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"sinner" In The Hands Of An Angry God


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O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell.

 

Jonathan Edwards

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

18th Century Congregational Preacher, Theologian, Calvinist, and Revivalist

 

I was born on April 29th, 1980, and given the name Jonathon Edwards, not far from the final resting place of the late fire-and-brimstone preacher. Jonathan Edwards is associated with the Great Awakening, a religious fever that spread with such fervor that it has been canonized in academic textbooks and idolized by contemporary fundamentalists that pray earnestly for another spiritual earthquake to shake the foundations of our nation and world. SiThe extremist ideologies of my namesake mirror the emotional and religious turmoil of the first twenty-five years of my life.

 

My mother and father were raised in nominal Christian families in a wealthy New England suburb. As they entered adulthood, they embraced an eclectic mix of alternative spirituality, eventually attending Maharishi International University, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This balding, white-bearded, guru helped popularize Hindu practice in America through the introduction of Transcendental Meditation.

 

As a young child, I recall my father recounting stories of traveling to France, where he participated in a Transcendental Meditation program that taught TM students the ability to levitate. As a young boy, I was fascinated that my father could fly! This TM-Sidhi Program, or Yogic-Flying, is believed by devotees to manifest a “Maharishi Effect,” exerting a positive influence on society and the individual practitioner.

 

This ethereal practice had little positive influence on my parents’ relationship. Shortly after my third birthday, Mom and Dad finally divorced after many unhappy years of marriage. Custody of the four children in my family was granted to my mother. We would spend alternating weekends with my father.

 

When I was five years old, my father attended a Christian church with his new girlfriend. This Pentecostal Church of the Foursquare Gospel was unlike any congregation he had ever visited. During the musical portion of worship, people danced, clapped, cried, and spoke in unknown tongues that were thought to be a heavenly language endowed upon believers by the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. Words of prophecy were spoken in these services. Gifted individuals in the congregation, believing to possess a prophetic mantle, were the mouthpieces of God on earth. They gave direction, clarification, and encouragement. My father, already prone to mystical experiences, found a new home. He became a tongue-talking, bible thumping, Holy Spirit filled, Born Again Christian. He did not completely absolve himself of his eastern meditation practices, incidentally. He simply applied a different label. In 1986, Dad remarried an evangelical Christian who was an elementary school teacher and sixteen years his younger. My stepmother, Tamara, was a zealous Pentecostal that eventually left her teaching career to pursue full time ministry. She was known as a witty bible teacher, evangelist, and prophetess. They divorced seventeen years later.

 

My father and stepmother’s religious fanaticism disgusted my mother. She became more indignant as they began a pattern that would last throughout my childhood of evading financial responsibility. My mother was forced to assume the role of sole provider, becoming a model, and later a successful businesswoman. Being the youngest of the four children, this is the mother I knew: beautiful, strong, independent, and extremely critical. Gone was the nurturing homemaker I heard about from my siblings. In 1987, my mother also remarried. My stepfather, Ken, was a successful Architect, lover of classical music, theatre, and an agnostic. An honest, hard working, ethical man that valued education, Ken became my father figure. He made his best, and often unsuccessful attempts, at being rational when my mother’s emotions erupted violently. They also divorced seventeen years later.

 

As a child, my loyalties were divided between Ken and my biological father. I became an ardent music student, spending a large portion of my childhood involved in musical activities, and pursuing the mastery of the Saxophone, the instrument Ken played in his youth. I became indoctrinated in religious fanaticism shortly after my biological father’s conversion. My childhood was a war between religion and reason.

 

At six years old, I said the “Sinner’s Prayer” and became a Born Again Christian. For those unfamiliar, the sinner’s prayer is known in evangelical circles as the gateway to salvation when said with sincerity and conviction.

 

The Sinner’s Prayer

 

Dear Jesus,

I believe I am a sinner. Come into my heart and save me. I want to spend eternity with you in Heaven. I pray this in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.

 

Thus began my journey down the rabbit hole.

 

I saw an angel and demon at an age when most children still have imaginary friends. The angel was, ironically, at my mother and stepfather’s house. He had golden hair, a white flowing robe, and stood about eight feet tall. I knew that the angel was there to protect me from the hordes of demons that possessed the bodies of my unsaved mother and stepfather. I saw the demon in my father’s car. Another irony. This demon, with a gnarled and bloody face, was sitting in the backseat of my father’s green station wagon. My dad approved of and encouraged these visions, and taught me how to expel the demons set on attacking me. He was proud to know that his youngest son had a supernatural gift with the ability to see into the spirit world.

