Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For About Five Minutes, Once A Month...

I get tired of theology. I don't know. I just want to be. All my life I've been drawn to theology, otherwise known as "the art of ignoring Genesis."

When I was 9 years old I added up how old the earth should be, according to Genesis, and began my path of questioning the existence of God. My dad sat on the edge of my bed, a little stunned as I showed him my faulty math (by my calculations the bible said that the earth was only 2000 year old) and declared that I wasn't sure that I believed in God anymore.

"Well, why would you wonder a thing like that?"

"I don't know... It just doesn't seem to add up."

"Lots of things in life don't add up, Son, but that doesn't mean that you can stop breathing."

I'd say that is probably the best answer the man could have given me. He didn't tell me that I should be ashamed of my doubt. He didn't give me some cockamamie pseudo-scientific explanation that would just be shattered later. He opened the door to a little thing called "Mystery."

But we had just moved from our family into a big scary city and I was really feeling mad a God for moving us, since my dad had moved us to go to seminary...

Honestly, that is what some crap a Christian therapist would tell me. But, I don't think that's really it. I don't think I really ever doubted God. I just doubted the bible and what was taught to me in Sunday School. My whole life I've been plagued with an allergy to closed-off, rigid Christian thinking. When I was twelve I got into a small fight with my Sunday school teacher because I asked him, "Well, isn't the act of asking Jesus to come into your heart kind of a work?... and doesn't the bible say 'By grace you've been saved, through faith, not by works.'" He didn't like where that was going and tried to close that line of questioning. But I wouldn't let up. "And where does it actually say, "ask Jesus into your heart?" He didn't like that question either. And it really made mad that he couldn't answer. He was supposed to know. I mean, he acted like he knew everything.

This kind of doubt poked at me throughout middle school and into high school, even though I remained a goody-two-shoes, however plagued with the normal, constant state of adolescent lust. Come to think of it... what a torturous time. No wonder I felt so guilty all the time. Anyways... enough about that. Ahem.

It wasn't until my freshman year in college that things started to make a little sense. Because when I was 19 I experienced my 30 seconds as an atheist.

I was sitting in my front lawn, looking at the trees and trying to reconcile it all. It just didn't add up. So, I said, "Okay, I don't believe in God." What followed was one of the "realest" feeling moments of my life. It was like a spirit or perspective that had been with my whole life, removed itself from me. Suddenly everything looked heart-breakingly empty, hollow... even sorta scary. I felt empty. The worst emptiness I had ever felt. "I TAKE IT BACK, I TAKE IT BACK... Okay, Lord, then send me a little help, would ya?"

He did. It all came in the well-known book called "Mere Christianity." There hasn't been a book since, besides the Good Book, that has mad a greater impact upon me. And where had that material been my whole life? Why is Mere Christianity such a powerful book to so many? I think because most people grow up being taught bad doctrine by well-meaning but not-so-well-informed Sunday School teachers and Youth Ministers. They grow up hearing things that are just flat out wrong about scripture that come from a minds that are so rigid that one could play ping pong on any side of the brain.

The fact is that many protestants think that all they need to understand the great depth that lies in the Bible is the Bible and the mind that the Good Lord gave them. Well, folks, that ain't true. Just ask David Koresh. Just ask half the preachers in the South during segregation. The fact is, that we can make the Bible say about anything we want it to say and the whole time feeeeeeel like the Holy Spirit is just a' moving right along side us. Anyways... I digress into my critical mode. God bless sundayschool teachers, ever' one. And I mean that. It is a hard and thankless job and if you are a Sunday School teacher reading this and you don't feel qualified to teach, then you are probably just the right man/woman for the job. You are the ones that will most likely do your homework and get many points of view, and lean not on your own understanding.

And THAT is what I'm talking about when I say I like to take a break from it all. I just like to sit back, read a few Psalms, and enjoy the pretty weather. Sometimes I just want to say, and please forgive my irreverence, "Ahhh, dispensationalism vs. Covenant... Calvinism vs. Catholicism (because Armenian doesn't make a lick of sense)... Millenialst vs. Premillinialist ... ..... ..... seriously. Who gives a flying peanut-covered turd?"

