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Faith That Hurts, Faith That Heals

A friend and member of our writers group, Magda Wills, wrote yesterday in follow up to Dave's post, to say, "Years ago when the movie Left Behind came out I reacted with a strong determination never to see a film that induces fear. Around the same time our Canadian Chapter of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW) hosted a seminar on the topic of spiritual abuse. I wrote down my story which was published in the NACSW newsletter The Catalyst. When I read your blog this morning  with David's personal story I felt moved and called to share my own rapture story on the eve of Hurricane Hazel, the storm of the 20th century in Ontario." (Thank you for sharing with us Magda~ Belinda)

By Magda Wills

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgement – is one not yet fully formed in love.   (I John 4, The Message)

The little girl pressed her nose to the window, tears streaming down her face as she watched the worst storm of the century raging outside. She had come home from school with her brother to find her parents were not there. She was frightened and felt isolated in the big house in rural Ontario with no adults around. She missed the comfort of her old home back in Holland where her grandmother had lived with them. She had always felt so secure there.

At first the fear was for her parents safety, but as darkness set in and the storm raged on, a new terror struck her. What had happened to her parents and baby sister? She remembered the sermon in church when the minister provided a rather graphic account of the last days. He had told children in the congregation that during the rapture naughty children would be running around looking for parents whom God had taken up to heaven. The minister had described the end of time as a horrific storm with thunder and lightening. As the memories of this sermon came to mind, a new and even deeper terror struck her. She began to fear the rapture had come and she had been “left behind,” doomed for hell.

The little girl’s parents eventually came home, having been stranded on a farm down the road where a bridge in the lane way had been washed out. She was relieved to see them but the terror of that night remained with her for years to come. For thirty years she was frightened of thunderstorms until, after ten years in an adult Sunday School class given by a social worker, she was gradually able to let go of the toxic image of God learned during her childhood.

This story was shared in a small group discussion at the Canadian Chapter meeting Work on October 19 when Steve Cadman Neu presented a seminar entitled “Abuse in our Spiritual Home.” Participants who had experienced spiritual abuse in their lives were encouraged to tell their stories. This is my personal story that I still find difficult to relate. Past criticism for over-reacting and denial that this episode actually happened make me feel vulnerable even now as I write.

In his book Becoming Human, Jean Vanier writes “Wisdom grows when we cast a critical eye not only on ourselves but also on the group to which we belong.” Let us not confuse critical thinking with criticism; let us be willing to search our spiritual home to see whether there is any use of fear and control that can lead to spiritual abuse. Let us promote a safe environment for wounded people to tell their stories and find healing just as I did in the adult class led by a member of our profession in our church nearly twenty years ago. With God’s grace, the faith that hurts can also heal. 

Editor’s Note: Faith That Hurts, Faith That Heals (1993) a title of a book by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton, published by Thomas Nelson.


Dave Hingsburger said…
'Over reacting!?' A child, alone, in a storm would feel the deepest fear, fear that would dissolve into panic. Add in the images of 'end days' and the sense of being 'left behind', I can imagine terror. We're all lucky that you didn't do something horrible in reaction to that fear. We need to hold responsible those that would terrorize children. 'Jesus Love Me This I Know' was the first hymn I ever learned and I still hum it to myself in stressful times. Faith, not fear, should be the gift we are given.
Marilyn Yocum said…
May God make each of us a safe refuge for others and help us to rightly handle His Word.

Your last two posts, Belinda, have served up some of the most meaningful and important topics of our day for examination and discussion, topics that have waited far too long for air time.
Belinda said…
Dear Dave and Marilyn,
Both posts seem to have struck a chord.

Magda said it well when she said (my paraphrase) that looking at ourselves critically is necessary, and different to criticism.
Dolores Ayotte said…
This post really struck a chord with me. My books are based on the same spiritual abuse discussed here. Sensitive chldren absorb information in such a way that it can haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The teachings that took place when we were children in our most formative years, were filled with fear and guilt. It has taken some of us years to overcome it. I know this for a fact because I have lived it. By the grace of God, I have been healed but the scars are still there as a reminder of this kind of spiritual abuse.

I agree with Dave. "Faith, not fear, should be the gift we are given". To instill fear and guilt is no gift at all. It's about as far from God's love that you are going to get.
Belinda said…
Dolores,thank you for your comment. I would love to hear your story over a cup of tea some time. I just checked to see if you are coming to Write! Canada, but alas it seems not.

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