Monday, May 27, 2013

Why I Believe

A couple years back, I received an invitation from fellow-blogger Joel Watts to contribute to a project he was editing that has since been published as From Fear To Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls.  The reason I declined is simple: with the rather bland, typical period of doubt that comes after learning the world is bigger and scarier and more interesting than one imagined, I carried around a pretty bland, uninteresting acceptance of God and the whole Jesus thing that became deeper and more expansive as I grew older.  I would only admit to having something akin to real Christian faith over the past few years; just as I probably said the same thing ten years ago, because as my faith deepens, I realize how little I previously understood what I said and thought I believed.

Also, while I was exposed to some things, particularly in my impressionable youth, that caused me more than a little trouble later in life - Hal Lindsay's The Late Great Planet Earth (and no, I'm not linking to it's Amazon page; I don't promote crap) being the most conspicuous and memorable - I never developed nor was exposed to the kind of thing that the book sought as a starting point.  I was never taught, and have never once thought, the Bible is "inerrant".  Quite apart from how nonsensical the idea is on its face, it's easy enough to recognize that we don't escape from the first two chapters of Genesis without the glaring contradictions of two completely opposed creation stories.  The arguments for inerrancy - "if you find something wrong in one place it calls the whole thing in to question!" - are fallacious because the Church does not read the Bible that way (at least, not historically).  While there was some hellfire and brimstone preaching, and the whole "Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?" nonsense, I never took either too seriously.  The Bible I read, and the faith in which I grew was deeper than that, more complex, and not at all focused on me or my life or my petty concerns.  What little of the other I encountered struck me as wrong-headed on its face.

My second semester in seminary, I took a reading class on theodicy.  The professor, the late Roy Morrison, offered up the Suffering Servant Song from Isaiah 53; Is God a White Racist? by William R. Jones; Evil and the God of Love by John Hick; and the book I chose to read and present, After Auschwitz: History, Theology, and Contemporary Judaism by Richard Rubenstein.  Rubenstein's book was affecting, particularly as he described his own wrestling with the angel of God on the killing grounds in Poland.  At the same time, while certainly profound and rooted in compassion, at the end of the day Rubenstein rejects God for the same reasons too many other people do: Because the world doesn't conform to his expectations of how it should run if God played according to his rules.

I got thinking about this after reading comments on this post at Patheos.  The objections to belief, in essence, boil down to two categories: intellectual and existential.  The intellectual objections to belief tend to be rooted in a rejection of a facile faith.  The existential objections tend to be rooted in suffering.  Many of the comments at Patheos seem to reflect a kind of, I don't know, sadness perhaps that the individual believes he or she is wrestling with these issues alone.  Wouldn't it be nice if our churches offered space for people to speak out on the doubts and fears these very things bring out in all of us from one time to another?  Wouldn't it be nice if our churches embraced doubt and anger and sorrow as much as we embrace love and faith and joy?

I believe because over the years I have come to realize that all of it, all of existence, all of faith, all of the Universe, has absolutely nothing to do with me.  It isn't my creation.  It isn't mine to control.  It isn't really mine to understand.  That it is is both mystery and joy, especially given the reality that there is no necessity to existence.  All that is would be real even if I had not been born, or born in such a way that I couldn't comprehend it or experience it in some small way.  Accepting the reality of all that is, and its radical contingency (which includes the radical contingency of my own existence) is part of why I believe.

My acceptance is rooted in the paradox of my own faith.  I accept that I could be wrong.  It may well be the case that everything I profess, everything I confess, all that I say about God and humanity could be wrong. It may very well be the case that there is nothing more than elementary particles in fields of force and that when I die the lights go out and I cease to exist.  I'm OK with that only because whether or not I'm OK with it, if it is the way the Universe is, my attitude toward it doesn't change it a bit.

On the other hand, the deepest beauty of the Christian confession is that the God who makes sperm whales and pygmy marmosets and stars larger than our solar system and bacteria that devour our skin and worms that exist in superheated water and no oxygen has decided, for no other reason than love and joy, to take care for this tiny corner of creation and extend through us the simple message of Divine love and care.  The revelation that God in Christ expresses the deepest heart of God the Creator to Be in relationship with this minuscule part of all that is, a relationship of love and hope and celebration is something to celebrate, to share.  To live out.  Precisely because Divine love comes to each of us and all of us, I have come to accept both the intellectual shakiness of much of what passes for Christian faith as well as live with the reality of suffering and evil with what I hope is compassion toward those who suffer without ever once granting them some kind of superior voice.  Suffering, pain, death - this is as much a part of our existence as anything else and neither defines existence nor destroys the reality of Divine love (nor does it confirm it, either; faith, any faith, that swirls around the question of suffering and loss is a thin reed indeed).

I believe because of the paradox that is my own life-experience of faith: that for all the Divine condescension to me, none of any of it has anything to do with me at all.  God loves us so much; God doesn't much care for us, i.e., in some bourgeois way of understanding care as in ensuring we don't suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  We have the simple task of sharing the story of Divine love; if that means we encounter resistance, well, OK.  Keep sharing.  When other's suffer because of human or natural evil, we are to be there not to explain it to them, or excuse the perpetrators; rather our presence with them is to be nothing more than our ongoing expression of the same love that we profess comes from God.

There may not be any "there" there.  Fine.  I accept there is; I proclaim there is, not because I fear death or hell or ridicule or ostracism or anything else.  I proclaim there is because it is joyful to understand that ours is a Universe whose most basic force, the mystery behind gravity and Higgs-Bosons and the wave-particle contradiction is love.  It's a hard love, sure.  A terrible love at times.  But it is, nonetheless, love.  I don't have much of a choice in the matter, really.  I believe because I am.  Thanks be to God.

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