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I grew up Christian, but with a similar God. He loved me - the songs at Sunday School told me that, but those songs didn't gibe entirely with the rest of the message. God was worried about my skirt - it might be too short. He was worried about my language - if I said "jeepers" we all knew I was really taking His Son's name in vain in my heart, and so when the word slipped out in Kindergarten I came home crying and prayed for Him to forgive me. Of course, I had to make sure I'd confessed all my sins before I prayed. God didn't listen to the prayers of those who had sin in their hearts. He only listened to clean people. So confess first, pray later. Or He'll close his heart to you, and everything you ask will be in vain.
The God of my childhood was also pretty picky about who was going where. Catholics, of course, were all going to Hell. They didn't have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ". Instead they worshipped Mary and the Pope, and portrayed Christ still on the cross, which really meant they didn't believe He rose from the dead (it was like some sort of secret Catholic code, that crucifix). Methodists, Episcopalians, random Northeastern sects - they preached a "social gospel", not the real gospel. They didn't put tracts in their Christmas cards, didn't have altar calls and sing "Just As I Am", and they even thought PG movies were okay for children. We all knew what was going to happen to them.
So I was scared of God. But at the same time, I knew in my heart that it was all wrong. That He did love me. After all, if He made me, why would He hate me? I shuffled through church as a child - kept my head down and kept moving. It was too confusing (and I was too young) to sort it all out. As a young adult, I stopped shuffling and started running. Whatever God was like, I really didn't want anything to do with Him. The farther I ran, the more confused I got. Did He want me back? Did He really love me? Or did he have some sort of fantastic punishment waiting for me? I waited for Him to stop blessing me, but He didn't. I did my best to screw up those blessings, but for the most part, they stuck. In the end, I found out He was out there, but He wasn't waiting to slap me with a bad case of boils. Instead, He wanted me to love Him, to follow His Son. I felt a relief and a joy that I never felt as a child. Yes, I was a complete incompetent. A miserable sinner. And He didn't care. Well, He cared, but He loved me anyway. And that's all that matters in the end.
Lately I've been reading Frank Schaeffer's Calvin Becker Trilogy. I've had to read the books one at a time and take a break between them - sometimes even put one down for a few days and walk away. The God in those books - the one who Calvin's mother torments him with - is all too familiar to me. I read the books laughing and shaking all at the same time. More than once I've put one down for the night and found myself in the midst of a panic attack. I'm glad I read them, though, because they've helped me further sort out the God that haunted my childhood from the God that comforts me now. They're a literary trip to the dentist for me - painful but well worth the trip.
I do not worship a God of fear and vengeance. I worship a God of love. And that's all I have to say about that.