and walk away. Not very brave perhaps, but it worked.
I think it was the fact I honestly did not know what my problem was that caused the essay to make such a big impact on me. I did not need to read an essay about a jazz’s player’s unfortunate experience with being saved to understand that it is wrong to pressure kids into saying the right words. But the underlying dilemma was something that I tried to avoid facing.
I could not reject the Christian faith and yet somehow I could not join the ranks of the saved. I always smoothed away this difficulty with the thought that as I grew up this problem would resolve itself. But faced with a jazz player describing how he had laid in bed and cried knowing that he had lied, I had to face the fact that it would be equally easy for me to fake being saved. I knew all the right things to say. Young as I was, I could cite chapter and verse if necessary. If I had what it took to fake it, why did I lack what it took for the real thing?
To put it another way, I had no reason to think that the process of growing up was going to resolve my problem. I had no reason to think that I could avoid growing into a man who could not honestly say he was saved. Since most of the adults that I loved and respected professed the faith, this was an intolerable thought. Yet even more intolerable was thought that I would profess a faith that I did not have. A solution to this problem was beyond me.
But life went on. As I grew older (though still preteen, I can rarely remember precise dates, but I can remember various markers in my life that enable me to remember roughly where things would have had to happen) I encountered a new problem. I started noticing a kind of hollowness or emptiness inside of me. If I kept active playing or doing other things I could ignore it. But whenever I stopped to think it would dominate my mind. Since I was by nature a daydreamer this was an intolerable situation.
I don’t know what caused this to happen. I have read that some kids suffer from depression with the onset of puberty so maybe that had something to do with it. Arguing against this is the fact that I remember this starting well before I hit my teenage years. Still, I matured early so this explanation can’t be ruled out.
Regardless of the cause, what sticks in my mind is how different this experience was from how I would later experience depression. To my mind, depression is a state where everything seems worthless and there is no conceivable relief. But this emptiness that I experienced as a pre-teen was different. I could still have fun if I put my mind to it. It did not make everything seem worthless. It was more like a type of hunger than a type of despair in that you can feel hungry and yet that feeling will not overwhelm everything else that you are experiencing like despair will.
In fact, it was so much like a type of hunger that I once tried to make it go away by stuffing myself to the gills. I knew it was not going to work before I even tried it. But the feeling emptiness was driving me nuts. I could not figure out what was causing it and I could not figure out how to make it go away. And when you don’t know anything you will try anything. So I set out to prove to myself that how much I ate had nothing to do with the feeling. I succeed in this at least, but it did not help me with the underlying problem.
I don’t want to overstate the problems this caused me. To my knowledge nobody knew that I was having any kind of problem because my outward behavior did not change. And when something does not change how you behave, it can’t be that bad of problem. But it was a problem that bothered me nonetheless.
This went on for some time. While I was experiencing this problem I made a shocking discovery. My father had purchased some tapes from Focus on the Family. I don’t precisely remember how I made this shocking discovery. I think my saw my father listening to the tapes in his bedroom with the door opened and I stopped in to see what he was doing. The only thing I clearly remember is my shock at seeing the tapes with the Focus on the Family logo stamped on them.
This just blew my little brain. My father did not have much use for Dr. James Dobson to put it mildly. The thought that my father would spend money (of which there was always a shortage in our house) buying tapes from that man’s organization was so out of character I could hardly believe it.
Needless to say, I would up listening to these tapes all the way through with my father. They contained a speech by Corrie Ten Boom. Even though she was made famous by the book “The Hiding Space” I had never heard of her up until that point. So her stories of her efforts to save the Jews and of her time in the concentration camps were totally new to me.
It was a very interesting tape to listen to. But to tell the truth I don’t remember much of what was on it. It is all conflated in my mind with the material that is in “The Hiding Space” which I read much later. (It may have been one of the speeches here, but I would not trust my memory).
Ironically enough, what struck in my mind the most was when she encouraged her audience accept Jesus as their savior. She must have been speaking to an audience of young people who came from Christian backgrounds because as I remember it she laid great emphasis on how worthless it was to go to church or to have Christian parents. I remember her giving her personal testimony as a way of stressing the fact that being a Christian was a personal thing between an individual and God. And I remember her encouraging her audience to not let anything stand in the way of turning to Christ themselves.
To be honest, I don’t remember what she said all that well even in this regard. I am trying hard not to put words in her mouth and yet still give the sense of what she said as best as I remember it. Truthfully, I don’t recall that what she said was all the different than the standard line that I had heard a million times before. To the extent that it made an impression on me it was because of who she was, not what she said.
