I have been deconstructing my faith for over a year now. It’s taken me a lot of trust and healing work with God to come to a place where I’m not afraid or mired in guilt or shame anymore. I don’t know how a religion that is supposed to set people free and be such good news can hold one in so much fear and guilt. Unfortunately, I’m not alone in my experience.
There are still times I feel a resurgence of fear though. Old habits die hard. I know that fear is not from God. There’s a difference between the Holy Spirit convicting me and fear that comes from religion, so anytime I feel old fear rising from stuff that always terrified me before, I take it to God and ask Him to speak freedom to me.
I recently heard a talk by a pastor that quoted the following verse and went on to say that he guaranteed there were people hearing him right then that this verse applied to, and they would be shocked to one day find themselves in hell:
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
This verse has always scared the crap out of me because, as the pastor pointed out – these had to have been church people that were deceived. I mean, they were casting out demons and prophesying and doing amazing things – but that wasn’t enough. My question was always, how on earth can someone be doing these amazing things and not really have a relationship with God? I had always struggled to just read the Bible and pray consistently – what hope was there for me if these people were doing these awesome things and yet didn’t know him?
But, in my time of deconstruction, I have come to trust that God holds my salvation. He loves me and is guiding me. And Jesus’ one commandment was to love. Love God and love people. Even Paul admits that love is the fulfillment of the law and that it’s more important then prophesying, speaking in tongues or even martyrdom. So, that’s what I do. I love God and people and trust that God helps me when I falter in that.
I recently heard an interesting Maundy Thursday homily given by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She was talking about how Jesus had issued the command to love, and how he showed the depths of his love to his disciples by washing their feet, even though he knew very shortly that they were going to betray and deny him. There was no limit or withdrawal of his love though.
She said that part of fulfilling the command to love others is actually being the others that are receiving love, and that’s hard. She said that she could accept people loving her for her writing, or her pastoring or her art or when they didn’t really know her that well or when she had done something for them. Earned love is easy to receive. But she said she had a really hard time receiving unconditional and freely given love from those who really knew her – her good and her bad, and yet still loved her for all of her. She pointed out that it stings, because we have this sense of unworthiness and of not deserving that kind of love. We want to work for it. And God immediately brought the end of that terrifying verse back to my heart, “Then I will declare, ‘I never knew you…'” He didn’t accuse these people of not knowing Him – He instead told them that he had never known them. He whispered to me that people don’t want to be known by Him because they are afraid and don’t trust his love to be enough. They want to work for it. It may sound funny to hear Jesus declare he never knew someone, because He’s God, so He knows us anyway, right?
But there’s something about being known in relationship. Being known in a relationship requires being vulnerable and trusting the other person. It requires trusting that the other person will love and accept you as you are. It is an openness that allows you to be yourself and then to receive the love freely given from the other person. We have such a hard time with that though. Look at how hard we work and posture for people to try and be seen as worthy in their eyes. And so it’s even harder to accept that I can go to a holy, perfect God and offer my whole self to Him and not have Him reject me if I open my most ugly and vulnerable parts up to him. It’s even harder to accept that not only will he not reject me, but He loves me and delights in me, even though he knows my ugly parts. His love doesn’t require me to change. His love doesn’t require me to do things to please him. It’s that unconditional.
No, to be in full relationship, to experience the joy of God’s Kingdom, He says that I must be willing to be known. I must be willing to be vulnerable and trust that God loves me as I am. That’s the only way I can be healed. Being able to step into God’s light, and acknowledge the things I struggle with, allows a healing and salvation to occur that could not happen without my cooperation and vulnerability in the relationship. I am changed by this unfathomable love that I see in his eyes that accepts me and draws me deeper into his embrace and love.
The thing is too, the more I love God and the more I receive his love of me at my most vulnerable, the more I am healed and changed. I want to please him and spend more time with him! I have found that the more I allow myself to be known by him, the deeper my trust goes. And all of this results in me being better able to love others unconditionally because I’ve experienced this all-surpassing love of God.