Back in Canada, shuffling to school in the early morning darkness, I peer at the shadows at the side of the path and push back the fear creeping up my spine, because I'm holding tight to my Jesus' hand and His angels have charge over me. Their wings kiss my cheek, hugging me close in the icy air. In church we dance joyfully, our hands questing overhead, reaching for the magic and the mystery, drinking them in.
Then it's 3:00 a.m. and I'm fifteen and lost, trembling and wiping wet smears of black eyeliner from my cheeks, running a gleaming knife lightly up and down my wrist, trying to get up the nerve to do it. Pacing back and forth, whimpering and whipping my head from side to side as if somehow this will shake loose the loneliness clawing at me. Fear of hell prying the knife from my hand, trapping me in this hopeless life.
Turning dully toward the hand on my shoulder in church the next morning to meet kind eyes. "Jesus sees your pain. Fix your heart on Him and He will lift you out of your turmoil," she says softly. And I do, and He does. Jesus, yo te amo, I sing and lean into His chest, thankful to be home again.
Until one day there nestles a poisonous tale among the newspaper's usual litany of carnage in the unbelieving world. A Christian pastor's family butchered in Anywhere, U.S.A., the 12-year old daughter raped in front of her parents and baby brother before her slit throat fountains a bloody rain over them, so the hammers whistling toward their skulls skid a little before crunching into their brains. The little boy screaming through his mother and sister's rapes and murders before the hammer silences him too, and the jackals turn at last on the man of God and liberate him from his hell.
I look in bewilderment to my Protector. How could He let this happen to His children? A chill steals through me. How could He let this happen to anyone? Free will, say my parents and friends decisively. If God controlled our actions, we wouldn't be free to choose to love and worship Him; we would be little more than puppets. Something's wrong with this, but I don't want to know; I rush instead to my Bible, desperate for comfort.
"I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent" (Timothy 2:12).
"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13).
I slam the book shut and decide to take a break from God for a few weeks. But the weeks become months, then years as the thoughts I've tried so hard to block ooze to the surface: What kind of deity sees the torture of countless innocents as an acceptable trade-off for his creations having a free choice to worship him? A god who sets men above women? Who condemns people for loving each other? Does he or she even exist? The questions burn through me, the answers searing my soul until I howl with grief.
I reach for my kind and loving Jesus, but he dissolves into nothingness under my fingers and there's no one there. There was never anyone there at all.