I Rocked the Boat

It finally happened. I’ve felt it welling up within me many times, but I’ve always been able to clench my teeth, breathe deeply, and keep the boat steady. Not today. Today the proverbial last piece of straw was placed, and I crumbled. Or maybe I stood for the first time—I haven’t yet decided.

As you may have guessed, I went to church today. My husband and I take our family whenever we can, because we have to keep up appearances for the sake of our extended family—and it allows our kids to learn the Bible stories they’re expected to know without us having to teach them ourselves. The topic of our Sunday morning Bible study was Ephesians 2. The discussion was superficial, and platitudes were plentiful. I was on the verge of tuning out when a quiet voice from the back asked a slightly off-topic, although very thoughtful question—and it mattered deeply to me. She asked the lesson leader, “What about backsliders?” We had been talking about the “completeness” of salvation by grace through faith. He asked her to clarify, but she just repeated the same question. It was good enough for me, but he still seemed unsure of what she meant. “I’ll open that up to the group,” he said. The group began discussing the “assurance of salvation” and the “doctrine” that says “Once saved, always saved.” “If anyone turns away from faith and completely rejects God,” they said, “you would have to wonder if they were ever really saved at all.”

“You’re not answering my question,” she said, as I became suddenly aware of my heartbeat.

Her interjection was met with a cacophonous reiteration of everything that had already been said.

“No, you’re still not answering my question,” she said louder. She was right, and I had to speak up.

“I think I can help,” I said over the roar. My voice is loud when I want it to be and commands attention, and as I kept talking, the other voices quieted. “I think I might have the same question,” I said. “Hebrews 6 talks about it, about people who truly were saved and then turn away.” I started reading the passage, and I heard her whisper “Yes!” from behind me. She wasn’t asking about people who never believed. She was asking about those who had tasted and seen, those who had been enlightened, those who had repented and shared in the spirit…and then turned away. She wasn’t talking about prodigals; she was talking about apostates. She was talking about me. I read verses 4-6, and the elderly man next to me barked, “What version are you using?” I told him it was ESV, and he scoffed as if it was somehow inferior, informing me that other translations phrase it differently. He then asked other class members to read the same verses from different versions. Of course, I’ve read these verses in context and in many different versions. I knew that this maneuver would not prove any point of his. I was correct, and faces and voices softened as the words were read several more times in different translations.
The discussion continued long after I realized it was fruitless. Some class members and visitors understood the question I was asking on behalf of the girl behind me (and on behalf of my own non-confessed disbelief). The more outspoken ones kept answering it by perseverating on the idea that those who turn away were never really saved. I tried to end the conversation gracefully, saying, “We’re not going to come to a conclusion in a few minutes of discussion—I just think it’s important that we are thinking about these hard questions and coming up with more satisfactory answers than ‘They were never really saved.’” Still they continued, with one woman saying “Satan had many true encounters with God when he was the highest of angels,” to illustrate her point that people can know of God without actually being saved. She continued—“You can’t possibly know if the people you’re referring to ever really…” The ellipsis is because I cut her off.

I’m referring to myself,” I finally confessed.

Conversation over. Well, almost. The brief, stunned silence was broken by the elderly man next to me, who said, “I think sometimes when true believers start to turn away, God simply takes them from the earth. For example, I have a friend who was a believer and was in so much pain over an addiction that I believe God took his life in a car accident as an act of mercy.”

Wow.

So what happened? Why did I rip off the facade? I guess I felt like I had to defend the people who really did experience salvation and now find themselves where I am. I had to defend myself. Oddly enough, I also felt like I had to defend scripture. These words are in the Bible—we can’t just make them mean whatever we want them to mean and then move on. They deserve thought and study and conversation. It’s time to talk about it, and if the Church can’t do it with a woman who can relate to their desire to believe and who loves them with a compassionate heart, they will never be able to do it with the vast majority of skeptics beyond the shadow of the steeple. It was more well-received than I thought it would be. Several class members who hadn’t said a word during the discussion came up to me privately afterward and thanked me for speaking up. Even more found me during the church service following the lesson. Some asked me again for the references to the verses I had read from Hebrews. I don’t care if we disagree—but I care that they care…and I think some of them truly do.

