The Funk of it All
I put the phone back on the receiver with a hesitant click. Did I really almost end the message with “In Jesus’ name, amen?” Could I seriously be praying too much?
Glancing to the other side of the room I once again fell back into my mind. The thoughts haunted like an itch on the brain that you are desperately trying to scratch, but cannot. Flooding in were the doubts, the questions, the wondering at my every action and thought. Was it a lie if you had honest intentions at the time? Did you need to confess it?
An erection during church service. The horror. Every small slit of cleavage told a story of a young man’s temptation. Except for Mrs. W… I hope God doesn’t put me with a woman like her. How does her husband do it… do her. But God probably will. God knows best and often what we think is best for us is not what is best. Doubtless I would end up with an ugly woman, just so God can teach me how to be thankful for what I have. I wonder if it is all the same in the dark. I wonder what a vagina looks like. What do you call a vagina anyway? I know on men it is called a penis, but dad only explained to me what an erection was and didn’t tell me what sex actually was. I’ll bet I could find a picture of a vagina in the dictionary if I knew what it was called.
Flipping the pages one by one, each one falling with a thump that was only matched by a beat of my heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. B. r. e… a… Jesus wouldn’t want this. Jesus is watching me. Oh, how I love you Jesus, but I am dying of curiosity. A footstep upstairs. What if I was caught with my erection up and my hand on a picture of a naked woman? Lust is sin. Slide the dictionary back onto the shelf, Josh. There, Josh. Thank you Lord for helping me resist temptation.
But what about my dreams? Oh, the dreams. I imagine the smooth skin, the red lips… the… kissing. Oh to kiss a girl. But kissing can lead to lust, and some have said that kissing should be saved for marriage. Marriage. Like jail with sex. All I have to do is wait, then I can know how to complete my fantasies. God, if you are so wise, why did you make our bodies so that they did not know to wait until marriage? Why are our hormones so independent of your decrees? Why have you not provided a way to get rid of this… desire… before we are allowed to fill our lover according to your righteous ways?
The guilt. Condemnation. I had lusted. Lust is like adultery. Lust is sin. Oh, why can’t I just be happy like everyone else? Why the constant, endless… the endless, monotonous torment. What can take this away? Is this my lot? Is this what it means to suffer for Christ? Why are my friends so relieved of this torment?
“Josh, you think too much.”
“Josh, just trust.”
“Josh, you are normal.”
The elders solemnly stand at the end of each aisle. Each one a testament to what the Lord can do in someone’s life. Somber smiles told of inner joy mixed with contemplation that each one of us was responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, whose blood and body we were soon to symbolically drink. Closer and closer the plate passed, and with each foot it traveled my mind sunk deeper and deeper into an odd despair that would well up into panic.
Had I confessed every sin? Paul said that some men had died for not confessing every sin. Why is everyone else so… non-panicky? We could die if we take the body and blood of the Lord in the wrong manner.
I slowly approached the preacher, the teacher, the elder, the one who was indwelt with the Holy Spirit… desperate for the water to quench my spiritual thirst. How can I know that I am saved beyond a shadow of a doubt? My guilt and condemnation welling within me, the thoughts racing like cars around an infinitely simple track and they just do not stop. Just because I say I believe does not mean I am saved. So I could think I believe yet still be going to hell. But I cannot be saved by my works, only by faith. So I cannot look at my life to determine whether I am saved, I have to look at my beliefs. But how can I know I am believing the right things? I could think I am believing the right things and still be going to hell. But I cannot look at my works…
“Pastor, I am having doubts about my salvation…”
“Joshua, but you believe that Jesus Christ died for you, right?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then that means you are saved.”
“But how do I know that I am believing enough?”
“Well, we all struggle with doubts… [secretly I wanted to punch every Christian who ever said this. Yeah, buster. Do you have doubts so strong you want to commit suicide? Are those the types of doubts you have?]… but you can know that you truly believe by looking at your life. Do you do things to please the Lord? Have you been spending time in the word? Have you confessed any sins in your life?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes. But works do not save us.”
“This is true. But Joshua, I believe by all the evidence in your life that you are a Christian.”
The words were like dry water to my tortured soul. All the confidence of another man – all of my own confidence – were not enough to convince me that I was saved. Judas probably thought he was saved. Maybe I am like Judas. Where is the promise of the Holy Spirit? Why does it seem like no one has an answer for me?
Hours spent in prayer. Crying. Pouring over the Word – in desperation – looking for answers. Am I alone? God, I will wait for you. Waiting. Save me, Jesus! Eyes dry as a bone.
“Joshua, your dad and I think your problem is that you are arrogant.”
Yeah, that helps.
Maybe I am mentally ill. But if I was mentally ill, I wouldn’t know it. I’d better not tell my parents about the voices in my head, they will probably not know what to do. Would they send me to a psychiatrist or accuse me of just wanting to get attention? Maybe they would call in a pastor to pray over me. Maybe they would just tell me I need to get more sleep again. But I can’t sleep. I lie awake at bed every night, rehashing the days events… looking desperately for any unconfessed sin, hoping that I find the one that God is holding against me so that I can get some peace. Visions on my bed. Is that Satan? Ominous pictures enter my mind. Why can’t I just enjoy life like everyone else?
It’s not fair! I am trying harder than anyone I know to live the Christian life… to know I am doing things right, and I suffer far more than anyone else. I suffer torment in my mind like no one can imagine.
I laughed in church. Anthony looks at me with surprise. “Josh, you haven’t laughed like that in a long time.” What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just relax? I can’t relax because I might be going to hell.
Maybe all this torment is Satan attacking me because I am such a good Christian. Josh, don’t you dare think such an arrogant thought! Arrogant? But what if it is true! Maybe God is having me go through all of this so that I can help others some day who are suffering the same things at the hand of Satan. Yes, this must be it… I am being prepared by the Lord for something special. A feeling of pride wells up in my chest. I am special. My suffering is special. Or maybe I am suffering such doubt because I am not saved at all.
How can I know?
To this day I struggle quite a bit with being caught up in my mind. The voices are gone. The fear of death is almost completely obliterated, but I still struggle with the habits brought on by years and years of incessant rehashing of the unanswerable problem that is Christianity in my mind. These questions and the downright flippant and awful answers given by my “brothers” in the faith lead me to depression that I even now do not know how I survived. I think the only thing that kept me from suicide was fear of hell. Yet, ironically, if I had never believed in hell in the first place I probably would not have been depressed.