Thursday, April 19 , 2018, 6:49 am | Mostly Cloudy 49º

 
 
 
 
Faith

D.C. Collier: What’s God Got to Do With It?

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second-hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

— Tina Turner

My first impulse was to run.

He came rumbling toward me like a freight train. Big, burly, covered in tattoos — he came so close I could smell his breath. Then this lifetime gangbanger grabbed me around the waist, lifted me off my feet and blurted out, “Hi, I’m Rocco!”

That was my first real-life encounter with the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. Thus, began a love affair with a life-saving ministry that continues to this day.

I followed Rocco into the chapel that day, sat down and muddled through one of the most challenging conversations I’ve ever had. He described his long-term physical abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father, including regular beatings, being thrown bodily straight into walls, across rooms and down stairs.

His mother suffered similar abuse right in front of the 6-year-old Rocco, leaving him traumatized and confused. Why wasn’t there someone, anyone, who could step in and stop this madness?

“What about God? Where was he as I lay bleeding on the kitchen floor, being kicked and cursed by a father who’s supposed to love me?”

As he thought back, right before my eyes, this intimidating hulk of a man morphed into a dazed, vulnerable little boy, staring at me, begging for me to explain God’s apparent absence and the total failure of all authority figures to intervene on his behalf.

To the now-little boy in front of me, those events didn’t happen 20 years ago, they happened “yesterday,” and were still ongoing through other supposed “authority figures” who took up where his dad left off.

Rocco lost his childhood early — way too early.

Having to “grow up” at 5 or 6 years old constitutes an unnatural, jolting upheaval that reshapes your view of everything, especially God, for the worse. Rocco couldn’t count on the things we “Normies” take for granted, like caring parents, police, courts, even social service agencies.

But worst of all, he couldn’t count on God, or so he believed.

And there I was, frozen in Rocco’s headlights, Mr. “Bible Man,” supposedly with all the answers, but blinded in one eye by my protected middle-class WASP background. I naïvely thought, “why didn’t you ask your mom for help?”; “why didn’t you call the police?”; “just run screaming outside and get help from the neighbors?”; “call Child Protective Services?” etc.

But truth be known, how could I have the faintest inkling of what this wounded, neglected, unwanted, marginalized little bundle of contradictions was going through? In his world, calling for help only made things worse, often much worse.

I felt like Rocco and I were strangers from alien planets trying to communicate in a language where even our words and terminology didn’t mean the same things. How do you explain to a Martian what a banana tastes like? How could I have the remotest concept of what it would be like to be staring up at a full-grown madman, blinded by booze and drugs at the peak of a seething rage bearing down on me, a little defenseless kid?

How could I conceive of what a steady diet of that kind of “upbringing” would do to my perception of the world around me?

To me, with my comparatively cushy background, the world was a safe place, people were pretty nice, and I was welcome with open arms into it. Not so for Rocco. His world was menacing, uncaring and not at all welcoming to this little street urchin. Is it any wonder why gangs scoop up the Roccos of this world in droves?

My new friend taught me infinitely more than I could ever teach him. My first tutorial came early — on occasions when I blithely call a man to “trust God,” I need to think hard about what that might mean from his point of view. Perhaps he comes from a world where mean streets, dark alleys, jails and prisons have been his only role models.

What kind of mental image do you think forms in their little minds when you mention the word “God?” Would he look like the “Velveteen Jesus” of countless Sunday school classes in polite suburban neighborhoods? Or, would he be a grotesque composite of drunken dads, absent addicted moms, dispassionate court systems and callous fellow inmates?

By a secret law of the soul, we tend to form our image of god as a “mashup” of all the authority figures we have encountered in our lives. You wouldn’t want those images in Sunday school class for little children to see, Velveteen or not.

More on the way.

D.C. Collier is a Bible teacher, discipleship mentor and writer focused on Christian apologetics. A mechanical engineer and Internet entrepreneur, he is the author of My Origin, My Destiny, a book focused on Christianity’s basic “value proposition.” Click here for more information. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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