Testimony

There are competing theories about the etymological root for “testimony.”  Testis was apparently a latin word for “witness,” but referring more specifically to a third person who stands apart and speaks disinterestedly.  “Testimony” could also share its roots with our word “testes,” suggesting that it may come from the ritual in some ancient cultures to swear by one’s genitals, males then being the only ones who could give sworn testimony.  An example is Genesis 24:9, when Abraham had his servant swear that he would obtain a wife for Isaac only from among Abraham’s people.  The ritual by which the servant swore was described euphemistically as “placing his hand under the thigh” of Abraham.

We’re well familiar with “testimony” and what it means nowadays.  In court we swear “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  It used to be that we routinely added the phrase “so help me God,” to be reminded that God hears, too, and we are answerable to Him if we lie.  Now that last phrase is often left off, because so many people think God doesn’t care about such things, or doesn’t exist at all.  The absence of the last phrase implies that one swears by his own head, so the two ways of swearing to tell the truth also exemplify the two competing and irreconcilable worldviews:  the one ordered around God, and the one ordered around ourselves.  Today, sometimes the swearing is done “under penalty of perjury,” meaning that the witness is reminded that they’re under oath, and that lying under oath is a crime.  The point in any event is that once we give the oath, we are to take special care not to evade the truth by elision or prevarication or outright falsehood.

“Testimony” is also used in some religious circles to refer to the story of how one came to belief.  This is especially common among protestant denominations which adopt the idea that one acts, in order to cross over from death to life (or to obtain “salvation”).  The idea is that we are sinful and in need of redemption; that God provides the means of that redemption in the person of Christ; and that the event of crossing over is something that happens at an identifiable point in our lives, and that the event can be recounted to others.  Each individual who claims to enjoy reconciliation to God in this way therefore has a story to tell, about how he came to it, or was drawn to it.

Implicit in such a telling is that one can know that he has crossed over.  That is, that he is made aware by his experience of the internal impact it has, such as the change (repentance) one feels inside.  Further, behavior changes for the better; attitudes about others improve; a felt sense of God-in-me results.  The event of crossing over may be instantaneous or drawn out over weeks or months, but it consists of these elements:  belief, action, relationship.  Belief is simply accepting the truth of the story of the Christ as related in the Bible.  Action relates to acting as though it is true, and includes observable change internally and externally.  Relationship refers to ongoing relationship to Christ, which is typically marked by prayer and by reminding oneself, in prayer, of the truth of God’s revelation to us, so that there is a felt sense of Christ’s presence in us.

There are as many testimonies as there are Christians.  One testimony is posted here.

Most people have a familiarity with this Christian idea of testimony, whether their religious tradition includes that idea in such explicit terms or not.  It is good for anyone who subscribes to Christian faith to consider what his story of faith is; what his “testimony” consists of.  You’re invited to write it as a comment to this post, if you feel so moved.

It might also be good for anyone who rejects God to consider what his “testimony” is.  After all, it is a binary proposition:  there is a God or there is not.  There is no in-between or “sort-of” truth about it.  Therefore, if one rejects all notions of God or gods, he necessarily embraces materialism.  If that describes you, what is your testimony?  How did you come to embrace the belief that time and matter comprise all of reality?  What effect did it have?  You’re invited to post that testimony, too.

1 thought on “Testimony”

  1. This was required as part of an assignment and already written, so I thought I’d post. A bit long, but maybe useful to someone.

    A Love Story

    Having been born into a devout Christian and missions oriented family, I was taught from birth about Jesus and what it meant to know him. My father led me to my “salvation” experience one Saturday afternoon while we were talking and resting, and remarkably enough I can still remember the event sitting on his lap in the rocking chair in the living room. I was six years old. As best a six year old could understand, I totally understood my need to be “saved.” I knew I was intrinsically a “sinner” because I knew how often I behaved badly and received the requisite discipline. I knew God loved me because I was taught God loved me. End of story.

    Shortly after, I was baptized, signifying death to the six year old life, and new birth in Christ! I was after all, a Baptist, and full dunking was the only acceptable way. The experience wasn’t lost on me as, later in the worst of times, when I decided I knew quite a great deal better than God did what would work best for me, I would think back to being “saved.” It was comforting to think everything would be okay. Problem was, nothing ever seemed okay. Regardless of what I did to make sense of life and make it right, from my skewed perception nothing ever seemed normal or okay-whatever that meant.

