A Travelogue of the Interior

faith questions


6 Comments

I Am Probably Wrong

I am probably wrong — if not in entirety, then at least in some portion, about everything that matters to me.

24651

About who God is.

About how to read the Bible.

About what it means for Jesus to be a human being.

About politics — and history too while I’m at it, and oh heck, eschatology too.

About raising my daughters and the assumptions and decisions I make for them.

About your motivations and the ways your wounds have shaped you.

About my own story and how I’ve made sense of it.

About your story too and how I judge it.

About All Those People and what I “discern” about them.

About what is actually happening in the world, and even about how the world actually came to be.

About …

About …

About …

I have this experience, all the time if I’m honest, where I am Trying So Hard to get it right, whatever “it” is — and it is usually more than one thing. And deep down I know I’m getting it wrong. I know I don’t have all the facts, all the information, the circumstances are too complex, the possible outcomes infinite and unpredictable. I am overwhelmed with the imagined voices and faces of the witnesses that have gone before me who understood God, the Scriptures, the world and their place in it differently than I do. I see myself in contrast as small and hanging on for dear life, shaped in mysterious ways by my affluence, my education, my family, my historical moment, my personality, my church, my DNA.

And I picture myself finally, in that first moment, just after my last living breath, standing there before God and realizing all at once how wrong I was about all sorts of things that mattered, how I didn’t see clearly and how dim that mirror really was as I stared into it all the while thinking I had it all figured out.

But in that same moment — last living breath, first eternal breath — recognizing Jesus.

Recognizing Jesus because I have known him all my life, imperfectly for sure, but I know the sound of his voice when he speaks my name, the cadence of his speech when he describes what he sees, the marks on his hands and feet and forehead.

In the face of the overwhelming complexity of modern, or really post-modern life, I sometimes think, why, really, am I a Christian? Is it because I believe the Bible, prayed the sinners prayer and had a conversion experience? Is it because I grew up in a Christian home and an evangelical community instead of a Muslim family and Islamic community or some other religious or secular equivalent? Is it because I am afraid to walk away from ancient religious beliefs or too delusional to see the truth of our material existence? I have friends who would — who have — pointed to every one of these possibilities as the cause celebre of my faith.

This is why: I am a Christian because of the unbelievable grace of God who loves me, knowing fully well my human frame, knowing fully well I cannot, will not Get It Right. I am a Christian because God did everything I could not do, moving heaven and earth to make a way for me to belong, once again with Him. And as if that were not enough, God then condescends to accompany me on my journey even now in this liminal space of a now-and-not-yet Kingdom. Here, faith and doubt open up the widest road possible, a journey of shadows as well as light.

I find it breathtaking that in the midst of my deepest doubts, awash in the most excruciating tensions of daily life, the Person I most want to talk about it all with … is God.

 

 


9 Comments

God’s Got Your Back?

keep-calm-god-s-got-your-back

I love the “Keep Calm” meme but this particular instance has Got To Go.

I keep seeing and hearing this. It shows up in Facebook posts and on Christian radio, in Internet memes and bromides of every sort.

This little saying, “God’s Got Your Back” is meant to encourage us by reminding us that God is concerned with the circumstances of our lives, and while life looks to be spinning out of control, God is there in the background, sovereign and everything, and is going to make everything work out OK (we usually spiritualize this by quoting Romans 8:28). You can rest, dear Christian, because your happy ending is just around the corner and if you have faith to see that, you will also have peace and can relax knowing that Everything Is Going To Be OK.

Because Jesus.

It really would be nice if shutting our eyes to the realities of life somehow caused our faith to thrive. It really would be nice. But it doesn’t.

I might be the voice of one crying in the wilderness here but in my right-now-more-angry-than-humble-point-of-view, this is horrible theology.

God does not have your back. God doesn’t have mine either.

Try telling Job “God’s got your back” as he sits there in the ashes, scraping at boils with a potshard and staring at the shrouded bodies of his ten dead children. Were they lined up in a neat row from youngest to oldest or do their bodies lie crumpled at the scene of the crime?

Try telling David “God’s got your back” as he takes the humiliating descent from Jerusalem into a wilderness of his own making, the messianic throne hanging in the balance, while his favorite son, Absalom, rapes ten women on a rooftop as a way of proving to David he has been dethroned.

While you are at it, how about saying it to the women on the rooftop, the nameless ones, the ones we would today call sex trafficking victims. Did God have their backs? Did anyone?

Want a more immediate example? How about the 230 Nigerian school girls stolen from school by the worst sort of cowards, men petrified by the idea of an educated, empowered female? Look these schoolgirls in the eyes as they endure rape and torture, as their rapes are negated by the “virtue” of marriage (that is so profane I can barely type it), as they watch powerlessly while their friends and sisters are emotionally, sexually and physically abused — look them in the eye and tell them God’s got their back.

I hate this saying because it smacks of faith in faith, not faith in God, a God who does not answer us with explanation or even necessarily with provision but with theophany, with Presence.

I hate this saying because it only really works with our first world problems. As those brave Nigerian girls remind me, their lives cannot be reduced to a bromide and if not theirs, then not mine either. This is a desecration of all that is holy, a denial of the tension of life in God, a shutting our eyes to what is real in the world and to what is God’s part in it all.

I hate this saying because we don’t have a beat on what God is up to. We are merely projecting our wishful thinking and calling it Christian faith. Nope. We simply don’t know looking forward at people’s experiences whether they are going to come through unscathed or whether they will be wounded for life. We cannot know if the illness will lead to life or to death, if the child will thrive or be crushed beneath the weight of disability. We pray. We hope. We come alongside the ones who weep and we weep too. But for the love of God, we don’t tell them God’s got their back.

I hate this saying because it trivializes suffering, and friends, God does not trivialize human suffering. To the contrary, God so honors suffering that He shows up in the midst of it to bear witness, to absorb our grief and pain and confusion into His very own self and hold it there, to hold time eternally still so we can take all the time in the world and in our lives to process our grief. We wish God would just intervene, end the suffering, punish the evildoers. Someday God will. I believe that. I do.

Lastly, I hate this saying because it relieves us of duty. I mean, really, if God’s got your back, I don’t really have to, now do I? But we are the body of Christ on Earth. It is our job to have each others’ backs. To stand against evil even if it costs us our lives. To take our place alongside our brothers, our sisters, and defend them from all manner of arrows, those slung by outrageous fortune as much as those that originate in the pit of hell.

There is so much more to be said on this topic, so many nuances and angles to this idea of God having our backs. We didn’t even touch on the way this idea centers our theology on us (personal salvation and sanctification) rather than on God’s Kingdom agenda, that shalom pervade earth as it does in heaven, and our role in that epic story.

Maybe that’s a post for another day.