December 17, 2017

The iMonk Weekend File: 2:18:05

belushi1941.jpgI’m bringing over some BHT posts for this edition of the weekend file. First, some honest thoughts about how the “inerrancy” debate intersects with my own experience as a Christian. Then, a story from the Spencer Family Hall of Fame. Let’s just say that our Valentine’s day was….uh….memorable.

Harder to Believe Than Not To

I was thinking yesterday that it is the nature of the blogosphere to feed on itself. You get the other guy’s post and you turn it into the food for your own. With very few exceptions, I don’t do that at all. I just say where I am on my own journey, and where I have come to in attempting to remain a Christian.

Apparently, personal confession isn’t the way to go. See, I am not like these other Calvinists on the net. I have my doubts. I write to work through my doubts. They write to state how Calvinism and Reformed theology bring great confidence. I have no confidence. I am suspended above the abyss of unbelief by a thread of faith. Yes, that thread is attached to the superstructure of the God of Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, Sproul and Piper. But when I look down, all I see is the empty universe, and when I listen, most of what I hear is the noise of meaningless religious banter.

People who are comforted by the idea that a human figure is going to one day open up the physical universe, step in and run this speck of dust from a throne in Israel just so he can hang out with us, sounds totally crazy to me. When I am preaching, and I say that God was born in Bethlehem, walked around in Palestine, told little stories and was executed by the Romans for running his mouth….it sounds ridiculous. When I tell people there is something to a person other than the very dead body in the coffin, and that something is running around in a non-spacial, non-temporal place with other somethings…I sound like a fool. When I tell someone that there is a God who is in wisely, benevolently in control of the fact that a drunk driver just hit and killed three brothers in one car….I sound insane.

Today in my Bible class we were talking about verses that say the disciples didn’t believe the whole thing. Like Mark 6:49-52 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. They didn’t buy it. And it says that over and over. When they got part of it down in Mark 8 (“You are the Christ.”), Jesus just gave them more unbelievable stuff.

But what is really interesting is that Jesus is actually frustrated that they don’t get it. Mark 8:11-21 11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. 14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

This is very annoying. If it is really God we are dealing with here, I would expect he would know that it is HARD TO BELIEVE ALL OF THIS STUFF. I can’t get it wrapped around my head or my life very well. I am not even up to the level of the guy who said, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” I wonder if God reads the Bible, because it says this after the resurrection: Matthew 28:16-17 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. Do you hear that, God? Some doubted. They doubted about two minutes before the ascension.

I am that guy. My faith is mostly about how much I need God. How much I want Jesus to be real. It’s not about how much I feel he’s real. I don’t. It’s not about how ideas like inerrancy make sense to me and eliminate my doubts. What a holy crock that is. It’s not about how cool the church is in making me believe Jesus is Lord. It’s a zoo.

When I sit in movies like “The Passion,” I realize that all these special effects are being employed to make the whole business real to me, but I still sit there and say to myself, “This couldn’t be true. It’s a dxxx fairy tale.”

So I write. I write to keep on this road of believing the unbelievable. I write, and guess what I find out? There are THOUSANDS of people like me. They can’t deal with the circus. They get sick at all the people talk like God is so real you can almost touch him. They are people who find the feeling of the absence of God to be the most realistic parts of the Bible.

I write for myself and for them. And, of course, the people who are certain of their theology and certain of God and certain of the Bible and certain of “inerrancy” write as well. They use their adjectives about my journey, and they are shocked and outraged and full of pity and generous with the explanations that make it all easy.

Explanations won’t make it easy. Not now. Not ever. Not to the end. Faith is a MIRACLE wrought by the Spirit. It isn’t the result of a accumulation of proof texts or a group of arguments- mine or theirs. I can outline my faith with the rest of them. I’ve done so. But I will let you in on a little secret. It’s not an outline. It’s blood, sweat, doubt, anger, fear, darkness, stumbling, running, praying, hoping, grasping, wrestling, fighting, pretending and crying. It’s my life.

