I just turned 29. I’ve been a practicing Christian over half my life. I’ve been on this road of “ministry” for over a decade. I finished a master’s degree at a reputable evangelical seminary. One might think I had it “all figured out” by now. One might think I had it “together.” The years behind me have taught me many lessons but have also left me with more to learn. Quite honestly, I have more questions now than I’ve ever had about both theological matters and their outpouring into our lives, and I expect this to continue until the day I see the New Creation.
I used to be a good Reformed, Baptist, Evangelical Christian. Period. Those were my boxes. In some ways, I still fit there, at least on my “good days.” However, the more I study, the more I ponder, the more I question which ones I really fit into. Now, before anyone starts calling me a heretic, a mystic, a theological liberal, or something else, I want to be clear. There are certain things I will totally affirm:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hades.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father,
from which he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Beyond that, try as I might, I often have a hard time. I reckon with it all. I wrestle with it all. I’m not entirely certain. I have my more established beliefs, but the level of charity I’ve gained for others has grown by leaps and bounds the more I pour over the texts and traditions of the Church and the more I’ve interacted with other committed Christians wrestling with the Scriptures.
I had a few close friends over this past weekend. I love these friends dearly, and I was happy that several who had never met before were able to finally interact. I think it was a pretty magical time, honestly. My friends are diverse. They fall into different theological categories (different political categories, too, for that matter), although each has a nicely ecumenical appreciation of other traditions. They could, and did, have disagreements on certain points of theology, yet there was an air of respect and unity, indeed humility, in the room that electrified the conversation. It is something you hopefully have at a certain point in your walk, something these guys share, when you realize that theology, and life-in-general, is messy… really, really messy… and there’s no honest way of getting past that fact.
It’s funny that it takes a while to learn this (some folks never do), but when and if you do it changes your entire interaction with others. It humbles you. If the gospel of Jesus Christ were not humbling enough in its very message, it is given to us across two millennia of church tradition and in 66 ancient (albeit divinely inspired) books of various contexts and genres. The overarching message of the Bible may be simple enough, but to triumph over all its intricacies and implications is an insurmountable feat. The questions only bring greater questions. We get confused. We misread. We argue. We rebel against what we see. If that were not enough, our circumstances and weaknesses often cause our hearts to falter under the weight of uncertainty we carry with us.
We see the world. We see societies, nations, crumbling under the weight of the fall. We see mass shootings, genocides, epidemics, and tyranny. We loose loved ones and lie awake asking questions that won’t be answered right now, resting only in one solitary hope. Vincent van Gogh said, “There is much evil in the world and in ourselves, terrible things, and one does not need to be far advanced in life to be in fear of much and to feel the need of a firm faith in life hereafter and to know that without faith in God one cannot live, one cannot bear it. But with that faith one can go on for a long time.”
Thank God for the faith to which we only by a miracle cling. We are human. We are fallen. Even blessed with the Spirit guiding us, we will make mistakes in this life, both in our actions and in our ideas. Truly, only in the cross of Christ can we boast. It shows us who we are, it takes away our lordship over each other. It exposes in the light what little we would be without God’s grace.
I know my friends. I know their great talents and their great weaknesses. I know their crap and they know mine. When you go into a conversation with your doubts and your frustrations laid out to each other, a true dialog can begin. You are able to listen, to learn, to love, and to even enjoy the company of those others on the journey. You can wrestle with your deep questions and speak to each others lives. You may never figured it all out. Some stuff you will never figure out. You may change your mind a thousand times or go through a thousand dark nights of the soul, and I guarantee that we will all be amazed at how foggy our picture was when we reach glory. Until then, we should live in great grace and charity toward one anther as the struggling pilgrims we are on the way to that city.
(cover image courtesy FreeBigPictures.com)