Tuesday, August 21, 2007

In which I meet the devil

As I intimated in a previous post, I am a simple soul, and my faith is a simple one. Not for me the intellectual arguments and discussions that take place on other blogs and in other places. I am not worried about the contradictions of scripture; I am happy to not understand everything. That doesn't mean I am happy about everything or that I don't have doubts: I'm not and I do. But they don't cause my faith to stumble. Or at least they haven't yet.

I was christened as a baby. When I was about 10 or 11, my mum sent me to confirmation classes and I was confirmed as a member of the Church in Wales. I was brought up in that sort of background - not that my family was particularly religious: they were anything but! My mother went to church sometimes and it was my habit too. When my mum died, I turned to the church. I also tried yoga. I was looking for something.

Life went on, I got married and we moved to Southampton. I met and began to meet up with a group of Christian women. They had something i didn't have and I wanted it. I 'said the prayer', the 'I'm sorry and I want you in my life, God' prayer, and I 'became' a Christian.

Life didn't change dramatically: I don't think it does for most people. Paul (the apostle formerly known as Saul) had an unusual and dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus; other people talk of encountering God in a powerful way. That didn't happen for me.

What did happen, a few weeks after my 'conversion', was that I was assailed by doubt. Not just a little bit of doubt but a massive, throwing-it-all-at-me doubt. How could there possibly be a God? How could there be anyone big enough to be outside the universe, beyond infinity and eternity? And how or why would such a being care for me, know me by name even knowing the number of hairs on my head? It was just complete and utter nonsense that I was being taken in by. Everything that I'd always believed in one sense or another was total rubbish and utterly impossible. It wasn't God I was encountering but the devil.

These thoughts battled in my head, disturbing my nights and draining my days. I couldn't resolve it. My head felt it would burst. I remember throwing myself on the bed, crying out.

At the time I was attending on an occasional basis a church that was shared by Anglicans, Baptists and - I don't recall the other denomination - but they all took it in turns to lead the Sunday service and as far as I know everyone attended whatever denomination they were and whoever was running the service. (An example that hasn't been taken up even these years later.) Anyway, this particular Sunday the Baptist minister was preaching. He was an ex-policeman who was training and he was very down-to-earth. I spoke to him after the service and told him of my battle. He said simply, 'When I am overwhelmed by the enormity of it, I bring God down to size: I think of Jesus, the man, on the cross.'

Suddenly it all seemed simple.

If I believed that story then everything else - the minutiae - was unimportant. I could choose to believe or choose to disbelieve. I chose to believe.

That's why the contradictions don't bother me, why the errors, the factual inaccuracies, don't make an atheist of me. I have made my choice.

No-one forces us. It's simply a choice we're all offered.

The fact - as I see it - that it is accompanied with the offer of unconditional love is a bonus.

When Husband had cancer, he had to spend a week at a time in hospital having chemotherapy. One night, while Husband was away having his treatment, God held me in his hand. I couldn't have felt safer or more loved and secure if he had materialised before me.

I am a crappy Christian. I sin in thought, word and deed in spite of my best intentions. And very often my intentions aren't even good let alone best. I really hope people don't judge God by what they see in me. I am very aware of my faults, as is God. Yet if I say sorry, we can start again.

Those instances of meeting God or facing the devil so intensely haven't happened since. Sometimes I feel a very long way from God; other times I look at the sky - for it's easier to imagine Him up there somewhere - and smile and whisper, 'I love you.'



jmb said...

A very human post here Liz. You've voiced what so many of us think but never say out loud. Most of us are stumbling along, trying to make sense of it all and hoping that what we believe will be true, but often doubting. But we all hang in there, doing our best.

Chris said...

Just so you know, Liz, there are 'shared' churches still around. St Peter's here in Chertsey is home to C of E, Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed churches.

Winston said...

Thanks for sharing these highly personal revelations about your self. While I have a quite different take on things, I greatly admire your simplicity of faith because it works for you. In the final analysis, that is all that matters, that each of us finds that sweet spot where we are at peace with ourselves and the world around us.

MaryB said...

Beautifully written, Liz. From what I've read from you over the past year, we have similar beliefs. It's not my job to answer the Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens folks. I don't have to prove anything to them - I have the core of belief inside me, though, like everyone, I have days of doubt and rage. Thanks for a powerful post.

mdmhvonpa said...

Yeah, it gets to be too big for me too sometimes. In the end, I fall back on the old canard: "If I were meant to have understood everything from the beginning, why bother with the struggle to the end?"

Bluntly speaking, it's about the journey, not the destination.

Liz said...

jmb, thank you. I noticed you wrote a comment on cbi's blog about being more yourself when commenting: I think you come over as a little bit more distant on your blog so it's lovely to have these comments from you.

Chris, that's good to hear. Purely on a practical level with so many churches struggling it must make sense financially not only for the cause of christian unity.

Thank you, Winston. I hope I never sound bossy about my faith. I have sometimes chanced upon very Christian blogs and I am immediately deterred. Each person finds his or her own 'sweet spot' in their own time.

maryb, I think we would get along just fine!

mdm, I don't understand how telephones work, or the internet or any other of the amazing inventions man has come up with. Little chance for me to understand eternity!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

What a lovely piece. As I've said many times before, I do envy you.

Sir James Beiggelschwarz said...

Liz, I tried to comment earlier but Blogger was down.

You say: "I am a crappy Christian. I sin in thought word and deed."

And what? Your admission makes you a better Christian than the holier than thous. Let he who is without sin ...

Lovely post from a lovely lady.

MissKris said...

My faith is very deep but very simple, too. When you spoke of not understanding everything you read in the Bible, I have such a special little truth here to share with you. We have a very dear friend who suffers from moderate dyslexia and has a very difficult time reading. Even so, he really tries when it comes to the Bible. He and Dear Hubby were out camping and before turning in for the nite, he took Dear Hubby's Bible and said he was going to do the reading for the evening. As he struggled and struggled, finally he smiled sheepishly at Dear Hubby and said, "Oh, well...believe it anyway and let's turn the page." That has become such a 'catch phrase' for Dear Hubby and I, not only in 'religious' things but daily life as well. Dave might not be the most book-learned man, but I'd say he's very wise anyway!

Mauigirl said...

Liz, excellent post, and a great description of what faith is. I happen to be an agnostic because I guess those doubts got the better of me; but it is very interesting and inspirational to hear how you overcame them and are able to go ahead with your faith.

Puss-in-Boots said...

That's a good post, Liz and you are like every other single person on this planet...not perfect. Wouldn't that be so boring to be perfect. I'd much rather have a sin or two to spice up life a bit and have a few darker than grey bits in my soul with the knowledge that maybe, I will be forgiven by whomever forgives us...if such a thing happens.