When You Don’t Believe in Salvation
Sometimes I forget that I was raised by evangelical parents or that I grew up in a Christian camp. The teachings, practices, and culture feel so distant to me. I think that’s a very good thing for me.
As a child, I always thought something was wrong with me because I couldn’t believe what everyone else did.
I was told that I needed to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior - that if I wasn’t saved, I would go to hell. Hell was a pretty scary prospect to me as a child, so I’m pretty sure I said the prayer to “accept” Christ as my Lord and savior over and over again.
But I didn’t actually believe it. It just didn’t make sense to me. Even as a child, it didn’t add up that Eve taking a bite from an apple caused all of humanity to be damned (If you’re unfamiliar with the story, God instructs Eve and Adam not to eat from the tree of life. Once Eve does, sin occurred and all of humanity was separated from God because he could not be in the presence of anything unholy).
Even “original sin” theory aside, I had a hard time understanding sin. Sin is anything that separates us from God - which could be in thought or action. Being unkind to someone was sin. Thinking lustfully about someone was sin. Any form of sexual touching (of oneself or somebody else) was sin.
I was told all sins were equal in God’s eyes. Murder, lying, and “impure” thoughts all landed you in the same place - hell.
I was taught that Christ (God’s Son) loved us so much that he died on the cross for us (if you’re unfamiliar, he was crucified by Jews for preaching). This worked to absolve all of humanity from sin because Christ was perfect when he died - a sacrificial lamb (which was what used to atone for sins in the Old Testament). He later rose from the dead, completing the atonement. And hence, the reason soooooo many church songs are about how “he has risen.”
It just didn’t make sense. How was Christ perfect? And how does one person dying take care of all the sin in the world? Why couldn’t God make his own decisions if he was so powerful? Why couldn’t God handle Satan himself ? And is the entire point of our lives really just to be saved? And what about all of those people who haven’t had a chance to hear about Christ? Do they really deserve to burn in hell?
I was told I just needed to have faith. That it was called “faith” for a reason and that doubt was natural. I just had to believe.
That’s a tricky thing to teach a child. To ignore logic, feeling, and intuition. To trust something solely because it’s what the Bible teaches (not to mention it was solely THEIR interpretation of the Bible, which they believed was THE ONLY correct interpretation of the Bible).
I tried to believe. I asked lots of questions, but it just didn’t make sense. I felt that something must be wrong with me.
My mother told me she was worried God would “humble me” - inflict some negative event on my life so that I would turn to God and believe.
Every time something bad happened in my life, I thought it was God humbling me. I’d try all over again to believe. And fail. And feel like something was wrong with me all over again.
It impacted me into adulthood- feeling like something was inherently wrong with me. That I was impure, sinful, evil, and couldn’t even believe in the one thing that could save me from it all.
Even as I grew into adulthood and separated from Christianity, I still held the core belief that something was wrong with me and needed to be fixed.
It took years and years of therapy, self healing, and conversations with understanding individuals to slowly be at peace with myself.
This essay isn’t meant as a crusade against Christainity. Christianity assists many individuals. However, by purporting to be the “only right way” and condemning everyone else to hell, it leaves a lot of people out.
For those that grow up within a Christian environment and do not believe, it is a deeply painful experience with long lasting consequences.
I am now a therapist and work with clients who have separated from Christianity. It’s called “religious deconstruction.” I didn’t invent the word, but I’d guess they named it such because you have so slowly take apart how it impacted you.
It’s not easy work, but it is life changing. And brings the peace that Christianity always promised, but was so far out of reach.
I provide art therapy for religious deconstruction.