I went to church last Sunday and there was a stranger preaching which completely threw me off balance! I’m told they announced that the regular pastor would be away for two weeks at the service last week but, like all human beings, I am very good at not hearing what I don’t want to hear so it came as a total surprise to me.
When the replacement pastor got up and began preaching I was shocked then dismayed then angry and, at one point, I even looked behind me to see who I would have to pass on my way out! The door was closed and there were ushers “guarding” it so I controlled my impulse to storm out in righteous indignation and sat fidgeting, squirming and quietly fuming throughout the entire service.
All my instincts were screaming “Faker! Fraud!” and I was convinced the usual pastor had been the victim of a satanic overthrow.
My reaction was intense and extreme. I wanted to stand up and denounce the pastor as a fraud. I wanted to walk out in the middle of the service. I wanted to make a scene and I would have, once, but that was before God changed me.
So I sat through the service with only my body language expressing my disapproval. I didn’t say a word in protest despite the fact that others in the congregation regularly called out “Amen” and other expressions of approval of the message.
My discomfort consumed me to the point that I can’t tell you what the pastor actually said but I do know the sermon was full of “Should’s” and “Ought’s” which I loathe. He even said should and ought a few times I’m sure of it.
He was a real showman. He worked the crowd just like the television preachers do. He paced up and down, he waved his arms around, he told jokes and emphasised bits of the sermon by raising his voice. He worked up a sweat and repeatedly wiped his face and I swear he even pounded the pulpit once or twice.
It was a grand performance and it offended me all the way to my core because it felt like a performance rather than a sermon. It felt fake.
When the regular pastor speaks I hear God, the God I have come to know, the God who loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us. When this pastor spoke I heard cymbals clashing, trumpets blowing, bells and whistles and a virtual cacophony of noise. I did not hear the voice of my beloved, loving, God and it made me angry.
On the way home I expressed my feelings to my son. He said he had been disconcerted too but, when he listened to what the preacher was actually saying, he could find no fault with him. He said he thought there might be something going on in me because he could not see any justification for the way I was feeling. I didn’t get into a fight with him about it as I would have done in the old days. God has changed me enough so I don’t do that any more either. I just ended the conversation and changed the subject instead.
For the next few days there was a little niggle at the back of my mind. I’m sure God wants me to be going to church, he always has, but going to church has always tended to arouse resistance, resentment and rebellion in me.
I don’t like the God of the Old Testament and He shows up far too often for my liking in most churches.
That God makes me angry. VERY angry!
That God was, supposedly, pleased with Lot when he threw his daughter into the streets of Sodom or Gomorrah to be raped in place of the angel of the Lord. I can’t believe that angel was not capable of avoiding rape without the need to sacrifice the girl! I know what she went through. I have been raped. I can’t look kindly on a man who would do that to his daughter or on a God who would sanction it.
I have no respect for any God who thinks being drunk is an excuse for a man impregnating his daughters as Lot did. The bible implies it was his daughters who had the idea and who took advantage of their father when he was drunk. Bullshit! As a psychologist I know no girl raised with appropriate fatherly love would get sexually involved with her father and no father who genuinely loved his daughter would have sex with her no matter how drunk he was. I don’t care what the bible says. I do not believe Lot was a good man. I think his daughters did not GET appropriate fatherly love from him and I don’t believe he genuinely loved them. He was the kind of man who would throw his daughter out to be pack raped on the streets and I spit on any God who would approve of such a man!
The Old Testament God made Abraham put his little boy in fear of his life by asking him to offer him as a sacrifice. As a psychologist I know what that would have done to the child and I cannot condone it. I despise any God who would ask a man to torture a child!
There are verses in the Old Testament ordering women to cover their heads in church and implying God likes to look on the bare head of a man but the bare head of a woman is a shameful, offending, thing. I take offence at such verses and want nothing to do with any God who thinks women are worth less than men.
The list of things I disapprove of about the God of the Old Testament is long and when I go to church and hear that God preaching at me I don’t like it. I don’t like Him. The God of the Old Testament reminds me of my mother. Harsh, demanding, critical, rigid, cold, unloving and impossible to please!
I’ve talked to God about it many times and He has made it clear to me that it is not my place to judge Him. He has told me that there is much I cannot know and, when it comes to these things, I just have to trust Him. I can do that quite easily when there is just me and Him. It is not so easy when I go to church and am confronted by that aspect of Him.
