I used to be the perfect Christian. I studied apologetics. I memorized Bible verses. I won awards for being an exceptionally good defender of Christianity. But everything fell apart the day I saw Zarmina’s execution on CNN.
It was just before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and the press had unearthed a bunch of old video footage that captured the brutality faced by women under the rule of the Taliban. A freshman in college, I watched with my classmates from the lobby of our dormitory as a woman enshrouded in a heavy, blue burqa arrived at a soccer stadium in Kabul in the back of a pickup truck. Accused of murdering her abusive husband, Zarmina had been convicted in a secret trial and beaten with steel cables until she confessed. Before nearly 30,000 spectators, she was dragged out to the soccer pitch, forced to her knees and shot.
CNN repeatedly aired the footage, and each time I saw it, I got angrier and angrier at God. It was God who claimed to have formed Zarmina in her mother’s womb. It was God who ordained she be born in a developing country under an oppressive regime. It was God who had all the power and resources at His disposal to stop this sort of thing from happening. And worst of all, 20 years of Christian education assured me it was God who decided because Zarmina was a Muslim, she would suffer unending torment in hell for the rest of eternity. How the Taliban punished Zarmina in this life was nothing compared to how God would punish her in the next.
Suddenly, abstract concepts about heaven and hell, election and free will, religious pluralism and exclusivism had a name: Zarmina. No longer satisfied with easy answers, I started asking harder questions—not just about Zarmina, but about other issues that had secretly troubled me through the years, from biblical inerrancy, to evolution to politics. Within a year, the same faith that had been so strong and vibrant throughout most of my life showed signs of severe dehydration and shock.
There were days when I longed for the sweet relief of giving up, of letting go of Christianity altogether and finding some other way out of this canyon of fear and doubt. I might have ended my faith for good were it not for that distant figure I could barely make out on the trail up ahead. Maybe Jesus hadn’t abandoned me after all.