copyright 2/26/2010 by Julia Tindall Bloom
copyright 2/26/2010 by Julia Tindall Bloom
Good grief. Here I go again. Thanks to those who are reading and journeying with me through the dark and doubt. I don’t particularly enjoy these posts, but nevertheless feel compelled to put them out there – probably because I believe I’m giving voice to something felt by more believers than just me. Take comfort – you are not alone – and you can be angry and bewildered with God and still be faithful (in fact, if you are angry and bewildered with God, being honest about it is the only way to be faithful!) Maybe we can call these latest entries in my blog the “angry Psalms” section.
God says, in Ezekiel the book of the Bible, through Ezekiel God’s prophet to Israel, “I’ll slaughter these people – I’ll obliterate that nation – then they [Israel] will know that I am God” (my paraphrase of much of the book).
In church these days, it’s fashionable to say, “God is good all the time.” I can’t say it without wincing anymore. That doesn’t sound like the God of Ezekiel. I am quite aware of what the beaver said about Aslan, the Christ-figure of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” I even admit that when Aslan slashed Aravis’ back in The Horse and His Boy, to help her feel the pain she had carelessly inflicted on someone else, it seemed right to me. Maybe it even seemed good.
But how could God’s total annihilation of a nation be good? What is “good,” if it includes threats like those in Ezekiel? What is “good,” if we are to believe that the prophet Samuel was truly speaking for God when he said to Israel’s King Saul – “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ” (I Samuel 15 – a mercilessly decreed holocaust that was actually carried out)? How is it good that God commanded the slaughter of babies? Or is it possible that God is not good all the time? I hope not, but an honest reading of Bible passages like these begs this question.
Whatever his reasons, God’s destructive ways towards people never seemed to stick in convincing Israel “that I am God.” Some might say that the most concentrated destructive act of God – in slaughtering the innocent Christ, in being slaughtered as the innocent Christ, has resounded as the most convincing of God’s ways of communicating “that I am God.”
In the crucifixion, they may say, God threw out the angriest, deadliest arrows imaginable, fully worked-up righteous wrath, lashing out completely; and then traveled at the speed of light out through the universe, circling back, and absorbed every shot. The anger and the agony met in their most intense moments, in the person of Christ, in the center of God, and the big bang of that moment set in motion a whole new creation, one that is spreading like the indestructible mustard plant all through the old world order, transforming it from inside – even destroying evil systems and pulling down evil power structures – and maybe that is good, but it is surely not safe.
Some might say that. I said that not long ago, and it sounds profound and poetic. But underneath it all it just sounds like more destruction. I’m weary of violence being the only problem-solver, unwilling to accept that God’s ultimate fix for a sick world was self-destruction.
These days, my faith has lost its resting place. From without, from within, it’s being pulled forward down a path of uncertainty, of wondering and wandering. How does one live faithfully when faith itself comes unglued?
Or maybe faith was never meant to be glued, nailed down, safe and snug in a resting place. Maybe that’s why Jesus’ call to his disciples was “follow me.” Movement. Road trip. Flux. Big bang setting everything in motion. Doubting believer faithfully tussling with the living God.
These days I am losing my faith. The faith of my past, that is. I’m not sure how it will grow from here, and I’m doing my best to live in the tension and uncertainty of asking questions I’ve pushed away at other times in my life. Questions like, was Jesus’ crucifixion necessary to redeem humanity, or was it more of an inevitability for someone who loved so fully and stood so faithfully with the marginalized in the face of corrupt power, both religious and political? Did God really require an innocent sacrifice to compensate for the sins of the world? I seek to emulate a savior who is the prince of peace. Why would the God with whom that savior is one be thirsty for innocent blood (taking alone the teaching that Jesus is God’s son, differentiated from God the father?) Is there really ‘power in the blood’ of Jesus, and if so, does that power come from his blood crucified, or is it the living, healing, incarnate and resurrected Christ alone that was only ever necessary for the salvation of the world? (I understand resurrection could not happen without death, but my question is, did that death have to be an execution, a bloody sacrifice to appease a wrathful God?)
That’s a significant question for a lifelong evangelical, ever-so-familiar with the simple drawing of a stick man, a chasm, and God at the other side, with a cross bridging the man and God. There is much more I am pondering about this question, and I am hungry to ask other questions too – to research the canonization of scripture, the formation of the doctrines considered fundamental to my faith tradition – not to disprove, but to understand.
It’s clear to me that I couldn’t have faced these questions honestly or bravely earlier in my life. I would not have been able to live in the tension of uncertainty. For the years that these questions have been forming in me, I have often chosen to remain willfully ignorant, believing that my only other choice was to make a clean break and declare myself an atheist or agnostic. It’s complicated and difficult to face doubts and questions, to speak honestly about them, and at the same time to remain in community with other believers with whom I really do want to commune. It’s tempting and would be easier, in the short run, to be the extremist I often have been – to throw it all out, even the stuff I love and believe, rather than pursue the path of growth my inner life is demanding in all its twists and turns and switchbacks.
