The Children of God
by Deborah (Linda Berg) Davis with Bill Davis, 1984
During my first three years outside the Children of God, I did not
understand either my role in the cult, or my responsibility for it.
Then a story told by Richard Wurmbrand opened up the truth to me.
My husband and I were studying the tapes and writings of this
Christian pastor who had suffered at the hands of the Communists.
Wurmbrand was a Christian pastor at the time of the Russian invasion
of his Rumanian homeland in 1948. During a national convention of the
leading clergy, sponsored by the newly imposed totalitarian
government, Wurmbrand was the only one out of the four thousand
priests and pastors to speak out publicly against the Communists. He
was imprisoned and tortured for fourteen years. Hundreds of thousands
died in Communist prisons of Eastern Europe during the years after
World War II, but Wurmbrand miraculously survived.*
|*Many Americans are familiar with Wurmbrand's exposure of the
barbarity of the Communist regime in Russia and its brutal treatment
of both Christians and non-Christians behind the Iron Curtain. In May
1966 he testified in Washington, D.C., before a Congressional Internal
Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to reveal eighteen deep
torture wounds covering his body. His story is told most completely in
his book In God's Underground, formerly entitled Christ In The Communist Prison, published by Diana Books.
This is the story: Wurmbrand was talking one day with one of the
Russian soldiers who had invaded his country, identified as an
intellectual by nature of his rank. Wurmbrand asked him, "Do you
believe in God?".
Wurmbrand explained that if the man had answered 'No', it would have
been understandable—there are many who don't believe in God."But,"
he recalled, "when I asked him, 'Do you believe in God?', he lifted
toward me eyes without understanding, and gave me an answer which rent
my heart in pieces. He said, 'We have no order to believe; if we have
an order from Stalin, we will believe.'"
Wurmbrand continued, "I am a man who has passed through Nazi prisons
and through Communist prisons. We have known what it means to lose six
children in one day. But if you were to ask me what has been the most
dramatic moment in my life, I would say this.
"Tears ran down my cheeks. I had seen for the first time a man who was
no more man. He was a brainwashed tool in the hands of the Communists.
He had lost the greatest gift which God has given to a man: To be a
personality of his own, who can say yes or no to his fellowman, who
can say yes or no, even to God! This Russian soldier could say neither
yes nor no. He expected from Stalin his order to believe."
There stood before Wurmbrand a man who had forfeited his right to be
an individual. Communism seeks to destroy the possibility of
fellowship with God by destroying the personality. The Russian soldier
was not a man; he was an empty shell, a living corpse, because the
cord that connects humanity with the Godhead had been severed: he had
no mind to make moral decisions.
When an individual is destroyed like that Russian soldier, he loses
his moral character and the ability to know God. He becomes capable of
the most heinous crimes and sins. People are shocked
at Hitler's crimes, yet Stalin was responsible for killing five times
the number of people killed by Hitler's regime. Stalin had more than
thirty million people put to death in Russia alone. How did he do it?
Not with his own hands. No, the lone Russian soldier, waiting for his
order to believe, did it.
In the Children of God, I became like that lone Russian soldier. Our
Stalin had a different name; we did not wear uniforms or carry guns;
we did not use violence or force to enslave. Yet our movement rested
on the same evil. Each disciple of the COG waits daily for "his order
to believe" from Moses David. Throughout the world thousands of COG
disciples anxiously await their orders to believe in the form of the
latest Mo Letter.
Three years after I had left the movement, I clearly saw that I was
ultimately responsible for joining the COG, for choosing to follow my
father, for choosing to believe that Moses David was God's Endtime
Prophet. I could so easily blame my father; after all, he had
influenced and dominated me since birth. It would be only natural that
I follow in his footsteps. However, to place the blame on him would be
to deny my individuality. Have I been all my life a robot incapable of
making moral choices?
A man who forfeits or will not accept the responsibility of his moral
decisions is no longer a man. In seeing myself as that Russian
soldier, I painfully realized that to know God, I must be an
individual; and to be an individual, I must be willing to accept the
responsibility for my actions.
I thought long and hard about why the soldier's answer had such an
intense effect on Richard Wurmbrand. Stating that Communism's aim is
the destruction of the individual, the dissolution of the personality
for the sake of the state, Wurmbrand continued by recalling the
relationship of God and Moses in the Old Testament. In the Bible, it
is written that "God spoke to Moses face to face" (Exodus 33:1 1).
Wurmbrand, being of Jewish origin and fluent in Hebrew, explained that
the phrase "face to face" is an old Hebraic expression meaning that
God spoke to Moses "as a person to a person".
"Suppose for an instant," Wurmbrand explained, "that Moses did not
have a face. Suppose that Moses did not have a personality of his own.
God could not have spoken to him anymore."
Moses was an individual, and consequently was able to have an
individual, personal relationship with God. God can no more have
fellowship with us if we are not individuals, than we can have a
personal relationship with a stone.
There is a platform of evil from which Communism derives its power. A
cult derives its power from the same source. There is an evil inherent
in both Communism and cults that renders them synonomous: they seek to
destroy our individuality before God.
