As a child, I manufactured a god in my own image—a sordid being with good intentions, but with the tide of reality and the rules of the universe working relentlessly against its compassion. This god I sketched operated at the behest of its own ideas, which it had written into laws—I imagined this tiny maniac shrugging its shoulders when confronted yet again by my repeat offenses, and all the tears which accompanied each ‘yet again’—and it would say “if to hell you are going, it is your own fault. I could not intervene even if I wished to.” It is disheartening and painful to remember that this is exactly how I spoke of salvation to my childhood friends. I offered up this salvation as if it were a cold, sterile medical textbook. This is what is—and these are your options. Choose as you like, but don’t come crying to me if you choose wrongly. I wish it was different, but it just isn’t.
Christ, in my childish and terrified mind's eye, was something like a public defender—a litigator assigned to argue for me in my god’s hostile court. I was the underdog, and he the only advocate I had. He showed up and pled my case as though it were his job—and in my head, that’s exactly what it was. Salvation was Jesus’ profession—it replaced carpentry as his area of expertise, so in that sense, I ‘trusted’ him with my life. I received his services gratefully but not for a moment did I mistake them for affection originating in anything but the pity my case inspired in him. He was merciful, kind, and good—but he was not mine, and I was not his. I used the language of Lover dutifully—’I am my Beloved’s and He is mine’—but I continued to live and exist as though Christ were a lawyer. This spread through all my christology, my theology, and my anthropology—I had no idea how deeply until time, suffering, and at least a little maturity began to make glaringly apparent the flaws in my thinking.
In my lifelong theology of a god who could take or leave me, but for the convincing closing arguments of that Wonderful Counselor there existed a deep wound of abandonment. Abandonment was the story of me and my god—I believed my god had left me at the mercy of my own brokenness. And I believed it was just, because it was exactly what I deserved—my god did not want me. The garden of my heart was insipid and sad. I built my constructs of love and relationship on this foundation of fear.
Eventually I grew bold enough to wonder if maybe the entire idea of god was a construction of my own mind, and a million minds before mine. I came to the conclusion that, if it was, it was worth leaving. I was determined to deconstruct this pallid, impotent paradise I had dreamed—so brick by brick I laid waste to the barns my fear had raised up—I set fire to the rotting wood of my morbid ideas of God—I leveled it all like a vengeful ex-wife. Torch in hand, breathing deeply the smoldering air, I waited, and the smoke cleared. To my great astonishment, a tree remained. Like the burning bush of Exodus, it was not consumed. The tree of life stood there spotless, and in gazing at it, I began to wonder if perhaps I could begin again. Perhaps God did want me. Perhaps God was not at the mercy of the laws of God, but the laws of God flowed and flowered out of the Love of God. Perhaps...perhaps.
At the end of all my deconstruction, I now find that “…God is with me, and He sits in the ruins of my heart, preaching His Gospel to the poor.” (Thomas Merton)