It’s fair to say that in the past few years I’ve gone on somewhat of a pilgrimage with my faith. I’m a Christian and remain one and I believe in Jesus and I believe there is power for good in the world. I believe the church can be a wonderful mix of people who can Love and accept everyone regardless of anything intrinsic about them. I believe in this crazy story of a Carpenter from Nazareth who completely upended (sometimes literally) the way people viewed God.
But I’ve not always found that those things have impacted my life.
A new movie based on the best selling book The Shack was just released in theaters here in the US. The book and now the movie has come in for a lot of criticism in it’s depiction of God as a Black Woman. But this book and I would imagine now the movie, have given many people a new way of thinking about God that has provided comfort, hope and a fresh way to engage with God.
I also have a friend, Seth, who has found freedom from addiction, anxiety and depression by deconstructing his whole understanding of faith and by opening himself up to new methods of healing that would make most of the Western Christian church extremely uncomfortable.
He tells a story about someone who told Him that his healing was from the Devil. As Seth put it, “In that case, we’re all fucked then.”
What is it about movies like The Shack and stories like Seth’s that make us so uncomfortable? What is it about questioning and doubt that makes us afraid? Why are we more concerned with being correct than about true, lasting healing and freedom?
In today’s political landscape there is a growing discussion on why we disagree or agree. Truth is called into question and some of us seem to be happy enough to let falsehoods go mostly unchallenged. This is a deep conversation better left for those with the intelligence to dissect it.
Coming from a theological viewpoint however, there can be a lot of tension and animosity between those who believe different things. Social Media is a perfect place to find Christians disagreeing with each other, whether it’s on how we interpret the Bible or how we view Jesus, the Cross and Grace.
I’m convinced however, that many of us are talking about the same thing; we’re just using different language that is giving permission to view faith through a new lens. I immediately think of my homeland of Northern Ireland and the divisions that still lie between many Protestant and Roman Catholic communities. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of being known and the psychology of group dynamics. It’s not simply about our need to be part of a group but also to be confident that our group is the right group.
This ultimately means that someone has to be in the wrong group.
In reality we’ve all got much more in common that we would like to believe.
We can look at others and determine that their beliefs are incorrect, but what if they’re simply happier than we are? Do we double down on our beliefs because they help us to fend off the doubt or do we embrace the mystery of our neighbor? How do we account for those in groups different than ours that experience more peace and more of Jesus than we do?
How do I react when someone who has a more conservative view of the world is more loving, gracious and giving than I am?
How do we justify the fact that Christians are among the most heavily addicted to porn group in the world?
What do we do when the thing we were so sure of, stops working for us?
What do we say when someone you believe views God in a heretical manner demonstrates clear Christ like behaviors every day?
If you want a really good story on all of this Jesus told a parable in Luke about a “Good Samaritan”. It’s called, “The Good Samaritan”. As you read keep in mind that Samaritans were considered the sworn enemy to the Jewish people.
But why does it matter? What are we afraid of when our Spiritual worldview is challenged? When we dissect it right to the core, why do we feel this bubbling anger when someone explains faith in a way that we don’t believe is true. What is at stake? What could be gained?
My aforementioned friend Seth says that you don’t have to believe in something for it to be true.
I can sing about God’s love every Sunday but if I don’t experience it, then is it true? Experience is a dirty word in many churches but ultimately what is the point if there is no experience? Now life is not always a bed of roses. That much is clear. There needs to be hope that despite the pain you are currently in the trenches of, that there is something better.
But if nothing changes, then what is the point? That at least once we get to Heaven there will be no more pain and suffering?
If that were true then why do we have AA meetings for alcoholics, why do we have support groups for those who’ve lost family members from cancer, why do we have politicians who care deeply about their communities, why do we get angry at seeing injustice, why do we volunteer with non profits who seek to bring an end to these injustices, why do we not give up on that friend who is endlessly suffering?
I believe we do these things because in each of us is an inherent desire for Peace, Love, Wholeness and Joy. Today.
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Jesus prayed those words because He knew that this life is what matters. Regularly He talked about and demonstrated the real time implications of faith on Earth. He healed people, He fed people, He cast out demons, He encouraged Rich Young Rulers to give away all their stuff. He never said, make sure you have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed because there’s going to be a test the other side of this life.
Faith needs to be something that impacts us now, not just when we die. Church has to be something that is more than helping us believe we’re part of a group by believing the ‘correct’ doctrines.
Everyday on my drive home as I exit a section of the freeway there are two men who take turns to ask for help.
I know without a doubt that one of these men will be there everyday. And I tell myself every day I will bring something to give them. A couple of dollars or a banana or anything. But usually I don’t unless there really is something that just happens to be in my car.
I don’t do this, because I tell myself that if I do then the other drivers will get mad at me. Or if I do they may want to talk to me and I may get stuck in a friendship with someone that reminds me of my own hypocrisy.
On those afternoons at approximately 5:26pm Monday to Friday my faith means squat. It’s a facade. I can think deeply and philosophically about the nature of Christianity but what use is that? What difference does that make? Not a lot to those two guys who for some reason have found themselves struggling.
I had a half empty bottle of water in my car on Friday, left over from almost a week prior that I offered one of the guys. He declined, because he already had a drink that he hadn’t yet finished.
I don’t know, but I like to think that He knew that his friend may be around soon or that there could be someone else who needed the water more than him. This was my Good Samaritan moment (I’m not the Samaritan in this story) where I was shown real compassion and Christ like behavior by someone I had written off. Like the Centurion who had more faith in Jesus than the Religious leaders who believed the right things. Like the tax collector Zaccheaus who had been cheating his own people out of money for his own gain.
People who shouldn’t have got it but did.
These are the moments where being correct makes no difference. I can be theologically sound in your eyes and still be a massive jerk. If faith isn’t working it doesn’t matter. If my understanding of God fits into your idea of God but I’m not experiencing healing and Joy then so what?
I’d rather be Loving and Gracious and act like Jesus than be right.
And if that draws criticism towards us that’s ok.
We’re in good company.