St John Church
God Was a Policeman Eager to Punish Sinners
Growing up in a strict fundamentalist church, I experienced a weekly diet of hellfire and brimstone – the punishment for those who sinned. When I used the word “damn” at thirteen after spilling a basket of wet clothes in the dirt beneath our clotheslines, I dropped to my knees and began praying, certain that I would be suddenly struck by a bolt of lightning. I didn’t understand why my friends who didn’t go to my church, or any church, would go to Hell. ” What about kids in Africa who never heard of Jesus?” I wondered. I wanted to believe in a God who was fair and loving, not vengeful and punishing.
A New Start
I spent years not attending church, certain that the God of my youth had nothing for me. Only after attending St John’s Episcopal Church at the insistence (some might say “nagging”), did reluctantly attend. To my surprise, I found a community that welcomed me and has continued to accept me for the last fifty years.
I still struggle to find the certainty that so many have. I’m a natural-born skeptic, a doubting Thomas who relies on intellect rather than emotion. I do believe that reason and revelation are sometimes indistinguishable, so I persist in my journey to turn hope into faith. Consequently, I persist, with the help of others, in my studies to learn as much as possible about Jesus Christ, the events of 2000 years before, and the thoughts and actions of others who have influenced the practice of Christians.
A Leap of Faith
Sometimes, there are no answers. What will happen after this life is unknown. I find wisdom in the voices of others. The author, C.S. Lewis, wrote, “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it.” He also wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Another of my favorite authors – not a theologian immersed in years of arcane studies and philosophies – once explained why she was a Christian:
“Among my journalist colleagues and smart nonreligious friends, to say you followed the teaching of an invisible God, through a book you believed he inspired, was about as wacky as saying you believed in extraterrestrials. How is it, as one ABC News producer once asked me, could I have gone to college, be a thinking person and still believe the Eastern story?
That’s exactly what the Harvard psychiatrist [the person she was interviewing for a story] was asking. His follow-up question made me squirm.
“ Why?” he asked me. “Why are you a Christian?”
For a few moments, I couldn’t find words. I glanced out the window at students carrying their backpacks across Harvard Yard. I scrambled for something philosophically impressive to say, but there was no fooling this professor. Instead, I let the raw, honest truth come tumbling out. “Because I haven’t found anything better,” I said.