Suddenly, sitting in the passenger seat of my family’s minivan, I realized God could not exist.
Or if He did, He was cruel and unable to be trusted. To save my sanity, I would make him fictitious.
My dad had just picked me up from work and was telling me that our church was splitting into two factions. This would mean that he, my dad, would be stepping down from his role as senior pastor. Our family would no longer be able to attend. People I knew, people who had supposedly cared about me, had done this to me, through petty conflict and an inability to maintain church unity. I hadn’t seen this coming at all, and I could not make myself understand the specifics. I could not accept this as anything other than a personal attack against me and my family.
Neither could I hear the emotion and pain that was probably in my dad’s voice. I didn’t think about the insults he must have faced, the way some of his close relationships had splintered, or the changes this would bring to his life and career. A selfish seventeen year old, I only experienced my own reaction to the news. I could only feel the breath ripped out of my lungs, feel the unsorted, unnamed emotions pouring over me, absorb the shock of the foundation cracking beneath me. Why was my dad not fighting for us to be able to stay?
As a teenager, I had no choice. It was time to make a dramatic vow. From now on I could act as if all the things I heard growing up were foolish myths, the hopes of those who couldn’t find enough purpose for themselves on their own. Now that God did not exist, I was free. I could believe in my own ability to make decisions and do what I wanted. Fuck the rules and rituals, the meaningless ways I’d wasted my time and thwarted my self-will so far. If this is how I was repaid for trying to do the right thing, I would throw it back in everyone’s faces. Apparently church leaders could act like petulant children, and I was the one who suffered for their sins. I would never trust the church again.
Although I was sitting silently in the van with my dad, unable to see farther than the bright headlights surrounded by dark, my mind transported to my potential new free life. It was time to get excited. I could be anything, do anything. If there was no God, nothing was sinful. I could hate, I could curse, I could sleep in on Sundays. I could smoke weed, have sex, anything, without feeling guilty. I was free from all the parts of Christianity that were difficult or annoying, those shackles of conformity and expectations.
Visions of other church members slipped into my daydream, and I struggled to stop the water from filling my eyes. My friends who used to get cokes out of the vending machines between classes with me, who I told about all my crushes, who shared so many inside jokes with me. The little kids I took care of and taught in Sunday school, who looked up to me and made me feel important. My mentor who prayed with me every week and cared about my spiritual growth. The older people who were encouraging and kind, giving guidance. Each person so familiar and loved. And most of all that sense of belonging, mattering, being a meaningful part of something.
I was dismayed to learn that the new freedom was laced with an aching pain, an unbearable loneliness and loss, but feeling betrayed and sad did not fit into this new persona that I was forming. It was better to be angry, better to hate God and by extension His people, than to be weak and hurt.
My story wasn’t turning out the way Sunday school had taught me to expect. David was supposed to defeat Goliath; Joseph was supposed to rule over Egypt and be reunited with his family; Esther was supposed to save her people. God had been on their side, my teachers had told me, and if you trust in Him, He’ll be on your side too. My life sucked so where was God? Clearly not on my side, if He was anywhere at all.
I suppose I was still capitalizing His pronouns because it was a hard habit to break. And also just in case this reverse epiphany turned out to be wrong.