Wednesday, September 13, 2006

do I, really

For the last decade or so of my life this question has periodically resurged. I expect it will for however many decades remain to me. Every so often the absurdity of the things I’ve staked my life on overshadows the ordinariness that belief takes on in the lived-out day-to-day. And when that happens I am forced to confront it. To stop and ask, do I really believe this stuff? Do I, really?

Sometimes this is just a flash of feeling, and sometimes it lasts for a day or so and then subsides. Madeleine L’Engle wrote of “days of disbelief.” Sometimes it lingers for a while longer. I’ve gone for long periods of time, years probably, without really knowing or daring to hazard an answer to the question, because the answer might honestly be no. I’ve known those who, finally, did have to answer no. I find it brave, even admirable, though not at all enviable.

I don’t know what “blessed are the poor in spirit” is really supposed to mean. But when I hear those words I think of those who struggle to believe, who want to believe, and just aren’t sure they can.

Does this bug anybody? That an aspiring professor of theology must admit to periods of recurrent if temporary suspended belief? Because it’s just how it is. Maybe other people don’t experience this. Perhaps some believers remain confident and unshakeable from the moment of their baptisms, or whatever marks the beginning of their certain belief, to the end of their days. I imagine George W. Bush is one of these people. Maybe some people can pass through this world, so marked by tragedy and suffering and evil, and smile serenely and continue unruffled to bet on everything coming out right in the end and assert that that’s all that matters anyway. I am not one of these people.

Quite frankly—oh, let’s just go ahead and be rude—these people really fucking bother me.

I find that I cannot respect a faith that hasn’t questioned itself. Repeatedly. Because once you face the necessity of that questioning, you see that the question is never settled with any sort of finality. At least, not on this side of death. I can’t respect a faith that doesn’t recognize the very real possibility that it could become unfaith.

Faith is not measured by intensity of fervor, or even unshakeableness of resolve. Faith is simply flinging yourself forward into life—sometimes an abyss, sometimes a mountaintop. Sometimes you don’t know why you go on. And that, even at its most unreasonable, is faith at its purest.

postscript: go read Theoblogia today too.


Jared Cramer said...

those people bother me as well.

i really agree that faith is about "flinging yourself forward."

and, to be honest, the fact that an aspiring professor of theology feels this way makes me feel a whole lot better about the entire theological endeavor. i think it will make you a better prof.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, there are times I envy those people. Not the GW types, but the ones who are content to just read Scripture, believe that their name is on that "roll up yonder" and call it a day. The ones for whom faith is a simple thing.
But I wrestle and struggle with everything. I constantly feel like there is more I need to be reading, a greater grasp on all this uncertainty that I need to achieve.
But, I agree with Jared. I can learn a whole lot more from someone like you, whose faith is not cookie-cutter, that is worked out in the furnaces of life, than I can those who are content to just mimic the Bible.
Great food for thought today.

reJoyce said...

Quite frankly—oh, let’s just go ahead and be rude—these people really fucking bother me.

Amen, amen, amen!

I've been lurking here for quite a while, but wanted to say thank you for this post. It doesn't seem like any of the live people I run across are willing to admit to doubt, and it's hard when you are in the middle of it and could really use someone to talk to about it. It's good to know I'm no the only one!

JAW said...

Thanks for this post. I find myself in the same boat from time to time...and now after reading three of Bart Ehrman's books (Misquoting Jesus, etc.) I've been in this boat a lot more lately. And I thought Spong's books were faith-challenging.

kel said...

sometimes i find the simple-faith of others refreshing. not always. i believe we have all been given some measure of faith, and i take heart in that. but those measurements vary greatly. i believe the test of life and of love is to accept people when we're not compatible.

TKP said...

I like Jen's rude honesty. It's refreshing.

BTW, Jen, you've been book tagged on the GASB. Also, I have big news: I'm moving.

TKP said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I would resent any believer (theologian or not) who had never wrestled with faith but continually instructs others on the subject. I hope most people who seem to possess a "simple" or unchallenged faith actually struggle in secret but are too insecure to admit their doubts to others. This is why I have always admired "apostates" for having the courage to openly confess that they no longer believe what once firmly convinced them.

jocelyn said...

Thank you for talking about this out loud. I've been thinking a lot lately about how closely belief is tied with unbelief. I honestly wonder how someone's faith can be deep and genuine if it has never crossed over into unbelief at times. That's not to say that it can't be genuine, it's just entirely different than my own experience of faith.

Here's to a lifetime of flinging ourselves into the abyss and trusting (or at least trying to) that Someone will be there with us.

allison said...

I hate being the tenth comment, it makes it look like unbelief is tenth on my list or something. I think about this, feel this, almost all the time. It makes it pretty uncomfortable to live, considering I am a missionary.

An elder came down this summer who said he thanked God that he has a simple faith, without answers, because he doesn't need them. I admired his statement and wished I was like that. I'd love to be one of "those people" but I'm not.

What I have trouble with sometimes is snubbing those with the simple faith. Christians here in Honduras have a simple faith -- what a blessing -- their lives aren't so full of worldliness that the questions even occur to them.

At the same time, tragedy strikes us all, the questioning and the unquestioning. I categorize those with the unwavering faith as the resilient ones, whereas, when trials come to my life I am less resilient and, more often than not, angry.

I don't think unbelief is a weakness. I don't think unquestioning faith is a strength. I think we'll all be perfected when the questioning ones and the unquestioning ones get to heaven.

love you!

p.s. Watch the f-bomb, you're a parent now :)

JTB said...

If Clare can learn to cuss with the same absolute sense of propriety and significance that I do, ahem ahem, I will have done my job as a parent in this particular area.

But I won't cuss in front of my adorable niece & nephew...