A scary thing happened when I left the abusive fundamentalist church of my childhood: I couldn't open my Bible and read the words without hearing my grandfather's voice, his exact intonation and inflection. Certain passages were so fully saturated with his interpretation that I literally could not, as evangelicals often say, "read the Bible for myself."
This scared me because I was still convinced that the only way to be an active Christian was by reading my Bible every day. My grandfather was particularly fond of a catchy little phrase I inscribed in the cover of my Bible: This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.
Go a few days without reading the Bible and you were backsliding. I remember several occasions when I went to church leadership for help only to be asked: "Are you reading your Bible every day?" Everything from finding God's will for my class schedule to finding relief from PMS could be solved by reading my Bible every day. The Bible was like Google maps with a side of Motrin.
I'd seen entire families shipped off to plant new churches based on a few scraggly verses from I Chronicles or II Corinthians. One family I knew uprooted their entire life to move to Oregon because they'd been praying for the Lord's will and came across a verse in Psalms that mentioned "Salem."
Fundamentalists are radically opposed to horoscopes and witchcraft but sometimes they treat the Bible as their own personal crystal ball. I was always deeply uncomfortable with this. It freaked me out that good, honest, well-intentioned Christians could cherry-pick verses out of the Bible and make them mean whatever they wanted them to mean. As long as the person could present a compelling argument in favor of their interpretation, the rest of us were just supposed to agree that God had indeed spoken to them. Biblically.
I mean, taken to its logical end, this kind of practice led to the emergence of all sorts of random pet doctrines and "convictions." Or, you know, just garden-variety heresy.
And, of course, the only way to know God was through the Bible. If you didn't read your Bible, you didn't know God because the Bible was The Only Source of Our Revelation. We were often warned against "extra-Biblical" revelations of God. The idea was that "extra-Biblical" revelation was a non-stop ticket straight to apostasy. Also known as Catholicism.
(SIDEBAR: if there is one topic about which fundamentalists and The New York Times agree, it's that the Catholic Church is a corrupt, evil organization.)
So, since God could only be found within the pages of my Bible and since I couldn't read my Bible without hearing my grandfather's voice, I figured my faith was doomed.
Reading the Bible was driving me away from God. But staying away from the Bible meant I was sinning.
I found myself at this weird crossroads. It was like: Go Crazy or Go To Hell.
I chose Hell.
Well, not really. I mean, it felt like that. By not reading my Bible everyday I felt like I was choosing The Way That Leadeth Unto Destruction.
But I was actually choosing to have my brain deprogrammed. I stopped reading my Bible for a long time because, well, I needed to get my grandfather's voice out of my head.
We'd been attending Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and had spoken briefly with one of the pastors there. He was remarkably gracious and gentle. That was a new experience for me. Our time at Calvary Chapel was consistently refreshing and healing.
But even so, I was still unsure about whether God really loved me. Which is to say, would He come after me even if I wasn't actively seeking Him? Could I push it further? Would God look for me even if I ran away from Him?
I mean, when the Bible has been used as a weapon against you, it's very difficult to find a loving God there. And since I couldn't read my Bible without breaking down in tears, well, I figured I'd lost God, too.
The problem, though, wasn't that I'd lost God so much as radically underestimated Him. Growing up inside fundamentalism, my idea of Him was very small. I thought He was bound up inside the Bible. I didn't realize He was bigger and more wonderful than I'd ever imagined.
One of the new thoughts that broke open my concept of God was this: if God can only be known through the pages of Scripture, does that mean all illiterate peoples will never know God?
I slowly accepted that if God the Father could exercise mercy on the illiterate peoples of our world, then perhaps He'd also show mercy to a confused, intentionally illiterate woman like me.
I know it sounds weird, but I was basically telling God to treat me like someone who had never been exposed to the Christian God.
If I was ever going to regain my faith, me and God were gonna have to start over from scratch.