 

I was fascinated with God, angels, demons, heaven, and hell. On some weekends with my father, I would fall asleep listening to testimonies of people who had near death experiences, visited a literal hell, and returned to warn people about it. Hell was a torturous place where homosexuals were chained together in a lake of fire, and decent people like my stepfather who had not accepted Jesus, were speared in the chest for eternity by scoffing demons. I was told and believed that Scientists had dug a hole to the center of the earth and recorded voices screaming in agony, thus proving the existence of Hell. At my father’s Pentecostal church, during several services over the course of a year, the Pastor lowered the lights and played recordings of these screaming voices. He would then use the recording as an opportunity to call people to Jesus’ saving grace.

 

Heaven was a much better place. It was the place I would go if I did not lose my salvation. I often watched a videotape of a man who claimed to have visited heaven when he was eight years old. The streets were paved with gold. The animals spoke. Heaven was filled with mansions, sweet smelling aromas, and angels with swords of fire surrounding the throne of God. The man who claimed to have this vision would revisit my life years later.

 

I brought my bible to elementary school and wore Christian t-shirts. One had a picture of a fish swimming against the tide. The shirt read, “Go Against the Flow.” The other shirt had a picture of an American Express Card, but was cleverly renamed, “Salvation Express. Don’t Leave Earth Without It.” Instead of a soldier with headgear commonly seen on American Express Cards, Jesus Christ with a crown of thorns was pictured on this “Salvation Express Card.” I wore those shirts with pride.

 

Rapture Theology held a firm grasp on evangelical Christians in the late 1980s. The rapture is a belief that Jesus Christ will return and rescue faithful Christians from a painful time of tribulation preceding the end of the world. In 1988, a book was written called 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Could Be In 1988. My father and stepmother believed this book, and I became convinced, at eight years of age, that I would celebrate my ninth birthday in Heaven. No such luck.

 

The painful reality of life smacked me in the face at ten years old when my father and stepmother moved out of the city in which I lived. Their departure evoked many tears. They began a ministry endeavor, touring the United States with an evangelist who specialized in current events, prophesying the second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of the world. It was 1990 and the beginning of the gulf war.

 

I had the opportunity to spend an occasional weekend and summer break with my father during this time. This is when I learned that George Herbert Walker Bush was promoting a New World Order that would usher in the Anti-Christ, who some speculated to be Henry Kissinger, the German born American Diplomat. The rapture was still pending, and could happen at any time. Our society would become cashless, and all transactions would be processed via an electronic chip implanted on a person’s wrist or forehead. For those who refused the chip, beheading would soon follow.

 

At one of my father’s religious meetings in a small mountain community in northern New Mexico, I recall walking outside for a breath of fresh air. It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and the sky was dark with ominous clouds and lightening on the horizon. I walked to the center of a field next to the home in which the meeting was being held, and prayed that lightening would strike. I was sure of my salvation, and wanted to die and enter heaven before I lost my salvation or the minions of hell descended upon the earth to usher in the Great Tribulation.

 

After that trip, I returned home to my mother and Ken. Mom tried to hug me, but I resisted. I thought that she was full of the devil, literally. She often wondered why I resisted her attempts to show affection.

 

As my father and stepmother continued on the ministry road, I entered junior high. With my father’s evangelical Christian influence distanced, we occasionally attended the Church of Christ, Scientist. Christian Science, founded by Mary Baker Eddy in the late 19th century, focuses on bodily healing through divine science. The church has a strong metaphysical approach to religion and liberal interpretation of scripture. At other times, we attended the Church of Religious Science. Founded by Dr. Ernest Holmes, the Church of Religious Science is a New Thought movement focusing on the intelligence of God and manifestations of a divine presence within the diversity of faith traditions. As a family, we were not fully devoted to either of these organizations.

 

Junior high was a period of artistic growth. I became very involved in choir, theatre, and continuing education through band and private lessons on the Saxophone. For a few years, I was free from the overt religious indoctrination of my earlier, formative years. I received letters from my father occasionally, but he was mostly absent from my life. My mother and Ken were very supportive of my extracurricular pursuits. These were happy years.

 

I experienced my first childhood crush in junior high. Befitting an already unorthodox youth, it was a homosexual attraction. The shame I felt was intense, and I subdued it as much as possible. These feelings persisted with strength my freshman year of high school, when I became very attracted to Brian Haymore, a Mormon missionary from Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

Brian baptized me into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka The Mormon Church, on July 16th, 1995. I had spent the better part of my freshman year of high school investigating this new religion. I formed a friendship with Mitchell Tyler, a Latter-day Saint and fellow member of the high school band. His family expressed a very genuine interest in me. I spent many nights at the Tyler household asking questions about Mormonism. Eventually, my curiosity propelled the Tyler’s to invite me to their church.

