By George D
I sat yesterday in traffic in front of the Third Baptist Church waiting for the interminably omniscient red light to grant mercy by letting me free from yet another delay. I was running way behind schedule. Seemed like every "Sunday driver" was out in force, conspiring with slow moving construction vehicles and endless red lights to make my day typical of one in hell -- if such a place exists. The sign read, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." I couldn't figure out if the church secretary, who no doubt posted the sign, was thinking of the red traffic light, encouraging motorists to pray for a light change and experience first hand the power of freedom through prayer, or if the words, taken from the lips of Jesus allegedly 2,000 years ago, were to be applied only to more esoteric matters, like taking that one-way drive through Hades and its countless red lights. I was hoping it was the former, not the latter.
As a former fundamentalist, I once thought the words were supposed to be applied to my life on an everyday basis. I was taught that if Jesus set me free, I would be free from personal hang-ups, free from psychological anomalies, free from life-dominating sins, free from prejudice, free from low self-esteem and free from debt. That I would be free from God's judgment, free from my sin nature, free to love my fellow man and free to become anything, (in Christ, mind you), I wanted to be. Coupled with this verse was also parroted the fact that I “would know the truth and the truth will make me free." Neither of these verses, in my thirty five years as a Christian, ever turned out to be an actual experience in my life. In fact, as I looked at the lives of my fellow believers it was not true for them, either. I saw personal hang-ups by the truck load: in fact, I began to realize people are drawn to the faith because of their hang-ups, not in spite of them. "Church should be a hospital for the soul-sick and weary," pastors often proclaimed. Boy was it ever. I saw psychological problems of every variety, largely unsolved as the sufferer was waiting on God for the miracle of "being set free."
I knew a grown man who wept like a third grade girl for weeks because a teenage boy he had "nurtured" through the years was going off to the Marines instead of Bible School. The man's wife could only look on in helpless puzzlement. I saw prejudice of every stripe and variety: especially against those who didn't quite believe the same doctrines, or prayed to a statue of a woman with her heart hanging on her chest instead of in it. And I met people who couldn't handle money, so steeped in debt they would never see daylight, praying for a financial miracle while faithfully dropping their tithe in the offering plate as a "seed" for God to work with. (As if he needed any seeds...didn’t he once say all the seed-bearing fruit was given to man, not to give back to God, but to eat?)
Most important, though, I never found that all-elusive freedom so often promised by Jesus and his followers in my own experience... until I left the faith. Then I found freedom from an oppressive code of conduct, from an all-frowning God, from a nit-picking, backstabbing, critical people and from my own condemning conscience. My advice is this: don't believe every church sign you read. Especially if they're planted at red lights.
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