Back in May I promised I was going to return soon to write about church. WELL. I tried, and I tried again, and I tried yet again, and I stopped trying so that my ideas had a chance to percolate pressure-free, and then I tried again, and still: no post. I have no idea where to begin, or where to end. Much like my earphones when fetched from the depths of my bag, my ideas about church are a tangled and knotted mess, so that thoughts on why and how Christians gather lead to thoughts and questions for which I have no answers which eventually leads to me giving up, confused and exhausted. This post is therefore not about church.
A couple of years ago I compared my faith to a cement slab foundation, waiting for me to start laying the bricks that would soon form the walls of what would become my shiny new Faith House. I’ve only recently realised how wrong I was about where I was at in the process; though I’d spent a couple of years by that point wondering why my inherited house was built the way it was, I hadn’t yet started taking it apart. I’d thought at the end of 2012 that I was ready for construction; in fact, I was just about to start the deconstruction.
I’m closer now to just a slab, I think. I think. I have a skip bin full of discarded doctrines and balled-up blueprints for my future faith. Is anyone else enjoying this metaphor as much as I am? No? Okay then. Moving on.
Perhaps I should have paid more attention to Lou’s comment after one of my posts, pointing out that the root of all the issues I was ranting about seemed to be biblical interpretation, but it took me a while longer to realise that this was true. I used to think it problematic that my realisation that the Bible is not the textbook/instruction manual/guidebook for life I used to think it was had left me with nothing to use to argue a case for… well, anything. It’s very easy to back up what you believe with the Bible, and to have a cracking argument by pointing to the passages and verses you’ve gathered to show that God is evidently on board with your point of view. These types of arguments rarely change anyone’s minds, but they’re quite fun, and I used to enjoy participating in them (ask me what God really thinks about women in ministry! GO ON!). My main issue was realising (and it shocks me that others still haven’t) that you can find what you like in the Bible. For example: long ago, in a land, far, far away (the United States), both the pro-slavery folk and the abolitionists appealed to the Bible, and sometimes to the exact same verses, to argue for their (opposing) views. This might have led to these folk beginning to scratch their heads and think, “Say, this is strange! Maybe we should stop calling each other heretics and instead reflect more deeply about what the Bible is and how we go about interpreting it,“ but no. In her post, Is abolition “biblical”? Rachel Held Evans writes,
I think it’s important to remind ourselves now and then that we’ve been wrong before, and that sometimes it’s not about the number of proof texts we can line up or about the most simplistic reading of the text, but rather some deep, intrinsic sense of right and wrong, some movement of the Spirit, that points us toward truth and to a better understanding of what Scripture really says.
This is where I am. Which means that nowadays, the Biblical basis for what I believe appears something like this to those still in the Bible-as-textbook/instruction-manual/guidebook-for-life camp:
I’m okay with that now. I’m done with all the arguing. I’m done with all the judgment.
Returning to that view of the Bible – and the view of God I had, then, too – isn’t an option anymore; I’ve changed irrevocably. A couple of years ago I was explaining to a friend that I could no longer worship a God who would use His(/Her) sovereignty to give the divine nod repeatedly to kidnaps and cancer, tsunamis and suffering, all the while convincing Christians it’s for their ultimate good, an important lesson they needed to learn, as if when they made it to heaven they would say, “Gee, thanks for letting me get raped, God! You’re awesome.” My friend told me she couldn’t believe in a God who wasn’t in control of everything. She’d found a way to make her peace with “God the bastard” (as our minister calls it); I have not. I know of many who have also made peace with God’s authoritarianism (“Obey me or burn!”), God’s hypocrisy (commanding followers to love their enemies, yet threatening His own with eternal torment in a fiery lake), God’s disgust at humanity (it sounds better if you call it “holiness”), God’s high-maintenance-ness (apologise repeatedly! Constantly tell God how amazeballs He is!), and God’s unending sadness at how we’ve all turned out (at a church service I went to earlier in the year, someone prayed, “We’re sorry we disappoint you every day.” Every now and then on Facebook I see a quote from theologians with captions such as, “Luther understood it. We’re never good enough for God”). I’ve not made peace with those views of God either.
But where I used to panic over the idea of us having two (or more) different ideas of God, it now reassures me: I think it’d be scary if we could all agree on exactly what God was like, stuffing Him into our embarrassingly teeny boxes. I love that ‘Israel’ means “he struggles with God.” I’m not sure we were ever all meant to arrive at the one conclusion, stop wrestling, and then call that “faith.”
The gospel I grew up with is this: God was so angry with me, he wanted me dead. But Jesus showed up and God murdered him instead of me, to offer me the choice between an eternity in hell or an eternity not in hell. I chose not-hell/God. (Micah J. Murray’s “theologically correct” rewriting of the parable of the prodigal son captures this grace-less God perfectly. Hark! This is the good news!)
This is the gospel as I know it now: God is love, God is love, God is love. It’s the answer to all of my questions.
How does God feel when God looks at me? God is love.
What happens after we die? God is love.
What was the point of the cross? God is love.
And so, again, still, I choose God. I can’t help but choose God, my whole being is completely enthralled by God, Jesus, Spirit - Love - in a way I can’t fully understand, let alone articulate.
I guess it’s called faith for a reason.