The fear that passes all understanding

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If you were to die tonight, are you sure that you’d go to heaven?

I heard these words so often growing up. Ever concerned with our eternal salvation, pastors and speakers would pose this question to its captive audience in an effort to jolt us with a dose of reality. Time was running out! What if we did die in a car crash on the way home? What if the rapture happened before the morning dawn broke through the dark, night sky? After all, it could happen at any time, so you should always be prepared and vigilant! Inevitably, someone would be scared into an alter call or raising their hand while everyone else’s eyes were closed in prayer. The speaker wanted to know who had made “the decision”.
I was in constant turmoil over that state of my soul. I was usually one to “re-dedicate” my life to Christ, just to make sure my bases were covered. You see, we were always told that once we accepted Jesus into our hearts, we no longer needed to have fear because we knew we were heaven-bound. The problem was, I never felt that “peace that passes all understanding”. Clearly, I was doing something wrong, otherwise I would have felt this esoteric peace. I spent my childhood in fear because of my faith. With a framework of what I would call “hellfire and brimstone-light”, it’s pretty easy to see how that could be.

-There were puppet shows with a Satan puppet, dancing around/fighting with the good guys to “Sinbusters”. Yes. They defiled Ghostbusters. It’s probably also why puppets freak me the fuck out.
-We sang songs with lyrics like,

Now, Satan is an evil charmer,
He’s hungry for a soul to hurt.
And without your Holy armor,
He will eat you for dessert.

-We were told stories of demon possession and exorcisms.
-I remember a specific story about a biker in Hell’s Angels or something who claimed Satan grabbed him while he was in bed. (I think he was also tripping when it happened, so…)
-I read books like Josh McDowell’s “Love Killer”, where demons actively try to get a good Christian girl and her atheist boyfriend to bang. No…seriously. Spoiler alert: They don’t bang, but he does get AIDS.

-Then there’s this gem; the ultimate showdown between Jesus and Satan. It was performed by a pantomime group, all in costume, at a youth convention. For some reason, it scared the shit out of me. I think because of the voices. I was brainwashed. Shut up!

-Then there was the spiritual warfare. Vans before trips would break down because Satan was throwing up road blocks.

Yeah. Mike, who grew up Lutheran and did not have any do this stuff shoved down his throat, once exclaimed after hearing one of these stories, No wonder you were so fucked up.
And fucked up I was.

I seriously had my plan for what I needed to do if Satan ever appeared to me as an angel of light so I could make sure I wasn’t being tricked. I had trouble going to sleep at night because I was terrified that demons were torturing me. They circled my room in the shadows, plotting and scheming. I prayed with every fiber of my being and sang praise songs in my head, pleading with God to protect me and my mind. But, of course, the more one clings to God, the more Satan tortures a person dontchaknow.
I used to have recurring dreams where I was being chased by demons and Satan. There was also the one where I die. I stand before an elevator which will shuttle me to heaven or hell. But I don’t know where I’m going until the elevator opens. If the color inside is blue, I’m going to heaven. If it’s red, hell. Most of the time, it was red.

It wasn’t until just a few years ago, when I stopped believing that there were any such things as a devil, demons, or physical hell, that my fear of such things disappeared completely. Before, no matter how hard I prayed or begged for help, I never received peace or comfort.
While my belief in all things demonic no longer exists, the scars of a lifetime of fear remain. It was actually my therapist who pointed this out to me. I told her that I want to work on managing my anxiety and panic attacks. In the course of conversation, my evangelical upbringing came up. My therapist mentioned that it seemed that there was a lot there that would cause my constant fear and anxiety. I had never connected the dots before. Perhaps so much of the anxiety that I experience today is an offshoot of seeds that were sown so many years ago. Perhaps I would have been an anxious person anyway. In fact, I’m sure I would have been. I’ve honestly wondered if evangelical culture could be a cause for my fibromyalgia. Enduring the actual torture that was all that evangelical nonsense certainly did not help.

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6 thoughts on “The fear that passes all understanding

  1. My heart is broken. How could I have not seen, realized, understood you were in such incredible pain. In an effort to gain the attention of a group of “youth” who were perceived as, I don’t know, maybe stubborn or not paying attention, God’s love and grace were minimized. Hyperfocusing on one aspect of God’s character to the exclusion of another aspect will leave one feeling out of balance.
    I agree with your therapist, the messages and resulting dreams you descibe are anxiety producing. I should have been there for you. I was there physically but not emotionally or spiritually.
    As your mom, I was out of touch with your feelings and what was really going on in your heart and mind. I have no defense. Stuck in my own stuff and trying to figure out life myself, I defaulted to being sure that my children were “good” and not making time to hear their heart. I am desperately sorry. I hope you can forgive me and can come to a place where you can grant to me what in the past I was not equipped to give you, a listening, understanding heart. I know I do not deserve you deep forgiveness, however, I long for it. You are so loved. Mom.

    • Honestly, what I’m bothered by is that my experience is not unique, that this is pervasive in evangelical culture. I’m not sure that forgiveness is necessary, but you have it.

  2. oh my gosh I nearly typed one thing and then thought better of it cause I like not being seen as crazy (okay mostly).

    I didn’t grow up in that, although I did visit that kind of church once in awhile. It’s intense and I think only effective with a small minority.

  3. It is unfortunate that you as many others came up under that type of theology. As a Baptist I believe in Once Saved Always Saved. The problem is there are those that claim to have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior but never really did. This is not a judgment on my part but evidenced by scripture. As Matthew 7:16-23, says 16 You will [a]know them by their fruits. [b]Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will [c]know them by their fruits.

    21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [d]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’NASB

    The concern I have is for those who thought it was a good idea to go forward in a profession of faith but there is not a change in their lives. Did they really accept Christ as their Savior or did they just go along with what their friends or family expected them to do? I don’t know the answer? But based on scripture I do know that no matter how many times a person professes their faith, if there is no change or repentance (turning away) from sin a person is not saved.

    • I grew up in a Baptist congregation, too, and what she expresses is what we were taught, as well. As I read, I could actually see people in my mind that taught us these things. over 30 years has passed since I left that congregation, but the memories still remain. It is only within the last couple of years that I’ve finally begun to be freed.

      Unfortunately verses like you point out are often used out of context, as grounds for people to fear hell. “Maybe you’re not really saved! Show me your fruit!” The thing is, these verses were being directed at people who, by man’s standards, actually showed a lot of fruit. However, the fruit Jesus was talking about isn’t works based, but love based. Jesus is exposing the hyper-religious for who they are and their works as filthy rags; making the distinction between true love for God and mere religious activity. The natural result of His presence in a person’s life is love; something the hyper-religious don’t have much time for.

  4. Wow. I missed this post when you first posted it, but I just had to say how much your experience echos my own. The Baptist church I grew up in was not “evangelical”, nope they looked at you guys and thought you were all going to hell because you listened to Christian rock. Outside of that, I lived a parallel life to what you described, and came to the same conclusions. Life has been so much easier since I decided that there might be a God or there might be several, but either way it doesn’t really affect me here and now. Stopping all the worry over whether I’m doing it right or wrong has created a lot of peace.

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