This is my confession; I’m a pastor, and I’m a Christian. And I don’t always believe in God.
In fact, some days I am absolutely sure that God isn’t there. 100%.
Other days I do.
My brain loves to question; my intellect can’t seem commit to any idea for more than 24 hours without flip-flopping on itself.
This is where my mind goes. It just gets bored so easily. I like to disturb, to shock, to deconstruct.
If you have too many answers, I’m immediately suspicious of you. I will try to hit you with a question that will make your self-constructed facade come tumbling down.
If it’s just too easy, my mind likes to make things difficult. If no problem is apparent, my brain will create some.
But I also have emotions. And a spiritual side. And a physical body. And I have to live with all of them and find a way for my mind, body, heart, & soul to play nice with each other.
My head would like to believe God is all-loving, sovereign and the like. Some days it’s even succeeds. But most days it just can’t get there.
Part of me blames my university education. After six years of higher education in religious studies and theology, I’ve become an expert on being critical. But I’ve also lost something in the mix. I’ve become too heady.
Something needs to shift. I need to learn how to believe and trust again. I’m tired of being cynical all the time.
I actually have an easy time believing that Jesus rose from the dead, and that he was indeed the son of God. It’s weird and backwards, I know, but God has always been harder for me to process than Jesus. Jesus is an enigma; I’m also an enigma. Jesus liked to disturb the peace; so do I. We understand each other.
But “God”, he/she/it is another story. The inflamed talking bush said the name of God in Exodus: “I am who I am” or “I’ll be what I’ll be”.
God isn’t a noun; God be a verb – a movement, a flow. The minute we start moving God into a noun, the moment we create an idol. It’s completely pointless to try and peg God down. It’s like eating soup with a fork. God’s pretty predictable in her unknowability.
But my mind still demands a God I can pin down. It wants a God who is obviously tangible and easily analyzed. But that God does not exist. I’m still pissed off about that.
But I’m at the point now where living well is more important than satisfying my intellect. I’ve seen enough in my life to be aware of a “presence” beyond physical life. I’ve heard some crazy stories and seen some interesting things. Most of me can embrace that mystery. I’ve made a choice to continue following Jesus as a Christian, and I’m doing my best to embrace the mystery of a hidden active God (despite the cynical side of my intellect accusing me of taking the easy way out). It’s time to step out of my head and live with my full being.
But if I embrace God I still need room for my doubts. If I can’t question, I’m taking away a core gift that God has given me.
Unfortunately, this is a gift not encouraged very often in churches. Belief and doubt are seen as enemies, and we’re forced to choose ony one to the detriment of faith. But we’ve been deceived by a lie. In order to be faithful we need to trust and question.
My doubts allow me to expand my picture of where I see God throughout creation. I’m learning how to see the God who is truly above everything and through everything and in everything. Or to bring it to the 21st century with a mewithoutYou lyric: “I used to wonder where you are; these days I can’t find where you’re not.” My questioning doesn’t let me escape God; it forces me to see God in more than I ever thought possible.
I’m not ignoring my mind, I’m just reducing its power over me. I’ve given it a lot of power over my life; it has been a good friend. However, I also use my intellect to protect (and distance) me from the complexity and difficulty of relationships with others (including my relationship to God). It can be a tyrant in my being that pushes out everything else that is good. My heart. My soul. My body. Those parts should have equal say in deciding my direction.
My intellect can’t protect me from my fear of being abandoned. Nor can it help me escape despair and depression. Nor can it sense the beauty of the world around me. Knowing isn’t everything.
I don’t always believe in God, but I’ve learned to live with trusting him. This trust both pushes me towards and carries me through my perpetual questioning.
I’ve tried to articulate some pieces from my own walk with faithful questioning. Your journey is different, it is fully your own, but I encourage you to embrace your doubt. God created you to question. It is a divine gift.
But use your doubt as a tool for your journey, not as an end point. Look for growth beyond your cynicism. We have enough cynics in our world; we need more people willing to risk everything to become whole. We need people willing to dangerously love the other. We need more people to pursue the mysteries and presences of God here on earth.
But feel free to question me on that!
Hey Chris, I appreciate your reflections here. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve thought of doubt as the opposite of faith. In fact, I kind of see doubt as a prerequisite for faith. If we don’t have questions, if we aren’t at least a bit skeptical, where does faith fit in? That’s certainty, not faith, and I’m a bit wary of people who are utterly and completely certain about their faith, what they believe, or what’s right or wrong. I recently read somewhere that the opposite of faith is anxiety. I’m still pondering that.
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Wendy, thanks for the comment. I like the idea of anxiety being an opposite to faith, but then again, we can be anxious and still have faith to move forward. It’s the same thing with fear. Being fearful or anxious doesn’t preclude us from being faithful – some of the most faithful characters in the bible were the most anxious!
I wonder if the opposite of faith is wandering off the path set before us. Perhaps it’s trying to live someone else’s life (being inauthentic to self)? Perhaps it’s running away from our calling (like Jonah)? Perhaps it’s sin? Maybe it’s all of them! I’ll have to think about that more.
I like your ideas in your second paragraph, Chris. Another problem maybe with anxiety as an opposite to faith is that for some it may be a form or expression of mental illness. I certainly would hate to imply that people who suffer/struggle with forms of mental illness don’t have faith. Good to grapple with these questions.