From the time I was little until about two years ago, I was a passionately born-again Christian. I believed the Bible was truly God's instruction manual and pretty much meant to be interpreted as written on the page.
I knew the Holy Spirit as a living, vital entity who revealed truth to me, imparted wisdom, and worked through the events of my life to weave it into a beautiful tapestry. I believed that even the dark, ugly days would one day reveal themselves as part of a grand design by the Master weaver. I was the perfect daughter and tried to be the perfect wife, mother, and evangelical ambassador as well. A woman of some education and skill with words, I saw myself as an apologist to intellectuals. I held many deep conversations over the years with people of all faiths (or none) that seemed enriching to all parties, including myself as I gained insight into other perspectives.
Then I got married and divorced. After 15 years of struggle to make a bad marriage work, God had let me down in a big way, or I had let Him down by being too weak to persevere despite the circumstances. I subsequently lost my faith. The majority of people who know me think this is a result of disillusionment from my divorce. They also think I will get over it and "come back to Jesus" eventually.
I am not coming back to Jesus and the divorce wasn't the reason. It was one of the catalysts, but it wasn't the reason.
The Big One, the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, was the church shooting in Charleston, SC last summer. A white man sat for an hour in a prayer meeting before pulling a gun out of his bag and killing nine African Americans, including the pastor, who was a senator and civil rights activist. He pointed the gun first at 87-year-old Susie Jackson, whose nephew tried to reason with him before he pulled the trigger and shot her. A 5-year-old girl survived by pretending to be dead.
Why would an act perpetrated by a crazed racist cause me to disbelieve in God, people ask. Why can't I accept that there are evil people in the world and bad things happen, even to Christians? Why do I blame God for what someone did to innocent Christians who went straight to Heaven anyway?
Because that's not what I'm blaming God for. What I'm blaming God for... or to be more accurate, what I finally realized... is that God doesn't speak to us the way we think He does. For someone who was indoctrinated to believe that God cares personally and specifically about our welfare and can be trusted to tell us everything we need to know in every situation, this was a problem I couldn't wiggle out of or talk around.
When I discussed the tragedy with other Christians and asked why the Holy Spirit didn't warn the people who were sitting there for a whole hour with their killer in a prayer meeting, they said things like, "Maybe they weren't paying close enough attention to Him." Or, "Maybe God didn't want them to know. Maybe it was part of His plan."
Why would you serve a God who didn't want you to know critical information like the man next to you being about to shoot your grandmother, pastor, and five-year-old daughter? They had an hour to escape. To call the police. To tackle the guy. His gun was in a backpack under his chair. Pastor Clementa Pinckney was a sturdy guy, as was 26-year-old recent college grad Tywanza Sanders. It's not that they weren't listening or paying attention. They were praying, for God's sake. Why didn't the Holy Spirit whisper to even one person about the danger?
Because, I finally realized, the Holy Spirit doesn't whisper to anyone.
My whole life I had struggled with the nagging question of how much of what I attributed to "God" was actually my own subconscious mind. I cast aside doubt in my late teens and twenties, plunging wholeheartedly into a life of faith, but as I grew older I couldn't deny that except for a very few peak experiences, most of what I (and those around me) attributed to Divine Revelation was our own common sense and deepest desires manifesting in the quietness of our prayer time.
No one at that church in Charleston was aware, consciously or subconsciously, that Dylann Roof had a Glock under his chair, so "God" didn't tell them about it.
This realization gave me the courage to finally walk away from the tangled web of rationalizations and delusions that had kept me in Christianity for nearly 40 years. Next to ending my marriage, it was the hardest thing I'd ever done. More than ending my marriage, it was the most liberating thing I'd ever done. I feel like I'm 45 years old and just learning how to be a fully actualized human being.
This doesn't mean, however, that I'm doomed to a life of hopeless materialism. I do struggle with the existential questions of why I'm here and what it all means, but at least I'm struggling in an intellectually honest way.
It also doesn't mean that there is no sacredness or mystery to my life. What I've come to realize is that nothing is sacred or meaningful in itself, but each of us makes it so by investing our energy into it. Jesus was right when he said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." Everything sacred and beautiful is in each of us. All we need we already have. We just need to find it, buried deep under all the protective layers we've covered it with, like the sheets of green felt my mom used to lay over the sterling silverware to keep it from tarnishing.
For some people, that sacredness is in Jesus Christ. For me, it's not any more, but that's okay. Jesus and I have parted as friends, but heading down separate paths. We're both going to be just fine.