The Sinners Prayer, Hell-Bound Babies, and How Sin Saved Me

Continuing to process Cindy Brandt​’s ‘Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist’ series, in particular one guest post about why her family doesn’t say The Sinner’s Prayer…

The more I think about it, the more I come to the stark realization that while my “salvation experience” at age 4 (yeah – I was an early bird) was certainly real, it was not an “I have decided to follow Jesus” moment. Rather, it was my, “My four year old terrified brain cannot bear the thought of spending an unfathomable eternity in hell because I [fill in the sin]. So I have prayed to Jesus and He has saved me from hell” moment.

the sinner's prayer

I met Jesus for the first time, and chose to follow Him, in the midst of “sin and darkness” a full 19 years later. I was sleeping with my then-boyfriend (now-husband) while certain family and friends were furiously (not in anger, but in dreaded worry) demanding we stop, break up, or face doom both in this life and the next. They scrambled to ensure my 4yo sinner’s prayer was authentic, and worried themselves sick that it wasn’t.

Yet, while others were screaming, “FIIIRRREEEE! Fire, Amy!! Your house is on fire!” I was standing in the living room decorating with Jesus. I was setting up shop in the House He was building. I was getting to know the One who loves me, period. Who desires and designs a life of Good for me, and Whose greatest gift to me yet was this boyfriend with whom I was hurtling headlong into destruction.

Even as they worried, screaming that our lack of purity would be our certain doom, I was hearing the persistent, quiet voice of Jesus speaking peace. Speaking wholeness. Dismantling the myths of purity culture in which my previous “pure” relationships had left me shattered and disillusioned.

Jesus used this One Penultimate Sin (the ultimate being apostasy) I’d been taught and believed would invariably be the destruction of everything, to construct in me a new, living, breathing, For-Jesus faith.

In other words, the very thing I was taught would destroy me completely was precisely what Christ used to save and recreate me; To transplant me from the faith of my family into a faith of my own. As I disastrously diverted from their path, Christ paved a new one for and with me.

Perhaps I was saved from hell at 4-years-old and guaranteed my place in heaven. Who knows? Maybe? I’m more inclined to believe Christ saved me 2,000 years ago at Calvary, and that experience was my first spark of recognition, of becoming who I am: Beloved of God, Rescued.

But either way, the more I learn of Jesus, the more I’ve come to believe Jesus doesn’t want us to “choose” Him as an escape route. He is not – as they say – our “fire insurance.” [Insert disturbed groan here.] He wants us to choose Him because the love and long-suffering He has demonstrated toward us even in the midst of sin is unparalleled. He is the Lover buying His whoring wife back over and over and over, saving and sanctifying her by His relentless faithfulness and Love, regardless of her faithlessness and infidelity.

He wants us not to respond negatively to the idea of hell (because how unique or special is that?) but positively to His inexhaustible pursuit. He wants us to say “YES!”

I’m not here to defend sin. We are broken people who, since being deceived and kidnapped by the Enemy, are bent on serving self rather than God. We are hopelessly lost in our pursuit and embrace of counterfeit loves. We are perpetually missing the mark, perpetually straying into ditches, and in perpetual need of salvation and sanctification. It’s my belief that Christ, in Love for me, dismantled and dethroned one god (sex/purity) by undoing its power against me, and put Himself rightly on that throne by showing how small of a god it was compared to how great of a God He is.

Neither am I saying it’s inherently wrong to pray for rescue from doom. Surely it’s a good thing to cry out for rescue when we need it, right?

I am, however, trying to flesh out the ramifications of the destructive teaching that our kids are doomed by their Maker until and unless they say, pray, or behave in certain ways.

I am sure it’s cruel to “Scare The Hell” out of little kids whose imaginations are more vibrant and active than mine’s been in ages, and for whom such cruelties birth years of tortured sleep. (They did for me!)

I am sure it’s inherently wrong to teach them that unless they recite a prayer and beg for mercy with appropriate self-loathing, and spend the rest of their lives doing the Rain Dance of Righteous Affirmation of Correct Doctrine, a “loving” God will torch them. Literally, and eternally.

I am most sure it’s an ineffective means and measure of fostering real, loving, fearless, shame-free faith in young hearts. For, once a young child grows out of childish fear he may start to wonder what kind of god functions in a way so opposite of “love” and yet insists on defining himself as “love incarnate.” And he may (rightly) reject that god, or, absent any understanding of a truly Loving Divine, (tragically) reject the idea of God altogether.

More often than not, atheism is the son of destructive theism.

I mean, if I am forced to choose between the “Angry God Dangling Me Over the Pit of Hell Because He Is Loving” and “No God At All,” I will unflinchingly choose the latter.

It is one thing to teach kids to “fear [revere, respect, honor as we revere our personal heroes] the Lord and serve Him only.”

It’s another thing entirely to teach them they must somehow simultaneously love and be adequately terrified of a god who is so oxymoronically “loving” that he will destroy them unless.

In my 34 years, I have yet to figure the math on how one can unashamedly, fearlessly Love the God she fears will otherwise unleash her to eternal conscience torment.

“There is no fear in love,” right?

But I have become and remain an overjoyed student of Love. One who was moved from a coward before the theology of death and fear to a disciple of Love.

And with all the hope, faith, and love I can muster, I wish the same for my kids.