A few days ago, Rachel Held Evans posted an article that I shared on Facebook, and a friend asked me to respond to some of the article's ideas. This post is what I came up with.
Whenever I try to map out how this journey through the questions started for me, I immediately get stuck trying to choose “the” beginning. Did it start when I was seventeen and my youth group watched videos on young earth creationism? Was it when I was eighteen and my church taught me that, since I was a woman, I always needed a man (father, brother, husband, pastor) to be my spiritual authority? Did it start in college, during years of doubt amid a culture of spiritual one-upmanship?
For me, the 2004 presidential election was a coalescing moment. I realized that, though I had learned to repeat the acceptable answers as to why I supported George W. Bush and the Republican party (anti-abortion, anti-gay, national defense), I found I had significant philosophical differences with the Republican party’s platform. This realization was scary for me, because I had thoroughly absorbed the message that good Christians vote Republican. For a while, it felt to me like voting my conscience and voting my faith were at odds, and that haunted me.
And then there is the nagging question/worry I’d always had about my mother. I worried someday I’d get a call that she’d overdosed or killed herself before I had a chance to convince her about Jesus. And then after each crisis, I worried that she’d missed her chance and that her mental illness would bar her from heaven. And what about other mentally ill people? What about babies? What about people born in other cultures? Would God really set up access to salvation from eternal torture in such a way that only a tiny fragment of humanity would ever have even a chance at it?
And then there is the question of The World. People live and breathe, work and create, everywhere, in every culture, every day. People laugh and mourn, dance and die. Babies are born, and mothers and fathers are flattened by the power of that love. People have created astounding, beautiful things: music, architecture, art. Under my old belief system, any of this that was done “outside” of Jesus was basically meaningless. Most of the events in human history, most of the people who had lived and died, most of everything was destined for destruction.
At one point in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, one of the main characters, Adah, recounts the story of being punished by her Sunday school teacher for questioning the so-called justice of God eternally punishing people for, essentially, being born in the wrong place or the wrong culture. She is made to kneel on grains of rice and pray, and then she says, “When I finally got up with sharp grains imbedded in my knees, I found, to my surprise, that I no longer believed in God.”
I can feel where she’s coming from, but I do believe. Sometimes I wish I could stop. I have asked those same questions, and I have knelt and prayed through much darkness, but every time I rise, I find that I still believe. How I believe, though, has changed.
Some days, I long for the simplicity of my old belief system, with its clean, defined, systematic theology. I now have many more questions than I have answers: questions about salvation, about the bible, about our lifestyle of consumption and its effects on our planet, about how our individualism affects our societal psyche. I have questions about faith and darkness and depression, about the future and the past and the road between them. But I believe in Jesus. I believe in Emmanuel, God with us. I believe he came to us, to all of us, and that that means something.
In the end, it comes down to a question of narrative, for me. Ultimately, God is directing history somewhere, and I just can’t get behind the idea that it’s an all-or-nothing, cosmic soul sort, where the few “in” get in and everybody else is tormented, forever. I think God is better than that, I think Jesus means more to the world than that, and so that’s where I place my hope: God’s goodness and love for his creation, and his relentless pursuit of restoration.