By Megan Gieske, Staff Writer

“I felt that my parents had abandoned me. I felt that God had abandoned me. [And] I still felt abandoned by my brother and sister.”

Many of us on Christian college campuses like Asbury have felt abandoned if not by God, by a family member, when legalism or law was put above repentance. In Christian families, sometimes faith in Jesus Christ is not enough to meet the established requirements for salvation. Reduced to narrow and rigid moral codes, the broad, inclusive fact of God is put below the law, inviting legalism into the testimonies of what God has done in our lives.

But for junior Cannon Wilson, a past that had been defined by the words, hurt, bitterness, anger and hatred is the beginning of his testimony.

Wilson and I met in a small, upstairs library study room. Though the room was dimly lit, Wilson looked out of the window at first, and I was soon listening to these words from stories of Wilson’s past; some relatable, others unbelievable. His testimony began unlike many others — in a cult.

At five-years-old, Wilson’s family, a brother and a sister, moved from Knoxville, Tenn. to Seattle, Wash., where they attended the cultish church, The Sound Doctrine.

“[My parents] were very legalistic, but I would say they were passionate,” he explained. “They wanted to serve God with their whole hearts. [From them,] I always had a desire to do the right thing.”

Pray that God would show you what it really means for His grace to be sufficient

But at nine-years-old, Wilson fell into the sense of abandonment that many have before him of experiencing false guilt and condemnation after being punished by the legalism many passionate Christians have reduced God to.

Wilson remembered, “I was accused of lying about lunch. We had to ask permission for everything that happened.” Wilson recalled asking his mother what he could have for lunch, and later with her approval having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When the church’s pastor accused Wilson of being a liar, he forced him to have a peanut butter sandwich every meal for a month “to force me to confess that I had lied, which I didn’t,” said Wilson.

When Wilson’s family moved back to Kentucky, they had been one of three families still-intact after leaving The Sound Doctrine. But Wilson still felt an abandonment that began with his family and resulted in the belief of his abandonment by God.

At the time, Wilson remembers this hurt taking seed in him that later became the root for anger, bitterness and hatred.

“I thought that we had stopped following Him,” Wilson continued, still looking out of the window. By leaving what Wilson had been deceived into believing was the last true church on earth, Wilson thought that he, including his own family, had been condemned by God.

I felt that my parents had abandoned me. I felt that God had abandoned me.

Wilson remembered, “[The Sound Doctrine] convinced my parents through their own passion. The pastor of this church used [their passion] against my parents that if they left this church, they’d go to hell.”

As Wilson’s family became more reflective of the church, it became all the more difficult to believe in what he thought remained of his salvation.

It was this place that Wilson wanted to escape; he admitted to abusing alcohol, drugs and sleeping pills, to “sleep throughout the day, so I wouldn’t have to deal with my loneliness, anger and abandonment.”

Over time, Wilson found that his hurt by God left him with the same roots of bitterness and anger that only grew deeper and became hatred as the years passed by.

“I came to this point where I hated. I just hated. If anything was in existence, I just hated it,” said Wilson. During his first two years at Asbury, now three years ago, Wilson remembered breaking into Hughes with some friends with rolls of toilet paper, and Bibles and hymnals thrown through the chapel. “[But] I wanted God so bad, which I guess is why I hated Him.”

In the middle of being in a prison with bars of condemnation, Wilson found himself about to return for his junior year at Asbury University after completing some summer coursework to meet the academic requirements for reenrollment; he had previously left due to a low GPA.

One night after working all day in a warehouse, Wilson described sitting at the edge of his bed with a bottle of sleeping pills in his hand and a six pack of beer at his feet. “If it kills me, alright. If not, then at least I’ve escaped for a long time,” he thought. “And God spoke to me,” Wilson told me, crying. “‘You can come to me, but you’re not here because of this. You want this … more than you want what I have to offer you.’”

In this instant where Wilson’s life hung in the balance, the weight of years of the long-harbored bitterness lifted from off him, and the hatred sloughed off. That night, Wilson had been found, and he realized he had been relentlessly pursued all along.

Now when he looks back, Wilson realizes where his fears came from. “I was ultimately scared of being undiscovered.” Wilson explained, “I knew I could find and experience on my own, but I had a fear that I’d never be found and loved by people and by God.”

Wilson remembered returning home that weekend to visit his home church, where the pastor preached the sermon, “Playing Out of Bounds” describing a Christian without the Holy Spirit or a personal relationship with God. “He was describing me,” Wilson admitted.

Since then, Wilson received sufficient grace, but wants the same for others who have been overcome by guilt as he once had. “Pray that God would show you what it really means for His grace to be sufficient,” said Wilson. “You just have to ask. He is rewarding to those who diligently seek him.”

You want
this …
more than
you want
what I have
to offer you

Through becoming a missionary, Wilson said he’ll tell his testimony a thousand times if it means that those who have felt abandoned will realize God’s pursuit of them.

To others who found false fulfillment in similar ways, Wilson said, “To escape I tried every way on earth to find fulfillment and it did nothing for me. Now, I have joy and hope for the Lord.”