This truth can be seen in the story of David and Bathsheba. King David
of Israel was an individual. He was also a man who made mistakes. He
committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then had her husband murdered
to cover up the sin. When Nathan the prophet confronted the king with
his crimes, the only words out of David's mouth were: "I have sinned."
That is all he said. There was no making excuses, no attempt to
justify himself, no explaining away the sin or the guilt or the
responsibility. In a dramatically profound admission of responsibility
he stated, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:13). This
rings loudly of individuality. The "I" says, "No one else made me sin.
It is true that Bathsheba was a beautiful woman and I was tempted, but
I, and only I, allowed my lusts to conceive in my mind and bring forth
sin within me. That sin overpowered me, and I sent for her, and
carried it to its logical conclusion. Yes, I have sinned. Therefore I
am responsible. I am subject to the consequences of my sin."
David accepted his guilt, his responsibility—and he remained an
individual. What if he had said, "I am not responsible—I was tempted
and lured by that woman; after all, it was she that consented"? In
doing so, he would have surrendered a moral choice. In refusing to
accept his responsibility and guilt, he would have rendered himself a
non individual, just like the Russian soldier, a person incapable of
knowing God. But the Bible records that David was "a man after God's
own heart", a truly remarkable characteristic. David understood
something keenly important in the mystery of life; he was aware of the
relationship of God to
man, of judgment to mercy. In accepting his responsibility, he walked
boldly to the throne of judgment, knowing full well that he was guilty
and deserving of death. What was the source of his confidence? He
believed in the mercy of God and cast himself upon it.
In Psalm 51, David prays for the remission of his sins after being
confronted by Nathan the prophet. This prayer reveals the depth of
David's understanding of the nature of God. By confessing and
acknowledging his terrible sin, David voluntarily faced the imminent
wrath of God; but instead of judgment, he experienced an amazing
outpouring of God's mercy. Through it all, David came to a realization
of what God truly wants from us. He writes:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness:
according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my
transgressions. . . .
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. . . .
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden
parts thou shalt make me to know wisdom. . . .
For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest
not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite
heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51)
David knew what God wanted. He knew that the God of judgment is
also the God of mercy.
I began to see an important principle at work here. It is the same
principle that Wurmbrand perceived, and the same one that established
God's personal relationship with Moses: If I accept the guilt of my
sin, I acknowledge God's sovereign right of judgment, which in turn
frees Him to reveal and extend His mercy to me. Expressed negatively
the statement reads: If I attempt to cover or hide my sin, if I refuse
to acknowledge my responsibility and guilt, I am foolishly denying the
omnipotence of God and His obligation to pass judgment; this nullifies
God's ability to reveal mercy. To cover my guilt is to despise, to
spit upon, the very mercy God would so willingly extend.
At this point in my life, the message of the Gospel was revealed in a manner I had never known. God wants and expects us to be
honest with ourselves, to accept our guilt; it is our link with
humanity, the anchor of individuality. It keeps us from becoming
heinous killers like Stalin; through it we remain individual per-
sonalities; and ultimately it is our link with God. It is confessed
guilt that opens our eyes to the reality of judgment and mercy.
To know God I must be an individual. . . .
To be an individual I must be willing to accept the respon-
responsibility of my actions. . . .
In accepting the responsibility of my actions, I must be willing to
admit my guilt.
Human nature is ever intent upon avoiding guilt, yet the greatest
tormentor of ex-cult victims is guilt. Its weight can drive a person
to the doorstep of insanity, and sometimes beyond. My guilt seemed
overwhelming. To consider the thousands of lives that have been ruined
by my father's doctrines, the spiritual and moral atrocities that have
been and are still being committed in the name of Jesus, and the
physical deaths and suicides that have occurred as a result of the
ministry of Moses David is more than one can bear. The realization
that I helped to found that movement led me into mental states of
isolation. Seeing the effects of the Children of God on my own
children often pushed me into unbearable states of depression. Then a
marvelous illumination occurred. The very guilt that was pushing me
ever closer to the brink of destruction became my most wonderful ally,
bringing me to a place of hitherto unreachable joy and peace.
In looking at the Children of God and my father and my relationship to
them, I realized that a cult could not exist but for the cult in my
Many parents and well-meaning friends have viewed my situation and
lovingly tried to vindicate me, saying "It never would have happened—it was your father's fault." I am grateful for their kindness and
concern; but unknowingly, they are denying my right to be a
responsible individual as acutely as the cult denied it. To become a
whole person, I had to see and accept my personal responsibility and
guilt in joining and living in the COG. In accepting this fact, I was no longer that Russian soldier. I had re-
gained my individuality, that priceless gift I forfeited when I chose
to follow Moses David.
In taking this moral step, I faced a new question and another trauma.
The subconscious guilt that haunted me and nearly drove me insane was
now visibly before me. The weight was unbearable; I could not live
with it. I had regained my individuality, but unless I were healed
from the burden of guilt, I would not be able to go on living. The
question was, What do I do with my guilt? Where do I go from here?