    From early years, I became a caretaker and fixer. As a kid I needed to control what I could so I would have a modicum of stability and could keep myself from sinking into a desperate and overwhelming sense of doom. I was impertinent and bossy as a kid, neither adorable character traits. Told I was a fairly bright child, I learned quickly that if I performed well I would gain acceptance in the adult world. I worked hard not to be invisible in the daily drama of life in a large family. Slowly my life evolved into an Academy award winning act, most of which was a lie. I so desperately wanted to feel love, but I felt nothing. It wasn’t that no one loved me, the problem was that I existed within a disconnect; I absolutely refused to feel anything, especially love. I fully understand why, but looking back, that’s not the part that matters. The significant piece was, that at the age of 8, the damage was done when I learned instantaneously in one 20 minute trauma I wasn’t loved or lovable. I was disposable garbage. My brain chemistry was changed in a fight for survival, and the neat kid that was me was lost in the battle. I had been sexually assaulted.

    Through the rest of my childhood and the teen years, I did what children in Christian homes do. While consistently attending Sunday school, VBS, after-school Bible Clubs, annual mission conferences, and accompanying my dad on weekly visitations since he was the pastor, I learned scripture, Bible stories, compassion and mercy, care taking and service. As God wired me with an innate need for justice and mercy, Dad used these times to cultivate these strengths teaching me how to stand firm and speak for just and morally right causes. Since our family was affiliated with an international mission, we routinely had missionaries coming through our home for R&R and overnight stays, which was pure joy for me. I loved meeting so many different people with different personalities, nationalities, accents, educations, beliefs, and stories! Solid spiritual training during my formative years had cultivated and instilled in me a Christ-centered worldview from a very young age. These events laid a basis for truth; truth totally void, incapable of feeling anything. As a child I honestly believed if I let myself feel, I would die. The world in which I existed was surreal.

    Our home was a lively place given I had three brothers and three sisters. Even though there was never a dull moment, childhood was less than carefree. The child that still existed in me lived on heightened alert to stay safe. Labelled as “intense,” my world never seemed safe. I remember wondering if I would ever be what I imagined as “normal.”

    As a sophomore in high school, I felt “called” to be a missionary, so I walked the aisle during the annual mission conference to commit my life to serving God; wherever he led. I had no idea what this commitment might look like, but at the time I was sincere, and was really willing to become a “missionary.” And, I was into doing what I thought everyone around me wanted me to do. By this time I had perfected the art of performing, so I worked diligently to excel, even in this. Truth is I was no more missionary material than a turtle. By age 14 I was exhibiting symptoms of mental illness although it wasn’t diagnosed until years later.

    In my later teens, shortly after making my grand commitment, my personality began to change, for the worse. I had always been independent, attempting to prove my self-sufficiency, accomplishing more and striving to be better than anyone at everything. I don’t remember being disliked, but it was only because I didn’t allow anyone to get close enough to know me. I was an outsider and a loner. I had a few close friends, but with such an innate internal sense of being “different,” I never quite fit in. Incapable of feeling anything, my life performance seemed okay with everyone. An excellent student, responsible, and a very creative and imaginative kid, life was fine in my own world. To exacerbate the internal hell in which I lived, I became impetuous, self-centered, duplicitous, and charged headlong into rebellion; albeit controlled rebellion. I was intentional about how I acted out and fortunate enough to have the luxury of compartmentalizing my misbehavior. Very few people knew me or ever would if I could help it. Because I kept my lives separate, to my knowledge I never publicly embarrassed my parents and family. That fact itself miraculous!

    Internally, the goal of attaining independence and total self-sufficiency became my god. Much of my behavior was so bad I had no doubt I deserved to die for it! I was conflicted and duplicitous, a manipulative, creative liar. Although at that time I knew I’d never attempt suicide, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think about it. I was clinically depressed and had been for years, and lived acting as if I wasn’t. Life in denial was extremely fatiguing. At such levels of intensity, my depression often made me physically ill.

    On the exterior I was able to maintain a modicum of respectability as I was the model student, active in my church youth group, a natural born leader, destined to succeed in anything I attempted, and considered by all to be a very mature young adult. In retrospect, I knew I had people fooled and nothing could have been further from the truth. I bought into lies I told myself to appease my guilt. At high school graduation I received the “Most Outstanding Graduating Senior” award, which further assured me my lies and darker life were safely hidden. The entire faculty and staff of my school had voted and labelled me “outstanding!” A little validation went a long way.