I mean, is any of that stuff matter to a woman whose just had the crap beat out of her by her husband? Does any of that matter to a family who just lost their dad and can't pay their bills? Does any of that stuff matter to the young couple who just moved to NYC and got evicted from their apartment within the first 3 months? Does any of that matter to the lillies of the friggin field? Me thinks not.

But, it is my plague to care, and I am drawn to it like Micheal Moore is drawn to Pizza. and like I said, for five minutes or so, every month, I achieve a little Christian Nirvana... I don't care one bit.


Chaotic Hammer said...

Yeah, I know what you mean.

I just can't seem to turn my brain off, no matter how hard I try. It is simply who and what I am - somebody who thinks and questions and seeks to understand things, even things that can't be understood.

Yet I'm developing more and more aversion to the graceless rigidity of most theology. That doesn't mean that I think there is no such thing as Absolute Truth, or that our "theology" needs to be this wishy-washy mess of Constantly Questioning Everything, just to be that way.

So I find that for me, this whole equation is driving me deeper and deeper into the conviction that Jesus is really all that matters. He can be trusted, He cares, He is intimately involved in the tiniest detail of everything, and He loves me with a mind-boggling and unwavering vehemence that I cannot escape.

majorsteve said...


I don't remember ever having doubted the existence of God; the creator - we're here aren't we so we must have been created; the higher power- I never had a problem with higher power - gravity for instance is a higher power, also omnipresent, and yes it does exist in outer space, just to a degree that may not be discernable. I have, however, had my doubts about whether God actually "cares" about anything. Maybe "caring" is a human emotion that I'm trying to attach to something that is so far beyond the limits of our minds that it is just not applicable. For example, if an ant is crawling along on the space shuttle pre-launch, does the space shuttle "care" about the ant? The Bible tells us that God does care about us (John 3:16), but that leaves another question: How do we know the bible is truly the word of God? Now I have researched this question for years and, believe it or not, the question is always answered with a scripture. I'm not kidding you. Think about this: Q: How do I know the bible is truly the word of God? A: The Bible tells me so. (sigh) Again, more dead ends, more frustrations and exasperation. I once confided in someone that I love very much and was told "sometimes you just have to kind of close your mind". Huh? Also was told that "sometimes excessive intellectual pursuits can cause damage to one's faith." Oh you mean like studying Science or Cosmology? But let's back up a bit; Even if one believes that God exists, and even if one believes that God cares there are still more questions to be answered. Even Jews and Muslims believe and agree that God exists and that He cares. Millions of them have studied and prayed for centuries yet we still cannot come to an agreement on a single crucial point. And then there's the treacherous maze of semantics where you start to try to nail down the differences between Believing, Knowing and Accpeting. One thing I know for sure: theology, faith, religion and spiritual things in general is a very very complicated business, and no matter what side you're on you'll have to admit that millions of extremely intelligent, educated and dedicated people get it wrong every day. With that being said, let me give you a rough example of a prayer that I pray several times every day:

Dear Lord I'm sorry for being so stupid, for all the stupid things I've done and for all of the ugly thoughts I think and all of the sins I commit. I hate those things, I want to be Good, to be closer to You. I am asking you to forgive me. I'm sorry that I don't have more faith. I am asking that you would give me more faith, change me so that I can believe more. I accept and rely on your having died on the cross to save me from eternal separation from God the Father. I want you to live within my heart everyday, to guide me, to protect me, to give me more wisdom. I want You to drive this bus because I seem to make a mess out of everything. Right now I am taking all of my fear, anger, resentment, depression and bad habits and am handing them over to you. Please Lord give me strenght and wisdom to make good decisions every day. And Lord more than anything else I pray that you will protect my family and others that I love. Amen.

This is all I can do.

Marie said...

I think it matters.

