It is curious how human concepts of God has varied over the ages. In my own memory I recall the Southside Baptist Church being only a half a block away from where we lived on Baird Street in Kirksville, Missouri, when I was three years old in 1927. That was my church in my early youth and Cyrus Davis was our "preacher." Cyrus, a good man, was a true "fire and brimstone" Baptist preacher who, at a funeral, didn't hesitate to offer pleas to God that the recently departed would receive forgiveness in spite of his many sins. It seemed to me that, in the opinion of Cyrus, practically everyone was doomed to Hell, wherever and whatever that was.
Come Sunday morning, I would be fitted out with my one set of "dress" trousers and shirt with a clip-on tie [my "Sunday go to meetin' " clothes] and sent to my Sunday School class. Duly present, I was allowed to paste a gold star on the attendance card and receive a small card about Jesus. There was no baptism because that was to come later in life when and if I became born again. Baptisms were usually given at Ownbey's Lake in Kirksville or some "picnic spot" on either the Chariton River or Salt River a few miles away.
My family were known as confirmed Baptists; however, I do not recall seeing many of them in church. My Uncle Jesse and his family was an exception. He had an astounding spiritual experience upon the death of his first child, a son named Bernie. Jesses mother, my grandmother, told me the story. In 1922. four months before his fourth birthday, Bernie lay on his deathbed with Jesse sitting beside him. Bernie suddenly got excited and said, "Oh, daddy, look at the beautiful children! Can I go play with them?" Jesse said, "Yes, son, you can play with them." Bernie lay back with a smile on his face and went with that heavenly escort. Jesse joined the Southside Baptist Church and remained active in that body until his own death 32 years later at the age of 58.
The concept of fire and brimstone seemed much out of line with my personal feelings of God. If we were made and loved by God, as I was told in Sunday school, how could God possibly toss us into the flames of annihilation? It just didnt make sense. At an early age, years before ever hearing the word Catholic, I had a "feeling" about God. That "feeling" hasn't changed much over the years; if anything, it has only grown deeper.
There was never any doubt in my mind about the reality of God. There was too much evidence for me to see with my own eyes and feel in my own being. God was out of my reach but, nonetheless, very personal to me. Although infinite, he was MY God and, because he was also the God of all else, all of creation was somehow akin to myself. I didn't need a fire and brimstone fear of God when the very thought of God was so comforting to me. I knew that if I did the best I could, considering the conditions at the time, I need have no fear of my God. The wonderful thing about all that is each of us should feel that same peace and assurance.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:28]