Dragons, Sea Monsters, & 666
DG’s Evolving Faith – Part 2
can’t remember who invited me to Gateway or how I ended up being a regular there. It had a much smaller membership than the popular First Baptist Church. Tons less stuff going on there too. Maybe it was the Sunday night services to which I was invited that hooked me. Maybe it was that we could play basketball in the parking lot right up until a service started. Maybe it was that I didn’t have to face Kim in church anymore. Kim was a pretty little girl which would make me go googlie-eyed. I’d get so nervous around her. I am sure part why I was at Gateway, at church period, was because it was an escape from our broken, upside down home. I was in search of a comfort only a family-type setting could bring. But I do remember that I really liked this new place.
FAMILY TIDBIT: At the time, my step-father Darrell, whom I loved with every bone in my body, was gone again. He had this habit of disappearing for weeks or months at a time. I knew he was prone to drinking way to much, hitting a pipe, getting high… but that didn’t seem so bad. He was a happy drunk. He was unusually chill most of the time. But I knew his relationship with mom wasn’t good. They fought a lot. Mom threatened suicide a lot. Dad left the house a lot. And I don’t recall that my sister and I ever asked any questions. We were just left to make sense of it all as best we could. My sister would stay in the middle of it all. She’d internalize the pain of our existence. Me… I left the house for a run, to ride my 12-speed around town, explore railroad tracks for miles & miles, or read my encyclopedia set.
What I loved more than anything else was when we would gather together on Sunday evenings to sing. I’m not sure if it was some sort of choir practice. I’m not sure if it was just a part of an evening service. All I know is that the time was more relaxed, there was interaction between the leader and the audience, and I loved every minute of it. The lyrics had an incredible way of jumping right off the hymnal directly into my heart. It was so intimate. It was like, “heaven came down and glory filled my soul.”
If I think about it, looking back, the Bible was presented to me as a two-part book written by God Himself. Part one is a weird mix of songs, Christian sayings, and really old 100% factual stories about God’s chosen people. Part two was all about Jesus. And even though I only had a few years of Baptist influence under my shiny newly baptized Bible belt I was convinced Jesus lived, died for my sins, then he rose again.
Who couldn’t help but feel like they were in the presence of almighty God when along with their friends and neighbors, led by a beautiful choir dressed in white, we would all bellow out, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love; Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above. Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!” Who couldn’t feel their concerns eased or their worries vacated when they are encouraged to “take it to the Lord in prayer.” And who couldn’t understand that somehow someone made hope possible, in a way we never could, when together with bowed hearts in worship sang, “O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me; for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above to bear it to dark Calvary.”
One particular Sunday night, after worship, I decided to stay in the sanctuary. Usually, any kids in the group would take off to some youth group event; but not me, not that night. I never imagined that one decision would have such long lasting impact on my life, but boy did it! That night I happened to stumble into a study of the Book of Revelation. Other than that book being at the end of my Bible right next to the maps section I didn’t have a clue about it. But that night, I found out… some wild almost fairytale type stuff. It just so happened that the reading for that evening’s study was from chapter 12, which makes mention of a freakin’ dragon!
“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.” Revelation 12:1-4, KJV
After that scripture was read I had a weird, strange feeling. It was like one of those movie type moments where the camera looks down a long hallway and then I start running. But then the hallway gets impossibly longer and longer. I felt as if I was trapped in the pew. Why was it so weird? It was just a story from an old book, right? But I sort of inferred or maybe I was outright taught that the Bible is literal.
Maybe it’s because I wasn’t exposed to fiction as a kid. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t recall hearing metaphor. But my young mind was reeling from hearing of a woman clothed in the moon and stars giving birth. I’d never thought long of a dragon but a baby eating dragon was surely evil. And I had to learn more.
Next, a discussion ensued between the speaker and the audience. I listened as best I could but I was agitated, I was disturbed. Yet I had to go on reading.
“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?” Revelation 13:1-4.
As you would rightly imagine, I was scared out of my whits. Why wouldn’t I be, these scriptures were horrifying. And the preacher was using the King’s English too. Spooky! Yes, I spent my fair share of time in church Sunday school rooms playing around with flannelgraphs but none of the teachers or preachers at First Baptist had mentioned scary sea beasts or dragon worship. If I think about it, looking back, the Bible was presented to me as a two-part book written by God Himself. Part one is a weird mix of songs, Christian sayings, and really old 100% factual stories about God’s chosen people. Part two was all about Jesus. And even though I only had a few years of Baptist influence under my shiny newly baptized Bible belt I was convinced Jesus lived, died for my sins, then he rose again. And one day he would come back to show us the place he was preparing for us. But Revelation… why was I only now hearing about all this?
“And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” Revelation 13:11-18, KJV
The next few months after this very disturbing church service were very uneasy. My head was spinning trying to figure these scriptures all out. Being a kid I didn’t know much but I did pick up on how literally we Baptists understood scripture. You didn’t have to be a junior theologian to understand the hermeneutic of any good Christian was, “God said it, that settles it.” And a cursory read of the Book of Revelation was a literal nightmare. The Bible had given me a life and death riddle I was desperate to figure out. The scripture bore into my heart & soul; little else mattered.