I feel like the elephant man trapped in the train station, surrounded by the gawkers and mockers. He cries out, “I am not an animal! I am a human being.” I want to cry out “I am not certain of anything. I am just a human being. On the human journey. Stumbling over the stumbling stone that is Jesus. Then trying to stand on that rock; tall enough to see where I am headed.”

The Spencer Family Valentine’s Day

I’ve had this story since Monday, but I didn’t want to post it while the trauma was fresh. We’re laughing about it now, so I think I can safely share this with the world. Stop whatever you are doing and read this tale. Here’s a picture of the human condition that will make you smile and cry at the same time. This may be one of the most bizarre events to every happen in our marriage. Preachers: Feel free to borrow this one. It is 100% true.

It’s the Thursday before Valentine’s Day. We always keep it modest, but we don’t overlook the day. I am in town, and I make my Valentine’s purchases: A funny card, a box of candy, and a Key Lime pie from IGA. Denise loves anything lime, and we’ve only had this delicious dessert a couple of times in our lives.

It’s been cold, so I put the pie in the trunk of the car. Saturday, I put it in the refrigerator, but safely down at the very bottom, on top of some boxed items that have been there for months. We don’t clean out the bottom of the fridge too often, so the pie was safe.

Valentine’s Day arrives. We exchange our cards and gifts, and I tell Denise there is one more surprise for later. The day turns out to be busy, and we are forced to eat at the school cafeteria because of time commitments that evening. The food was horrendous. I was very unhappy, but I knew the pie was at home, and we could salvage some of the day by enjoying it while we watched “CSI: Miami,” one of our favorite shows.

The time arrives. I say I have a surprise and I go to the fridge, and squat down to reach in and retrieve the pie from it’s hiding place. Denise has followed me over to the kitchen, and is standing over me. I keep feeling…and feeling. No pie. I feel some more. No pie. I look up at Denise. She has her mouth covered, and a look of absolute horror on her face. I’ll now let her tell the story from a letter she sent my mom this morning.)

Sunday afternoon I was digging around in the refrigerator and I found (in one of my classic hiding places, wrapped in a plastic bag–one of my classic tricks) a whole pie. I immediately knew what it was, and my heart sank. I recalled that at our last church potluck, Scott—the lawyer who is an amazing cook–sent us home with a whole pie. I remembered putting it down there so it wouldn’t get eaten that night and we could save it for the next night. “Oh my goodness!” I thought. “I’ve let that wonderful pie sit there for almost two months. Now I’ve got to throw it away!” I nearly cried. I resolved to not tell Michael or Clay about it; it would be way too embarrassing…plus they’d be heartbroken that they never got to eat the pie! But I took it, still wrapped in the plastic bag, to the trash compound and tossed it into the truck, cursing my stupidity and my terrible memory and hating myself all the way.

Well, Monday morning Michael gave me a big box of Valentine’s candy and a cute card. We almost always eat supper at home, but that night I had a skit practice at 6:00 and Michael had a meeting after that, so we ate in the dining hall. It wasn’t a very good meal, and Michael was quite disappointed that we had to eat a yucky supper in the dining hall for Valentine’s Day. But while we were eating he said maybe the holiday wouldn’t be a total washout because he still had one more surprise for me at home.

When he finally got back from his meeting around 8:30, he went straight to the refrigerator with a smile on his face. He began digging. He looked up, worried. “What are you looking for?” I asked, and in the same instant I was struck with absolute horror. I knew. When he saw the look on my face, HE knew. I didn’t even have to say anything. “You threw it away? You threw away my pie?!” he cried. So I had to tell him the whole, awful tale. I wanted to crawl in a hole and never, ever come out. You can’t even imagine the feeling. I was depressed all evening, and still felt rotten the next day…though I did make a pie Tuesday morning so we’d at least have some kind of treat that night.

Denise was really upset. I spent the rest of the evening telling her everything was OK. It’s hard to cheer up a wife in this condition, but I tried. Honestly, I thought about what a parable it was of my life, but how I had hurt Denise intentionally so many times, and she was gracious to me. She didn’t smile again till the next day, but the dessert she made on Tuesday was great, and now we can laugh.