 

The first Sunday I attended was a Stake Conference, a large gathering of smaller, local congregations (wards) throughout the area. I was instantly attracted by the appearance of the Mormon people. They dressed well, smiled, shook hands, hugged, patted each other on the back, and sang hymns with great gusto. My childhood experience in the extreme emotionalism of the Pentecostal church made the Latter-day Saint worship appear tame and refined.

 

I recall one of the leaders of the Stake giving his testimony about the truthfulness of the LDS church. During this testimony, he began to shed tears. I was impressed that such a professional looking man could express such deep emotion. The service ended with the popular hymn, How Great Thou Art. I left the service that Sunday knowing I wanted to become a Mormon.

 

In those days, in order to join the Mormon Church, the investigator was required to take a series of discussions with church missionaries. The missionary force was composed of mostly nineteen to twenty-one year old men. Two elders, as the young men are called, taught me the series of lessons over the course of several months. After reading the Book of Mormon and completing the discussions, I prayed that God would give me an indication on whether or not to join. I recall being overcome with deep emotion, and felt strongly that I had found religious truth in its most pure form. I asked the handsome missionary, Brian, to baptize me.

 

My entire family was extremely concerned with my decision to join the Mormon Church. My absent father and stepmother were suddenly not so absent anymore, and moved back to the city in which I lived. During one particularly loving father-son encounter, Dad said, “Jonathon, if you die today, you will end up in Hell.” My mother and stepfather were perplexed and concerned, and yet respected my decision, and even attended my baptism service.

 

A few months after my baptism, I caved into the temptation of sexual desire. I thought about Brian, the missionary, often. I became convinced that this act had voided my membership in the church. Nevertheless, I believed that if I prayed hard enough, and was the best Mormon possible, somehow God would overlook this terrible weakness. I attended early morning seminary, and became class President. My sights were set on serving a mission, like Brian, after graduating high school.

 

I became a very serious individual during this time. I remember feelings of great pain and remorse when my stepfather, Ken, said to me, “what happened to the care free kid I used to know?” I loved Ken so much, and hated to disappoint him.

 

The strained relationship with my biological father continued, but he managed to persuade me to read literature that debunked LDS Church history. This “anti-Mormon” literature was akin to pornography by faithful members of the church. I became confused, sad, and angry. I spent more and more time at the Tyler household, seeking prayers and blessings from David Tyler, Mitchell’s father. I was encouraged by members of the Mormon Church who confirmed how righteous I was, stating that the adversary (Satan) was focused on me because of my spiritual strength.

 

One late afternoon during my sophomore year of high school, finishing a long and stressful day, I saw another angel. This angel, Moroni, was the divine being that visited the founder of the Latter-day Saint church, Joseph Smith, and revealed the contents of the Book of Mormon. I was comforted by this angelic presence, and I communicated with him my devotion to the Church.

 

In January of 1997, being my junior year of high school, I experienced a panic attack in the middle of the night. I began to fear for my life, and became convinced that if I died, I would spend eternity in Hell. Several days later, I visited my father and stepmother, and informed them of my decision to leave the Mormon Church. They, of course, were elated.

 

That night, I requested prayer from them. As they prayed, I began to shake violently, with tears streaming down my face. My dad believed that Moroni, the angel whom I believed to be my companion, was actually a demonic entity. My father began the first of what would become many encounters with exorcism over the course of the next few years. That night, after the passionate prayers and exorcism, I rededicated my life to Jesus Christ. I was Born Again, again.

 

With my father and stepmother’s help, I discarded all Mormon material that I had accumulated over the last two years. We ceremoniously ripped and burned the material. I made the announcement to the Tyler’s that I desired to leave the church. Word spread throughout the Mormon congregation like wildfire. I received tear-soaked letters, visits, and phone calls. One individual said, “Jonathon, with you wanting to leave the church, it is like we have experienced a death in the family.”

 

I composed a letter to my Mormon Bishop, stating the reasons for requesting that my name be removed from the records of the LDS Church. He responded that, due to the fact that I was not eighteen, he could not remove my name from church records without approval of David Tyler. I decided it was not worth the effort, and ceased my efforts. Over the course of the next three years, I would return to the Mormon Church occasionally, trying to re-create the euphoric experience I encountered when first converting at fifteen years of age. It never happened.

