Nearing the end of last fall, I sort of left faith, which is different than leaving the Church.
This was not the first season of doubt for me. Just the latest in a long sordid history of rich and dark and holy times when I walk off into wasteland, dragging my difficult, but important questions behind me: The Bible, Real Life, History (both the world’s and my own), Hell, Heaven, Miracles, the Problem of Pain. The only conviction anchoring me was my steadfast search for something authentic. Not something I should do or something I feared for but something real. Something worth wrapping my whole soul around.
My doubts arrived after a series of painful events in the lives of those around me, and by the middle of January, the tragedy toll only seemed to skyrocket. That was when I became very afraid, and angry, and skeptical, because I can see what Marx was getting at when he said, “religion is the opium of the people.” I’ve seen how it can space out the most sensible people. I’ve felt like the last sane person amongst all this calm, against all this chaos.
As I set about in my searching, I heard folks repeatedly explain away my questions because of the mysteries of the divine, or my limitedness as a human, or that my doubt was a manifestation of sin in my life. Of course, all this did was highlight my fears that we were engaging in a kind Orwellian Double Think. Or, (chills), that I was simply blind. That I was the only one who couldn’t see it.
The most holy day of the year is coming soon, and I know from experience that it can be the most frustrating and frightening day of the year. Many Christians will wake up and want to fall to their knees, cry in their happiness, rejoice in the victory that he is risen, but they won’t be able to. They will feel paralyzed by the presence of those so sure.
I am nearing the edge of my own wasteland, but unlike so many times before, I’m not going to leave it. This is God’s dwelling. In the tension, in the honest practice of asking, searching, seeking. The place I wrestle with questions is the same place I find consecrated ground. I speak in unexpected hymns. Soul, mind, heart, authentic. I am not the first.
A passage from Greg Boyd’s, Benefit of the Doubt:
As is apparent in so many Old Testament heroes, the faith of Habakkuk was obviously nothing like the certainty-seeking, doubt-shunning faith of so many today. Instead of avoiding cognitive dissonance by piously slapping the “mystery” label on an apparent contradiction, Habakkuk boldly goes to the mat with God. This is the kind of faith these descendants of Jacob were “blessed” with. And far from being offended by this raw honesty, God is the One who blessed them with it! This apparently is precisely the kind of honest relationship, and the kind of honest faith, God is looking for!
Boyd, Gregory A. (2013-09-15). Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (p. 83). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The true mark of faithfulness was never, ever about the certainty of the mind and heart, but the authenticity within them. And I’ve come to believe that is better to not play pretend here. God did not make us to be blind followers or bidders on behalf of the church. Love isn’t like that, so neither is God.
For some of the faithful this month, this will be a time of impulsive squelching, of cloaking and straining yourself to believe and finding yourself utterly burnt out on Monday. I pray for the opposite.
Speak the truth that is haunting you. Lay out all the questions and fears without edit or softening or excuse. If it is heavy, let it drop. This faith is for the scholar and the street smart, the burnt out and on fire, the jaded and the impassioned, the weak and the strong, and for you, too, sojourner, who feels like it will never ever ever make sense. Take heart: this faith is not about being certain. That is the opposite. What this comes down to is the authenticity of your shaking voice, asking the questions that scare you. Sitting, waiting, wanting.
And it is exhausting, so take a few minutes if you need to, on Easter Sunday. Sit alone with a novel or a sketchbook or Netflix and drone out the shoulds of the day. There is no shame in that. There is rest there. And God made rest. Find him in the resting.
Or go to the words of another. Call your spiritual middle man. I offer up in Paul Tillich:
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed.
Or listen to the prophetic voice of Rachel Held Evans, who last year, around this time, penned a post for people like me. Gave me the courage to say aloud what I felt:
But you won’t know how to explain that there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud on the car ride home:
“What if we made this up because we’re afraid of death?”
And you won’t know how to explain why, in that moment when the whisper rose out of your mouth like Jesus from the grave, you felt more alive and awake and resurrected than you have in ages because at least it was out, at least it was said, at least it wasn’t buried in your chest anymore, clawing for freedom.
Or simply be still.
And I’ll be there with you, trapped in a place of mercy. A place of grace. A place where I have found the patience of God to be abounding and his yoke, light.
Be still if that’s all you can do. Be present. Listen.
Know you are not alone.