If you are familiar with my blog posts, you are familiar with my struggle. You know that I believe that I encountered God in a profound, life-changing way as a sophomore in high school. You know that the encounter brought about a stability and focus to my life that reset the entire trajectory of my life. You also know that the experience was so profound that I embraced the Evangelical Christian faith with 100% certainty that it was the one and only way to God, the one and only way to really live, love and leave a legacy. It would be no mistake to define me as a professional Evangelical Christian. As with any fixed identity, the break away from it is rarely ever complete. Such is the case with me.
I will never be fully free of the experiences I had as an Evangelical Christian and part of that is because at my core, I still have evidence of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Though I rarely use the word anymore, miracles did take place in my life as a result of volitionally placing my faith in Christ shortly after my 16th birthday. At some level I will always know that I woke up to my own self in a profound way when Christ became the focus of my life. At present, that is pretty much all that is left of the life I once knew.
The way my departure took place has a lot to do with a nasty little debate I continue to hear play out in various forums from editorials in the paper or on social media to conversations in my own living room. I’m sure I am a magnet for attracting these conversations into my world because at the slightest hint of a discussion about the Evangelical version of the Christian faith, I find myself all ears. Trying not to listen has only made things worse and had created no small amount of dissonance in my life.
Such a conversation came into world yesterday after I Googled an author that I enjoy reading. Oh.my.goodness. The links to his name were astonishing to me. One after the other, it seemed that Evangelical voices were decrying this man’s faith as heresy and declaring that he was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I opened up a link. The bottom line to the energy behind the layers of warning for the faithful was that the author I follow does not believe that the Bible is a book that should be taken literally and without error. Not a new thing for me to encounter but having slept on it, I woke up multiple times throughout the night and found the topic on my mind this morning.
I think what disturbed me most was not that the link I was reading said negative things about a beloved author, but that the person saying these things was so certain of his/her truth that they were incapable of entertaining the reality that they could actually be wrong themselves. There wasn’t even an, “I believe The Bible to be the literal and inerrant word of God.” Instead there was the declaration that it simply is and because I am so certain that it is, I have been given permission from the almighty to be as condescending and shaming toward anyone who believes differently as I deem fit. It was such a passionate, angry, absolute commentary that in the end you actually had to wonder if the author in question should be allowed on the planet any longer. In other words, the only reality this person seemed to know was that of his own belief (which is likely the only reality any of us know, right?). He’d completely lost sight of the fact that the author I’m reading is a human being, with a rational mind who is simply on a journey of discovery and could only determine for his own self what faith actually meant to him.
I know the mind that would engage in a battle of right/wrong, all/nothing, either/or, black/white logic to dismantle a heretic to the faith. I know it well. I’ve written from that place too so I get the struggle. But here’s the deal. All of the discussions surrounding God, Jesus, the Bible or any other faith, begin and end with just that, faith. Faith is not something you can force anyone to adhere to. Even if you get them to believe whatever it is you do, it doesn’t become real until it actually does BECOME REAL specifically for them. AND that also gets tricky because, we can do and say things that we think are genuinely our own but when tested in the fires that life naturally brings our way, we may discover that we don’t genuinely believe that at all. That is what happened to me.
I always would have said that I believed that The Bible was the literal word of God. I would have told you that scripture was alive and that uttering it would get evil spirits to go away and heal all kinds of diseases. I would have told you that every single word is true and should be obeyed literally. When life’s bonfires started to overwhelm me, however, everything changed.
A significant fire came in the form of a book by a man from a southern state who had painstakingly gone through each word of The Bible and on his own had determined what the words were saying about various health problems. My 16 year old daughter had recently been admitted to an inpatient unit for eating disorders on the verge of a heart attack. This friend was sure that this book held the key that would unlock the reason behind her disorder. I opened the book and began to read it. Immediately, I witnessed the most bizarre explanations for illness I had ever encountered. Full of blame and shame, this book was full of the author’s interpretation of the literal word of God and offered me not one solution. I shut the book and took it back to my friend immediately. I lost it and wrote a very long and angry letter to her adding that she even cease praying for me or my family. It was very much as if a nuclear bomb had landed on my neatly arranged worldview. I’ve never been the same.
I could fill a spiral notebook with one story after the other where an encounter with reality and the literal Bible didn’t make sense. As a result, I am one of the one’s that finds no difficulty in calling out Evangelical BS when I believe I see it. It’s not easy because there is the natural outcome of becoming like those I call out. It’s painfully easy to communicate as though I believe my perspective is the only right one and that just isn’t at all what I want to do.
My faith is no longer centered on absolutes or certainty because I cannot call it faith if it is. I cannot continue to have faith if I cannot continue to be a rational human being at the same time. I cannot have faith in a Bible that was written by men, that is full of contradictions that require so much work to understand in a literal way. I still have my Bible and I often live my life with insights that have come from various parts of it but it will never return to the place of it actually being God in my life. That is simply impossible now that I’ve lived the questions and had to find my own answers.
My daughter is living her own best life right now. Had I stayed put, she would not be. It is that simple.