Saturday, March 7, 2009

no turning back


I've been "away" from the Seventh-day Adventist church for about 10 years now. I mean this in a physical sense mostly, for still I struggle to disentangle my thinking from Adventism's peculiar mind-set.

It's very difficult for me to come to the Scriptures open-mindedly. Bits and pieces of the writings of Ellen G. White come to me in dribs and drabs, everything I read underscored and twisted with her confusing statements. I can nearly picture her (and I mean no disrespect here, but I do have to have some sense of humor about this) perched on my right shoulder, shaking a stern finger of condemnation.

I can only tell my own story, I suppose. I can only say that in all my years (decades) of being an Adventist, her writings did more harm to me than any junky novels or Hollywood fluff I may have absorbed. Junky novels don't really interest me, but sometimes I've read them to kill time, or to avoid my sinking heart. Same with movies. The thing is, when I used to read so much Ellen White I expected to be taught something about the character of God. It wasn't fluff I wanted, but truth. I turned to her writings as someone lost in the woods might turn to a compass to find their way home. I longed for reassurance that God loved me in spite of all my stumble-bum ways. What I came up against every time in her prolific writings was a skewed perspective of His character. Oh I didn't know at the time, or even suspect, that her view of things was skewed; I took everything she wrote as gospel truth. And what I read scared me time and again.

How completely I flung myself into her words, trusting her, heart and soul. Ellen would never lead me astray! God had inspired her to speak truth;
of course the truth sometimes hurt. Sometimes it has to wound before it heals (she might have even written similar words herself, for all I know--they do seem vaguely familiar.)

Maybe it's just me-- but judging by the numbers of members who have left Adventism, maybe not. All I know is that the more "plain testimonies" I read, the more my heart sank. The more my heart sank the more out of control became my entire life. I drank to forget Sister White's strident words, warning me that even one indulged sin would keep me out of heaven. I snorted coke for the same reason. Sometimes I even teetered on the brink of suicide, so sure was I that God was disgusted with me.

How often I turned to the pages of her writings feverishly searching for one word of comfort! I can picture it now, wincing at the remembrance of my frantic attempts to find some sort of loophole. Perhaps she was mistaken, just a little. Just maybe God really did harbor a degree of love for me, and maybe I hadn't yet crossed that invisable line. Hopefully my name had yet to come up as He solemnly, methodically judged the living saints preparatory to the Second Coming.

Nights I'd lie in bed counting my infractions of the day, lining them up against any good deeds I'd done. Was I forgetting anything? Sister White had written that even one unconfessed sin would bar us from eternal life. How could I be sure I hadn't overlooked something? Thus began years of hounding myself nearly to the breaking point, of doubting the reliability of my conscience or, for that matter, the Holy Spirit's ability to remind me of unrepented sins.

Well. I can only look back on this long period of time in my life with a sigh, and much sadness. Some may read this and suppose I must have a neurotic turn of mind to have been so consumed with my sins and so influenced by The Spirit of Prophecy writings. Not so. My story is not all that unusual, sad to say. There are many baffled souls in the world who have left Adventism for the very reasons I did. To say I left because I came to the point of doubting if she were truly God's messenger isn't true. That came after the fact of my leaving. No, I left because I was bone weary of hearing how impossible it is to be accepted of God. I left because I found the Adventist church to be coldly aloof and self-righteous. What it finally came down to was that if I wasn't ever going to measure up to God's holy standards, if I was going to hell anyhow, I may as well divorce myself from a religion whose teachings did nothing to inspire hope in my heart.

I wish I had a different story to tell. I wish I could say, with honesty, that I've the heart of a rebel, that I have no desire to know and obey God. At least that would be an end of it. I could come to terms with my hardened heart and let go all pretense of being a Christian. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

As I stumble along the best I can, ignoring the condemning voice of that old time prophet, choosing instead to focus on the basics of what I know to be true of God, this one shining truth gives me hope: I've loved God for over 50 years and I'm not about to toss that aside now, having come this far.

17 comments :

  1. What a sad indictment of the religion that so many Adventists learned and lived. I feel your pain, and encourage your quest.

