As I’ve mentioned, I’m running a little low on ideas for stuff to write. So I’m going to post something I wrote a while ago. A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) recently wrote to me about a crisis of faith, and I replied. I like what I wrote, even though it’s a little long, and thought it might be worth sharing on the blog, since I have so little else to say at the moment. So I’m posting that.
Now…of COURSE, I am removing all personal references and anything I think could identify the friend in question. I have even eliminated references to the person’s GENDER. Hopefully the only people who would be able to guess at my friend’s identity from this would be me and him/her. I have also done some light editing. Anything I’ve added will be highlighted in red. Anything I’ve subtracted is probably best left unmentioned in the first place.
Anyway…I think some of you will find this interesting. Or tedious. Whatever. Either way, this post was written with the “Serious Face” tone, so don’t look for my usual inanity. Sorry about that. I’ll try to post something about farting next time or something like that to make up for it.
…until then…here’s my most recent treatise on Life, the Universe, and Everything, particularly focusing on why bad things keep happening despite God’s existence, and an explanation of why I think it’s okay to have fun in this life and not take everything so seriously. Serious Face ENGAGE!
[Begin with a personal address you all don’t really need to read…mostly an apology for taking so long to answer the original message…]
…part of the reason it took me so long to organize my thoughts is that it’s been a while since I’ve been asked to say anything about my faith. As such, it took a little bit of reexamination to arrive at anything useful.
Since you did me the honor of being honest with me, allow me to do the same. Ever since I left my job as a minister, I’ve been struggling with my faith as well. Not so much in the concept of God, but more in the concept of the church. I won’t go into too much detail, because there are two sides to it, but suffice to say, my exit from the job was under bad terms—especially as it pertained to the Eldership/Leadership of the church. I walked away very disillusioned and reluctant to trust a church-body again, and I have not actively practiced ministry since, save for performing a couple of weddings. (To my knowledge, I have not in any way disqualified myself from the conditions of my ordination.) So in many ways, I want to thank you for sending me that message, because it has allowed me to reexamine some of what I think about The Church, and my own relationship to it. (Short version on my conclusions: When I find one that is more concerned with my spirituality than with the music, movies, beverages, and style of language I enjoy, I’ll be home. – Update: I may have found that in the Saturday night group I’ve been attending.)
Now that I’ve got that out in the open… I can honestly say that I do not doubt the existence of God, no matter how shitty some of His creation can be sometimes. Humanity is flawed. God is not. I can’t blame the painter if he didn’t expect the paint to turn toxic. But, I do have my moments where I need to reassure myself, and I want to share a few things that help me affirm my belief when I’m struggling. These are not necessarily infallible proofs of the existence of God. But they seem to help. I’m going to do this numerically, so I don’t have to think of creative transitions between topics.
- I will sometimes look at world events and wonder why God isn’t doing something about it all. In my weaker times, I wonder if He exists at all. In those times, it helps if I remember that the world has always been in upheaval. Things have always been difficult, in every generation, and every society has thought it would see the End of Days. Honestly, I do not think that the world is any more screwed up than it’s ever been. There was hostility, hatred, racism, famine, flood, and all kinds of evil dating back to the first day out of the Garden of Eden. I don’t think the disease is any different. I just think we’re broadcasting the symptoms across 4G connections now, in real time. I know that sounds a little bit defeatist…but somehow I find it comforting to think that the world is the same as it’s always been. I guess it just makes me think that if the world’s the same as it’s always been, and that God’s in the same place doing the same thing He’s always done.
- If you sit and read through the parts of the Bible that tell us what life is going to be like, we’re not really guaranteed a good time. In fact, when Jesus spoke to Paul, He said to him, “Come, I will show you how you must suffer for me.” At every step, God warns us in the Bible that life is not going to be easy. He doesn’t promise us a free ride…He just promises us a reward at the end of it. That’s why He tells us to enjoy the good times when they come in so many places in the Bible. I believe there’s somewhere in there that the Bible calls the joys we have on Earth a “glimpse of Heaven” or something to that effect. I tried looking for it, but my brain is failing me at this hour and I’m not finding the words I’m looking for…but it’s in there…somewhere. (Update – Didn’t bother searching for it before writing this post…but I still maintain it’s at least implied!) 🙂 Again, I know this probably sounds a little bit contrary to the assertion that “God exists and He is GOOD!” but stay with me.
- It helps me to remember the journey of the Apostles of Christ. When Jesus died, they RAN. They scattered and assumed it was all over and they’d need to fear for their lives. I don’t think there was one of them that came to his defense in those moments. Peter most notably denied even KNOWING Jesus three times before the sun even came up. …but they came back. There is, of course, good evidence that a man named Jesus with the same basic chronology of events as stated in the Bible did walk the Earth, as fact—whether He was indeed divine or not. The Apostles were very close to Him—be He man or Messiah. They knew Him, and sadly ended up running from Him at his death. But something brought them back. Each one of them (and I count Judas Iscariot in this) realized that there was more to this man than just charisma. They each turned around and started telling His story. Each one became SO committed to that story that he was martyred. People don’t die for something they don’t think is worth believing. Those closest to Jesus knew there was something significant about Him. They’d seen things. They believed enough to die for their convictions. Only the very right or the very insane are willing to do that. And sure, maybe a few of 12 might be nuts…but all of them? All of them dying for a lie? I don’t think so. The faith of the followers does a lot for me.
