[Some content is possibly triggery, particularly concerning LGBT issues and rape. Also, there might be an unpleasant metaphor/word or two. This is not a charming post.]
[It is also not a very organized post. Given the topic, maybe that’s appropriate. Maybe it’s best to think of it as a post in progress.]
It’s hard to find a church where doubt is welcome. By doubt, I mean anything from “I’m not sure what to make of that verse” to “I’m not sure I believe in God anymore.” And by welcome, I don’t mean “Let us know your doubt so that we can squash it with scripture and a super intense prayer meeting and all be really disappointed in you when that doesn’t immediately work.” Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to scripture or super intense prayer meetings. I just don’t think that’s always (read: hardly ever) the best way to approach doubt.
Doubt must be voiced. Voicing doubt is not necessarily stirring up contention or starting an argument; it might just be an invitation to explore more deeply. Voicing doubt is not necessarily the absence of faith; in fact, it might be an expression of faith. Voicing doubt might be the child that asks the repeating “Why?” – might be curiosity and wonder instead of rebellion and angst. Voicing doubt also might be rebellion and angst, but as anyone who has raised (or been) a teenager can attest, that, too, is a natural part of development.
And some things really deserve our rebellion.
Doubt is normal.
Disagreement is the not the same thing as doubt, but sometimes the church treats it like it is. The main difference I have had with the (Protestant, evangelical, Bible Belt) churches I’ve attended is the way we read the Bible. Most of the churches of which I’ve been a part take a pretty linear, literal reading of the Bible. And that would be fine as long as this viewpoint didn’t come with a side helping of “my opinion is the truth, and you are in rebellion, deceived, or insert your phrase of choice for ‘not as real a Christian as the rest of us’ here.”
I don’t have a lot of problems with Jesus. Oh, I have words with Jesus. We wrestle and fight over things. Sometimes, he’s not so talkative. I think he likes to vacation a lot. But I am lucky in that I seldom ever come away from hashing things out with Jesus feeling like an outsider.
I wish I could say the same of his church.
What inspires doubt in me? Other Christians who require me to believe that what God speaks to them is truer and more important than what God speaks to me. On a good day, I just doubt the requirement. I doubt the hell out of that. On a good day, I call bullshit on the tyranny of needing to agree, and I go on with my day. But on a bad day – on a day when maybe Jesus hasn’t seemed to be around a lot lately – I need to be able to trust the people around me not to treat me like a project or a pariah. When my Advocate is silent, I need his church to rally around me, even if we don’t agree.
Dear church, I will be the first to say that if linear is the way your mind works, and that’s what moves you and guides you through your course in life, and if you find God that way – great. Even if I disagree with your interpretation, I will try to understand where you are coming from. I will probably voice my disagreement, especially if you seem a little too gleeful for my comfort about the whole Bible-as-sword metaphor, but I can admit my bias – that it comes from being run through with the Good Book more times than I care to recall and so my skittishness is about that, not you. I will neither state nor imply that you are less of a Christian just because you disagree with me or do things differently than the way I do them, because I affirm that the Word of God – that is, Jesus Christ – is alive and well and can use his scriptures as he sees fit even when it makes me uncomfortable. I am happy to affirm you finding God in whatever way possible.
But if we’re going to be in fellowship, I’m gonna need you to reciprocate.
I’ve noticed that the Bible reads differently to me than it does to many of the people around me. When I was younger and I heard someone say, “The Bible clearly says…” I would wonder if we had different Bibles. Did I have an outdated version? Did I need to upgrade? Because the Bible I was reading didn’t seem to be clear about many things.
As I got older, I realized that I just wasn’t reading it the same way. My mind doesn’t seem to be able to fit God into anything linear and clear-cut. It’s not that I don’t believe the Bible or that I don’t think the Bible is true.
It’s just that I believe that fact and truth are different words.
What if for me the Bible isn’t an instruction manual but rather a great work of literature – a story and a song – an allegory for God’s complicated love affair with humanity?
What if for me the Bible isn’t a book of answers but rather a book that inspires questions?
What if the hard stories in the Bible aren’t God telling us what he did – a divine tweet ending with #sorrynotsorry or #idowhatiwant – but rather God poking the bear, awakening our outrage at injustice?
– What if the tragic story of Lot’s daughter is not a story about how it’s so wrong to be gay that it would be better for your virgin daughter to be raped and murdered than to let your guests engage in gay sex(yes, a pastor actually said this from the pulpit…I could not run out of there fast enough) but rather God – a God who sees her and mourns her – telling and re-telling her story for as long as there is a Bible in print to be read?
– What if the story of Bathsheba is not about how God can use someone like David even though he was a murderer and an adulterer (as long as he repents and feels really, really bad about it, of course), or at least, not just about that – but rather God saying, “Hey, this woman was treated like property, and by someone who was called a man after my own heart – what do you think about that? Does that make you angry? And if not, well…shouldn’t it?”
– What if Job isn’t about a God who is so glory-hungry that he destroys everything in the life of his most faithful follower just to prove his dick is bigger than Satan’s but rather about how (not) to respond to a friend in pain and grief?
What if I read the Bible in a way that doesn’t make God out to be the villain instead of the savior?
What if sitting under a big, blue sky, not saying a word, is holy prayer? What if I’m far less worried than you think I should be about falling into worshipping the creation rather than the Creator? What if one thing I do see clearly is the difference between praying to and praying through? Are you willing to believe that I see it even if you don’t? Are you willing to acknowledge God’s right to speak to me as God sees fit, even if it’s not the same way (or even the same thing) God speaks to you?
Do you assume if my path is made of unevenly placed stepping stones masked by the fog of mystery instead of a neatly kept suburban sidewalk that it will all fall apart?
What if it does?
Will you still be around?
Can I trust you, church? Will I ever be able to trust you? Or are you just here to validate my doubt?
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