I think good doctrine - that is to say, the truth - is like the rock we build on. If your faith is built on wrong or distorted doctrine, you can be easily destroyed. A mature Christian faith enables you to withstand the worst of storms. Perhaps you can think of some great believers who have withstood tremendous trials yet still had joy and peace, because they knew Who they believed.

If you are a Christian you are saved. But if you have a good understanding of what God teaches us through the Bible, you can make a whole lot more sense of things. You can also comfort and help others more easily.

Dispensationalism vs Covenant, who cares? Well, maybe if you embrace Dispensationalism you get the uneasy notion that God changes, which is not very comforting when trying to discern His will. Obviously, I lean Covenant. That's just an example.

Calvinism vs. Arminian, who cares? Well, if you are scared you are going to end up in hell because at the last minute you are going to take some sort of spiritual u-turn, accepting scriptures that discuss it is God who will keep you faithful can bring much joy and maturity into the Christian life. Obviously I lean Calvinist, but again, just an example.

Good doctrine destroys anxiety.

So, I think it matters. Why else did God write the Bible with all that doctrinal instruction in there? We are supposed to work out our salvation, are we not?

As for asking God into your heart, I wonder if you ever resolved that question? Were I the teacher at the time, I'd say yes, it's a work, like any good work. But, it is God who wills us to do His good pleasure. Praise His holy name.

Seth Ward said...

C-hammer, I know the feeling. I think sometimes I need to do a little more considering the Lilies than worrying about who's the bigger stud, N.T. Wright or Piper.

Majorsteve, some great thoughts and stuff to think about. For me, all real knowledge begins with the big step of believing whether there is a God or not. For me, that's the biggest leap. After that, I believe that Christianity to be the most plausible explanation. For me, Deism doesn't add up. And if its not Deism, then Christianity. But in the end, no one has faith unless it is given to him. Knowledge will only open a man's eyes to the glorious possibility that the universe looks a little to much like a "put-up" show than a random chain of events. After that, I believe that it is the thirst for God that is put in man's throat that ultimately leads us to Him. Whether one thinks that God puts it more in some's mouth than others... is a question that I grow weary of pondering.

Marie, I'd say you would make a pretty darn good teacher, and that's a pretty good answer. But then I'd ask you if we are just puppets? If God is willing me, then what happened to my choice? (Of course the most common argument.) But, again, your answer is much better than the one I got as a youngster, bless his heart. One could also look at a work through the eyes of the Hebrew.

It is still a mystery... Free Will and an omnipotent God. Nobody really has the answer to exactly how that works.

Also, don't misunderstand me, I likes me some good doctrine. I just think I like it a little too much sometimes. I think Christians tend to build themselves such a good foundation that they forget that other people are drowning in the flood, while we are scraping away any blemish on the cement job.

I'm also just get tired of the arguing. I get tired of the finger-pointing. I think that the church has been fighting each other for too long.

The bickering is just a tad too much like the Pharisees and the Sad's for my comfort.

Studying and developing good doctrine is important, but feeding the poor and loving your neighbor is more important. It is something that no theologian should ever forget.

Love is not knowledge. "Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away."

majorsteve said...

I've always wondered why some people who truly believe in God cannot make it over the hurdle of Jesus Christ. I bust my own ass on that hurdle on a regular basis. Over time, I simply decided that I was going to pray a certain way and try to relate to God in a certain way. I mean if you hooked me up to a lie detector (assuming there was a perfect one) and started asking me very specific questions about what I believe I like to think it would reveal a certain result, but I honestly wouldn't stake my life on it and certainly not the lives of my family. If there was an "I don't know" option, under those circumstances I'd take it every time. This is all I can do.