But an even bigger factor was the previously mentioned empty feeling. I was willing to give food a shot even though I did not think that it would work. Why not try what Karl Marx called the opiate of the masses? Of course, I did not really think of that way. However, nothing had really changed as far as the formless barrier that kept me from the faith was concerned. I still knew all the right words and could say all the right doctrines. They were things I knew because I had been taught them but they were not real to me.
In the face of my feeling of emptiness, I decided that this would not stop me. My father, my mother, many other adults that I loved and respected all testified to the same thing. And now I had Corrie Ten Boom challenging me not to let any barriers stand in my way. Why let a formless objection that I did not even understand bar my way?
So I resolved to get myself saved that night.
Now I should note that it was my habit when I was kid to pray when I went to bed. I did not do any of this “Now I lay myself down to sleep” stuff. Being in a poor family, prayer was the only practical way I had to address any future needs or wants I might be worried about. And since it generally worked, I did not need anyone to tell me to keep doing it. A cynic might suspect that was a bit of selection bias behind my belief that prayer generally worked. But when you are poor enough every bit of good fortune seems miraculous. At least, that is how it worked in my case.
And if you were going to pray it was natural that one would do it at night. In a big family, that was the only time you could get some kind of privacy. Besides, a kid is not inclined to slow down until then.
And so I waited until it was time to go to bed to commence trying to get myself saved. I worked on it almost all night long. I prayed all the right prayers—I knew what to ask for and how to phrase it. When none of the more formal requests for salvation and personal relationship with Jesus Christ seemed be working out, I decided my faith must not be quite strong enough. So I tried to pray based off of the example of the man with the epileptic son; “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” But that did not achieve the desired results either.
The long and the short of it is that I tried just as hard as the jazz musician did when he was younger and all I got for my efforts was the same result. Ironically, my original intention was to put myself in a position similar to one that the Pentecostals put the jazz musician into as a young boy. That is to say, just as the Pentecostals did not intend to let the kids off the pew until they had got saved I did not intend to let myself fall asleep until I had got myself saved. The hypocrisy of thinking that what the Pentecostals did was wrong and yet somehow thinking it made sense to make myself stay up all night eluded me for some reason.
It did not work, of course. Kids are kids, and I could not make myself stay awake all night praying. I made a good effort of it though. I saw the alarm clock in my room go past midnight. I saw it go by one o’clock in the morning. I saw it go past two o’clock in the morning. But I don’t think I made it much past that. The very fact that I can remember looking at the clock shows how hard it was for me to focus on what I was doing. It is tough to pray through the night.
The fact that I was prepared ahead of time to put in such an effort just goes to show how little confidence I had that it would work. You are not supposed to have to make a big production out of asking Jesus to come into your heart. All you are supposed to have to do is confess that you are a sinner and can do nothing of yourself to please God. You must also confess that Jesus Christ is God incarnate sent to die on the cross for all our sins and that he was raised up on third day to be with God the Father. Having confessed these things one must ask for forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of oneself to God in the name of Jesus Christ.
There are many of ways of articulating this basic request. Some are more simplistic. Some are more sophisticated. But all of them are an attempt to lay claim to the promises made in the New Testament. For as all Christians know, John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
But it is not only the Gospel of John that makes such a claim. It is all through the New Testament. For example Romans 10:9-13 says….
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
And as Acts 16:29-34 records….
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.
And many other passages could be quoted along the same line. It is the core of Christian message. Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
That believe part is a real gotcha, though. Your failure to experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can always be ascribed to a lack of faith. Yet just try to make yourself believe something. If you are anything like me, the more you try to make yourself believe something the more little nagging doubts will eat at you.
This was my problem in the aftermath of my long night. I knew that the standard explanation for why I failed to get saved was that I lacked the necessary faith. And to that charge how could I defend myself? I had all the faith I could muster, but how could I deny it lacked the absolute sense of certainty perfect faith should have? How could I avoid fleeting doubts no matter how hard I tried to banish them?
The end result of my night of trying to get myself saved left me feeling pretty disgusted with God. I had made an honest effort to lay hold of the promises laid out in the New Testament. No crowd of people was around me trying to pressure me into being saved. I was not offering up those prayers with the intention of proving God was a liar. And yet my faith still was not good enough.
I felt that God owed me an explanation. I knew that many people had given up a belief in God for less cause then I felt I had. I was not ready to go that far, but I was not a happy camper. I had done everything I could, based on my best understanding of the Bible. And I felt that my understanding of the Bible was equal to that of most grown men (I have always been arrogant). There was no good reason for me not to join the ranks of the saved, as far as I was concerned.
And so I more or less stopped my habit of praying at night. I gave God the silent treatment, as it were. Every now and again, I would remind him that the ball was in his court and he needed to show me what I needed to do to be saved.
