My faith journey has taken some unexpected twists and turns in the past seven years. I have been conflicted about how much to put in writing, but finally decided that the process of writing my thoughts out could be therapeutic and beneficial. Perhaps it may even help someone else going through similar confusion. I don’t pretend to have the answers. I wish we could discuss some of this in the church, at a Bible study, or with other members of our congregations, but most of us have learned the hard way that asking questions that challenge the status quo does not win you sympathy or support. I do believe that God is not shocked, angry or disappointed by questions. He looks upon the heart, and He knows our innermost intention – whether it is simply to know the truth or to cause discention in the body.
In 1978 I was saved as the vocabulary of the era described my experience. I joyously came to a place where I was so grateful for what Jesus had accomplished on the cross that I was deeply moved to follow His example and serve God as He had done, even to death if so required. I witnessed lives of loved ones change profoundly for the better and was overwhelmed by the concepts of love and grace. Neither my gratitude or my desire to serve God has changed. Let me be clear about that.
During the thirty years my husband and I served with three extraordinary mission groups in various cultures, we learned a great many things. These experiences also raised a great many questions. We had the privilege of living outside of our culture and of reading the Scriptures in several different languages.
What you hear often from older people – the ranks of which I have now joined in my sixth decade – is that we have become wise enough to know what we don’t know. Some of the facts I was taught and vehemently passed on in my own teaching, I have now come to question. Shocker! Perhaps I didn’t know everything I thought I knew! I do remember asking a few of my incessant why questions in one mission meeting and being firmly told to table them for later. My husband was then admonished to control his wife and answers never came as I was quietly shamed back into appropriate submission.
When it comes to matters of theology, religion, belief and faith, the older I get, the more I run into what I might refer to as disillusioned clergy. Quiet conversations with highly educated, caring people that voice thoughts like, “Have you ever wondered if, why, or how?” Few, however, are willing to speak out publicly. There are many reasons, but most are related to fear. They question the value of rocking the boat. They have invested their entire lives being pastors, professors and teachers and fear losing their livelihood, credibility and reputations. Compound this with the reality that having serious questions about previous teachings does not mean definitive answers have been found to replace them. New theories may be developing, but they could be as flawed as past information. Hosea 4:6 warns us that God’s people perish due to lack of knowledge. I Corinthians 13:12 reminds us that we see dimly and know only in part while we are here on earth. It is definitely safer and easy to stick with the status quo.
Then there is the fear, taught for generations, that we are risking eternal damnation by seeking outside the permitted norms. We are warned that reading certain books, listening to unsanctioned speakers outside our denomination or relying on our feelings could be leading us along a slippery slope. As frightening as that is for oneself, it is even worse to think you might be guilty of leading another astray. It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around our neck. That’s huge; so if you have never had questions of your own, please don’t read any of mine!
No one who is seeking to know God more wants to risk putting even the slightest crack in someone else’s firm foundation – foundations that have been built and fortified for centuries. What is the point of disturbing another person’s comfortable, padded and long held belief system with questions for which we have not found concrete answers? Sometimes it seems easier and safer to give it up and just rest in the comfortable old understanding because the new information is overwhelming – in volume and potential meaning.
But seekers seek! So, we continue along in silence – reading, questioning, researching and occasionally finding a fellow traveler from amidst the ranks who also says, Yes, I have wondered about that, to which we reply astonished, “You, too?”
It’s very difficult to know with whom it is safe to share or be vulnerable. We don’t really talk to our parents because that would be like challenging what they taught us, which can appear disrespectful. So, even approaching them gently, acknowledging your desire for their opinion and wisdom, they may have reasons for not entering into a committed dialog. Their eyesight may prohibit reading all the books you have found and their relationship with technology may preclude sharing resources with them. If they are very elderly, health issues may leave them with barely the energy or desire to think any differently than has suited them for the past seventy or eighty years.
We hesitate to dialog with adult children because they may be living happily, confident and comfortable with the standards you passed down. In fact, it seems unfair to challenge the very standards they are in the midst of passing to their own children. The reality is they have little time or perhaps patience to question the rules you confidently and sometimes vehemently enforced upon them. This current generation is usually so overworked and busy that they barely have time for rest, never mind time for reading or researching anything outside of the requirements of their regular job. Keeping their heads above water requires the attitude, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Peers currently in church work are the most difficult. Certain questions, no matter how carefully worded, are considered inflammatory. Challenges to tradition or traditional understanding are rarely welcome. People who are currently working in the ministry are assumed to have answers to difficult questions. Many have memorized answers as taught rather that doing primary research. This is understandable as the history is long and the topics are vast.
There was a day however, that sticks out in my mind. A pastor turned to me and said, “I don’t tell anyone Jesus loves them. I think that is inappropriate.” Then, like a lawyer, he made his case through Scripture. He spent the next several years requiring all people associated with the church to read certain books and learn to understand the Scriptures in this way. The movement he represents is growing and it alarms and saddens me.
I could not wrap my mind or my heart around that concept. I just knew in the center of my soul that I could not embrace a theology that led to that conclusion. I am thankful that I was old enough and finally confident enough to embrace I John 2:27 and realize that no man needs be my teacher when I have the Holy Spirit.
So, in retrospect, I am actually thankful for that pastor’s statement because it reignited the seeker in me. I stopped taking the party line for granted and began to seek and learn again. This has led to some amazing revelations and ever more questions. Why questions. How questions. In our current churches are we assisting people to be seekers after God or are we just telling them what they should find?
Love was the main reason that I originally wanted to serve God on the mission field. When I was confronted with just how much God loves me, I wished everyone could have the opportunity to experience that kind of love. I wanted everyone to know that there is a God and that He loves us. That is Good News. I want to continue to help spread that awesome message.