 

My religious drug of choice became the Pentecostalism of my youth. My senior year of high school, the church I attended experienced a revival. During these services people fell into trances, they shook on the floor, they laughed uncontrollably. I experienced visions of my future and was given messages, like Greek prophecy from oracles of old, that my life was destined for full time ministry. My senior year of high school, I experienced an improvement in vision after prayer. I went to my mother and Ken, claiming that I had been miraculously healed. Perhaps with this information, they would finally believe in Jesus! Indeed, the eye doctor confirmed that a slight improvement in vision had occurred. I discarded my glasses and contacts, though struggling for years after to read and see long distance.

 

I was very successful in my Saxophone performance that year, and earned a scholarship to attend the local university. College would be paid in full. Though I cherished my saxophone and music, I was convinced that my life was destined for a higher purpose. I began listening to tapes of the man who claimed to visit Heaven when he was eight years old. I discovered that he was the founder of an unaccredited Bible School in Southern California. I applied and was accepted.

 

This was out of the question to my mother and Ken. Our relationship was extremely tense, and I was convinced that Satan was using them to try to prevent me from fulfilling my destiny. This was confirmed when Ken, my stepfather whom I loved deeply, in a fit of rage at the dinner table called me a fucking hypocrite. Because of our strained relationship and religious extremism, I was placed in therapy. This did not last long, and I was convinced it was another ploy of the devil to keep me from fulfilling my calling.

 

The summer after my graduation, I let my mother and Ken believe that I had completed all the necessary paperwork to begin school at the university in the fall. In mid-June, they discovered that I had not. They knew I wanted to attend Bible College, and did not support these aspirations. Ken demanded that I return my professional model Saxophone and vehicle. I did so, and while my brother was driving me to my father and stepmother’s house, he punched the windshield of his vehicle, causing it to crack.

 

My relationship with my mother and Ken ceased, and I was encouraged by my father and stepmother to pursue Bible College in Southern California. They purchased a plane ticket for me, and I made arrangements to leave. The night before leaving, I sent an email to friends and family, advising them of my intent to pursue a life of ministry. At midnight, there was a loud knock on the door. Friends that received this email gathered together with Mitchell Tyler’s father, David. My father answered the door, and I listened from the bedroom, shaking and crying. David was concerned about my emotional state, and wanted to speak with me before I left. My father would not allow it. David became angry and said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would not condone my actions. He asked of my father that I request permanent removal from church records. I complied with his request.

 

When I arrived in Southern California, I received an email from David, expressing his disappointment saying, “I wish you the best in the level of mediocrity you have embraced.” My mother and Ken did not know I had left my hometown until I called from a pay phone upon arrival in Southern California. We did not speak for over a year.

 

The spiritual abuse continued in Bible College. I was the recipient of exorcism prayers on numerous occasions. These exorcism sessions included being held down by six men, while the Pastor sat on my chest and cast our spirits of witchcraft, perversion, homosexuality, lust, and a host of other demonic entities.

 

This college taught a doctrine called “Warfare Tongues.” We were taught to combat spiritual entities through hours of loud, boisterous, prayers in English and our unknown tongues. We were encouraged to give our money through tithes and offerings. I emptied my bank account several times giving everything I had to the church while going hungry for days. We were taught that the more money we gave, the more money we would receive through divine sources.

 

My second year of Bible school, my father and stepmother moved to Southern California to be a part of the congregation. Half way through the year, I quit school and fell into a deep depression that lasted for months. I demonstrated odd behavior at times, once being found hiding in a closet underneath a pile of clothes.

 

During this depressive state, I made contact with a former Saxophone teacher from my high school years. I decided to return to my hometown to pursue a music education degree. I made great strides musically, but internally was battling with thoughts that I had failed and thwarted my destiny by dropping out of Bible school. I became, once again, very depressed and dropped out of the university.

 

I returned to Southern California to finish my religious education. In December of 2001, a scandal rocked the church, and the Pastor that I listened to as a little boy, claiming to visit Heaven, was revealed to have been engaging in a homosexual affair with the youth pastor. Wrestling with my own sexuality, I was crushed.

 

I moved with my father and stepmother to Texas to attend a church that had been started by a former assistant Pastor who had been ousted from the congregation in California. There were several “damaged sheep” that came to this congregation after the homosexual scandal.

