“This is part 2 of a series of posts titled “Behind The Mask.” This series grew out of the pains of numerous and very real interactions with other people and their experiences, as well as my own existential struggles. Often Christian writings (articles, books, etc.) are filled with so much unrealistic/oversimplified statements and rules that those of us who struggle with Christianity are lost in a raging torrent of self-righteousness and arrogant “truths.” We are urged to wear a mask, hiding our struggles with a perfect smile and an “amen!” I don’t want to do that. Frankly, I just want to be real and honest and deal with very real feelings and experiences. I want to explore the very depths or Christian crisis. If you have never struggled to be a Christian, this isn’t for you, for the rest of us, let’s talk. If your heart is crusty, dry, empty, or completely faithless, this series is for you and me.”
“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”
Did you hear me?
God, I really need to know that you are there? Just this once, can you please talk to me audibly?
Please? Just one time would be enough. You did it in the past for others. Some say you do it now. Aren’t you still the same God? Is it that hard for you? You can do everything, but won’t do the one thing I’m desperate for?
I’ve tried a thousand times, at least. Of course it hasn’t worked yet. I imagine that if it did my blog post would be a little bit more prophetic in nature; probably a lot of ‘woe’s’ directed at this people and that people. Whatever the case, I will keep trying.
They say that this current era is the best environment for the growth of doubt. I can certainly agree with that. Before the postmodern era it was far easier to have “unshakable faith.” The world was far simpler then. Everyone could be quickly and easily classified, sorted into categories, and distanced. You lived in a community that all shared your beliefs, and all the outsiders were far away and impersonal. You just knew they were wrong and wicked, but never spent time with them face to face. Now you go to work with that godless “pagan” and inscrutable atheist. And apparently they are very nice, far nicer than some of the most faithful Christians in your church. You see your neighbor, a Muslim, shower his family with love, and think back to the stories of your friends who were abused by their Christian parents. You see an atheist being very careful with his taxes, while your Christian friends are robbing the welfare system. Turns out some of the pagans you were told to fear are nicer than the Christians who fear them.
It is like an ice pick, slowly chipping away at the large boulder that is your faith.
And what of the Christian icons that have crumbled at the hands of science, time, and technology? When I was young, we believed in the imminent rapture and apocalypse. It was only a few years away, I wasn’t even planning on getting married because there wasn’t enough time. I read it all in a freaking eschatology book! The people who were telling us how to escape the Antichrist have settled down, bought expensive homes, and are raising families. The Christian literature declaring an impending rapture lies discarded at the garbage dump next to the “2012: Coming Mayan Apocalypse” books. The videocassettes with preachers unveiling the barcode as the mark of the beast are long forgotten.
Another chip falls away from the small boulder that is your faith.
The belief in a creation that occurred 10,000 years ago is dying, and is all but dead amongst academia; at least 97% of scientists, many being Christian’s, believe in evolution (1). Even my old fundamentalist denomination, the Assemblies of God, now reports that only a third of its seminary folks believe the earth is 10,000 years old; the rest have already embraced an earth that is billions of years old or evolution as a whole (2). That great man, Dr. Kent Hovind, who once inspired this twelve year old, is now sitting in jail for tax evasion, having his arguments fully dismantled by other creationists (3, 4). I remember shaking his hand and wanting to be like him. Now, not so much. Turns out all those DVD’s and tapes we were busy copying had as much truth as a Soviet newspaper.
Another fragment falls off the large rock that is your faith.
What of those superstitions that were fundamental Christian doctrines? If you buy a prayer cloth from TBN you can get one free healing. If you invest a seed offering you can have a double financial blessing from the Lord. Playing video games would transform one into a violent killer. Watching television or movies would defile your soul, possibly leading to demonic possession. Drinking any alcohol would make one an alcoholic. Bar codes and microchips are part of the satanic conspiracy. The KJV is the only real Bible, the others were corrupted by homosexuals. If you come up front of the church you can get more blessings/forgiveness than in the back. Attaching the magic words such as “in Jesus name” or “by the blood” to any prayer will get a certain answer. If you play a particular music you can usher in God’s presence, otherwise he refuses to come. Idolizing the pages of the Bible, as though the paper is a sacred relic. Warding off demons in the furniture or in your infected lungs with special prayers. One after another, these tiny icons fall, leaving a slew of disillusionment. What once was certain truth is now lying discredited.
A few more pieces crumble off the small rock that is your faith.
