“My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care. I don’t believe I will ever walk away from God for intellectual reasons. Who knows anything anyway? If I walk away from Him, and please pray that I never do, I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons, the same reasons that any of us do anything.” – Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
It’s a frightening thing to wake up one morning and realize that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine yourself just walking away from the very thing, the very person around whom you’ve been building your life for nearly a decade. For the better part of the last few months, I’ve felt that such an outcome was almost inevitable.
I’ve had seasons of doubt before, like all Christians. But even in the darkest moments of those times, there was always this underlying sense that God was still there, that He hadn’t abandoned me, that this was indeed a season, and it wouldn’t last forever; I would again praise Him (Psalm 42). Recently, there’s been no such assurance.
I spent some time last week scrolling through old blog posts of mine from the past couple of years. I chuckled a bit and thought to myself, “How in the world did I get here?” I had written so much about God’s glory, His mercy, His love, His goodness, and the gospel. And here I was thinking that He probably didn’t even exist, and if He did, I wasn’t sure that I could even trust Him.
Sure, by this time I had been dwelling on how absurd it seemed that I believed that a talking snake tricked the world’s first people into eating a piece of forbidden fruit, and that’s where all of the terrible crap that’s in the world came from. But it didn’t start there. My faith in God and in the Bible as His inerrant Word began wavering for exactly the reasons Donald Miller mentioned: social, identity, and emotional ones.
There was a lot of hype about this week’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, on the validity of creationism. The only thing related to this that sparked my interest at all was the picture that accompanied a Huffington Post article about the debate. It was a picture of Bill Nye, and I thought “Wow, he’s gotten old!” I’m always taken aback when I see current images of figures from my childhood, who have been out of the spotlight for some time. It reminds me of my own mortality.
You see, I couldn’t really bring myself to care that much about transitional fossils, dating methods, and the uniformity of natural laws. Because what did it all matter if the God I thought I knew was really a tyrant who was fine with slavery as long as you practiced it responsibly, who was fine with genocide as long as you got a direct command from Him to do it, who painted homosexuals as nothing more than sex-crazed predators, and who considered all women at all times to be unfit to lead or teach any man because, well, you know, that whole business with Eve and that darn snake…
I was quite pleased with myself back in October when I came up with that line reassuring my conservative Christian friends that I wasn’t teetering on the edge of apostasy. I didn’t realize that I was only a few steps away. I guess the disparity between my theology and my personality finally caught up with me. I’m convinced of certain theological positions, because I really do believe they are affirmed by scripture. But I’m so dreadfully uncomfortable with them. And I find myself feeling alienated from those who share my views, but unlike me, are quite at peace with them and their necessary implications. While I’m on the same page with them theologically, I often just don’t get them on a personal level.
Much of my turmoil would be alleviated, I imagine, if I would simply adopt a more liberal theology. Then, the Bible’s conclusions on things would make more sense to me. But the fact is that I just can’t get there. As much as I would like to, I just don’t (can’t) buy the liberal interpretations to the controversial texts whose traditional interpretations have become unpalatable to our culture. So I find myself not questioning which interpretation is correct, but whether the Bible itself is indeed a divinely inspired piece of literature.
Throughout this whole time of doubting, I’ve been speaking with a couple of very close friends back in the States. Their friendship has been invaluable to me in all of this. I’m extremely fortunate to have people in my life with whom I know that I can be totally raw and honest. I’m not afraid of their judgment, and I don’t feel the need to hold anything back or doctor it up and package it nicely before saying it to them. And I think their friendship is the primary reason that I’m not writing this blog post to tell you all that I’ve realized that Christianity is a horrible lie. I’ve been teetering on the edge all right, but I haven’t fallen over yet.
I hadn’t read the bible in about a month when one friend encouraged me to just make myself pick it up and read one of the gospels. “Look, I wrestle with a lot of these questions,” he said. “And when it just gets overwhelming, I often just read the gospels. And I’m not going there looking for answers; I go there for comfort. And I find that God doesn’t usually answer the questions, but he makes them less urgent.” I took his advice, which did actually take some effort, and I began reading John.
I have all of my questions, all of my objections. I get so befuddled at things I read in the Old Testament, and things I read in the Epistles and so on. And I get so frustrated with many conservative Christians (the ones with whom I agree most on many theological and social issues). But when I read about Jesus, when I read His words, His interactions with people, something happens. The raging storm inside of me starts to calm just a little. My anger and frustration turn to vulnerability, and my frozen heart begins to melt. When I’m confronted with the biography of Jesus, what can I say? I can’t have anything against Him. And I don’t want to. And I know, if only in that moment, that there is truly no one like Him. He is exactly who He says He is. He is the Son of God.
Anna left for the States to get her Visa changed two days after we returned from Thailand. I’ve been doing the single parent thing for nearly two weeks now, and it sucks. (Gosh, I miss Anna.) Eden was at a friend’s house one day last week, so I had a little break and decided to go out for coffee. I wanted to do a little reading, so I went to the bookshelf, specifically looking for anything that was not Christian. I wasn’t in the mood to read about unschooling, didn’t have the patience for any of the classics, didn’t think I could handle Kurt Vonnegut at the moment, and none of Anna’s poetry books were particularly appealing. Then I looked down at a lower shelf and happened to see Blue Like Jazz. Its brilliant blue cover and bright yellow words jumped out at me, contrasting with all the dull-colored books on the shelf next to it.
It was nine years ago when Anna and I read Blue Like Jazz together and talked for hours about it and the concepts that Miller brings up and the issues he addresses. I loved this book because I could actually relate to him and to the people in his life that he wrote about. The way they experienced life and their faith (and their doubts) resonated much more than the Christian culture that I had so far been exposed to. But then, I started learning more about theology, and discernment, and all of that, and I found out that I wasn’t supposed to like books by people like Donald Miller, and so with a heavy heart, I put it on the shelf to gather dust.
But last week, I wasn’t concerned with theology or what one should or shouldn’t be reading, or whatever. In a moment when I was determined to go and enjoy something, anything, that had absolutely nothing to do with God, I saw this book and was flooded with the memories and the emotions of a new convert and his best friend hearing about God in a way they never had before. I quickly grabbed it and out the door I went.
I forgot myself a few times in the coffee shop, chuckling aloud, guffawing once or twice, and although I hate to admit it, I got a little teary-eyed. (But no worries, I maintained enough control to save face.) I see so much of myself in Don, in Penny, in Laura, and I’m so thankful for the honesty with which Miller addresses faith and doubt. I feel like I’m reading this book for the first time. I should’ve been finished with it days ago, but I kept rereading chapters, and now, I’ve got a couple of chapters left and don’t want it to be over.
I think after chapter five, I realized that I didn’t feel hostile toward God or suspicious of Him anymore. And I was quite sure that He was real, which was an immense relief after the last few months. I realized, with Don, that although so much of what Christians believe sounds insane, there’s something in me causing me to believe. In the end, I can’t not believe. I realized with Penny, that God, Jesus, might actually like me. And I realized with Laura upon reading the gospel that Jesus simply must be the Son of God.
Most of the questions and frustrations that have been plaguing me are still very much there. Actually, not one of these issues has been resolved for me. But I’m at this place now, where resolution isn’t required for me to believe that God is good, that He loves me, and that I can trust Him. This really does sound crazy. What is this? Why, I suppose it’s faith.