Saturday, July 10, 2010

Journey and Rest

In an online discussion recently, a lady posted the following:

The forgiveness of the world has strings attached… the forgiveness of the Lord is truly free – no strings, no clauses, no conditions, no expectations be blessed, be free!!

After some pleasantries, I asked this:

What do you do with the biblical conditions for forgiveness, such as we need to confess and repent, or that God won’t forgive people who won’t forgive others?

Another lady then responded to me as follows:

Matthew 6…I think vs 14 (not positive), makes reference to forgiving others or the Lord won’t forgive us. I think what [she] is referring to is the gift of forgiveness, God’s grace and mercy that is extended to us. Of course, correct me if I am wrong…James, I know you are a theologian but sometimes we can overanalyze things to death and then truly miss what the Lord is trying to teach us.

I really did not appreciate this comment. First of all, I don’t like being criticized just because I’d like to go a little deeper than some people would prefer to go. Second, I’m sick of Christians being dogmatic about “what the Lord is trying to teach us”, as if they have a telephone line connecting their ears with God’s mouth.

Yet, I have to admit: I’ve found myself in a similar situation to that of this lady who criticized me. I would like to snuggle in my comfortable faith, without worrying about people who like to nit-pick this and that. In January, in my post, Revisiting Christy, I remarked that, when I first watched Christy, “I didn’t care much for the agnostic doctor…for I was trying to find inspiration in Christianity at the time, and him continually questioning the Christians disturbed my spiritual flow.”

Russell Miller responded:

Wow. Way to put the blinders on. Glad you grew out of it a little. If you’re not willing to ask the questions you’ll never find the answers. Agnostics ask more pointed and valid questions than most Christians.

I’m not too big on the word “growth”, since, when people tell me that I’ve grown, they usually mean that I’m living more according to their subjective standards. But part of me appreciates Russell’s point: asking questions can open me up to new horizons, to territory that I have not yet explored, to a deeper insight into issues—maybe even some answers. Yet, there are plenty of times when atheists and agnostics keep harping on questions that I do not have the answer to—and, in my reading, I only encounter the usual hackneyed and predictable “answers” that Christians see as smoking-guns (for whatever reason). I prefer in that case to just trust in God and to focus on edifying stuff, rather than discussions that appear to be going nowhere.

But life can be pretty boring if I just stick with the same old predictable stuff. I was once told by a Christian that I make things harder than they really are in my discussions about my questions and my struggles with issues. For her, everything is simple: love God, love your neighbor. Granted, that is important. True, I should focus on that more than I do on my questions. And yet, life would be boring if I could not go deeper, or ask questions, or probe for stuff that is underneath the surface. I like to learn new things every day. And, although the Bible’s message can be encapsulated in “love God, love your neighbor”, I still find enough in the Bible that challenges me, or perplexes me, or troubles me. Sometimes, I desire peace; at other times, I prefer a journey of an adventurer!

But then there are times when I ask “What’s the point?” I once sat in on a discussion among Bible professors, and I found that I could really care less about what they were talking about. It didn’t inspire me, or offer me guidance on how to live a better life. It just seemed to be discussion for the sake of discussion. It didn’t matter to me who was right, and who was wrong. I talked to my mom about this, and her response was that professors need to entertain themselves somehow! So asking questions and looking for answers can be entertaining and make life interesting. But, for me personally, I wish that inquiry was actually going somewhere.

Personally, I don’t harp as much on the questions that used to disturb me: Am I truly saved and forgiven? Have I sufficiently repented? Are my works good enough for me to be in the “saved” category—among those whose good fruit serves as evidence of their salvation? Does God have nothing to do with me if I haven’t forgiven somebody? I’ve found that those questions only lead me to bitterness and despair, so I don’t focus on them, even if I feel that the Bible places them on the table. I just rest on the propositions that God loves me and wants to make me a better person, and that I should try to live a good life of helping others—or, in extreme cases, of not seeking to undermine them!

Then why did I ask the question to that one lady, if it wasn’t really important to me? Because she says that God’s forgiveness is unconditional, and I wonder if there is a way to justify that position Scripturally. There is a part of me that doesn’t think that all of my theology has to be justified by Scripture: I go with what works for me. But there’s another part of me that would like for my belief in an unconditionally-loving God to be justified by Scripture. I’d like to see that the troubling passages of the Bible are not so troubling after all, for there still lingers in my mind the notion that the Bible is an authority on who God is, and what God is like. I want my theology to be based on something outside of myself, if that is even possible.


  1. Oh my gosh, James. I totally get what you're saying....especially when you write this:

    I’d like to see that the troubling passages of the Bible are not so troubling after all, for there still lingers in my mind the notion that the Bible is an authority on who God is, and what God is like. I want my theology to be based on something outside of myself, if that is even possible.

    Actually....I don't know if it still lingers in my mind that the Bible is an authority on who God is, and what God is like....but I find that I unconsciously revert to thinking that it is, or finding myself looking for a "Scriptural" defense of my theology....even while simultaneously thinking that the Bible is not inerrant or so supernaturally inspired that everything in it is right.

    I have moved past the Bible in many ways and yet I haven't completely overcome the urge to justify that "going beyond" by finding that thread in The bIble itself.

    I still haven't figured things out, exactly....but I frequently am also looking for a way forward. I read theology and biblical studies blogs not just because I find them interesting, but because I am trying to find a way to integrate those ideas into a real, living path.

    I get frustrated sometimes when I read blogs that delve into some really interesting ideas, yet the blog author, while holding those beliefs, never finds a way to put them into practice.

    They just coexist with the status quo ideas and are used only to interest them for a few hours before being put back into the box.

    Anyway...I enjoyed your post! ;-)

  2. Thanks, Terri! I've been enjoying your posts as well---specifically the one on your search for a tribe, and on how the humanities can lead some students to question their faith.

  3. Interesting post James. And Terri described pretty much how I feel especially in regards to the Bible and theology.

  4. You were actually somewhere in my mind when I wrote this post, Bryan---it may have been one of your comments under Nick's post, where he asked how big of a role the Bible plays in our theology.


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