I don’t know how long I went on like this. I don’t think it lasted much more than a couple of months. All I remember for sure is how it ended.
My dad was having a Bible study over at our house with some other men. It was an adult Bible study and it was not expected that I be there. But if I wanted to hang out nobody was going to drive me away. And since the men who were coming were not the regular cast of characters that I was use to my father having Bible studies with, I was curious to see how it was all going to turn out. Part of my curiosity stemmed from the fact that I knew my father had differences with the men who were coming, and so I wanted to know how those things would be handled.
As it turned out, it was quite a boring affair. People talked and talked just for the sake of hearing themselves talk. The differences were never dealt with. I don’t even think that most people understood the implication of most of what my father said. And in any case, he did not say much because the other people were talking so much. So I very quickly got bored and turned inward to deal with my own thoughts.
So I don’t really remember how the Bible study got on to a conversation about prayer. That was not what the Bible study was supposed to be about. But suddenly the words that my father was saying cut through my daydreaming. He was talking about prayer and using incidents from his own life to illustrate his points. I only dimly remember what he said. I pretty sure he referenced events from the Vietnam War and other times of hardship and struggle in his life. It was all stuff I had heard before.
But as I was listening to my father talk about prayer it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I suddenly understood that it did not matter how I felt or what I said when I prayed. It did not matter if I could conjure up an emotional state free of doubt. It did not matter how much of the Bible I understood or how many theological talking points I could muster. Nothing I could do or say would warrant a response from God on its own terms.
From as far back as I could remember I had understood that I could not be perfect enough for God. What child does not understand how it impossible it is to be perfect? But what I had not understood was the fact that even the righteousness that comes by faith was impossible for me to obtain. I could not muster up faith out of my own resources anymore than I could make myself do righteous works. I was completely dependent on the mercy of God for there was nothing I could do.
Yet the thought of being completely dependent on the mercy of God did not disturb me. On the contrary, I knew that God would answer the prayers I had prayed on that long night even though he had not yet done so. His reasons for delaying were as beyond me as any attempt I could have at faith. But I knew He would answer them in his own good time. Not because of my child like attempts to manipulate him, but because of what He had done and what He had said he would do.
I don’t really know how to articulate this understanding. I can’t explain how I derived it from what my father was saying. More to the point, if I had been able to travel back in time and explain all this to my past self, I doubt it would have made any difference. My past self would have only said “I know” to everything I could have said. There is a big difference between hearing something that you are able to regurgitate back up on demand and understanding something for yourself. And that night, during a boring Bible study that I was not really paying attention to, I understood it for myself.
And so that night I again went to pray. I did not intend to ask for anything, I only wanted to express my newfound understanding. But I could not even form the words of a prayer before it happened.
I have tried in the past to explain what it was like. But trying to describe the receiving of the Holy Spirit is like trying to paint a picture of God. No matter how true our experience, our articulation of it must necessarily be inadequate. And what is an inadequate articulation good for, except for building idols?
The hungering and thirsting for God must be personal and the experiencing of God must also be personal. And I have no reason to believe that either of those experiences is always the same in all respects. After all, I have not seen tongues of fire or heard a voice from heaven inquiring as to why I was persecuting him. But for what it is worth, I have never had that peculiar empty feeling that I had been suffering from since that night.
Some people who are less shy describing their experiences describe being overwhelmed by joy. But if I was overwhelmed by anything, it was by amazement. I could not believe that it happened and yet I could not deny that it had. I knew the type of religious ecstasy that comes from being caught up in the religious experiences of a crowd. Such experiences are ephemeral, but no less powerful for all that. Could it be that such was all that I experienced was something like that (albeit without the crowd)?
I knew this was not the case. It was like nothing else I had ever experienced and I knew it was not going to go away. But just as I had previously tried to make my empty feeling go away by stuffing myself full of food, I also had to see if what I had experienced would go away. So I waited a couple of days and examined myself in every way I could think of before I dared tell anyone lest it disappear in a poof a smoke. But it did not and has not to this day.
And so after waiting a couple of days, I made my confession of faith. I gave it first to the members of my own family and then to the church we were going to. Plans were made to have me baptized by man I respected (and still respect) but they never came to fruition. If I had pushed harder maybe they would have. But I did not want to make it seem as if I was getting myself baptized.
What I did not know at the time was that there were problems in church that we were going to. These problems caused the church to breakup not long after my confession of faith (the two events were not related).
After that fellowship broke up, I never joined another church. It was not through lack of desire, but rather because I have not been able to find one that I could join with a clear conscience. And so it is that some fifteen years after my confession of faith I have never been baptized nor have I taken the Lord’s Supper with any group of believers.