    Fast forwarding a few years, suffice it to say I didn’t have to borrow money to pay for college. As a working girl, I let myself go into depths of sexual sin where no one should ever choose to go. In the process I hurt many and literally left them in the wake of emotional and psychological devastation. I didn’t know how to love people, I didn’t know how to love me. By the time I reached my early twenties, I no longer felt anything except pain. The awful part was that I really didn’t care. It was miraculous I was able to walk away from that culture; but I did. Leaving was only possible because I jumped headlong from the frying pan into the fire; right into a tumultuous, abusive marriage in which I spent time living through a different kind of hell. It was a time of heartbreak and misery I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but during which somehow I was fully aware God never abandoned me. Occasionally the head knowledge that he loved me would drop into my thinking, but never having felt it, I willfully continued walking away. By this time in my life, I knew I was mentally ill. I was conflicted and split, unable to recognize or define myself. A real me didn’t exist anymore, and I couldn’t distinguish the lies in my life from truth. I no longer knew what the truth was. Yet another miracle was that I remained fully functional. I lived, for all intense and purposes, a normal life from the outside looking in. From the inside looking out, was chaos. It took a lot of energy to keep living the lie!

    Having learned well to perform, love mattered little. Actively looking for love in many places and finding it in none; I gave up. Fortunately God didn’t. He was faithful during this time to keep me safe from myself and never stopped giving me every possible chance to find him. My life now having reached a book-length story of a classic “prodigal,” the bottom line is I was eternally grateful for the fact that occasionally when I felt so alone and hopeless, my mind would wander back to that rocking chair, and I knew I was “saved.” Somewhere, in all of my loss I held on to the potential that everything might be okay. I lived in a world of hopelessness and couldn’t imagine it ever changing. I longed to be loved, but couldn’t allow it, and far worse, wouldn’t. Life rocked along, and my existence was as one of the most miserable human beings on earth. My habit of substituting sex for unattainable love ultimately succeeded in soul murdering the last remaining piece of myself.

    Through a series of events in which I lost all control of my life, my Oscar winning performance living the independence lie came to a screeching halt in October, 1987. Over a span of two months I lost my marriage, my home, my job, my health, total sanity, and all hope. The pain of living so selfishly over such a long period of time finally imploded so intensely that I attempted suicide. No bargaining with God, no note, nothing. Just bam; I’m out of here; I’m done. OD’d on everything and nearly physically killed myself; absolute selfishness, absolute sin! But there, right in the middle of the ER, lights blazing, doctors screaming, none of them letting me go, someone whispered “I love you,” and it was over. When I regained consciousness, I physically felt and knew, for the first time I could remember, I was loved. While I was dying someone told me they loved me, and the power of those words somehow kept me alive! Something happened during that encounter, and I was alive like never before. When I asked the doctors who had said it, none had. They were too busy trying to get me to breathe.

    Lying in the ER was almost thirty years ago, and I wish I could say healing was instantaneous, but it wasn’t. Nor was it easy. Sometimes it was grueling and difficult because like most all else I’d ever done, I’d done a superlative job splintering myself into a million pieces. But over time, the God who originally created all the pieces graciously put them back together. Sometime afterwards, I realized the source of the message in the ER was God himself. It was he who had whispered, “I love you.”

    My story consists of a journey, not a singular event, and God has performed a miracle by transforming me into who I am today. Still a work in process, all isn’t perfect because I’m only human and prone even now to slip towards depression. Remaining vigilant, however, those times are fewer and farther between. I feel and know I am loved.

    As I’ve experienced healing and what I consider a miraculous transformation into a new person, or a “new creature” as it’s called in the Bible, I have reached the point these years later I can say with confidence as Joseph did to his misguided brothers years after they so savagely abused him and sold him into slavery:

    “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:20-21)

    I am prepared now, for the saving of many lives, to provide for many children. To speak kindly when kindness is needed. To be fearless and bold. As God’s transforming power so radically changed me, I know and have complete faith and confidence God can and will do the same for you. In the purest sense of the word, I’m now a missionary. I don’t know God loves me because it is what I was taught, I know he loves me because he told me himself; and, because he told me, I can confidently tell you. End of story.

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