…which allows me a segue into another area…and abandon the numbers, for some reason…
The Bible, in the Old Testament particularly, refers to the concept of a “faithful remnant.” This is an important term. It refers to those who maintained faith in Yahweh God when the rest of the world gave up and fell into doubt and disbelief. They are noted to have been a small group—their stories make up many of the Old Testament books. They are the ones who saw the world going to hell and yet still praised God. These are important people. They are the ones to whom we owe the entirety of our religious heritage. I submit that the world has always needed these people, and continues to need them today. After all…we’re still fighting the same disease.
But…how did things get so screwed up in the first place? How did God—who is all powerful—allow the world to fall apart? Why does it seem so badly arranged, if it was so intelligently designed?
I find a fairly simple answer, which is so simple it may even seem dismissive. (It is, of course, not my intent to be dismissive.) I think things have ended up this way because God gave us a gift. He gave us the gift of freewill. What a hellish gift! The worst thing anyone can do to a human being is to say to them, “You are not obligated, but I trust that you will do the right thing.” It’s a nice thought…but most times, we’ll do the wrong thing. We’ll take the wrong turn that was supposed to be a short-cut. We’ll take the nap instead of fixing the leaking sink. We’ll inevitably make a mistake—then we’ll be stubborn enough to convince ourselves it was the right thing to do. Humanity is weak, frail, and perhaps most of all selfish. But God, knowing the nature of human beings, allows us to choose to do as we wish. Why? Well…if we didn’t have a choice, it wouldn’t be commitment.
That is not to say that we have to all turn into Ned Flanders. Of course there is a responsibility to behave as well and as faithfully as we can—and most people who make the 9:00 news seem to avoid that. However, I don’t think there is a moral imperative stated anywhere in the Bible that indicates that being a Christian means you have to stop doing the things you enjoy doing. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite—and herein is how I manage to live my life with one foot in the spiritual and the other in the corporeal.
I think I’m in good company. The Bible is filled with examples of people who drank, cursed, enjoyed the company of other people over a sermon, and yet still managed to get into Heaven. In fact, some of the Biblical starting-lineup would likely be drummed out of most churches today—Jesus being principle among them. (I mean…He did have a side career as a wine-maker for parties at one point, ha ha…) Peter was a mess, to the point that Jesus even seemingly developed the nickname of “Little Faith” for him. Paul slaughtered Christians before the scales were removed from his eyes—and even then he used some coarse language at times. (The verse where he says, “I consider it all rubbish that I may gain the Gospel” is possibly more accurately translated, “I consider it all shit.”) King Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes (chapter eight) says, “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.” All OVER the Bible, we are given example after example of people, including God incarnate ENJOYING what this world has to offer.
If nothing else, I find comfort in the fact that Jesus was a human. God could have chosen to come to Earth in any form He wanted. He could have been a rock, a tree, a monkey, a fish… But He chose to be human. And if God was a human being, then being human can’t be all bad, can it?
Now… Just a few loose ends.
I suppose when it comes down to it, these days I lean slightly into being a Deist…but I say that with a somewhat liberal definition of Deism. A Deist chiefly believes that God created the Heavens and the Earth, etc, etc… Then He set it all in motion and said, “You’re on your own. Good luck.” They believe in a God who is there, but is uninvolved. I lean a little bit toward that, hence my embracing of freewill as a mixed blessing. However, I do believe that God listens to the prayers of His people, and acts accordingly. But the key is that I think God only affirms the prayers that are requests for things that were already within His will. I think a lot of people pray for things that just aren’t God’s will (so the prayer seems to go “unanswered” when the answer was really just “no”), or just plain pray selfishly. I think God’s ear is turned when the faithful (the faithful remnant, if you will) pray within His will.
Basically, I don’t think every situation carries quite the same weight in God’s plan. I don’t think God’s quite as concerned that I get over my cold before New Year’s Eve so I can go out to a bar as He is—say—the Haitian earthquake. (If you like, you can change that to “bad teeth before St. Patrick’s Day” and “Japanese earthquake.”) I don’t think God caused the earthquake—and if He did, He’s a miserable old bastard that can suck it as far as I’m concerned. I do think, however, that God moved in the hearts of humanity to make humankind display what it can do at its BEST when things are at their worst. He didn’t cause the quake. But he was there in the cleanup. He’s there in the hearts of the friends I have that have gone there since, to help. (I have one friend, of whom I am very proud, who uprooted her entire life and moved to Haiti as a missionary in the months following the earthquake, and has been there since, at least twice delaying a scheduled trip home because there was work she did not want to leave. Update – She is currently in the US getting medical treatments for a baby left with the orphanage at which she works, and you can read about it starting here.)
And I guess that’s one of the main things that keeps my faith in God strong. On the intellectual level, I can come up with apologetic statistics and Biblical references… But if you threw all of that out, I can still fall back on one thing. No matter how bad things get. No matter how dark, how lonely, how fallen this world seems to be. There IS good out there. Sometimes there may not be much…but it’s there. And you learn to find hope in the little things. It’s there in the heart of the missionary who sees a devastated country and goes to pull people out of the rubble. It’s there in the heart of the guy who sees someone slip on ice on their way into work and helps them to their feet. It’s there in my nieces and nephews who have no real intellectual understanding of how the world works, but were born happy and smile for no reason at all. Good exists. And that’s all the proof of God that I need. It’s a shallow, indefensible, completely irrational reason… But I think that if He weren’t there, those things wouldn’t be either.
And that’s where I’m going to end this thing.
[Then I had a paragraph with some personal things you all don’t need to read.]
And that’s it.