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  2. Dear Friend,
    Of all the letters I just read on the Adventist Wheel, yours touched me the most. There seemed so much debating and anger in the others.
    As I read your note, I can understand why you would not want to be associated with a group that your step-father belonged to.
    Just being treated like this was bound to give you an unhealthy feeling about the religion you were part of.
    The 50s and 60s was an unhealthy time in the church and those days are still alive in some people. I remember having to take a class and reading a book called "Messages to Young People." It was a compilation of all the negative advice given to youth by EGW. They had been taken out of their context and stood alone in this dreadful book--this was not done by Ellen but her estate. There are number of compilations like that. A healthy child might just overlook this with a bit of frustration, however, it your home situation you were already scolded, and the books added to your feelings of guilt and not measuring up.
    I remember a study done by someone at LLU when I worked at the religion department there. It found that people's picture of God and/or the church was very much the same as it was of their parents.
    We carry a lot of baggage that we bring to our spiritual life, and it takes years to overcome and mature. The meaning of perfection is maturity, and it involves learning to love, especially those who disagree with you.
    The words and terms used a hundred years ago are also quite different. I often think we have difficulty dealing with 19th-century terminology and also the absolutist way of speaking as well as authoritarian that predominated then. Think of the OT and how many harsh things are stated there as part of that primtive culture.
    I have trouble with the compilations, but I enjoy reading the Desire of Ages, and other books written as is. I am not always sure about Great Controversy, as it spoke to the issues then and perhaps the last part could have been conditional. I don't know the answers to all these questions but do know that Ellen was a kind lady who helped others and raised others children. She was never wealthy as so many religious leaders become. The books ae the real works and not all the letters and other material; and they truly do use the Bible--full of biblical texts.
    She was also not infallible and made mistakes in her reasoning. Most of her words on a daily basis were NOT inspired. Her life I am sure was full of struggle and hardship and trying to tell what she knew in the face of criticism.
    I am writing these things because that is where you seem to be having difficulty and feel it is easier to just give it up. Actually even in her day it was not a prerequisite to believe in her as a prophet to become an SDA.
    The church was not to have a creed "no creed but the Bible" she said, yet we have these 27 fundamental beliefs presented to us and treated as a creed!
    The church is human and we are hypocrits in one way or another. We disappoint each other at every turn. That is why we need a Savior that His life of perfect love will cover us at the judgement. We depend on His power through the Holy Spirit to sanctify us by helping us live righteously and lovingly.
    As one letter said in the forum, Marcel's letter was written to a specific group of former Adventists. This is a group run by a man named Ratzlaff that puts out a very negative publication that I can't even relate to. Marcel was trying to "pander" to them or maybe reach out to them. I can't relate at all to this group and don't understand how they can come to the conclusions they do.
    You are not part of that group for you are too kind to be. I don't see you lashing out at any one. I think your heart is in the right place.
    Your Adventism was not the same as mine for it was colored by a very serious negative experience.
    I know a lady who who has support newsletter for those who have been abused if you would want her e-mail. Her name is Peggy Harris.
    It would also be nice if you could get the Adventist Review. I think you would enjoy it and see how different the church is now. It really isn't like what the blogs are saying.
    I would be pleased to hear from you, and this is not just to bring you back because you don't need to be an Adventist to know Jesus. He is the one who saves.
    Love,
    Ellamae

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  3. Deb, I have been following your posts for some time as you know. This one really stirs me because not only do I resonate with nearly everything you describe here but I could almost write over half of what you said completely accurately word for word to describe my growing up years. I often describe my early teen years as schizophrenic which is exactly how I felt much of the time though it seldom showed on the outside. The very same EGW quotes that you refer to tortured me in the very same ways. I am not a stranger to the intense feelings you describe here.

    You state at the beginning quite eloquently that you can only tell your own story. That is true for me too. My story parallels yours very closely as to the intense emotional pain but with a very different progression beyond that point. I decided to choose the path of attempting to find out the real truth about God staying in the church instead of leaving it. That does not mean that I was trying to find this truth "from" the church but simply trying to find the truth about God without throwing out everything I had learned. But everything I believed eventually had to come up for serious reevaluation and comparison with the superior authority of the Word of God in the Bible.

    What I came to realize distinctly was that the terrible picture of God that I had received as described so accurately in this post was not really Ellen White's picture of God after all as I had always believed. To my amazement I came to realize that the grotesque ideas about God I had seen from her writings were always due to the twisted perceptions of Him in the hearts of those around me causing me to view everything I read through very heavy lenses that filtered out every good statement and highlighted every supposed negative comment.

    I observed this very plainly, even in Bible reading while watching and listening to my dad read in worship years later. It then became obvious to me that the real problem was in the mind filters being used, not in the words written that were being read. He had this amazing ability to read the most exciting, thrilling passages about God's unconditional love and grace and completely miss the point while jumping onto some supposed dark phrase and playing it up to reinforce his own dark perceptions of God. This training had been inculcated into me at a very young age and so I was trained to only see things from a negative perspective until many years later God finally got through to me personally and encouraged me to challenge all these false assumptions about Him just as you have been doing.

    I appreciate your honesty and especially your lack of bitterness and exaggeration as so many are prone to do. I can sense your longing heart each time I read your posts and pray for your freedom. I know you may not like this and may even feel triggered by it possibly, but I would suggest that the pain your are experiencing is actually not from Ellen White but from the lies and the false lenses imposed on you by abusive mentors in your life.

