Watching his grandfather suffer from spiritual torture he learned how religion could be a double edged sword.
Before my grandfather passed away from cancer I was able to spend time with him for a month before I moved away for college. During that time I spent countless nights in deep conversations with him about our shared Christian faith. Our talks were painfully consistent. Every night he had the same question for me.
How do you know when you’re forgiven?
This question was personal and created great anxiety as he felt time slipping away. Every night I’d calm his soul but by the end of next day he’d pose the same question again. I was shocked by his despair as I struggled to console him. He was always a strong willed man of faith. He prayed, read scriptures and attended Sunday church religiously. A big reason for his faith was his desire to be forgiven for the mistakes in the past that seemed to haunt him.
Like some religious people my grandfather had a tendency to judge harshly. His temper was his achilles heel and would work against the desire he had for his family. For instance, I remember when he’d constantly badger my father about going to church when we lived with him. He wanted my father to find God because it would have helped him. My father would have benefited having a spiritual anchor and it may have helped him avoid incarceration today.
There is nothing wrong with wanting your daughter and her family to live your faith when you think it’ll bless their lives but when it’s delivered harshly the true message is loss. My grandfather loved his daughter but he didn’t know how to use finesse to encourage her and my father to change. Instead of displaying concern or love for their spiritual well being he’d deliver his words with threats of eternal damnation. This method of communication would inevitably end up sabotaging his hope of seeing my parents attend church.
One Sunday morning my father surprisingly woke up with a strong desire to attend church. He actually seemed excited and was hustling all of us to get ready. While we got ready my grandparents returned home from early morning service. When my grandfather stomped past our bedroom door where he knew my father would be he rumbled, “Some people need to go to church!” This outburst pushed my father’s button and shut the door on any motivation he had to attend church. He had shot himself in the foot. If he had only kept his temper in check he might have realized the fruits of his labor.
My grandfather’s quick temper would step on more then a few toes as was apparent when he decided to ask for forgiveness from every person he’d ever known. I thought it was a good idea if it would bring him peace, however, I soon learned that his peace was hinged on whether or not others accepted his apology. It was no surprise that his apology tour would fail to create the desired affect I had hoped for.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” Matthew 7:1-2
This scripture illustrates the reason why my grandfather was suffering. He wasn’t able to find peace because he was plagued by his own judgment. He believed that God punished the wicked harshly and without mercy. He believed in a jealous God who had little compassion. Not unlike him at times. So when he was faced with death and the afterlife it dawned on him that the God he believed in wouldn’t forgive the misdeeds he had committed. Therefore, what awaited him was eternal suffering in a lake of fire. This is the narrative I battled to extinguish during our nightly conversations.
How did I answer his question about forgiveness?
Unlike my grandfather I believe and have felt God’s love and mercy. I’ve come to this conclusion through my journey in life with depression. My belief in his mercy is what brought me out of my self hatred that led to several suicide attempts. I accept my faults and understand it’s important for me to improve. However, I believe God will judge me based on countless variables like my psychological issues. He understands that I’m trying and that is what matters.
This is the message I shared with him. I told him that his guilt meant he was sorry and it didn’t matter if others didn’t forgive him. All that mattered was that he was remorseful and if he was genuine God would know. These words seem to stem the tide for a while but it wouldn’t stick. He would wake up the next morning full of dread.
Watching him helplessly suffer in his personal hell reminds me that religion can be a double edged sword. It can be a powerful tool to bring peace and harmony to the world. On the other hand, history and current events have shown that religion can also cause atrocities. While some people kill in the name of their deity others have forgiven murderers because of their faith.
My grandfather and I come from the same faith but we both internalized our religion differently. To his detriment he focused on the punishment of God while I gravitated toward his mercy. These slight differences made the difference in how we viewed and overcame mistakes. My grandpa was unable to forgive himself while my faith in God’s mercy helped me find peace despite my imperfectness.
So if your faith seems to be causing you spiritual torture I ask that you take a critical look at it and ask these questions.
1. Does my faith contain teachings that contradict what I currently believe?
2. If those teachings are applied do they bolster my faith?
3. If those teachings are applied do I find peace in my faith?
I believe most of us are imperfect in our faith, therefore, we have room for growth. These questions can help you understand where you’re at and if you need to change. I hope you take the time to ponder and if changes are needed make them. Don’t be stuck in your own spiritual prison.
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Photo: Flickr/Luís Honrado