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“Skepticism is the beginning of faith.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
What if, some glad morning when this life is over, none of us fly away? What if the lights go out and our stories just end?
More than a few occasions in 2012 found me devolving into a non-violent, slow-motion panic—mostly over my God and his perceived absence. Enough flummoxed descriptions of my mounting crisis of faith and someone finally put a name to it: the Dark Night of the Soul, a temporary spiritual crisis marked by doubts about the afterlife. Reportedly, Mother Theresa was a notable sufferer, having spent nearly 50 years of her life in this state. Though technically correct, nothing that lasts 50 years should get to call itself “temporary.”
For someone outside Christianity, a more accessible term may be existential crisis. Whatever you call it, I’m just glad it’s identifiable. If someone recognized it, then it wasn’t some new mystery disease with no treatment, no cure. Someone lived to tell the story.
“No sir, I don’t like it…”
I am going to tell you what I would like.
But first, I have to apprise you of a few things I don’t like:
Though I still attend periodically, I am no fan of the modern church. I’ve come to see it as a politically-driven system of control, run by flawed individuals who master the art of masking those flaws. It’s a well-meaning institution, but I’ve seen it do as much harm as good. For now, I’d rather do without it.
Though church provides great moral structures for families, it’s not been for me the Tussin-like cure-all as advertised. Where is God’s power? I see few of the promised financial breakthroughs for those who deserve or need it. I see women who are rabidly hungry to become wives despite dismally high divorce rates. I see a shortage of physical healings. I suspect the testimonies I’d like to hear may actually be outside the church walls.
I have mostly stopped reading the Bible. At the moment, I’m overwhelmed with my inability to grasp its intent. Some believe the Bible should be adjusted for modern culture. Others say our culture should adjust to reflect the Bible. Trouble follows when too-literal interpretations work to the detriment of those they’re supposed to help. The problem is exasperated by hair-splitting denominations who, though agreeing upon a Heaven, cannot seem to agree how to get there.
If it is indeed the inspired word of God, I suspect the Bible’s purity has been tainted by hands that have translated, interpreted, and possibly censored it over the years. God’s golden truth is probably hiding amongst the dross, but you’ll have to find it via trial-and-error. The thought of attempting this makes me tired.
I still believe there is a god—but only one of them (which may get me categorized as a pantheist). I touched on this when I blogged about agnosticism and apostasy, but what if someone never hears the name Jesus? Do they go to Hell just because our Christian missionaries failed to fill out their paperwork properly?
It’s all a mess. The foundations of the faith I grew up with are now fractured. I fear I could lose friends for voicing opinions that contradict that foundation. This blog could’ve been published weeks ago. I’ve been waffling the whole time.
“May I take your order please?”
Let me tell you what I would like.
I would like to be in my 50s or older, in a small or midsized church with a soft-spoken, but whip-smart, understanding wife with kind eyes. Maybe we have one, possibly two precocious children that I was either convinced to have or they just showed up after she and I got carried away one anniversary. I would like to run into someone who is approximately the age I am now, who has little to say, but much in mind.
I would like to hear their doubt-riddled, tentative voice carefully push across their tongue a question that tells me everything I need to know. I will understand who they are, how they feel, and where they are. When they ask me, I will run down the entire ugly list of things I don’t like. And then I’d like to tell them, “this was as dark as it ever got.”
- Wings Up (epicdimension.wordpress.com)
- The Mind Knows…Does The Heart Believe? (glippost.wordpress.com)
- An Open Letter To Those Who Doubt or Deny God (tworiversblog.com)
- The Examined Life Is Worth Living (unshakablehope.wordpress.com)
- ‘Personal Salvation Testimony’ (jpfinn7.wordpress.com)
- Romanian Bible Meets Need for New Translations of Scripture (prweb.com)
- Damage Through The Haze (ephesians616.wordpress.com)
Related articles from Junkyard Salvation:
- If, Then, But, and Other Things You Said (junkyardsalvation.com)
- Believe In A Mystery (junkyardsalvation.com)
- God and the Silent Treatment (junkyardsalvation.com)
I would suggest you’re more of a Panenthiest than a Panthesist. Panthesist believe that God is in everything, where as Panthesist believe everything is in God and He transcends it all as well. That is (IMO) more biblically sound.
The dark night of the soul is one of the best experiences you could have. According to St. John of the cross (who is credited with created the term) it is a necessary step of to union with God, which is the ultimate goal.
The bible is not the Word, Jesus and more specifically Christ is the Word. That is where your focus should be. Paul said the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.
One of my favorite verses from Paul is “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things…” 1 Cor 8:5-6. Paul alludes to the oneness of God, even if they’re called by a zillion different names. Even Jesus in his exchange with the woman at the well admits that they are worshipping the same God, just that she is doing it ignorantly. Paul at Mars hill is talking to the Athenians who worship the “Unknown God” and he says “I will declare Him unto you” Now I’m saying that every deity is God Himself but I will say what Peter says “In Him we live, move and have our being” and that “seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” It speaks to the Omnipresence of God and that all we have to do is to “feel after Him” which is quite different than what is being taught today.
Not knowing is how you learn. And being aware of the fact that you don’t know is a positive ignorance, now you can be open to receiving the answers. I’m sure God isn’t worried about another doubting Thomas. Or a Mistaken Mark.
Sorry my post is all over the place.
So, I’ve got an upcoming post called “Jesus, Why Can’t I Be a Secular Humanist” where I challenged the idea that referring to God as The Universe is incorrect/unacceptable. For someone else’s experience with what I believe is ONE GOD, if they call him by a different name, it doesn’t make him a different God.
This comforts me. It really does. Thank you, man.
I don’t know if it is comforting or more isolating to know that you are not alone. I attend church with a bit of cautious cynicism born by a multitude of disappointments and yet I can’t seem to let go of the hope, that one day, I will see for what God intended it. I have slight glimpses here and there, enough to keep my hope alive, but I often find myself lonely and questioning. I stopped expecting so much from “church” and from pastors and from leaders. That seemed to help, but I still have my moments. For some reason, God keeps me from quitting the whole thing. Maybe, because I’m worried that if I go it on my own, I might quit God too. That worries me a little.
“I don’t know if it is comforting or more isolating to know that you are not alone.”
I know what you mean. You have described the conflicting fears I feel very well. The best of my current understanding in this moment is that I have to keep questioning and keep hoping. Lately, I’ve questioned more than I’ve hoped. Maybe I’m trying to make up for all the years that I hoped without question.
But I believe my truest pursuit of God is in these questions. I never really engage until I ask this questions. So, I CANNOT stop. I’ll only pause to breathe and believe.
One of the most honest expressions of doubt and seeking I have ever read. If God does exist, Mark, he sees your heart. You have nothing to woody about.