I should add that I’m still very much hoping to keep this a secret from my parents and siblings, who fortunately have no contact with anyone in my church. I am, however, aware of the fact that any public transparency on my part increases my risk of being uncovered by my family. Still, it felt right today. I’d had enough of false assumptions, and I had to say something. I was also aware of the probability that the story of my confession would go beyond the walls of my Sunday school classroom. I suspected that it might reach church leaders who would be astonished to hear of my position and perhaps offended that I’ve been hiding among them like a spy for over a year and a half. I preempted this by finding my pastor after church and telling him everything (a two-minute condensed version of my position regarding faith, a summary of the discussion in Sunday school today, and the promise of a link to this blog). I told him that I really do want to believe, but I can’t justify it. His response to all of this? “Wow. That’s gutsy. Thank you for sharing this with me.” Then he hugged me and said, “Love you.” If everyone responded that way, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to be anonymous. I don’t expect him to try to convince me. I honestly don’t think he can. But it gives me peace to know that he knows and loves me anyway. It gives me hope as I wonder what could happen in a church that knows that skeptics walk their hallways looking for reasons to believe. If they can come to love those they disagree with—and perhaps even validate our questions and learn to discuss them with open hearts free from false assumptions and annihilations of straw men—my struggle will have accomplished something.

Less than five minutes after I spoke with my pastor, my Sunday school directors found me in the hallway. “We were just talking to [name of one of the church ministers] about you and our discussion in Sunday school. We were worried that you might have felt attacked when some of the others got so heated up. We’d love to discuss some of the questions you raised in private sometime, but we want to make sure you know that your questions are always welcome here, even if it didn’t seem that way today.”

So it begins—I’m a target for ministry. And that’s okay. I love these people, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to converse honestly. I have not always been welcomed into friendships like these, and it’s a privilege. I’ve developed confidence in who I am now, and I don’t need them to convince me to be someone else. I would simply like for them to understand my struggle and love me anyway. The weight of my loneliness has been oppressive, but it’s starting to lift. I rocked the boat today, and it stayed upright—maybe now we can actually go somewhere.

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17 thoughts on “I Rocked the Boat

  1. Hope it doesn’t sound too weird to say I think you’re brave! I absolutely grasp the loneliness and the desire to have people understand and love anyway! I feel it every day to some extent. I hope for you that the rocking of the boat that stayed upright gives you the freedom to truely move forward with loving people along side. In for the friendship and who you are rather then what they think they can do ‘for’ you. (JJ – was Scots flower)

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    • Thanks, JJ! My husband asked me at what point I decided to confess that I was the person who had rejected my faith. I told him “Right after I said it.” It wasn’t really bravery–more like a shield I threw up against daggers. But I don’t regret it…yet. I was so touched by the response afterward–nothing but love and acceptance. The Church handled it well.

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  2. Good for you. And good for the persistent questioner who you supported. And good for us in the church. How would I answer that question? God pursues the backslider even leaving the 99 to find her wherever, whenever, and for however long it takes. He loves her and will never leave her nor forsake her. He will allow her to wander, but like a toddler who runs away – – always keeping her within sight. Do we know who is saved? Absolutely not. That is where faith and trust comes in – – I trust God with the souls of men, because it deeply moves me. I wish I could have been in that Sunday school class to lend my support to the question and to the answer. Don’t assume that it is over – – this may have stirred more than a ministry opportunity in the hearts of sincere saints.

    Liked by 1 person

      • That is a challenge. I just re-read Hebrews 6 with my notes in the margin. I noted that Jesus used the same metaphor about a crop of thorns and thistles when he talked about seed scattered in shallow soil. I also noticed verses 9-20, beginning with: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – – things that belong to salvation…” and a crescendo later . . . “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place beyond the curtain.”

