Wednesday, January 08, 2014

One never knows, do one?

How does a Christian "try" atheism?  Seventh Day Adventist pastor and teacher Ryan Bell had decided to "give atheism a try" as an "intellectual experiment" after he had been asked to resign as pastor of the church he was serving.  According to CNN Belief Blog co-editor Daniel Burke, Bell had advocated for church leadership roles for gays, actively campaigned against California's Proposition 8 (same-gender marriage ban), and questioned (apparently vocally) church doctrine about the End Times.  Once his pastorate had ended, Bell had stated: "I could finally pursue those questions that had been bouncing around in my head."

Where to begin?  Any pastor or priest, preacher or deacon would be less than honest if never admitting to any sort of doubt.  Discipleship is not supposed to be easy, and Jesus never promised life on this earth as a bed of roses.  In fact Jesus virtually guaranteed following Him would cause more problems in this life than would be solved, including perhaps death.  Discipleship, however, is entirely about discovery and almost always involves "those questions".

I have long held that our Lord is a "Big Boy" and is not threatened by our questions or any doubts we may have.  The test we endure (not unlike the 40-day test Jesus endured in the wilderness) revolves around discovery of The Truth.  We Christians, however, have come to confuse Truth with fact; and by doing so have probably created more confusion for those among us who are spiritually weak and struggle in the faith.  When these weak ones cannot settle on or accept our proposed "facts", they begin to question their own faith by asking perhaps the wrong questions or getting insufficient answers from those who claim to have the "facts", and eventually walk away altogether.  This, as my most humble opinion, is the legitimate beef of the so-called "Nones" (18-29 year-olds who have walked away from the Church in substantial numbers).

Maybe Bell's "experiment" hits a little too close to home for me (and probably others) because I have constant questions and very few answers, just as every little thing I do learn only raises more questions.  I freely admit that sometimes my sermons are so off-the-wall because of these very questions.  By these off-the-wall observations, however, I often assume that because I have such questions surely others do as well.  I cannot say for sure, of course, but there is one conclusion I have drawn: people typically want whatever beliefs they have affirmed, not challenged.  They like the safety and the certainty of their own set of core beliefs even if those beliefs may be biblically and doctrinally questionable.  They embraced whatever sounded good at a particular time in their own lives, and they've held on ever since - probably with doubts but refusing to question.

I get that.  I get that because some classes I have had to endure toward my own religious education and the books I've had to read have shaken my own faith many, many times.  Discipleship is always going to come with a certain risk level, and discovery can often be downright dangerous.  One class I recall in particular and its assigned books very nearly caused me to withdraw altogether because everything I had come to believe came into question - and by quite biblically sound logic, I might add.  I had to learn to read the Bible much more critically and in a whole new light, a light sometimes a little too bright for my own comfort.

It came to be, however, that this "light" I once thought so disturbing and so blinding was actually "The Light" which came into the world, the very Light which "the darkness did not comprehend" (John 1:5).  And though I cannot say I settled for any new beliefs, I did find an assurance by "The Light" (which is Messiah Jesus, in case you were wondering) that it is ok that I do not have all the answers and that it is ok to continue asking - as long as I am willing to ask Him ... and trust Him even when the answers I seek are not forthcoming according to my own demands.

Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."  I have no doubt and no quarrels with this statement.  I simply doubt those who claim to have found that "truth" and expect me to come along with them and embrace their concept of "truth".  This is when it gets dangerous because this is often that moment when we discover those who think they have complete command of spiritual "facts" and have completely resolved all "mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven". 

But to "try" atheism?  No thanks.  One irrefutable conclusion I have drawn is simply this: I will probably doubt at least on some fundamental level until I die, but I must never try (even as an "experiment") to face these doubts without "The Light".  

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