I talk to God every day but, when things are going well for me, I am less inclined to let Him talk to me. I worry He will want to say something I won’t want to hear.
The other night I let Him talk to me because I genuinely wanted to know what He thinks about what is happening in me concerning the church. If that pastor from last week were to take over the pulpit permanently I would not want to go back and I sense this is not what God wants of me. I can’t go to church for a specific pastor, I can’t hang everything on one man, there is something wrong with that picture and I needed God to shine a light on what it might be before I went back to church for the pastor’s second week away.
So I cleansed myself of sin with prayer and opened my mind to what God had to say. It isn’t always easy to hear God. The first thing I got was soothing assurances that I am so tuned to His voice that my spirit recognises when someone is not speaking on His behalf but I recognised that as coming from me and pushed it aside. I told God I wanted to hear what He has to say not what I want to hear.
The first thing He said was that the preacher WAS speaking on His behalf.
“My word will never return to me empty handed.” He said. “The devil himself could have been on that pulpit and, if he was quoting from the bible, I could use him!”
“Sometimes,” He said, “people don’t think my word is enough. Sometimes they think they have to deliver it in a certain way for it to be effective. Sometimes they take the scripture about it being a sword literally and they try to use it with thrusts and sweeps just like they would use a sword.”
I pictured the preacher last Sunday and that fit perfectly. He was like a soldier waving his sword around calling people to join the battle and people were responding.
“Sometimes,” God continued, “the people I want to reach need to hear the word used that way. Not all sermons are aimed at you and what reaches you and works with you won’t necessarily do the job with others!”
That made sense to me but God continued to elaborate.
“Some people, like you, grew up without love and they need to hear about My love for them but there are many others who grew up with plenty of love, too much love in some cases, and they need discipline. They need to be reminded of what they should be doing. There are others who need to be called to action, to be moved or challenged, to hear I have a purpose, a role for them to play and so on.
You won’t always like what you hear in church but it will always be something that needs to be said as long as it is coming from my word.”
I heard these things and it put my mind at rest about going to church regardless of who is preaching but I felt God wanted me to write about the conversation for a blog entry so I turned on the computer and began writing.
As I was writing the stuff about Job and the Old Testament God I felt myself getting angry with God so I went to have a smoke and think about it all. Again.
“It was a different time that time before Jesus.” God said quietly to me as I smoked.
“I had no choice but to be a harsh, demanding, critical, cold, unloving and impossible to please God back then. There was no other way to defeat sin but I never asked anything of anyone that I wasn’t prepared to give myself!
I tortured my own son a thousand times more than I ever asked Abraham to torture his! I threw my own child to the mob to be savaged and it was definitely not because I did not love Him. Knowing what you know about humanity and how they treat people they want to destroy do you honestly believe Jesus was NOT raped?”
That made me catch my breath because, as a psychologist, I know rape is about the first thing men think of when they want to torture, dominate or humiliate someone. Rape is the most common weapon of choice for men who are doing the devils work. I’ve never even thought about it before but, now that I have, I cannot believe Jesus was NOT put through that too in an effort to break him and make him reject God’s plan for our salvation!
“It takes a lot to defeat sin.” God said sadly, “Jesus was not spared anything. He paid the price and it was higher than anyone can ever imagine. I suffered right along with him make no mistake about that but, when he gave himself for love, he ended the Old Testament and ushered in the New Testament making it possible for me to be a God of love rather than a God of law now.
Do not judge the men of the Old Testament. The path they had to walk to reach me was so much harder than the path you took. The only way to reach me then was the cold, hard, difficult path of law. The road you took was easier. It was a road of sacrificial love made for you from the body and blood of Jesus.
As for the verse about covering women’s heads – it was not written because I love my sons more than I love my daughters. It’s just easy to interpret it that way in this time and culture. In all the years we have been together did you ever get the feeling I loved anyone more than I love you?”
I knew the answer to that question. I’ve never felt like God considered me second best, quite the contrary, God has always made me feel more loved than any human being ever could.
So I went to church yesterday with an open mind. It was a different pastor but the God of the Old Testament made an appearance here and there during the sermon. This time I did not mind.
I can finally see that the God of the Old Testament was a God of love too. He is the one who did what had to be done to put an end to the power sin had over humanity. He sent His only begotten son, Jesus, to suffer and die for us so He could be the God of love He is today instead of the God of law the men of the Old Testament had to deal with.