    After I found the real truth about God and His unconditional love for me (which my dad declared to be a dangerous heresy), I discovered that the very same statements that used to terrify and trigger me we actually full of hope, love and real truth about God. I am repeatedly amazed at how totally opposite many of her statements now appear to me from what seemed so condemning to me before.

    Now I remind myself to compare everything with my growing understanding of a truly good God to be the lens through which I read anything. Sometimes I still feel old triggers and have to give myself time to listen to the Spirit explain what is really meant. But I have to do that with the Bible just as much. Also, I don't spend a great deal of time as I did previously dwelling on EGW even though it does not trigger me like it used to. That is because the Bible has become so alive for me and my daily engagement and communication with His Spirit is so alive as I listen to Him in the Word that I don't have much time left for other reading of any kind. My picture of God is daily dramatically improving and it is becoming much easier to spontaneously love Him as I see more and more clearly the reality of His love for me.

    As you and I have both said here, I can only tell my own experience. But sharing our experience with others that resonate with at least parts of them can assist in our healing journey. My heart really aches for your pain because I know how intense it can feel. I am praying for your picture of God to continue to brighten in whatever way God leads you. As the last comment said, you don't have to be Adventist to know the truth about God. But I can also testify that one does not have to leave a belief in the basic facts (not necessarily the attitudes) found in this church or in a correct perception of EGW to be able to experience a thriving, positive and glorious picture of God. The greatest problem is the filters we have been outfitted with for those are the chains that keep our souls in darkness.

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  4. Ellamae,

    Thank you so much for your kind words...any encouraging comments are so appreciated at this point in my life.

    I was given a copy of Messages to Young People when I was baptized at the age of 13. I loved the look of it (such a pretty white cover), and set about to devour it, as I did with any Spirit of Prophecy writings I could get my hands on.

    Of course what happened was that practically every word of that book condemned me, underscoring my stepdad's abuse of me (and my mother's unwillingness to protect me), for I took his abuse to mean that I was of no value. Why else would he do those horrible things to me? (Thanks goodness I know better, all these decades later, than to blame myself for any of it.)

    My heart positively burned to live up to the standard of holiness set forth in Messages to Young People. Oh, surely if I could measure up God would love me then, as He used to in the olden days before abuse entered my life!

    I would be interested in the newsletter put out by Peggy Harris. The thing is, I really do want to follow where God leads. I'm not out to spew venom on Adventism. If God were to lead me back to it, that would be fine--just as long as it was truly His leading, rather than my own faltering guilt.

    Thanks again for writing.

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  5. Clay,

    As always, I enjoyed your comment. It's apparent that you put much thoughtfulness and heart into them.

    I fear there are many, many lost souls like me (lost in the sense of not knowing which way to turn spiritually, while longing for God with all their hearts.) Like you too: still in the church, but overwhelmed with negative messages.

    I think it's true that we use our own filters when it comes to puzzling out God's character. If one lacks any sense of worth, that's obviously going to color their concept of who God is. There's no getting around that.

    My stepdad had once joined the Adventist church. That alone is no reason to toss aside Adventism. However, the fact that he was an Adventist who didn't live up to any of its teachings--or even just the basics of Christianity, period--had a profound influence on me. He didn't ridicule the Bible or SDA beliefs; he didn't have to. His example spoke louder than words ever could.

    I know that my concept of God's character was greatly warped by the sufferings of my childhood. I know that and take it into account every time I open my Bible, or whisper a prayer. Intellectually I know that I don't have to earn God's love. Emotionally, I'm still working on that. But my heart for Him, in spite of all my doubtings, stumblings, etc. has never grown cold. I could never not love Him.

    Thank you for adding your voice to my blog, for sharing some of your experiences. Every little bit helps. Being able to talk openly about my (our) spiritual struggles is such a relief.

    And hopefully someone else reading these comments will benefit by them.

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  6. Thanks for your reply to my comment. I just want to add a little bit to clarify. While I have been in the past very overwhelmed and depressed by the negative ways in which God was presented to me through various sources, I now am having an extremely positive experience with Him and can read Ellen White without fear. I find that now what used to really trigger me is full of reinforcements for the very truths about God that you are just beginning to learn about yourself from the heart. But if strong filters are attached it is nearly impossible to see it that way at first.

    Now I find myself not looking to the church or even Ellen White's writings as my source of beliefs. I feel very directly connected to God through daily and open communication through His Word and His Spirit. I am now growing more passionate to share the real truth about God with others who still remain fearful about Him in the church and even out of it. The things that I now believe are so radically different than what I was raised to assume that it is hard to describe. But ironically they are not at odds with many of the facts I grew up with, just the insinuations and the spirit I was surrounded with.

