In my last post, we looked at your 5 biggest challenges to staying Christian from a survey I took a few years ago.
Now let’s move on and talk about moving forward amid those challenges.
I’m a little nervous about using language of “moving on” and “moving forward,” since that could imply minimizing the challenges—“Oh that’s not really a problem. Here’s the answer, now move on.” I avoid that common pattern like mold on bread.
To get us started, below are my present thoughts on addressing and living with the challenges to staying Christian. In the comments section you can interact with them or add your own.
To be extra clear, I am not in any way, shape, or form suggesting that what I think is mandate for the rest of you, an attempt at an iron-clad defense of Christianity, or an etched-in-stone “here I stand” statement. But this is where I am. You are, of course, free to accept, ignore, modify, be bored, whatever.
I number them as separate items (because I’m German), but these thoughts overlap.
1. I don’t think the life of Christian faith is fundamentally “rational,” by which I mean it cannot be captured fully by our rational faculties.
I have long felt that a God who can be comfortably captured in our minds is no God at all.
I see our sense of what is rational as often more the problem than the solution. I am not for one minute saying “reason doesn’t matter.” I am using reason as I write this. I read and write books. I mean only that the life of the mind has its place as an aspect of the life of faith, not its dominant component.
In other words, I believe that faith in a true God is necessarily trans-rational (not anti-rational) and mystical. I try to remember that as I work through intellectual challenges—and I mean “work through,” not avoid.
2. Related to #1, I see the two pillars of the Christian faith as expressing the mystery of faith: incarnation and resurrection. Though conscious of reductionism, I see these two elements as making Christianity what it is, and both dodge our powers of thought, speech, and “rational” defense. I don’t mind saying I find it strangely comforting that walking the path of Christian faith means being confronted moment by moment with what is counterintuitive and ultimately beyond my comprehension to understand or articulate.
3. In dealing with the various challenges of reading Scripture—especially as a biblical scholar—I try to keep #s 1 and 2 before me. Over the years, I have expressed this myself in terms of an “incarnational analogy” between the Bible and Christ: just as Christ was a fully human participant in 1st century culture, so too does the Bible bear the marks of full and unfettered participation in the ancient cultures in which it was produced. I am thus reminded to expect Scripture to reflect an ancient, other-worldly, mindset rather than my own categories of thought.
4. I have had my share of “God moments” in my life. I’d like to have more—maybe I’m just not paying attention. I know that any alleged subjective experience of God can be explained otherwise, but I have had some experiences that lead me to question those alternate explanations.
5. “The things I want to do, I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do, I end up doing.” I feel there is something deeply wrong with this picture, and the Gospel story explains me. Let me stress here especially that this is no “proof” of Christianity. In fact, it is my Christianized self that even leads me to phrase my internal struggles by co-opting Paul’s language from Romans. But for me, this is a piece of the puzzle that becomes more evident the older I get.
6. Embedded in some of these points is my growing conviction that “journey” and “pilgrimage” are powerful metaphors for the Christian life. Hence, I expect at times to be unsettled, uncertain, fearful, and other sorts of things that help remind me that who I am, where I am, and what I think do not define the nature of reality. Ironically, I feel exploring my own realities more deeply are a means by which I can learn to relativize them.
7. I have come to believe that periods of struggling and doubt are such common experiences of faith, including in the Bible (see Lament Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes), that there is something to be learned from such periods, however long in duration they might be. I feel it is part of the mystery of faith that things normally do not line up entirely, and so when they don’t, it is not a signal to me that the journey has ended but that I am on it.
8. This final thought only occurred to me recently, and I am not sure if I am gaining some insight in the second half of life or if I am missing something. As a brain-oriented person, I have tended in my life to look down on those who say things like, “If I didn’t have my faith, I couldn’t make it through this,” or “If God isn’t real, I don’t know if I can hold it together.” These sorts of sentiments always struck me as irrational, for the weak-minded, those who “needed” a crutch. If Christianity is true it has to be for reasons other than “I need it to be true.”
In recent years, however, I have begun to see this from a different angle—and this ties in very much with #1. I have begun to see that those who cry out to God may be perched at the very point where true communion with God begins, because they are in the unique position of surrendering fully from self to God.
Those who truly suffer have no where else to go, which means they have fully surrendered—including giving up anything under their control, any “reasons” for holding on. Perhaps it is only in suffering that we can die to ourselves and put our (overactive, western, rationalistic) life of the mind in its proper place. We just cry for help, free of what we have constructed of God.
I know I keep returning to the idea of mystery, but that is where I am (and where I am is what this post is about).
Anyway, this is how I am at present living with the genuine challenges to the Christian faith. Take all this for what you feel it’s worth. Now it’s your turn—just try not to be as longwinded as me.
This blog was first posted in August 2017.
[Comments are moderated and may take 24 hours to appear. Since the original post, I developed these ideas more in The Sin of Certainty. See also Inspiration and Incarnation.]