Last Sunday, I went to church with a friend, who is a member in some type of pentecostal church. Oh well, it calls itself evangelical, but I found out that this is one of the names commonly used by pentecostal churches in the Netherlands, because of the negative, sect-like connotation to pentecostalism. In her church, the minister held a sermon based on readings fron Jonah. I always thought that the tale of Jonah and the whale was just a children’s game, but it is apparently based on the Bible. Jonah is ordered by God to go to some non-believing city to preach, and indeed heads off, but goes instead to another city. While on the boat to that city, God causes a storm that almost breaks the ship. Everyone on board prays to their respective gods, except for Jonah, who is asleep down in the ship. After nothing works, they figure out that Jonah must be the cause of the storm, and they throw him overboard. Jonah is then eaten by a fish and stays in its stomach for three days and three nights. While there, he starts to pray, and God causes the fish to vomit and spit Jonah out on a beach. Then, God orders Jonah to go to the non-believing city again, and he goes and preaches, but only the bad news about God’s judgment. However, the people in that city have heard that Jonah drowned and now see him in their city alive, and it gets them all to convert to I assume that must be judaism since it’s in the old testament. The point of the sermon was that God is calling you, and you can listen or decide to turn your back. If you turn your back, that’s fine, but you will likely wander seeking another path to follow – like Jonah, who didn’t choose to just stay home, but rather went onto a boat to another city rather than the one God commanded him to go to. The world can help you, of course – like in the story of Jonah, when he arrived at the harbor, there was a ship to the city he wanted to go to immediately -, but it’s the question whether the world will help you keep on the right track. However, God supposedly isn’t a god who will give up on every human who ever turns their back onto Him – after all, even the most faithful believers will sometimes not listen (Jonah used to be a faithful follower) -, but He will keep calling you and hoping you’ll come to Him again – but this may happen at the moment when you’re most down in the depths of where you could get in this world.
There was some emphasis, as I found out there generally is in pentecostalism, on the dichotomy between God and satan (often referred to as “the world”, as if the world as a whole is bad): you follow either one, or the other, and you choose whether you want to be helped by God, or by “the world”, assuming “the world” will only help you get into trouble (with a reference to some parable). The minister referred to it as “conscience”, which comes from “knowing together”: with whom do you want to have common knowledge? There’s always somewhere some person/entity who will approve of whatever you decide to be right for you. The thing with the concept of “the world” as one bad thing, like satan, however, confuses me: firstly, it erroneously connotes that no non-Christian can have morality, because it is eitehr (the christian) God or satan. This may be true from a religious point of view, in that no doing good can be good enough without Jesus Christ due to generational curse, but in practical life of course it’s nonsensical. But secondly, more importantly, is that there is not one single road “the world” will lead you onto. Actually, this is the very problem with relying on “the world” for your decisions about right and wrong and your destined direction: which part of “the world” will you follow? The alleged wandering over the earth that satan is supposed to do, would be totally illogical if it were just what being evil, or not being a christian, does to you, but it is not so illogical given how most human connections in this world work: most people are eager to be there for one another, as long as they can find enough common ground to stand on. This was actually what touched me the most: there is no being in the world who will be there for another truly as they are.
Now, in the pentecostal church, neither is God. Even though pentecostals emphasize the personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, there’s no way that they will accept that humans come to Jesus as they are. Not that they should lie to God – one of the other points of the sermon was that God, being omniscient, will know that sinners are sinful even if they pretend in their religious behaviors to be the superlative of piety -, but of course they should first stop sinning and start obeying God, hopefully through their conviction that this is the right thing to do, not because God commands them to do so. Pentecostals take the Bible very literally, or at least, that’s what I read when I read up on this movement. I am not sure how this goes for this particular church or minister, but I for one will not take the Bible’s truths about right and wrong and the practical meaning of one’s life experiences as absolute and eternal truths. Therefore, I don’t think a literalist will understand why the sermon touched me, or rather, they will think they understand and try to convert me, because, after all, the fact that this sermon touches me proves that I am touched by God, like Jonah, in the deepest depth of my life, and should finally come and listen to Him and He will drag me out of this horrible state like he got Jonah out of the fish. In this very abstract sense, it will not hurt me: the worst that could happen, if I came to the christian God, is that I would stir up fury in the Invisible Pink Unicorn and She would make holes in all my socks. I have logical objections to coming to some particular organized religion – after all, just because a religion has 1.9 billion followers, doesn’t mean it’s the truth (in ancient Greece, the whole world the Greeks knew had their religion, and if they had had the means to go on mission, they’d have “evangelized” [or its ancient Greek equivalent] the rest of the world). But I have more practical objections to what sharing my views would get other people to think of me.
The thing is, of course it’s true that following “the world” will mean you wander. Some do it figuratively; I do it literally. Now that I have a home to go to if I get unquiet on the ward, it’s said to be all fine, but last year, the exact same behavior landed me on the police station several times and was called dangerous by my doctor. I do it figuratively, too, and the end result is a year and counting on the locked ward. I don’t think that if I suddenly start praying to God and coming to some pentecostal church and whatever, it will be solved. I take religious texts – and philosophical texts – to hold metaphysical meaning, not literal meaning. After all, Jonah could never have been in a fish for three days and three nights. But then, well… yes… so I can’t follow the whole world. This has nothing to do with religion; it’s simply impossible. And who will I follow then? Not some pentecostal minister, who is as much a human being as every other human being in my life; the simple fact that he claims to preach God’s word, does not cause him to be the keeper of truth. Well, it’s kind of, well, complicated, since there is no-one in this world who is the keeper of truth. Of course, the simplest answer is, follow your own path. A hell of a lot easier said than done.
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