This is marriage. This is love. This is the human race. This is getting older!!! Enjoy the story. It’s going in the “Spencer Hall of Fame.”

Comments

  1. Michael,
    You are a rarity my friend! I mean this in a good way. You are 100% on target and honest in your article with regards to doubt. I would question a person who would not admit what you express in this article. To doubt is human. To blindly believe something because you are told can only mean one of two things to me (assuming a person is an adult): One they are insane, or two, they have been brainwashed. As you allude to in this article, there are many fancy arguments to defend a particular dogma, creed or whatever, but they are what they are – arguments. If there was absolute proof that any of it was dogmatically true then a person would not have an excuse for doubt. This whole affair is based on faith, and Paul says in essence (assuming he is the author of Hebrews) that faith is based on something hoped for with EVIDENCE of things NOT SEEN. Tough pill to swallow if one is being honest, and even harder being 2000 years removed from the events in question. Also, if one is trying to be a good Berean and study this thing out it only muddyÂ’s the waters that much more. So to doubt is human and to not doubt, therefore, would be beyond human. Once again I appreciate your honesty in this article and of course the very cute story of your Valentine’s Day mishap.

    I would like to share some of the things that have caused the most doubt in my life (even though I still believe in God). If our starting premise is that God is all knowing, has always been, and is everywhere all of the time one could safely say that you could never get anything past God. One issue that perplexes me from time to time is this: Assuming this premise, why would God create Satan knowing full well ahead of time that he would fall and ultimately bring full scale suffering to the created world when all of this could have summarily been avoided? I know the arguments from the platform that this is what freewill is all about, but somehow that doesn’t really solve this riddle. It almost makes it seem like God may not know everything?

    Another problem that causes me doubt as well is, if someone born and raised in another culture and never hears of the things that most of us in the West are privy to and they live there life in the religion and systems of there forefathers, that they are doomed to hell forever for something they never even heard. Seems as though one has to be lucky enough too be born in the right place at the right time to get the right message?

    Can the bible as we have it be the true scriptures when it was voted on by a Church Council who summarily destroyed people who did not go along with their program and would not allow the common people to even read the thing that they were propagating for many years to come? This makes one question the validity of scriptures when most of it is based on tradition, and the fact that there is a variety of texts to choose from.

    Most of the New Testament is written by second hand accounts at best, except Matthew and John (according to tradition) several years after the events in question, how reliable is this? Or is their an agenda?

    Most of Christianity, like other major religions, is rooted in war and has been forced on people from birth, in most cultures. Does God operate this way to preserve his word, and or, his proposed message for mankind?

    The fact that we are living in a technological age with many advances in medicine and so on, it makes one question issues such as demon possession and other things mentioned in the NT.

    The parallels between the Zoroastrian religion and Christianity is striking; coincidence?

    Maybe ignorance is bliss, but the more we study and try to identify with the world around us can cause doubt about what most of us have been taught. Maybe there needs to be a different approach to understanding Jesus and what he represented to this world then what has been pumped out of Orthodoxy?

    Faith can change lives (and does) and living a life of compassion and love for each of our fellow travelers along this road we call life can be (for the most part) a fulfilling life. Dogmatic interpretations and fancy arguments only causes confusion and dissent and leads to where we are today in our churches. Today, and for many years now, Churches have been splitting over bible translations, length of hair, length of dress, political affiliations, baptismal methodology, and on and on. Does any of this really have anything to do with compassion? Or does it lead to just more spurious doctrines? Is the Church today just another business opportunity for some enterprising entrepreneur?

    Owen

  2. Excellent post. Thanks alot Mike, I enjoy all of your essays, they have been such a blessing to me. Keep writing!!

    I have my doubts as well and it has only been till recently that I have become open and more comfortable with my doubts as a Christian. It’s still difficult sharing them however, considering that most people walk around with a “super-faith” that knows no doubt.

    Owen, I hear you and agree with you on your doubts. It was thoughts like that, that drove me to a point where I began to think of God as unjust and a failure. I actually began thinking that God was NOT good. Grace and grace alone is what brought me out of that hole. It’s not that people try but fail to come to Christ or that God tries to win people into the kingdom but fails, it’s that all people refuse to come to Christ. Therefore it’s all of grace that anyone is saved. I’m learning that we are desperate sinners that need grace perpetually.