A very good friend of mine who is Jewish told me one time that it's because they are afraid of breaking the 3rd commandment that they aren't Christians. It's not that they reject Christ, or that they don't like him, it's just that they don't Know what's true, so they're paranoid of pissing God off in the 3rd commandment category. Now I'm sure that this is an extremely naive and simplified version of what's going on, but I'm an extremely naive and simplified version of a human being. The weird thing is that they (Jews, Muslims) feel just as strongly about their religion as we do about ours. Where does Truth Lie? Who knows? In our hearts, I hope. I often wonder about the "I Don't Know" problem. I mean, is it not the right of every human being to HONESTLY answer "I Don't Know"? If not, then how can a person MAKE themselves Know, if in fact they really DON'T Know? Is it possible that the "I Don't Know" conundrum could be described most elegantly as "original sin"? Think about it: Serpent. Apple. Knowledge. I Don't Know, but I sure do pray.

MamasBoy said...

"seriously. Who gives a flying peanut-covered turd?"

I'll never understand where you come up with these sayings, but incongruity sure makes me laugh.

I can mostly see where you are coming from about people who are hurting not caring as much about doctrine, especially petty differences, but doctrine often has a critical bearing on how people handle crises, though the reasons aren't always obvious.

For instance, Catholics in pretty much every country that has statistics on it have a lower suicide rate than Protestants. Durkheim found that Protestant countries had 190 suicides/million people, Protestant-Catholic Countries 96 and Catholic countries had 58 suicides/million.
Even small Catholic communties in predominantly Protestant countries have lower suicide rates than their Protestant neighbors.
It is interesting to note that Durkheim did his study before divorce became common. Given that Protestant divorce rates are often 50% higher than Catholic divorce rates, I imagine that statistic has held steady or increased.

Yet, being a Catholic isn't always easy. For instance, to bring up an example you mentioned, being a Catholic is arguably more difficult for a wife of an abusive husband than being a Protestant (assuming a Christian marriage). A Protestant can divorce the asshole and go remarry in almost all Protestant churches. A Catholic can obtain a civil divorce/separation, but can not remarry until the spouse dies, which likely means a life lived in singlehood unless the person repents and changes their ways. Perhaps Catholics minister to people in rough situations better because they haven't been as sold on the illusion of divorce fixing all of one's problems and don't have the option of remarriage open to them, but I don't think it necessarily makes the victim's life easier in the short term.


MamasBoy said...

Before people misunderstand my intentions and accuse me of saying Catholics are superior in everything....

Here is an article that talks about suicide rates among the elderly, and says that the trends among religions are the opposite as for young people.

Also, I think Quebec has a higher suicide rate than the rest of Canada.


Popcorn said...

marie you are my blogcomment hero. Amen and amen.

Popcorn said...

Hey marie do you have a blog?

On a lighter note, Seth isn't it about time to post some more pics on me and my iphone?? That ol' man at the bux is growing moss over there.

Popcorn said...

I am going to blog about overthinking things, which I'm thinkin' Seth, you may think I'm being passively aggressive unless I out with this straight up right here on your comment section. I'm not. But your posts of late have gotten me thinkin' about overthinking and so I'm thinkin' it's a good topic. Ya think?

Steven said...

Seth you said to Marie, "... But then I'd ask you if we are just puppets?"

If you really believed or knew just how spiritually bankrupt and DEAD you were in your sins when Christ chose you, then you would understand and be grateful that you are a puppet.

DEAD men don't have choices.

In other words, do you think you deserve anything better than being a puppet? That is the real and honest question.

FancyPants said...

Seth, hope you enjoyed your five minute break from theology and doctrine. =-) I agree with you, btw, and this is one (there are many) of my favorite posts of yours.

But I can't resist.

Steven, I see what you're saying, and I see the reasoning. But...if we are all just puppets and have no choice in the matter, then God makes me choose sin? Every time I sin, it's because God has made me? Did God make Eve eat the apple?

I don't think it's a question of what we deserve, but a question of how we were created.

Super Churchlady said...

Doctrine, Huh, Yeah
What is it good for?
A topic near and dear to my heart.