        So Hebrews 9-20 is talking about us (and JJ) and those like us – – believers who honestly struggle with doubt, but have an anchor.

        Verses 1-8 with [taste,share,taste] does not invoke your spirit in my view after our 1/2 year of our correspondence.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I was going to ask about what your husband thought of the ‘confession’. I wish the small amount of people that know my position at my church showed the love and acceptance you have been.

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    • My husband is so wonderfully supportive–and I think he knew this would happen eventually. He knows that I will defend others at my own expense (like the girl who asked the original question, and any former believers whose original salvation is called into question). It is so important to me to know that people love ME–not just who I’m pretending to be. Sometimes it’s worth the risk to find out. My husband had said from the beginning that I would not be able to stay quiet forever, and I’m so thankful that he doesn’t ask me to be–even though it brings him into conversations he’d probably rather not have. I recognize his sacrifice, and I’m so humbled by how gently and extravagantly he loves me–I know it can’t be easy for him sometimes!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much for asking. We went back the following week, and it was like nothing had ever happened. No one said a word about my comments or referred to the previous week in any way. They were loving–we weren’t ignored or shunned. But I’m not sure if I’m relieved or disappointed by the lack of follow-up in my Sunday school class. I did ask for scriptural justification for a questionable statement this week that was boldly asserted by the teacher as true. He gave a vague verse out of context in response, and it had nothing to do with the topic at hand. I left it alone. I could sense the relief when I did.

      The pastor has followed up privately–he has read my blog and wants to talk, not to convince me, but to hear me. We’re figuring out a time when my husband and I can meet with him (and maybe also his wife) over a meal. What am I hoping to gain? I guess I want to be understood. I want my lack of belief to be validated after weeks of hearing the believers in this church describe me as a fool. I want them to know what skeptics ask and to understand why the answers we’ve been given aren’t good enough–maybe just so that someone else might not stray as far as I did. I still wish I believed. If they had been more equipped to answer my earlier questions, I might have settled back down–instead of thinking and reading more and more and asking the later questions. Ultimately I know that I can’t blame anyone else for where I’ve ended up, but it might have been easier to stick with it if I felt like they were truly seeking truth as well. Part of my rapid decline was likely just rebellion against a church that spoke so cruelly of skeptics and acted as if anyone who didn’t accept their rehearsed answers wasn’t worth talking to. Super mature of me, I know.

      I’m giving them a chance to put a face to a skeptic, to see if they still believe I’m “not worth talking to” (their actual words about skeptics many weeks ago, before they knew one was in their midst). I’m still willing to talk, if anyone else is.

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  4. Skeptics are worth talking to, befriending, and sharing life with. My pull to skeptics — Russell in particular – – has as much to do with my heart for the church and how we deal with our current culture in the context of history. If the church doesn’t care, then it becomes an irrelevant bless-me echo chamber. I do believe there are many in the church who do care – – we just need to provide time and space to converse. Then conversation truly becomes compassion and both parties are elevated to the glory of the savior of both. Please keep us posted.

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  5. CC-

    Interesting happenings above with ya.

    After reading you here, it may be appropo to briefly address your note about the ‘shutting down,’ which I noticed after I posted last.

    Your example here in the church group leaves much latitude for back and forth, like a see-saw, where ideas are traded, counsel is given, scripture is suggested and /or refuted or refused.

    In the other example about denying simple bible truth, ie, Did Adam and Eve live? there comes a point when ‘endless fables’ need turned away from, for any ensuing conversation would be futile.

    I have far more respect for an atheist or agnostic who chooses not to believe, than a paid professional rabbi, pastor, or whoever, who sees no more value in the scriptures than the bros. Grimm. That’s my context.