As you try to stand up, you feel dizzy from the shaking of your foundations. A wave of nausea rolls through. Is everything a lie? you ask yourself. No, it can’t be, because so many people still believe, it must be true. Then you realize all the different things that different Christians believe. Many being so radically opposite of each other. You have varying levels of Calvinists and Arminians, with a few Molinists and Open Theists hiding in their midst. You have the Catholics, the Orthodox, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Liberals, the Neo-Orthodox. They say there are 33,000 denominations, and while that’s not true (most of these “denominations” are independent churches) there are quite a few hundred branches on the denomination tree. How do I know which one is right? Are any of them right? Why can’t they agree on the even the simple things?
A few more bits crack off from the tiny stone that is your faith.
In the darkest night of your soul you begin to recount every single lie you ever heard from a Christian. That time the preacher man said the Bible forbid jewelry and you later read that it didn’t. When you are told everything other than pacifism is evil, then hear that same preacher glorifying the time Samson killed hundreds of people. You remember that modern prophet who made a revelation to you that was supposed to happen years ago, but still hasn’t happened. You remember that moment Benny Hinn prophesied directly to a friend telling him he would be a youth pastor in two years, and realize it was almost four years ago and still hasn’t come true. You recall that famous story of a Russian man’s miraculous trek from Siberian exile which was exposed as bogus, after years of being told and retold in hundreds of churches. It’s still a wonder why so many people ran up front, in tears, to receive healing from his prayer, since he was exposed as a fake. Every tall tale and made up story from the pulpit is like an arrow straight through the heart. Every exaggerated and improvable miracle, coming to you from remote parts of Africa via the world’s longest game of telephone, leaves more questions than answers. If God does that there, why doesn’t he do it when we ask and beg here? Why does God only heal leg pain, not regrow a missing leg? Why does he do invisible miracles, but never visible ones? Why do the two disfigured boys I know never get healed, even though they come to the altar at every healing service, while many a grandmother claims to have a miraculously lowered blood pressure? If I could, I swear I’d heal them first, my heart has always been filled with grief for them. Is God more concerned about older people or blood pressure? Why?
Now all that is left of my faith is a tiny pebble, the size of a mustard seed.
I fall to my knees and begin to give up. I give up on this faith thing. I give up on this Christianity thing. I give up on proving it and finding evidence. I give up on being certain and knowing everything. I relinquish everything, all I have left is a tiny mustard seed.
Is that enough?
“The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that, when sown in the soil, is smaller than all the seeds on the ground. And when sown, it comes up and grows taller than all the vegetables, and produces large branches, so that the birds of the sky can nest in its shade… If you have faith the size of a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible to you.”
What makes that tiny seed grow into a tree?
I really don’t know.
People have postulated many different theories since the beginning of time. Most of the theories of the past have been disproven. Currently biologists say a seed grows because it is functionally designed to grow. It grows because it’s a seed, and that’s what seeds do.
But why does the mustard seed grow?
Biologists will say plants evolved the seed in order to proliferate the genome and multiply. Geneticists will say plant genetics follows and acts accordingly with natural laws. Physicists will say the universe works the way it works because it’s the universe.
But why does it grow? Just because we know ‘how’ it all works, doesn’t answer ‘why’?
And while I continue to wonder all of this, the mustard seed does not concern itself with history, biology, or speculative philosophy, is simply grows. It does not stop growing because some have been wrong about the process we call germination. It does not stop growing because we have discovered the way DNA is copied and cells are duplicated. And all in all this seed, filled with what we call “life,” does not lose its mystery and intrigue. Regardless of the massive amount of information we know about “how” it all works, we will always wonder “why” it all works, quite simply because it does work.
I suppose faith is like that. We can speculate and hypothesize about God, we can look at historical accounts of those who have been wrong about him, we can propose that the naturalistic mechanisms in this world remove him. But that matters not to him.
All the while he is still there.
Every atom bears his name. Every great mystery is marked with his fingerprints. It’s as if this whole universe with all its laws and causes is merely an echo of his voice, or a shadow of his passing. This glorious enigma we call life and existence cannot be answered apart from him.
Even as millions say there is no God, that tiny mustard seed grows, proving otherwise.
A few days later I get ready to go to bed, and defiantly tell the celling “I’m not praying today unless you just come down and prove you are real.“ I wait for the customary silence, and when I’m satisfied begin to lie down. And then I hear it, not with my ears, but with my heart.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
I fall to my knees and begin to pray.