At this point a wonderful experience occurred, one that I had never
known in a conscious, real way. I had nowhere to go, no one to turn
to. I had painfully regained my individuality, but was a miserably
guilty individual. I saw no purpose in living. My life had been
ruined, shattered. Moreover, I was responsible! Then God revealed the
meaning of Grace in a most unimaginable way.
Through His grace, I recalled all my childhood training and
experiences in Christianity, and what they meant to me; the different
stories, the parables, the birth of Christ, His healing ministry; and
finally, I arrived at the foot of the Cross. As I lifted my eyes
slowly to Him, I perceived for the first time, a Man suffering and
bleeding, in an agony of unparalleled love, dying on the Cross for me.
In my hands I held the very sins which had placed Him there. It was
not the sins of my father, of Moses David, or of anyone else. I had
crucified my Lord. For an instance—yet an eternity—there existed no
one else in the world but Christ and me. It was for me that He
suffered and died, for it was I who had placed Him there. I had heard
countless stories and sermons about Jesus dying for the sins of the
world, but never had the reality of Calvary become so personal.
Clearly, it was I who had caused this horrible event.
The sins and the guilt that I held before me began to tear my heart in
pieces. I hated myself and my sins: how could I have been so wicked?
And then the mystery unfolded. 'Those very sins had brought me to Him.
My sins, so horrible, so painful, had led me
to Him. That which had threatened my sanity, which drove me to the
depths of depression and nearly to the point of ending it all, had
brought me to Christ. There was nowhere else to go. The mystery was
clear: Christ died for guilty individuals.
This is why the cults struggle so earnestly to justify sin, to
rationalize guilt, to destroy the individual through benign decep-
tion. If I try to remove the burden of guilt artificially, I will not
need my Savior. But one does not remove guilt by any means. Guilt
becomes a part of us, and there is no separating it from our being.
One deceives himself to think that it can be reasoned away.
Guilt had become my ally, my link with reality—the Divine Reality. It
was indeed the anchor of my soul; for it brought me face to face with
God. To sever that cord through false reasoning, sets one adrift upon
the sea of eternal frustration and alienation.
As I stood quietly at the foot of the Cross, the words that will echo
throughout eternity fell on my soul, filling it with joy and peace:
"Father, forgive. . : ." I laid my guilt, my sins, my responsibility
at His feet. I became a forgiven individual.
Christ restored my fellowship with God. Like David of old, I glimpsed
for the first time the relationship of God to man, of judgment to
mercy. I cried for a long, long while. Tears of sorrow turned to tears
of thankfulness, a thankfulness I had never known or experienced, for
which I was altogether unworthy. I was beginning to see through my
tears what David was referring to when he wrote, "God desires a broken
and a contrite heart." The lone Russian soldier could not have a
broken heart. A non individual cannot have a broken heart. One who
refuses to accept guilt and responsibility will never know truth in
the inward parts; to him the mystery of the Cross will remain hidden.
Because the pain and the shame of facing my guilt and admitting my
responsibility were incredibly intense, I was afraid to face that. I
did not know then that God's comfort—His grace—was waiting to come
crashing down like a mountain of snow to encompass and strengthen my
soul. Confession was the key that triggered the avalanche.
By accepting my own guilt and responsibility, I unknowingly set myself
free from the snares of bitterness, resentment, and alienation. There
exist many unforeseen blessings in obeying
God's principles. If I had been intent on blaming my father or anyone
else for my involvement in the COG in order to reason away my guilt,
resentment would have permeated my mind; the destructive seeds of
bitterness would have grown deep within me.
A response of bitterness is an instinctive means of revenge toward the
one whom we feel has wronged us. Only God has the right to punish.
"Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord". Man's attitude is
expressed in bitterness; God's, in mercy. Bitterness is a strong sign
that a person is harboring unconfessed guilt. A person who has not yet
received divine forgiveness finds it difficult to show mercy to anyone
else. A bitter person tries to relieve the pain of unconfessed guilt
by focusing resentment against the person or object that offended him.
The tragedy is that it is forgiveness, not vengeance, that sets a
person free. Indeed, forgiveness is the most divine quality known to
man. It sets one free to love.
In studying Richard Wurmbrand's writings, I found that I had a great
deal in common with him. In what way? How can that be when he was
suffering torment and deprivation in a Communist prison, while I was
enjoying much physical freedom and pleasure in the Children of God?
Our common experience is this: we were both prisoners. He was a
prisoner of Communist tyrants for fourteen years; I was a prisoner of
a cult for thirteen years.
Richard Wurmbrand was arrested, tortured, and imprisoned because he
was a Christian and lived by his Christian principles in the face of
opposition. He was in prison because he knew God, had courage, and
believed that suffering and loving God are synonymous. I was in prison
because I did not truly know God, was filled with fear and self, and
followed my own image of Christ. A common captivity, for opposite
Guilt. Responsibility. Individuality. The principle linking the
relationship of these three words is ultimately responsible for my
total deliverance from the cultic phenomenon. It broke the invisible
chains that kept me bound to a life of frustration, mental torment,
and spiritual confusion for a period of three years after I had
physically left the cult.
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Last response dated:
Dec 3, 2004
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