Romans 10:17 -Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

In the past – I’ve prayed that I, or my kids, or some other family member would have a better relationship with Christ. About 6 years ago, I began an intense study of the Bible. It was an incredible revelation of all that I had been missing. It dawned on me that without knowing God’s Word, and…studying it; saturating yourself in it; contemplating it; memorizing it; dwelling on it, etc., etc., your faith simply cannot grow.

As you know - my 95 year old grandmother recently passed away. At her birthday party at age 90 she gave a speech. The one piece of advice she gave to everyone was to “read the Bible”. Now normally I would have thought…oh, isn’t that a sweet grandmotherly thing to say, but I had just begun at that point to study the Bible and I remember thinking….”man – that’s some good advice.”

God uses scripture as the vehicle for growing our faith. So…if you’re sitting around, like I was, and wondering why you don’t have a better relationship with Christ – why you have so many unanswered questions – perhaps it’s because you have never fully committed yourself to studying the Bible in a deep, thorough and systematic way.

Let me harken back to the comment made by Oprah about leaving the church because she heard that "God was jealous." Had she taken the time to read scripture and... had she asked God to reveal to her what that meant, she might not have been so confused and misled by that statement.

The fact is…the truths taught in the Bible affect us whether we know and apply them or not. There is simply no substitute. When we rely on shortcuts or alternatives, we lead people into uncertainty about God and a lack of clarity.

Super Churchlady said...

Just a follow up question to mamasboy..

Don't Catholics consider suicide to be unforgivable? vs. Protestants - who, most I assume, view suicide to be just another forgivable sin..or maybe not even a sin at all?

I'm really not sure, but maybe this might account for the differences in percentages.

Super Churchlady said...

One more thought...when I use the word "you" - I don't mean you personally, Seth.

When I re-read that comment above - I realized it sounded personal. Obviously - I know you have studied the Bible. So, don't go beatin' up on me, OK? ;-)

Seth Ward said...

Mamas boy, Wow. Those are some interesting statistics. I wonder if some of that has to do with levels of poverty as well. I heard that when Ireland started making more money after some sort of peace came, that suicide and divorce levels skyrocketed.

I can certainly see how being a Catholic would make more of a difference as far as divorce is concerned. I think most protestants would do well to undergo the rigorous counciling and premarital classes that Catholics have to endure.

Stephen, good question.

I would have to say that the answer for me leaves the Armenians and the Calvinists uncomfortable. I believe God knows, and man chooses. I believe that God chooses and so does man. Calvinists believe you really have no choice and that God knows it all, Armenians believe that Man chooses and God doesn't know.

Augustan influenced Christians believe that it is both. Therein lies the mystery: That God created a system to which man chooses and yet he is/was able to work all things out for our good and his Glory because of his omnipotence. This makes him all the more powerful and glorious, rather than confined to a grand puppet show, or some type of ignorance. How He was able to reconcile the two lies somewhere out of our scope of comprehension, in some non-dimension that someday we might be able to understand. Augustan said: "You choose whether or not you are predestined."

The mystery is sort of like this, but again, any analogy breaks down somewhere: When I wrote my novel, I let the characters do and say what they were going to say, yet I still controlled the outcome, and if I needed to fix a plot element, I did. But what if the story I wrote included characters of my creation that could truly talk back, to me, and call out to me, and love me and choose to do things other than what I would like for them to do? And what if I knew that they would choose the wrong way before I created them? I suppose that if I loved them then I would already know what to do to rectify the problem. That is impossible for me to comprehend, and impossible to do, for me, the writer. Because, I don't have that knowledge and can't possibly create characters that I can't control. But not for God. How he can do that is not a comprehendible notion. It lies beyond our scope of reality. However, we do know that He did it or is doing it. So, engage faith. I see it, I don't know how He does both, but I believe it.

Someday, we won't choose, and we'll be truly free. However, I do lean towards a secure salvation, as scripture would certainly imply that once you have taken the step of faith, a gift, then you have set foot upon that road to total freedom that will be fully ours when we see Him face to face.

