Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, and I came upon an entry by someone I enjoy (@tracesoffaith). She posts about all manner of “things of faith”, and I generally find her blend of traditional thought with progressive insights interesting and thought-provoking. She has also written a book, “Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) are Lost” and is all-around a great thinker and lover of Jesus. I highly recommend her.
That being said, one of her posts yesterday “triggered” me badly:
I instantly got a knot in my stomach, and I realized anew how it’s possible to grow up in (and thoroughly embrace) belief systems or faith practices that can be so incredibly harmful to some of us.
“But Ben, it’s just a sweet old hymn. What’s the big deal?”
Well, first of all, some of those “sweet old hymns” are LOADED with bad theology:
At the cross, at the cross where
I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
What? You are?
Then I MUST BE DOING THIS WRONG.
The love of and for God were difficult concepts for me to grasp in my youth, and they remained elusive until… gosh, my 40’s? “Oh, how I love Jesus” brought no comfort to me. I didn’t even know what it meant.
And “Because He first loved me”?
God/Jesus couldn’t possibly love me. I was not experiencing the “joy of Jesus” and wasn’t “happy all the day” like these other people seemed to be. And, if I wasn’t happy and experiencing joy, I was clearly doing something wrong.
Obvious conclusion: God didn’t love me.
And if God didn’t love me, how could I love God back?
Insert perfectionistic, performance-oriented, oldest son instincts here.
Oh, I WILL earn that love. I will MAKE you love me. It is within my control to do so.
And WHEN I earn it, I will GET what I long for (that which God so far seemed to be withholding), and then I will have the love “feels” back “because he first loved me”.
But you see, I never “got” what I wanted from God, which meant God didn’t love me, which meant I had to work harder to try and earn that love.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
See how that works?
Or doesn’t work?
For me, anyway. I’ll make sure I apply that as a caveat.
My particular blend of personality and experience did not lend itself well to a transactional “grace PLUS works” gospel. At least not the kind of transactions I was attempting.
This could end up being a long entry on my journey towards love, but I have other stuff in the works that will address that (and a couple older entries that touch on it – see “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Kingdom – Parts 1 and 2“.
I’m going to stop here.
I think the thing I wanted to convey this morning was just how damaging some of the most harmless (even helpful) appearing philosophies, theologies and practices can be when they are misapplied or misinterpreted, especially in children.
I hope I can hear a hymn by Fanny J Crosby again some day and not cringe.
That reflex seems to be dying pretty slowly.