    If you are interested, I would like to share with you a speaker who is radically different than any I have ever heard before. And while I have not learned most of the things I believe from him, he has been a powerful source of encouragement and reinforcement of the things God has been teaching me directly over the past few years. He is definitely not mainstream by any means, but he is not afraid to confront head-on the difficult questions that people like us are asking - and with very surprising and satisfying answers.

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  7. Clay,

    Yes I would like to know more about the speaker you mentioned.

    Thanks!

    Deb

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  8. Deb, one of the passages that has spoken to me in times of great distress is Psalm 23 The reason it speaks so powerfully to me is because David wrote it during the most difficult time in his life. His son had just betrayed him he was forced to flee for his life he lost all of his earthly belongings and in that moment he writes these words," Even though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil for THOU ART WITH ME even in the depths of despair even after his own son tried to take his life even after his best friend and closest advisor tried to take his life he knew one thing God was with him.
    In those times of dispair and heartache think of this psalm and remember as David did God is always with you.

    You are loved in Christ Deb
    Travis

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  9. Travis,

    Thanks for the reminder that God is always with us.

    Psalms 23 has always been one of my favorites, but it's been a while since I've read it.

    Maybe I'm overdo for another read through,

    Deb

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  10. Deb, I sent the info about the speaker to you via the email address you have listed on your blog. I'm not sure if you got it though. Please let me know if it did or didn't get through. I am still listening to this series myself and am very impressed with it. I think you might really like it.

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  11. Hi Clay,

    Yes, thank you, I did receive the info you sent. Haven't had a chance to check it out as I'm babysitting grandkids this week.

    I'll let you know how I like it!

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  12. i have never been adventist, but i know what it's like to have my scripture interpretation being convoluted by teachings that go against His true character.... this morning i read a scripture in one translation that sent me into a tailspin until i read it in another and realized they didn't match (to be honest, i question how the translators of the first - and newer - translation came to their interpretation?!).... but it played on and triggered all my well-implanted.... confusion.

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  13. Hey, Deb, just a side note but have you ever heard of "scrupulosity"? It's basically an extreme guilt complex and obsession with doing Christianity the "right" way. Google it and see what you come up with. It sounds like you may have been suffering from it. Anyway, interesting blog. Good luck.

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  14. I have asked the question of several Adventists why the Seventh Day Adventists think that Ellen White was a prophet and I have never gotten a satisfactory answer.

    I plan to research what the Bible says about "who is a prophet" and post what I find in my blog. I want to do this, not only with Ellen White in mind, but Joseph Smith who is regarded as a prophet by the Mormons I think.

    God gives two criteria that can be used to show that someone is NOT a prophet. One, they have to be consistant with the Bible. If they teach doctrine that contradicts the Bible as part of their prophetic message, that disqualifies them. Two, their predictions that are part of their prophetic message must come true. If not, that disqualifies them.

    I think the pattern of how God works with us shows a possible third criteria. There must be some predictions that come true that prove the message was inspired. When God gives a message by a prophet, God provides some kind of proof before He holds us accountable for responding to the prophetic message. God has provided proof of the Bible through fulfilled prophecy. In Jesus Christ's day, God provided proof of Christ's authority through the miracles Jesus did. That seems to be the pattern.

    I know of no such proof that Joseph Smith or Ellen White were prophets.

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  15. Jonnie,

    I've never heard of that term before, but it sounds about right.

    Ah, the joys of legalism!

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  16. Author,

    I would think that any member of the SDA church could answer your question about why they think Ellen White is a prophet: because that's what they're taught to believe.

    I'm not being flip or trying to minimize anything. That's how it was for me, and my siblings, or for many others I know. There is no evidence, I know of, that would prove she is a prophet, or messenger.

    I do know about the Biblical test of a false prophet: if their prophecies do not come true, God never sent them.

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  17. Deb,
    I will try to be short, but I am with you on this one. I think some of the words (Dean) were too forceful and a bit harsh, but then he redeemed himself somewhat. I can see he wants to (like me) convince you on an intellectual level when what you need is spiritual direction.
    Of course, the Bible too has its discrepencies, but we all do. That is why Christ died for all of us because no matter how hard we try, we can't get it right. We will never have all the answers, but we can learn to see the best in each other as children of the Father.
    You mentioned the Holy Spirit. What I try to do every day (occasionally I miss) is to plead for the Spirit every morning that I might have the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) in my relationship with others. The books of John tell us over and over that Love is the top characteristic of every disciple. It is only through Jesus and His Spirit you can find the way. I am sure you ask Him all these questions. Talk to Him throughout the day whenever you have a question or feel negative.
    I think it is wonderful you have posted these feelings--they are not all negative. You admit you are looking and understand why you have a spiritual problem in the past. You appear open.
    The intellectual things help, but we need more--we need a heart religion.
    Keep an open heart and mind.
    God bless and guide.
    Ellamae

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Comments, anyone? I'd love to hear your point of view.