Wow. What a week!
I debated with myself over whether or not I should write about the recent tiny-tornado-of-fury that What the Faith experienced over our post about Pastor Sean Harris. After I reached out to atheist blogger Justin Griffith about his interview with Sean Harris, he re-blogged my post on said subject on his own (much, much larger) blog. On that first day, I experienced twenty-times more hits on this li’l blog than I have on an above-average day. The next day I received about eight times the average hits; the day after that, about five times.
Yesterday, things got back to normal. Whew!
As a result of the increased traffic, and the comments that followed, I have learned some things about myself.
1) To some people, I am hopelessly, stupidly, naively sucked in by the great scam that is religion.
2) To some other people, I am a heretic, and I have been (in some cases literally) cursed as such.
Now, I don’t blame people for thinking I am the former – I’m guilty of assuming the same thing of people of faith in my own past. As for the latter, how awesome is that?!?! Little old me, a writer on a blog with a mere handful of followers, put in the same camp as Rob Bell, Jay Bakker, and Mel White! I hope there’s a clubhouse somewhere because, seriously, I want to hang out with these guys. We can chill, maybe play some Xbox, and undermine the church and stuff. It’ll be cool.
One thing I noticed about the people who had less-than-nice things to say about me, something that they all seemed to have in common, is that they appear to live lives of far greater theological (or anti-theological, as the case might sometimes be) certainty than I am able to experience. And for that, I envy these people.
I really do.
Yesterday, Brandi and I had a very fun lunch with our church’s prayer team pastor, Nikki. It was a lunch we’d been planning for over two weeks, and as we were firming up yesterday morning, Nikki had this to say.
“Just so you know, I’m not the theologian on staff. I’m happy to talk about practical stuff, but if you’re looking for heavy theological conversation, you should really hit up somebody else.”
She laughed at her own self-deprecation. I chuckled with her, and then told her, completely honestly, that I was super tired of theology at the moment, and I would love some conversation about the practical applications of prayer. And sure enough, lunch was great – we talked about healing, prayer, and visions. Nikki shared some anecdotes about dramatic healings she has witnessed. We talked about loving God – and hearing God – in a murky world where ambiguity is just a fact of life. I had an incredible cup of coffee. For a few hours, God became a subject that brought me happiness without confusion. And I need more of that.
But now I’m back to work (both literally and figuratively), and the questions are back. I no longer question the existence of God – He’s made that abundantly clear to me, and I’m comfortable with the fact that I am unable to prove that He exists to others. I also don’t question what God wants of me, in the broadest sense – I should love Him, and love my neighbor. And that may be where my certainty on the subject begins and ends.
In a way, my own lack of certainty is based on two traits that I am trying to encourage within myself. These traits are humility and trust. My chief sin is pride, without a doubt, and in my past I generally didn’t trust people enough to take their anecdotes about faith seriously. In fact, for a long time that lack of trust in humanity kept me from abandoning my hard-line skepticism. There are no scientific studies (that I am aware of) that prove the existence of the miraculous – but if you ask any faith community, you’ll hear lots of stories of miracles. And I’m not talking about stories from scripture – I mean you’ll hear personal anecdotes. You’ll be told about cancers that disappear for reasons no doctor can explain, or chronic pains that afflicted someone for years disappearing within the span of minutes after a prayer. You’ll hear stories that seem, in every way, unbelievable – but the person telling you the story is adamant that it is the truth.
In my pride, I used to assume that these people were superstitious fools – not the same breed of enlightened human being that I belonged to.
Without trust, I couldn’t accept these stories as legitimate. The person sharing the anecdote was an idiot, an ignoramus, or a liar.
I’m encouraging myself toward a greater humility and a greater trust in people. I’m not any better than anyone else, and just because someone is telling me an extraordinary story of the miraculous doesn’t mean that the person is a fool or a charlatan. My humility and my trust allow me to grow my faith. But here is where it gets tricky – I can’t turn these traits off.
So when a homosexual person tells me that they were born that way, I am humble enough to realize that we’re all human, and I trust them enough to believe they aren’t just saying that as part of a massive agenda of deceit.
When someone of another religion tells me their stories of miracles, I am humble enough not to put God in a box, and I trust them the same way I trust Christians who share the same types of stories.
When an atheist Army chaplain reaches out in the spirit of compassion to people in the armed services going through a painful de-conversion into atheism, I am humble enough to admit that he’s loving his neighbor in need better than I am, and I trust him to have the best interests of those soldiers at the center of his actions.
When I live in a world of ambiguity, I am humble enough to admit to myself that I will never understand the mind of God, and I trust God enough to have faith that He will act out of a boundless sense of love for all people. This, to me, implies that a bunch of people who fall outside of the Christian community are probably not going to hell.
So here we go again, delving into heresy – I don’t think it’s as easy to get into hell as many Christians believe. Do I believe in hell? I do. On top of that, I want there to be a hell, because some people really deserve some justice. I just don’t share the same certainty that some Christians have about who is going there. I can’t share that certainty, because I’m trying not to be so proud that think I’m better than people outside of my “tribe”, and I trust people too much to blindly assume that they are ignorant or deceitful. In essence, the two qualities that I need to encourage within myself, the qualities that help me to grow my faith as a follower of Christ, are the same qualities that encourage me away from theological certainty, into the murky place where heretics hang out.
Some people believe that the Bible is clear on who is going to hell. I’m not so sure.
Some people will say that this means that I’m going to hell – probably to share a fiery pit with fellow heretics Rob Bell, Jay Bakker, and Mel White.
If so, at least I’ll have company.