Rev Karla's Blog

What If You're Wrong

Living with Fear of Hell, the Rapture, and the Return of Jesus

Nichole Nordeman remains one of my favorite contemporary Christian singer/songwriters. In the years leading up to the deconstruction of my religious heritage, her songs comforted me in ways that I couldn’t explain.

With lyrics like, “when I close my eyes and feel you rushing by,” “and so it is with You as You are recreating me,” and “I want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me,” I now know that Nichole’s expression of faith through the mystical lens of spirituality spoke to my soul deeply.

Known for its pop-rock style, contemporary Christian music exploded in the early 2000’s, with bands like Hillsong United, Third Day and Mercy Me crossing over the charts to traditional rock music, revealing their appeal at that time. Nichole isn’t as widely known as her colleagues in the contemporary Christian music genre. Her style consists of soft ballads that invite you to pause for breath and consider the words she’s singing.

It’s in that pause that we arrive in the mystical realm. It is an invitation to slow down, be present in your body, and be willing to open yourself to a new understanding about the mystery of the Holy.

When you have lived your life inside a religious heritage that defines God as a spiritual father with human attributes, opening yourself to “a new understanding” isn’t something that feels comfortable. Someone entrenched in this type of indoctrination is so guarded that even the suggestion of mysticism inside their own belief system feels threatening. Therefore, it’s immediately disregarded and avoided.

The indoctrination into a Christian theology that sees everything that is undefinable or unknown as a threat and something to fear is intentional. Bible verses that teach you to “guard your heart” and beware of the enemy who “comes to seek, kill and destroy” are saying that wickedness and evil live in those outer edges of your faith — don’t even think about going there lest your soul be at risk.

This is evident in Christians who leave comments on my social posts like, “pray and repent before it’s too late”, find a preacher and be for mercy”, you do know that you’ll answer for all of this on judgment day.” There are many more, but you get the picture. Their words are drenched in fear and sadly, that is a palpable part of their existence each and every day. Their indoctrination is so powerful that they don’t even realize that their warnings of eternal damnation to an audience of deconstructing Christians only affirms our decision to escape their toxic, fear-based theology.

Leaving church was part of my deconstruction journey, but that alone did not mean I was free from the beliefs that had been drilled into my psyche for decades. Deconstructing from toxic theology took time, and I dove into the vast mystery of spirituality to seek a new understanding of the Bible, the rapture, heaven and hell. There wasn’t one element of my beliefs that I wasn’t willing to examine and reconsider.

I’m so grateful I did. Without that intense level of work, I would be stuck in a limiting, spiritual comfort zone. It was from this space of healing that a new level of comfort arrived — one you would think wouldn’t be comfortable at all.

That is the paradox of living with the mystery. There is indeed a comfort that comes from embracing the fact that I don’t know all there is to know about the Holy and have given up my need to quantify it with words. It just is. Just as God said “I am,” there is nothing more beyond this that I need for my understanding of who or what God is.

Coming to a place on my spiritual journey where I replaced my need to define God with simply embracing and experiencing the Mystery did not happen overnight. It took years of deep exploration of where I had come from and where I was being called to go. Now, far beyond those deconstruction experiences, I can’t imagine how I ever existed in any place other than where I am now.

I lived deeply entrenched in fear-based theology for the majority of my life. This is why when someone who is just beginning their journey expresses fear or confusion, I understand it so well. I remember how those same feelings gripped me for decades.

Recently, I shared a video describing the peace I have found living outside of my Christian indoctrination. It resonated with so many people who shared their experiences in the comments. Some asked questions, while others expressed concern for what life would look like after deconstruction. I try to respond to as many as I can to encourage and assure my fellow spiritual sojourners.

One question however, stuck out for me. It actually catapulted me back to my days of being held captive by evangelical Christianity.

“What if you’re wrong? I mean, I don’t want to return to church, but I sometimes fear that I’m wrong and worry about what will happen if I am.”

What she didn’t say outright in her comment was louder than what she did say - the intense fear of an eternal fire where we, the ones sitting on the outside of Christianity, meet a certain fate of indescribable pain and “thrashing of teeth”. That terrifying teaching of hell is reason enough to keep many in the church pews every Sunday, as if God is a punishing parent who counts attendance.

Never mind the myriad of sacred ways people around the world express their reverence for the Divine. If it isn’t through the doctrine of Christianity, you are doomed to eternal damnation, and aren’t you the blessed souls for being a part of this exclusive spiritual club.

Reading her question, “What if you’re wrong?” reminded me how often I had asked that question myself. With no road map and no idea where I was going, I vacillated between guilt, shame and fear as I navigated the spiritual wilderness looking for a path to healing.

This isn’t uncommon. Being in close proximity to a theology that warns of being “in the world but not of it” can make anything and anyone out to be a threat with just one scriptural smack down from the pulpit. No other explanation required, for that is the way of indoctrination. To challenge leadership is to find yourself accused of having a “doubter’s mind” and a “spirit that is weak.”

Whatever the catalyst that finally catapults you out of the system, be it hypocritical leadership, constant judgement or any of the other multitude of reasons, the fear of hell often goes with you. It leads you to find your way to someone like me who has made it out on the other side and ask, “What if you’re wrong?”

What if I’m wrong? What if? Where do you draw the line in asking “what if” questions?

What if there really is a large table set for humanity where all world religions and non-religious traditions have a seat?

What if Christianity isn’t the gatekeeper of that table and doesn’t get to decide who sits down?

What if humans were never supposed to seek definitive answers about God because (history proves) when we do, it leads to the corruption and abuse found in every world religion?

What if we just dove into the mystery of the Holy, released our limited understanding and instead just focused on our common humanity to work for the good of the whole?

What if our spirituality became focused on how we showed up in the world instead of keeping a religious scorecard that determines our eternal fate?

What if I’m right?

What if?

Beloved, I nor anyone else on this earth can answer who is right or who is wrong, but I can tell you this.

I’m willing to take the chance on a spiritual path that elevates the human condition and unites our humanity with our spirituality rather than restrict it based on a set of irrational, outdated rules.

Several years ago, a friend of Nichole Nordeman’s asked her this very same question. Her response came in the form of a song. Titled “What if You’re Wrong,” one would expect that the fear of eternal damnation would be the focus of her answer.

On the contrary, Nichole responded in a way that softened the edges of Christianity and invited the Holy to dance.

She sings:
“But what if you're wrong?
What if there's more?
What if there's hope
You never dreamed of hoping for?
What if you jump?
And just close your eyes?
What if the arms that catch you
Catch you by surprise?
What if He's more than enough?*
What if it's love?”

What if you’re wrong, Beautiful Soul?
What if all of this is love?
Let us close our eyes and jump.
I’m willing to take that chance.
Won’t you join me?
Blessed be.

*Nichole may not even be aware of the mystical language she uses around her expression of faith. Many people who are deeply connected to the Holy are not – they write from a space of vulnerability and authenticity that most of us will never experience. However, she does use the pronoun “He”, making it clear that her faith anthropomorphizes God to be a patriarchal, masculine figure. While her song lyrics speak to my soul, I deconstructed my belief in this understanding of God and do not use pronouns to describe the Divine.

To put it simply, God is…..

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