Just like the ‘Universe’ is considered both creator and created all rolled into one in the New Age, so ‘love’ is both the lover and love itself. In fact, there is no other source than love itself, no personhood, no Divine Parent. Love is often seen as ultimate reality and by choosing love, we can can ‘ascend.’ If I would use just one word to describe this belief compared to faith in Christ, it would be ‘sterile.’
As someone who grew up starved of love, abandoned by my mother at age three and abused mentally and physically by my father, I didn’t know what it was like to be loved. Therefore it made sense to me to detach love from any external source (not to be trusted!). And yet God’s loved reached through to me time and time again.
In the 1980’s I was staying with a Christian family during a high school exchange year, from Sweden to the USA. My host parents invited me to go to church with them and I was taught the gospel. One evening, not long after I arrived in their home, I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart, as my Lord and Saviour.
What happened internally that night was that, for the first time, I felt that God wanted me and that what happened on the cross was personal. This was radically different to my formal cathecesis.
At age 15 had gone through the traditional confirmation process in the Swedish Lutheran church without ever being able to connect emotionally. On the day of my confirmation, I told my dad I felt it was a lie to go through with it. He said, ‘You’re going through with it’ and that was the end of our discussion. It had nothing to do with faith and everything to do with conforming to expectations.
The funny thing about my confirmation was that it happened a few months after watching the series ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ with Robert Powell in the role of Jesus. I was so touched by the words of Jesus in that film, that I was actually looking forward to my confirmation. Yet every question I had for the confirmation priest was squashed. I asked about the miracles in the gospels and was told that they were just fables etc.
The Bible Belt
It simply wasn’t fashionable to believe in God’s miraculous power in Sweden. Social justice seemed to be the agenda of the Swedish State church, not the gospel. Sweden in the 80’s was highly secularised and proud of it. Then I arrived in the Bible Belt where EVERYBODY went to church. Nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock!
But there is going to church and there is having a RADICAL RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ. The two can literally be aeons apart, as I was about to learn for myself over the next 30+ years.
Now, I was staying with a family of true believers during my high school exchange year. They had a heart for spreading the gospel and I was a willing recipient. At age 17, suffering with severe depression and feeling utterly lost, I sure could do with some good news!
Sitting at that kitchen table with my host father, Wayne, I felt SAFE, loved and cared for — possibly for the first time in my life. Wayne took me through the gospel and the ‘Romans road.’ In my mind, I was able to vividly picture myself at the foot of the cross, looking up at Christ who suffered and died for me. Then and there it was just Jesus and me. It was real. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. A week later, I was baptised.
I tried really hard to fit in with the church culture I found myself submerged in. There were many add-ons in order to the Gospel if you wanted the approval of the other ‘good Christians,’ including the way you dressed and put your make-up on if you were a girl. I craved approval and I wanted to fit in. Quite without realising it, the approval of the other church members became as important (or more!) as the approval of God Himself.
I was still very young and I didn’t have anybody to counsel me through the abuse I had been through. Simply put, I was expected to be fine as soon as I got ‘saved.’ I was far from fine. There was no depth of understanding of how to cultivate my relationship with Jesus from that place of pain. After a couple of months, I developed anorexia.
My host family loved me and I loved them. They didn’t want me to have to go back to the hell I had come from, so they even looked into adopting me but I was legally too old. I was too old on the outside but with the emotional maturity of a young child.
I remember the day I was told I would have to go back to Sweden. My knees buckled and I fell to the floor. I was being sent back to hell. My mind turned black and my faith was replaced with darkness. On the surface I was still a believer, still a Christian, but I think that was the point I had decided that God was going to let me down and betray me, just like everybody else always had.
From that place of doubting God, it didn’t take long for me to start ‘backsliding.’ What I see clearly now, from a point of emotional maturity, is that it was my own expectations that let me down, not God. I had placed those expectations not in God and his Word but in external circumstances. This world is always going to let us down. That is one thing we can count on… and that is exactly WHY we need a radical relationship with Jesus Christ.
A Return to Radical Relationship
I think I’m just one of those people who needed time to mature in the faith. Part of my growth process was trying everything else, everything other than a radical relationship with my Lord. Through it all, He never let go.
It was around the time of my first divorce in my late 20’s that I decided church was probably not for me. At age 30, I left the church behind completely. Making that decision was still a big step for me. I prayed one evening before going to bed. I asked Jesus to give me a sign that he would still be with me.
That night I had a vivid dream. I was by a waterfall in the forest. Above the waterfall there was a throne hewn from rock. Jesus was seated on that throne.
In the blink of an eye, Jesus raised me up to eye level with him. He did not speak; He just looked at me, with such great love — vast, eternal and true.
That was the great love I always longed to return to as I went down so many other paths over the next 20 years. They say all paths of love lead to the top of the mountain. I didn’t want to go to the top of any mountain to merge with sterile, non-personal ‘love’; In my heart I wanted to return to the top of that waterfall and to a radical relationship with Jesus.
There was only one problem: PRIDE. When you go about trying to fix yourself and ‘ascend’ through your own mental faculties, you harden your heart to radical, intimate love. There is only one remedy and that is to turn around and repent of the sin of pride. So I did, not long after Easter this year. I repented of the sin of utter stupidity and believing I could ever do a better job of my redemption than God could.
What a relief to know that when we have a change of heart and experience true metanoia, God always forgives us. His thirst for a radical love relationship with us is always going to be much greater than ours for him because we are His children. Any parent will know the truth of this. As a parent, you love your child while they are still being formed in the womb, and should your child die before you, you NEVER stop grieving.