  3. Kaloni, I agree with you we all certainly need grace perpetually. Great choice of words.

  4. Benjamin Dover says:

    How do you reconcile your walk with Christ and your viewing of a show like CSI Miami?

  5. Benjamin:

    1) If you are serious: I actually watch about 6 hours of godless television a week. I could watch 6 hours of TBN or study the Bible for 6 hours, but I am possessed by evil spirits that compel me to watch shows on the major networks.

    2) If you aren’t serious: I actually watch about 6 hours of godless television a week. I could watch 6 hours of TBN or study the Bible for 6 hours, but I am possessed by evil spirits that compel me to watch shows on the major networks.

  6. Benjamin,

    It is comments like yours that causes statements to be made like: “I would be a Christian were it not for Christians.”

    My question to you Benjamin is how you reconcile this post of yours with Romans 14.

    You may say what does Romans 14 have to do with something like CSI: Miami? I think its essence has a lot do with it. So if you want to eat herbs (spiritually speaking) eat herbs, but don’t make the mistake of judging someone else’s walk with Christ because of something you would or would not do.

    Let me know if your flagellations ever really drives the demons away.

    Owen

  7. Benjamin Dover says:

    I arrived at this site for your critique and outing of Joel Osteen’s no-conviction-of-sin,no-repentance non-gospel. My question was semi-rhetorical and the result of disappointment.
    Of course I battle(flagellate?) daily with sin.My sin seperates me from God.Sin which I may easily avoid others may have difficulty with and visa versa.Every day the word of God rebukes me of my sin and reminds me of my unworthiness to stand in the presence of God save for the blood of Jesus.Titus calls on us as christians to hold each other accountable.To neglect to participate in this calling is to neglect a christian duty.Many of our churches today,as they invite the world in,neglect the discipline necessary to help others grow spiritually.A christian,including me,who is not reminded of their sin by the word of God and others is in danger of developing the the attitude that proclaiming the word of God is sufficient and living the deed of God is unnecessary or irrevelant.Christianity is filling up with country-club,christianity-lite mega churches and feel-good,prosperity gospel,God is my buddy pastors like many(most?) of those on TBN.
    I appreciate any christian who assists me in living a more Godly less sinfull life even if their rebuke initially hurts my feeling.Sin=Sin.
    1 John 2:15

  8. Monk-Man: Your writing on doubt makes me want to weep with joy this morning. Having seen Hotel Rwanda yesterday I ache at the absence of God in the moments when we seem to need Him most. I grow weary of ideas about God that get in the way of us taking responsibility for our world. I can appreciate how ludicrous the beliefs of Christianity sound, but at times it seems like nothing is more ludicrous than to believe God at one time walked and talked with men in genuine theopanies, only to leave us with such an utterly ambiguous spiritual experience. What pulls me back from the edge of despair? Two things, my own sense of responsibility in this world and people such as you, my friend at Theocentric.Com and Brian McLaren. His newest book coming out on March 25th (The Last Word and the Word After That) is very important reading for the 21st century church.

  9. It is good to know that there are thousands of us doubter-types out there. I thought I was the only one!

  10. Switchfoot says it well: “I’m a believer/Help me believe.” Maybe we need to pull out the psalms of lament soon…

    Thanks, sir.

  11. Michael, that was a brilliant blog. So bluntly honest. It’s quite the conundrum to feel that God has given us a brain… yet feel the tug of contemporary theology to hide it in a bucket. I recently tumbled out of Reformed Theological Seminary – Orlando – after asking way too many questions. Your blog hit so many of them square on the head. My remedy? Not a reading of the Psalms. Not a re-reading of John… but a reading of “The Third Chimpanzee” by Jared Diamond. It blew my mind. I think the heart of Christ makes us look on the world and ask “Why?” even louder… and maybe bleeding on the side of the intellectual/philosophical road is the only place to find real truth. I’m holding onto Christ by my fingernails. Everything else is nuts.