As we age we all go through changes in belief. Most of the time these are changes in the content of a belief, but on rare occasions we experience a shift so drastic that it changes our entire posture toward even what belief itself means as a principle. These types of changes are Spiritual Evolutions. A change in how you see the world altogether, not merely a change in what you believe about it.
One of my earliest and most potent experiences with such a paradigm shift happened when I was fresh out of High School. I had started attending a new church where the lead pastor was a very intelligent and passionate speaker. He was full of charisma and commanded the attention of the audience. When he spoke people listened. There was a deep and authentic personal investment intertwined with the words he spoke.
The core doctrines of this church were basically the same as the churches I was raised in, which comforted me and made me feel right at home. The denomination placed strong value on the belief that heaven and hell are physical places in the afterlife. A place where believers are rewarded with eternity in heaven and non-believers are damned to eternity in hell. A pretty standard belief among Christian churches. But the pastor was about to shake that up.
When I’d been attending that church for a year, the pastor began to publicly struggle with the existence of a literal and eternal hell. Questioning if a truly loving God could send his creations into endless torment. Needless to say, openly questioning core beliefs of the institution from the pulpit rattled some cages. Mine included. It was a bold move, but he was a bold man. He was not some barely wet behind the ears pastor straight out of school but a man who’d given a lot of his life to building this community.
The first sermon he delivered on the topic had me in tears! Not happy sentimental ones, but big, wet, nasty, painful ones. From my isolated seat in the very back of the church, I stared at the stage with wet cheeks and an intense scowl, as he wrestled with the idea that a loving God could condemn his creation to eternal torment.
He then took his sermon a step further, saying that it isn’t God that requires sinners to be held in eternal punishment. That’s what we require in our wounded human hearts. You can’t feel like a winner unless there are losers. You can’t be a strong survivor unless the weak are destroyed. You can’t be God’s elect unless the sinners are his rejects. We are a competitive people. We prize the philosophy of survival of the fittest, not necessarily by word but certainly in practice. He went on to express his love and desire for everyone to be saved from eternal torment. He was uncertain in the doctrinal mechanics of how, but on stage he expressed honest questions with a sincere heart.
In the back of the church I was livid, I was cursing him under my breath: “No! No! No! You’re so fucking wrong. That’s not true! NO! What about the, rapists, the pedophiles, Hitler? They all deserve hell! What about the murderer’s, the human traffickers?” Much later I realized how my own thoughts had exposed me. In order for me to be saved as God’s beloved, in my heart I required that someone be condemned. Someone needed to be lesser than me. Not for God’s justice to be fulfilled, but rather to placate my own pride.
He ripped a hole in my doctrine with his honest questions. He pulled the rug out from under me. Created a paradox I could not resolve. Yet something resonated with me. This pastor showed his sincere love for all people to be redeemed. In turn, it called into question the church’s doctrine. Later I saw the beauty in that. His heart for people was closer to the tradition of Christ than any doctrine could ever be. His words tore me up and sent me spiraling into a space where I didn’t know what I believed. A lot of anger came out of me. The same anger that required sinners so that I could be redeemed. In the years to come it proved to be a fertile space where some spiritual evolution could take place. Space where the divine was growing within me, rather than belief in a certain doctrine. This encounter and many others have stripped me of most of the beliefs I held growing up. But I truly believe they’ve been replaced with something infinitely more beautiful.
I ‘know’ so much less now than I thought I did those 12 years ago, but I’m better off for it. I replaced a love for dogma with a love for people and for life. I don’t know what’s to come next but I’m eager to hold my beliefs with an open hand as to surrender them to the divine when it’s time to grow again. And further down the rabbit hole I go.