I have hesitated to write about the year after God released me from my marriage because it doesn’t sound very spiritual. It flies in the face of everything we are taught in church. But, oddly, over the course of two days last weekend, I ran into two people who had done the same exact thing and I realized I wasn’t the only one and, perhaps, it might be helpful to someone else.
It’s been two years since I sat in that Sunday School class and God told me that there was no hope for my marriage, that there was going to be no “miracle save,” because my husband was not interested in responding to God. God’s words were basically that He and I had done everything we could and Stan had chosen his own path away from both of us. My husband hadn’t just rejected me and the kids, he was rejecting God as well.
As I’ve said before, I was very angry with God. I had grown up listening to all those testimonies about how God had turned marriages around if just one person in the marriage turned to Him. I listened to sermons from good pastors that basically intimated the same thing, “If you would just turn to God and pray, He will save your marriage.”
All these things, however, ignore the most important thing…the other spouse has the choice. God is not going to twist that person’s arm or put a gun to their head to force them to choose Him, or us for that matter. All these stories also ignore the fact that a broken marriage is more than just two people who don’t see eye-to-eye, or have drifted apart. A broken marriage is usually the result of just one person who has decided that they are more important than anyone else and that their addiction, their adultery, their anger, will be what they serve.
But I have not seen in Evangelicalism an acknowledgement that Free Will is that strong. In fact, in the area of prayer, Free Will of the person being prayed for is completely ignored. In this area, Baptists act and speak more like Calvinists.
So I walked away. I stayed home with my oldest son. I didn’t see the point in perpetuating the lie of our marriage to the church, as my husband wanted. And I didn’t see the point of going to church to worship a God who didn’t work the way the church said He did.
I quit it all. I stopped reading my Bible, I yelled at God, and I tried to process my grief on my own and in my own way.
And, yet, unlike all the pastors had ever told me would happen, I felt closer to God. It was as if He was standing right next to me all the time. In every moment He was right there with me.
In my anger He was the quiet voice telling me that I was loved by Him. In my confusion He was the hand guiding me away from any permanent harm. In my weakness, weakness the church has always told me would lead to my destruction, He was my strength.
Slowly, His voice broke through my turmoil. It was not the voice I grew up with, that angry god who hates those who don’t tow the line, that angry god my parents taught me wanted to destroy me, that angry god that so many pastors taught me would punish me harshly if I so much as questioned Him, let alone stopped attending church.
God’s voice was like the one in the story of Elijah, when He revealed Himself to the prophet.
“And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-13
Over the months, God gently reminded me of words I’d read hundreds of times in His Word. The words of the Gospel came to me and I saw a Christ I had not known. This was a man who had compassion on the suffering and the afflicted, even though their theology was obviously wrong, even though they didn’t truly know who He was. He loved them in spite of their failings, He had compassion on them and reached out to them and healed them.
He is not the god I was taught He was.
To be sure, Christ had some harsh words for some people, but I challenge you to look at the Gospels to see to whom those words were always directed.
Now, when a pastor quotes Christ using a harsh tone of voice, I cringe. I wonder what the pastor is hoping to accomplish? Is it to shame people who are sinning (and who isn’t sinning?), is it to belittle their pain? Because that isn’t how Christ spoke to sinners and the suffering in Scripture.
I have written before that during this time I began to read Christ in light of Christ. In the West we read Christ in light of Paul, of Augustine, of whomever our favorite pastor is. We even impose the Old Testament on Him when it suits our needs (tithing, unwed mothers, etc).
Christ of the Gospels looked at the people and had pity on them. He fed them, He comforted them, He healed them. He didn’t attack them because they had made wrong choices (sinned). Even if you cross out the story of the woman caught in adultery, we still have the Samaritan woman at the well. We have His compassion to the blind man when people asked who sinned to cause the blindness. We have Him weeping at Lazarus’ tomb.
This was the Christ I met when I left the church. This was the God I found in Scripture.