    Btw, to be fair, I have gone on record, much to the chagrin of some, saying that many atheists have finer morals than christians. Key word: fair

    All the best to you

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    • Thank you for clarifying your comments from VWs post—it’s always hard to fully understand intentions in this type of setting, and I might be hypersensitive when I sense someone leaning toward saying something like “You’re not worth talking to.”

      For the sake of full disclosure, I do question whether or not certain Biblical characters ever existed (Adam and Eve included, Jesus included, God included)—but I certainly acknowledge that they could have. I question any supernatural being at all, but I certainly believe it’s possible.

      As long as I’m willing to admit that I might be wrong, the conversation is worth having. Even if I got to where I wouldn’t admit that possibility (which I doubt will ever happen, if I know myself at all), the conversation would still be worth having. Being able to better understand the perspective of another human, regardless of how stubborn and unreachable that human is, is worthwhile.

      In short, I won’t assert that the Bible is full of fables, but I really think it might be. If you want to argue with me, you’re going to have to do better than an expert apologist who has plenty of personal motivation to find that it’s not. Your description of his work being “proven faultless” seemed a little far-fetched to me.

      Still, I think you’re worth talking to, and I am glad that you’re here. 🙂

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      • CC-

        It took a long time for you to decide to cash your chips in as it were regarding the faith; I certainly cannot convince you in a few posts 😉

        As a matter of fact, I cannot convince you at all. As far as my friend, Alfred Edersheim, (loosely) others have tried to find weaknesses in his arguments, the man was a spiritual genius the same way Dr. Cyril Wecht is a mental phenom in the field of forensics.

        I would say the scriptures are enough for you, for I, for anybody, to spend a lifetime and not scratch the surface of the jewels within.

        That said, there are gifted teachers, Sir Robert Anderson of Scotland comes to mind (previously of Scotland Yard, now deceased) who can plainly unfold truth, and defend any arrows of doubt.

        Doubt is good! Remember Thomas? His doubts were my doubts, but they innately knew the reliability of the text.

        Nuff said-
        cu later hopefully-

        (for what its worth, I believe I have mentioned in another place ‘please do not mistake confidence for arrogance,’ The confidence is always in God’s word. Me? Subject to failure.

        😉

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        • I like you.

          And don’t worry—no need to convince me. I’m finding that I’m less in need of convincing and more in need of acquaintances and friends to wonder with. It’s the conversation that thrills me, not a specific conclusion.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well CC–

            Acquaintance today,

            maybe friend next week. In the meantime yes, we will wonder and wander—-

            Your last sentence reminds me of ‘the trip… not the destination.’ Good reminder.

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  6. One of my oldest friends (I persecuted her in high school when I was a rabid Christian-hater) has been faithful to God all her life. She has done everything right. She is beautiful, faithful, generous, smart… and has been doubting her faith for more than a decade. She is weary, lonely, unfulfilled, and begs God to show up, to speak, to deliver her. But He is silent. I don’t know what to do for her especially because I feel like God is speaking to me constantly, rescuing me from internal and external hardship, and making beauty out of my ashes. I wish I could fix it all for her. But, like you acknowledge, God must show up for her. He alone, the Father of the prodigal as you share in your most recent post, is what she is waiting for.

    When I read the story of the paralyzed man whose friends tore the roof off and lowered him with ropes down to Jesus’ feet, I think, that’s what I can do. I see her condition as it is- an emptiness that only God can fill. I know that God alone can heal and restore. So I will seek to be the friend who doesn’t try to cover up the condition for the sake of making her “look better” without being truly healed. I’ll try to be the one she can share everything with, even the statements that she fears saying out lout. I will, whenever I get the chance, take her to God even when she doesn’t have the strength to get to Him herself. I will pray when she cannot. I will seek with her when she feels distant. I will wait by her side.

    It sounds like you may have a few friends like that at your church. People who won’t try to “fix” you, but who are willing to wait with and listen to you. I pray that is the case.

    Much love,
    Katy

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