A Journey of Faith

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.

Share

Who holds the monopoly on your truth?

What? Whoa? What do you mean Jesus doesn’t love everyone?

Several years ago, I listened as a pastor of a church stated in complete seriousness, “I don’t tell anyone Jesus loves them. I think it is inappropriate.”

I don’t know about you, but my innermost being – Spirit/Heart/Soul – whatever you call that place where you-just-know – screamed out, “THAT IS SO WRONG!”

Over the next couple of years, this pastor led the church through a process of re-evaluating all the missionaries they supported, the materials used to teach both youth and adults and even selected new governing boards. He had books that he recommended and papers for each member to study. Like a lawyer, he walked all who were willing to listen through a carefully crafted systematic theology, proving his case to support the statement he had made to me earlier. It was amazing and frightening. Suffice it to say that we are no longer associated with that church.

I don’t doubt the man’s sincerity. For some time, insecure of my own incomplete theological education and swayed by his utter conviction, I listened. I really wanted to give his intellect and determination the benefit of the doubt. I rationalized his fervor, and subsequent insistent and unloving manner, to a heartfelt urgency to make up for coming into the ministry later in life and a previous career in quality control.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Truth is such an important concept. I realized as I listened and attempted to understand his interpretation of Scripture, that I also come to the Word with my own biases.  The way people think about any topic is a amazing blend of their acquired knowledge, vast or limited in scope, and their experiences, good, bad or non-existent. Each person brings that data into the committee meeting. No wonder there is not consensus!

Trying to comprehend a theology that concludes Jesus loves you to be an inappropriate statement made me wonder anew about the whole subject of theology. Since the first century there are almost 400 recognized theologians. Each one is noted for some thesis, paper or letter left to explain how we should all understand certain Scriptures and where we should stand on certain issues. Needless to say, they do not all agree. Several rose to prominence and then were burned at the stake. Only fifteen were women, leaving such weighty topics to be decided by only half the members of our species.

How can we determine truth?

I only know my answer to how I determine truth. It’s what drew me to attend seminary, attempt a deeper understanding of God and pursue desire to serve Him.  In a word – LOVE. Like much of the world, I had heard John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” Then people I loved and trusted started showing that love. It was changing their lives, making them kinder, gentler, more peaceful. They explained that Jesus loved us all so much that He died for us. I saw evidence of this truth right before my very eyes. I wanted to be part of sharing that miraculous, life changing power.

I wish everyone could have a chance to experience that kind of love. I also believe they have a free choice to enjoy it and return it or not. If God is a loving Father, he does not force His children to love Him. Love not given freely isn’t real love. I know what I believe is influenced by my relationship with my earthly father, who encouraged me to think for myself and loved me enough to debate, but not force, my opinions and decisions.

For now we see through a glass, darkly.

What frightens me is that anyone can insist that they hold the monopoly on truth. A skilled lawyer can make a case and persuade people by intimidating and overwhelming them with pre-selected data. How sad to teach God’s wonderful love letter to His people as a document with which to judge and bludgeon each other.

I choose to believe there is Good News. There is Love without condition. (I John 4:8) There is Forgiveness for the unrepentant. (Luke 23:34) There is Mercy for the undeserving. (If they deserved it, it would be called justice). There is Grace for the unjust. (Matt 5:45). God is that loving, able and merciful. In fact, God is love.

We already know that we are imperfect people. We don’t need to be reminded of that every day. What if we treated our fellow human beings as if God’s Mercies were really new every morning? What would happen if we focused on what people did right instead of what they did wrong? What if we tried to learn where we agree instead of where we disagree? How much better could our world be if we loved, forgave, encouraged and built one another up instead of judging, chastising and tearing one another down?

 

Share