There is so much of my faith tradition that I do love and believe. At the core of these half-understood, inconsistent doctrines and dogma is something alive, a power and a love and grace that has undeniably pursued me, carried me, drawn me to itself. I have always called that presence God, understanding God to be three persons – a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit. But my hungry mind is dissatisfied these days with leaving it at that when it has not meaningfully wrestled with the larger questions of who God is, who Jesus is, how these doctrines and ideas we call orthodox have been decided.
Some of us are dancers, some dreamers, some thinkers, most of us are unique combinations of these and more. The thinker in me wants to build a faith she can sink her teeth into.
The people-pleasing pastor’s kid in me, however, shrinks from all this. She sees the agnostic shortcut as much less messy – “just cut the cord and be done with it!” she begs. “What will people think if I ask these questions out loud and expect to still be accepted as a fellow believer? Escape, escape!”
It’s my mounting suspicion, however, that most of us – at least, those of us with significant ‘thinker’ sides – have doubts we are afraid to voice; and that the fear of what others will say or do in response to our doubts keeps us paralyzed, going through religious motions or else walking away from it all. I’ve decided to be more transparent with my own doubts and questions, and to hold fast to my faith that God and God’s people have arms wide enough for every seeker, every believer, every doubter, every messy mix of believer and doubter.
When I started this blog, I titled it “The More I Learn the More I Wonder,” with the intention of hashing out some of these doubts and questions, musings and wonderings I have, and hoping others will interact, challenge, agree or disagree, move the conversation along. I’ve done that a bit, and I hope to keep working at it – not just in cyberspace but in every space of my life.
My husband Nathan, our two children, and I are in the midst of a 19-day road trip, spending this week on Lake Michigan and heading on to Pennsylvania next week. We stopped at a motel after our first day of driving, and Nathan had a memorable interaction about which he spent the next morning writing on the laptop in the car.
I have been encouraging him to start a blog, but he said I could post this piece he wrote on my blog. So here it is. If you want to hear more from him, send him an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and add your voice to mine in begging for a Nathan Bloom blog!
Here it is:
Last night, I was traveling with my family en route to our vacation destination in Michigan. We were driving through Iowa, the sun had set, and the kids were asleep, so Julia and I decided to put on some “easy miles” before stopping for the night.
Just after 11pm, we opted to call it a night and pulled into a Days Inn. As I walked into the hotel lobby, I noticed an elderly couple laboriously exiting a minivan. The receptionist was busy checking in another guest, and the three of us stood wearily in the lobby, waiting silently. The woman stood rigidly by the corner of the front desk, while the man wandered back into the empty lounge. As I waited, the thought occurred to me that it would be a courteous gesture to defer my ‘next-in-line’ status to this couple. Though my wife and children were waiting in the car, I made up my mind that when my turn came, I would let it pass to my elders.
The sleepy atmosphere was suddenly rent by a shockingly loud episode of flatulence coming from the lounge. My resolve wavered a little. After finishing checking in the guests ahead of us, the receptionist called out: “who’s next?” The woman at the corner of the desk glanced back. “Go ahead,” I offered. She immediately placed her enormous purse on the desk and commenced the check-in process.
The short, stoop-shouldered man ambled back from the lounge, and looked up at me. “Whererya from” he queried
“Minnesota”, I replied.
“Oh yeah. . . up on 169” he said.
“No, it’s on I35”
“Oh yeah” he returned vaguely. “I’m from Algona”
“Where are you headed?” I re-orientated the conversation.
“Chicago”, he sturdily responded. “We are going to a booksellers convention.” “A Christian bookseller’s convention,” he quickly clarified.
The woman quickly turned away from the desk and corrected somewhat severely: “It is a Craft Fair this time.” She included some more apparently important details which I didn’t comprehend, and I didn’t ask, not wanting to prolong the correction. She turned back to the receptionist.
“We belong to the Evangelical Free church,” the man volunteered unexpectedly, “What church do you belong to?”
I faltered, unprepared to answer: “The church I attend is not affiliated. . .uh, non-denominational, I guess. . . The church I grew up in was Baptist General Conference, though,” I added, trying to give him something meaningful within his presumed construct.
“Ah Yes,” he replied. “The fighting baptists.” I smiled, understanding his reference to the particularly schismatic history of baptist churches in the USA. “There was a big split in one of the baptist churches in Algona,” he added.
“Yeah,” I responded with detached amusement, “Jesus said: ‘One command I give you- Love one another’, but it seems like that is always the first thing to go out the window!”
The woman suddenly turned back around, and with the austere gaze of a fundamentalist Sunday School teacher, demanded: “But what was his other commandment?”
I fumbled, trying not to be intimidated, mentally re-scanning my words, and Jesus’ words, desperately trying to remember what the second of the one commandment was.
With trepidation, I held my ground: “He said one command.”
“Ye must be born again” She said sharply. “That is the greatest commandment. You can love all you want, but it won’t do you any good!” She continued her stern gaze, and I held my tongue.
She turned back, finished her check-in, and the two left to go to their rooms (I now understand why they had gotten two.)