When I was young – preteen – without the distractions of responsibility and expectation that come with adult life, I found myself from time to time dwelling on the mystery of why I existed. How had I become a person? Why did I look like I did? Why did anyone look like they did? Where was I before I existed? If God made me, how did God get there? What was beyond God? How could he exist outside of time? For a few moments nothing and no one around me seemed real. It felt like what I imagine an out of body experience to be. It is not a sensation that I’ve had since as an adult.
In his 1927 essay “The future of an illusion”, Sigmund Freud wrote that “It would be a very long time before an uninfluenced child began spontaneously to have thoughts about God and matters beyond this world.” By this measure I was an influenced child: raised by Christian parents, taken to church each week, had a social life with church people. Undoubtedly my upbringing sowed a seed and caused me to think as I did. But I do not feel, as Freud goes on to say, that I was “fed the teachings of religion” at a time when I was “neither interested in them nor able to grasp their scope.”
Freud’s essay focuses on the concept of religion as an item of culture, as a set of ideas put upon people: ‘intellectual prohibition’ leading to “intellectual enfeeblement,” and ultimately serving no greater purpose than wish-fulfilment. Rather, I was introduced to the idea of God as a living being at a young age and it unlocked something deep-rooted and inherent to my sense of being, something that could not be fed to me as mere religious teaching. Far from being disinterested or unable to grasp the scope, I remember contemplating the immeasurableness of God with fear and wonder. To my child’s “influenced” mind it was simply not feasible that I just existed, that I came from nothing and would return to nothing. I grew up and read the Bible more and found many places in the New Testament that corroborated my out-of-body boyhood experience. Corroborated it and explained it in wonderful ways.
1 John is written with the firm conviction that it is possible to abide forever. John speaks of an eternal life that was with the Father. Something that existed already, elsewhere, in a different place. More powerful still, the Father has revealed this eternal life through his Son (1 John 1:2) and by believing in the name of the Son I can know I have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Not because I have loved God, but because he has loved me and sent his one and only Son into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for my sins, I am alive in Christ (1 John 4: 9-10).
My young mind was filled with the magnitude and the unfathomableness of God. He has taken those deep wonderings and moulded them into a living faith in him. Were I to listen to Freud, I might dismiss the sense of mystery and awe I felt, as a religious illusion, motivated only by something I wished could be true. Instead, we have 1 John 3:1:
“See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are!”
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