Eight years ago, on the day of this blog post, my dad died.
While we weren't very close, we cared for each other and we had respect for each other. We had a connectedness that seems to exist between all fathers and sons, regardless of the quality of the relationship.
His death was hard at first, indeed. But over time, dealing with it has gotten much better.
I smile when I think of him now. At first, it wasn't always that way.
I cannot say that his death was the cause of my slide into non-belief of my former Christan faith nor did this event single-handedly cause me to tread down the path towards atheism.
Years would go by before I'd reach the point where I am now. But no doubt, his death was a catalyst to my slide. I think this is where it all really began.
Here's the story:
My dad came over to visit us (my parents were separated) and we noticed he didn't look so good. He told us that, too. He thought it was just terrible gas, but said he would go see a doctor.
He never really got out of the hospital after that.
He made a downhill progression in his heath because of lung cancer.
Funny thing is, a few months before my dad's illness manifested, I determined in my heart that I would start praying for him every night.
And I did. I usually neglected praying for my dad because he was estranged. But, I decided I would stop being so negligent. I was passing judgment on him by thinking praying for him would do no good towards seeing him saved.
So, I started praying earnestly for his soul's salvation.
The timing of his illness was such that I started to wonder if my payers brought some curse upon him. At this odd coincidence, I stopped praying for everyone -- in fear someone else would fall ill like my dad. My spiritual life was paralyzed.
As my dad's condition worsened, I would visit him in the hospital from time to time. Other relatives and loved would come to visit. Some came way from other states. We knew in our hearts that time was running out for him. But . . . being believers . . . we hoped for a miracle.
Just in case. You never know what God might do.
But, if God didn't do anything, I knew my dad was going to die. And that was that.
An evangelist in our family said that she had received an inspiring "word" from the Lord. She said that God asked her concerning my dad, "why do you worry as though there was no hope"?
There was innuendo in this question. Why are you worried, oh ye, or little faith? I can heal your dad. Didn't you get the memo?
I can save him at any time. Why are you concerned?
And some people in my family that heard those words, took those words to heart.
My dad got baptized before all his strength failed him. But, to my knowledge, he never had the all important speaking in tongues experience that Pentecostals expect from someone who is truly saved. Without this experience, you cannot be saved in the view of many Pentecostals. Especially the type I was and the type that my dad started to hang around after he became sick.
He never got better. He never spoke in tongues. After a few short years passed, so did he.
But at the funeral, the other Pentecostal relatives rejoiced because they claimed God saved him.
But God broke one of his own rules if he truly saved my dad!
Well . . . he's God. He does what he wants.
In reality, a prophesy was made and everyone had to save face. God said there was hope. He insinuated that my dad would be saved according to the evangelist months ago.
So, God must have saved him somehow, since he didn't heal him.
I never bought into that "prophesy". I fully expected my dad to pass. Just not so soon I suppose.
So, there were no hard feelings towards the evangelist who uttered the words. Not from me, anyhow.
But, I was confused and this was the beginning of my problem.
How could someone speak for God and say something that was wrong or untrue? Either God made a mistake, we misunderstood what God was trying to say, or the minister speaking for God was wrong.
Well, if we misunderstood what God said, then God isn't that great of a communicator.
If the evangelist truly heard from God, then God was wrong. (or lied??) Why? Because my dad did not fulfill the criteria for being saved according to the very God who made the prophesy! Only my close family (and family friends) felt my dad was saved. Everyone else at the church would initially show sympathy when they learned my dad had died. Inevitably, members would ask if he spoke in tongues before he died.
When I told them "no" or that I wasn't sure, their silent regret shown upon their faces. That was all I needed to see. They felt sorry for me. In their minds, I had to deal with the hardship of my dad spending eternity in hell.
I was forced to witness a contradiction for the first time. I had to see people who speak for God say wrong things.
I didn't lose my faith at that point. But, I became very angry at God over the next few years. And worse, people at church seemed very insensitive. I began to feel like a person in a swimming pool crowded with people. As I start to drown, I flail and panic. I cry out and splash. I thrash around. But no one in the crown sees or hears me.
Staying at that church felt like staying in that swimming pool.
So, I got out.
But, I still believed in God and in the Christian faith. I just needed to find a better place to practice my beliefs. But first, I had to stop being angry at God.
I hoped I could find a place that could help me understand why God didn't save my dad after I made an effort to pray for him. The timing was so awful for everything.
For a while, I felt like I was the one that killed him because I decided to pray for him.
Talk about classical conditioning. My "prayer life" suffered greatly after that. I started to develop a phobia of prayer.
Eventually, I remembered the verse in the Bible that says, "It is appointed that all men die, and then judgment."
That made me feel better. Everyone has to face that journey. All life experiences that transition.
From that idea, I began to accept the thought that God didn't let my dad die out of cruelty or meanness. Dying is the taint from sin that we all have to deal with (that's what I told myself, at least).
But, why did he not save him after I prayed so fervently? Doesn't God want to save everyone?
And how come we can just bend the rules of salvation like that? We say people are saved when it's convenient. But, we're preached to with strict fervor and admonition that there is only one way to be saved.
I was puzzled.
And so it began. The seed was planted.
From then on, I started to ask myself if there was something wrong with what I believed.
People tend to use religion to comfort themselves when their loved ones die. That didn't happen for me. Religion made the passing of my dad worse in more ways than I can go into on a blog post.
Now without religion -- I feel much better about the passing of my dad.
Without religion, I can know that my dad will truly rest in peace.