And honestly, I am pretty sure that whatever theology we have now will seem like Paul said, like seeing through a dusty or hazy mirror. And whatever dogma has been established will be all overwhelmed by the beatific vision and the truth that that eternal moment will bring. Again, as Paul says, Love will swallow it all whole.

Seth Ward said...

Majorsteve, I'd would say that the I don't know factor is the factor or weird part of the equation that gives us choice. If we "knew" it, we couldn't choose. I don't "know" but I know enough to make a choice that I believe to be true. And really, how much do we really "know" about anything? Does anyone really "know" how gravity REAAAALLY works? There are theories but every hundred years or so those theories get modified. I believe the reason is because at the very bottom of all the material world lies a mystery. I read one scientist, (an athiest no-less) say that all things are made of more of a "thought" than they are of anything at all. Wellllll, that sure sounds like John 1 to me. "In the beginning was the Word/logos/wisdom/thought/Jesus. Then flip over to Col. where it says that all things are held together by Him. The Son is the Wisdom, the very thought or image of Himself and that is why no science will ever solve the mystery of creation. Although I sure think it is fun to try!

MamasBoy said...


"Don't Catholics consider suicide to be unforgivable? vs. Protestants - who, most I assume, view suicide to be just another forgivable sin..or maybe not even a sin at all?"

I wasn't sure, so I looked it up. 30 seconds of inquiry have yielded this, so it could be wrong, but it strikes me as probably being accurate. Basically, the answer is that it depends.

First, it helps to understand what constitutes grave sin vs. venial sin (I John 5:16-17 & John 15:6). In order for a sin to be mortal, it must meet three conditions:

* Mortal sin is a sin of grave matter
* Mortal sin is committed with full knowledge of the sinner
* Mortal sin is committed with deliberate consent of the sinner
especially 1854-1864

Suicide—Suicide is murder of the self. It is contrary to the love of God, self, family, friends and neighbors (CCC 2281). It is of especially grave nature, if it is intended to set an example for others to follow. Voluntary cooperation in a suicide is also contrary to the moral law. However, the responsibility of and gravity of suicide can be diminished in the cases of grave psychological disturbances, anguish, grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture. But this does not make it morally permissible, and it is the judgement of God that will measure the gravity or responsibility of the sin."

Now, would knowledge of suicide being mortal sin prevent Catholics from committing suicide. Perhaps, but I personally doubt it. The Catholic Church also teaches that fornication (sex outside of marriage) is a mortal sin, yet Catholics shack up at a much higher rate than Protestants (which makes the whole divorce rate thing even more interesting, but that's mostly beside the point). Basically, I strongly doubt that suicide being a mortal sin would prevent most people inclined to commit it from doing so. I think there are better explanations for the discrepancy like the tangible mercy shown through confession and the strong communities and family ties that Catholicism promotes by its structure and doctrine. Protestants also change churches much more often than Catholics (often when they are going through crisis), and this breaks societal ties that give people hope.


That is an interesting idea, that the suicide rate is more related to wealth and not religion. It sounds reasonable, but you would think that sociologists studying this would have controlled for that obvious factor. Durkheim first discovered this in the late 1800's and I've yet to read a broad rebuttal of his conclusions. Therefore, I doubt that it can be explained that way. Feel free to prove Durkheim wrong though. It will surely make you famous and will probably make your wallet much fatter if you succeed. You could be a famous sociologist like Dr. Rodney Stark!


Bill Hensley said...

Seth, I was reading in I Timothy this morning and I came across this verse:

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:16 NIV)

After following this conversation over the past few days this verse really jumped out at me. Of course we need to put it into context. Timothy was an elder in the church who was charged with preaching and teaching the Word of God to his flock. But perhaps it also sheds some light on the importance of good doctrine for all of us.

I do agree with you about balance, however. If all we manage to do is believe the right things without actually living them we have accomplished nothing.

Stephen @ Rebelling Against Indifference said...

Good post, Seth. Thanks.

By the way, the answer to your question is N.T. Wright. :-)