A recent conversation dredged up an old memory.
I hate this memory. I tell it only to reveal how religious indoctrination twists the mind.
In the course of a recent a conversation with a fellow atheist friend, she uttered a simple phrase that sent me reeling… “Let ’em pray about it, I don’t care. What’s the harm in praying?”
Immediately, a putrid, ugly memory came hurling at me like a 50 foot wave of toxic sludge… It was an instant visceral reaction.
It’s 35 years ago. I’m walking to my car with my fiancé after having just dismissed from a mid-week church service at our charismatic, full-gospel church in rural Georgia. It’s hot and sticky. A slow summer evening cradles a lazy sun low above the pine trees.
Down the sidewalk at a distance comes a young woman, stumbling slowly towards us. We watch with caution as she approaches.
She’s a mess. Disheveled hair, smudged mascara, and very, very high.
“Are you okay?” I ask. She slurs an indecipherable something. “What happened?” I press further as I note a tiny bit of dried blood in the corner of her mouth as she gets closer.
I look around the parking lot for assistance, but we were the only people left. My fiancé asks, “Where are you going?” She tells us she’s headed home, just two blocks away.
We talk with her for a few minutes in an attempt to coax something intelligible from her lips. Where had she walked from? Who was she with? Does she have family that can pick her up? She gushes over every question, thanks us for our concern, tells us over and over how sweet we are, but no, there’s no one to call. She just wants to go home.
We assess the situation and after a minute or two, come to a conclusion. What this young woman needs is salvation. Yep. That’s what she needs. Jesus.
Not medical help.
Not a lift home.
So we pray the Sinners Prayer right there on the sidewalk inviting her to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
She complies, of course, as her out-of-control, drug soaked brain sparks in a hundred frenetic directions at once. She cries. We tell her God loves her. She hugs us. We assure her that her sins are forgiven. She thanks us profusely for caring. We assure her that if she were the only person on earth, Jesus would have still died just for her. More tears. More hugs. More drug infused gushes of emotion.
Satisfied in her salvation, we send her on her way. She stumbles for two full blocks… alone. She weaves back and forth on the sidewalk as we whisper prayers in cadence until she fades into the dark. In the name of Jesus. Watch over her, Lord… Hallelujah. Praise God.
I struggle as I watch her. I second-guess myself. We can’t put her in our car. She’s on drugs and might be dangerous, I think. God is in control, I assure myself. I’m ruled by faith, not by fear, I mutter in prayer. I plead the blood of Jesus over her… God place an angel on her right and on her left…
Never saw the young woman again. Not in the local mini mart, not at the movies, not in church. Maybe she made it home… I hope so.
Rick Warren once said, “Living in the light of eternity changes your priorities.” And he’s absolutely right. But often times, in a dreadful, twisted sort of way.
At the time, our actions made perfect sense to us. Her eternal well-being far outranked her physical well-being. She could die right there, out-of-her-mind high without Jesus and burn in hell for all eternity OR we could introduce her to Jesus before it’s too late. Save her soul. Set her free.
It never occurred to us that perhaps we could have done both: pray for her AND get her medical help. It was a toxic concoction of tunnel vision and indoctrination.
Religion can take a good brain and tie it in a knot.
Churches teach eternal promises based on nothing more than faith and hope. Faith and hope in eternity becomes the priority even over the obvious physical needs staring them in the face. It’s the choice between the eternal and the temporal… a choice that in reality, doesn’t even have to be made.
At 19 or 20, I was not the brightest bulb in the pack. I was both naive and idealistic. My involvement in the charismatic church – where we took God at his Word believing if we prayed, He would intervene – makes for a dangerous mix of immaturity and religiosity.
Somehow, in this encounter, I couldn’t trust God to keep me safe for the five minutes it would have taken to drive this girl home and yet I trusted Him completely to save us both for all eternity. In what world does this make any sense?