 

That was over five years ago. Since then, I have made one unsuccessful attempt at finishing my music education degree. When moving to Texas, I began working in the Hotel and Hospitality field. I have climbed the ranks in the Hotel, and currently work as a senior manager at a Resort Hotel, overseeing a staff of approximately thirty individuals. I am in a position that generally requires a Hotel Management degree, but have been fortunate to attain this position without it.

 

My father and stepmother have divorced. They both moved out of Texas. My stepmother is no longer in the ministry. My father is still bound by religious fantasy, but is pursuing a more liberal interpretation of Christianity. I rarely speak with him. My mother and Ken have also divorced. I speak most frequently with Ken, who has a new girlfriend with whom he has begun traveling the world.

 

The last five years have been professionally successful, but personally unstable. I spent one year drinking very heavily. I lived in a constant state of functional depression. About a year and a half ago, I made my last ditch effort at religion, and attended a moderate evangelical congregation while volunteering with a missionary organization. During this time, I began studying Islam. I read the Qur’an, and attended a Mosque on a few occasions. I ultimately determined that the fear instilled in believers of that religion closely resembles that which I experienced in my childhood.

 

For the past year, I have been mostly religion free. I have no belief in any anthropomorphic deity, but am open to some form of divine intelligence.

 

Robert Ingersoll, Humanist, said the following in a document called The Liberty of All, written in 1877:

 

"If there is a God who will damn his children forever, I would rather go to hell than to go to heaven and keep the society of such an infamous tyrant. I make my choice now. I despise that doctrine. It has covered the cheeks of this world with tears. It has polluted the hearts of children, and poisoned the imaginations of men. It has been a constant pain, a perpetual terror to every good man and woman and child. It has filled the good with horror and with fear; but it has had no effect upon the infamous and base. It has wrung the hearts of the tender, it has furrowed the cheeks of the good.

 

This doctrine never should be preached again. What right have you, sir, Mr. clergyman, you, minister of the gospel to stand at the portals of the tomb, at the vestibule of eternity, and fill the future with horror and with fear? I do not believe this doctrine, neither do you. If you did, you could not sleep one moment. Any man who believes it, and has within his breast a decent, throbbing heart, will go insane. A man who believes that doctrine and does not go insane has the heart of a snake and the conscience of a hyena."

 

I am twenty-six years old, and feel as though I have lived one thousand lives.

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I am twenty-six years old, and feel as though I have lived one thousand lives.

 

Thank you for sharing your testimony, Johnny. I can see why you feel so old. Hopefully life will be more stable now that you know what you believe and are no longer accountable to so many parent figures and their drastically different religious beliefs.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Oh my god...wow, just wow.

 

You have lived an extraordinary life! I hope these experiences will finally bring you to a place of peace.

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  • 4 weeks later...
Guest strafer
Oh my god...wow, just wow.

 

You have lived an extraordinary life! I hope these experiences will finally bring you to a place of peace.

 

That is terrifying man. I'm surprised you are still mentally stable.

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Thanks for sharing that.

 

It was very long - but it was fascinating. You've really seen and experienced a lot!

 

I feel for your pain. I wish you luck in freeing your mind from those religious head-games.

 

Spiritual or atheist - the main thing is to follow your own path of seeking the truth. Avoid 'religions' like the plague. That's my advice anyway. :grin:

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  • 6 months later...

Hello all -

 

Did you all wonder if I had dropped off the face of the earth?

 

About a month after posting this, a friend from work invited me to a Calvinist church for Easter Sunday. I tossed and turned about the invitation, but finally accepted. I told myself that I could not be fearful of attending church, and needed to attend to prove to myself that these places of worship have no control over me. That began a six month ordeal of immersing myself in the study of Calvinist theology. I began attending the new Calvinist church seriously after going through one of the most painful trials of my life. I burned both of my hands in a kitchen fire, and my new friends from the Calvinist church were there to support me throughout the tremendously painful process of recovery. I have spent the last six months, yet again, attempting to justify Christianity to myself.

 

About a month ago, I was offered a promotion in a new state. I accepted, though I was very happy where I was living. I have wondered if subconsciously I accepted the job in an effort to flee yet another cult... I have not come to terms with everything I have learned and experienced over the last six months in this new (to me) facet of Christianity. I could write a lot more about my experience in the world of Calvinism, but I do not have the energy.

 

When I am in a more introspective mood, I'll give you the details of my experience and what drew me to give Christianity another shot.

 

I have been in a new state for the last month, and have not attended church in that time.

 

Call me crazy, stupid, a glutton for punishment, or mentally unstable in the arena of religion... I'll agree with you.

 

Johnny

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