Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Shut Up About Your Faith

"The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God." The Apostle Paul in the fourteenth chapter of Romans.

Do I really mean the title of this post? Of course I don't. But the above quote is a little mental exercise for us all. The Bible is too often used as a cut and dried, black and white rule book. Certainly there are guidelines, but life is much too complicated for an intractable list of rules as your only guide.

So for all of the justification the obnoxious Christian can find in the Bible for their obnoxiousness--you also have wonderful verses like this one. Does the verse mean you should ALWAYS and ONLY keep your faith to yourself? It couldn't possibly mean that, not with everything else that Paul said. 

But neither should other verses that leaders like to use as tools and goads be used as a blanket operating expectation:

"Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'” Luke 9:62. The problem with this verse is that it applies to everyone. Did you hear me, I said EVERYONE. You said to Jesus today, "I'm on my way, but just give me a moment to take care of some of my stuff." No one lives up to their own standard of righteousness. So if it doesn't mean that if you half-ass it with Jesus then you're not going to make it to heaven, then what does it mean? I don't know. You might think that's a cop out, and maybe it is, but I'm just not sure. I could listen to a gifted theologian explain it, and I would probably agree, but all of those explanations have not stuck with me. My best is that I would say it is there for people who need to hear it, when they need to hear it. All the time you half-ass it. Sometimes you half-ass it when you know you could do better. That's why this verse is there. But it is certainly not there to confirm that unless you're giving it your all you probably won't make it to heaven.

"Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15. Always as in always ALWAYS? Surely there are some times when silence or conciliatory chatter may be a better option? (Edit: This is actually disingenuous of me. Inherent in the verse is the unspoken assumption that not every situation will call for you to speak. Otherwise it would drop the "be ready to." So I must withdraw this paragraph from my overall argument. But for some reason it gets left in the text of the blog; I have no immediate explanation for this.)

"But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one." 1 Corr. 5:11. Oh my God be careful with this. I'm not really sure what it means (because if we were to take it at face value then no one should be eating with me, nor I with most Christian's that I know). Surely there must be a place for the application of this verse--but it's really not too often. Be Careful. It sounds big and weighty and scary, but if you start seeing this practiced on even a semi-regular basis then run. They're coming after you next.

If it's God's Word then you will simply have to wrestle with it more than you're even happy with. It's deceiving, enigmatic, frustrating--you should expect nothing less if the God of the Universe is trying to talk to you. If you could understand it--now that would be the real problem. In that case you've either got a fraud on your hands, or a God that's about as smart as you. Perish the thought.

Addendum: I'm sure that I frustrate some, if not all. With the way that I talk I make it sound like we can't know anything, and that God, to quote the Brothers Karamazov, "only sends us riddles." I paint the picture of a confounding God who hasn't given us much to go on. This isn't my true perspective. I described the Bible as "deceiving, enigmatic, frustrating." But I would also describe it as clear, beautiful, rewarding and True. My problem is that the side of the street that the happy Christian who doesn't struggle with sin and confusion and frustration with God has been worked up and down, over and over, quite well, thank you very much. A rut has been dug in the sidewalk for all the traffic it has gotten. 

That side of the street is not an accurate reflection of my reality as I experience it.  

There is something broken in the modern Christian mind that makes us think we are supposed to be a shining example of strength, faith and morality. Paul lays waste to this idea: "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." God gives us a real world example of Orwellian logic: Strength through weakness, wisdom through foolishness. 

So I don't mind working the other side of the street for awhile. The side of weakness, doubt, lastness and leastness and lostness. It's mysterious, and I don't think I'll always get it right. But I'll keep striking forth, sometimes in error, sometimes in truth, if it means the scales are on their way to being balanced. Even if it takes awhile.

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