a more honest theology.
“for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. - isaiah 55:8-9
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even though I find a lot of things in the Bible confusing, i have always been strangely drawn toward Jesus. i can’t really describe it, but at the end of the day, no matter how hard i’ve tried to shake Jesus, i know i can’t.
my faith doesn’t all make sense to me.
but it doesn’t have to.
that’s what faith is–that leap we take between what make sense and what doesn’t.
it’s why i never try to explain faith through logic and reason because it will never work. logic and reason are human inventions anyway and are imperfect.
plus, a life centered on the beatitudes will never fully align with the usual world.
there’s no doubt, my faith often wavers and i wonder why in the $*#^!&!*! God isn’t showing up to save the day in the ways i often hope for. people aren’t healed the way i want them to. life doesn’t miraculously shift the way i think it should. chronic illness, mental illness, death, divorce, generational poverty, abuse, and a whole host of other-hard-things-in-this-world continue to persist for so many.
there is so much about life that i will never understand.
but i also no longer think we are supposed to understand.
the other day i was with a friend who is healing from all kinds of hard things. coming from a charismatic fundamentalist background, she was raised with what i call “if…then…” theology: “if we pray enough and in the right ways, then life will be easier….if we confess sins in a certain way, then we won’t be sick anymore….if we do this or do that then God will take care of us in the way we want to be taken care of.”
it creates so much shame when life isn’t going the way we had hoped. oh, i know this feeling!
for me, even after all these years of becoming more free from jacked-up theology centered on performing a certain way for God in order to get certain things, when the going gets rough in my life my first weird thought is: “am i somehow not right with God and that’s the problem here…if i only could ____, then God would somehow make everything easier.” it’s crazy thinking to someone who has never been taught this kind of theology, but for those who have experienced it, you know what i’m talking about.
one of the reasons i go a little nuts when it comes to church stuff is that i end up talking to a lot of people who have been fed this kind of spiritual food for a long time. it’s common in a lot of circles. go to any Christian bookstore and see what i mean. listen to some popular preachers or watch Christian TV and it gets even scarier.
everyone who’s been indoctrinated with an “if….then…” theology when it comes to God tends to be a bit of a head-case when it comes to freedom. we’re easily convinced whatever-negative-that’s-happening-to-us is somehow our fault in the faith department.
we rarely feel free.
i’m learning more than ever that we can’t control God.
and it’s not fair to blame God for everything-that’s-wrong-in-the-world, either.
life this side of heaven is weird. broken. hard. confusing.
but it’s also beautiful and good.
to me, the kingdom is God’s goodness seeping in, here, now, in little and big ways. it’s love piercing through the darkness. grace breathing new life into us despite our circumstances. it’s being healed in some areas and still sick in others. it’s miracles that don’t look like miracles but really are. it’s the weird paradox of dark & light mixed together in the same space.
Jesus was crazy in the eyes of the world. and so not clear. he told weird stories and healed in all kinds of creative ways. he kept telling the religious leaders that they were on the wrong track and told the hurting and lost they were on the right one. he honored pain & humility and railed against spiritual pride.
i have come to see that a more honest and practical theology is not a popular one.
because it doesn’t really sell.
we’d much rather get a solid “if i just do this, then God will do this….”nailed down and call it a day. we prefer the law over mercy. certainty over doubt. clarity over mystery. strength over humility. works over trust.
these days, as a pastor and spiritual director, it is sometimes hard to offer this honest of a theology, one with more questions than answers. it’s painful to sit with friends who are struggling in all kinds of hard ways and tell them God loves them but i, too, don’t understand why life has to be so freaking hard all the time. aren’t i supposed to have a better answer than that?
but i don’t.
because any other answer is dishonest.
i have so much hope in God. i believe God is alive & well & working in all kinds of beautiful ways that we don’t understand. i think God is with us even when we can’t feel it, that he’ll never leave us, never forsake us. that he weeps with us & rejoices with us. that he makes beauty from ashes. that when we’re weak, we are strong. that small mercies heal big wounds. that a little love goes a long way.
and that i really can’t understand his ways because they’re higher than mine.
Jesus did not promise an easy path or an “if, then” kind of theology to a more comfortable life here on earth. he promised this: we’re “blessed” when we are humble, mourning, merciful, meek, pure in heart, seekers of justice & peace, and persecuted (matthew 5:3-10).
yeah, living with more honesty does not mean living with less hope.
it just means living with more honesty and respecting there’s an awful lot we don’t understand.
i’ve come to believe we don’t really need to.
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ps: this will be my last post for a month; i’m taking a blogging sabbatical so see you in august! i love this space & am thankful for your readership and all the ways you challenge and encourage me, but i also love summer. it’s time to unplug for a bit and get some rest. if you are new here, there’s plenty to catch up on (warning: it’s sort of like drinking a water from a firehose). if you have been around a while, thank you for your faithfulness and all the ways you bring me hope. i look forward to being back in a month. peace, kathy
a few other things i wanted to pass on, too:
1. my friend and teammate in creating-safe-spaces-to-heal-from-church-wounds phyllis mathis and i are partnering with sophia grace and mars hill refuge to offer a special session of walking wounded online: hope for those hurt by church specifically for mars hill church/acts 29 network refugees starting july 23rd. their experience is uniquely painful and destructive and finding a truly safe space is pretty hard to do so registration is not open to the public. email sophia directly for details.
2. if you haven’t seen it yet, i have a guest post up at rachel held evans’ blog for her faith & parenting series. it’s called anger is not a sin. so thankful for rachel’s willingness to engage in tough topics!
3. this wednesday, for july 4th, i’ve got a post going up at sheloves magazine that’s a little twist on independence day. i’ll share the link on facebook but for those of you who aren’t familiar with it yet, check it out. oh how i love those dedicated-to-justice-and-mercy sheloves women!
4. because i know the ex-good-christian-women post resonated with a lot of you, i wanted to share my friend pam hogeweide’s recent post called “i’m not a good christian woman. neither was Jesus.”
enjoy your july!