What if we’re all just trying too hard

We were all from different backgrounds. White, black, male, female, middle-aged, young, theologically trained, laypersons–all from different denominations. There was something that united us and brought us together–we wanted to grow closer to God.

While we build our discussions around a book, like any group that’s worth going to, we digress to the issues of the heart. 

Hatred, family, struggle. 

These things arose in conversation. 

Boundaries, community, grace.

These were discussed as a solution.

They were important topics that flowed out of one question, what do we do with the Old Testament. Everyone in this group needed a new paradigm to understand. Looking at it through the lens of Christ is a great idea, but sometimes it is so tough to see Christ. Books like, What is the BibleCrucifixion of the Warrior God, and Cross Vision came up. We even discussed understanding the Scriptures as Midrash

The Bible is hard. Some passages don’t make sense.

What do you do with that?

It can be super stressful. Have you been there?

Here, our life is supposed to be built on the person of Jesus who we see primarily in the Scriptures, yet there is so much that doesn’t make sense. There is so much more. However, that is beautiful, life-giving, and challenges us to live a bigger and better way–that calls us to a higher standard.

As we talked, discussed, struggled, someone said something simple, yet, profound. “What if we’re all just trying too hard.”

Boom!

He referenced a scholar who said that studying Scripture is just something he does. It was fun. 

Maybe the reason we can’t have productive conversations around the Scriptures in cross-denominational circles without someone being offended, angry, and calling another a Heretic is because we take ourselves way too seriously.

Of course, church history doesn’t bode well in this light, either. Saint Nicolas once punched Arius in the face during a theological debate.

I believe the Scriptures are to be wrestled with. The story of Jacob makes that clear. But when we take ourselves too seriously, we cannot approach the Bible with humility.

When we take ourselves too seriously, whatever opinion we derive from the text becomes what the text is saying, and when that is challenged, that challenge is against us as a person.

We need the Holy Spirit to speak to us and allow the Spirit to speak through the Scriptures. We must know that whatever ideas, doctrines, concepts we extract from the Scriptures are not exhaustive. Why? Because we’re not God. We have fallible lives. We are not omniscient. 

We need the Holy Spirit to speak to us and through us. We need the community to challenge us, offering different perspectives that push our interpretive paradigm a little further–stretching us in how we interact with the text.

Humble hearts are what’s required with this text. The ancient words–this God-breathed text–these profound but sometimes archaic words, can change our life in radically good ways. First, we must realize we’re not God. We need community and humility. More importantly, though, we need the Holy Spirit to minister to us.

Check out the resources used in this post

Is it O.K. to struggle with your faith?

There has been a lot of doubt and skepticism from “high profile” Christians. Many have felt that there hasn’t been a place for this line of thinking in the Christian movement. While there are circles where this is not encouraged, there are also a ton of circles that are exploring.

I have seen a few rebuttals by bloggers and musicians that have some excellent points. Some have pointed out the holes in the arguments; others are urging us to follow God and not celebrity.

As much as these points are valid what needs not to get lost in the conversation and what I want to say to those who identify with the struggle of faith that has invaded so many Christian leaders is,

It is ok to struggle with God and your faith.

I believe it is un-Christian to not.

To not struggle in some capacity or another is to say that you have a full understanding of not just what the Scriptures say, but of God. If you believe in the God of the Scriptures, then both of those premises are absurd! Us understanding God is like a chair trying to understand it’s maker. The maker of the chair is so far beyond what the chair could ever comprehend.

Luckily we have Scripture and can experience God in beautiful and rich ways. To say that Scripture should be the thing that pulls us through and anchors us into the world of certainty is to claim that we have a perfect understanding of what the Scriptures say, which we don’t. Not even close. We rely on wisdom, experience, and tradition, and we do the best we can.

Often not recognizing this, we fix our faith to unhealthy paradigms.

When doubts and questions appear to unfurl our sails of faith, we become crippled. Instead of pushing forward to discovering brave oceans of new realities in God, we can either give up and lose hope or bunker down in safe coves.

I see neither of the later as viable options.

I believe it is good to doubt and question. When I look at the Scriptures, I can’t help but see a God who wants us to wrestle with the big issues, always realizing that there is more to learn.

There is a story at the beginning of Scripture that articulates this. There is a story about a man named Jacob. Jacob, like us all, has some serious baggage, much of which is self-inflicted.

As Jacob begins to travel to create a new life for himself and his family, he begins to wrestle with his ideas of what his life is and who God is. The book of Genesis records the Jacob has an encounter with an angel where they wrestled, and Jacob left with a limp and a new name. In the words of Switchfoot, however, “[he] wrestled an angel for more than a name.”

The Scriptures record,

“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Genesis 32:28

While the name change is important, we must not lose sight of how the ancient rabbis interpreted this verse. They believed that this set the premise for our approach to the Scriptures and a relationship with God. (more in this in Chapter 2 of my book Hidden faces).

There should never be a point when we stop wrestling with God, Scripture, or hard questions. It doesn’t mean a patchwork of ideas that we throw together as though we’re filling a pothole, but there are times when we need a fresh coat of pavement.

It is not that Scripture, tradition and experience don’t matter. That somehow our wrestling with the big and small questions undermine everything. It just means that sometimes we need a tweak and other times we need a new street.

For me, because I have experienced God, it demands me to push to understand this life deeper. There have been times when my tradition has let me down, majorly. There have been times when no matter how much I trusted and looked at Scripture, it left me frustrated, confused, disillusioned. I had an experience that I could not deny. I knew and still know that there has to be something beyond myself and that faith isn’t built upon the straw of others nor upon the weak foundation of my limited understanding of an ancient text.

My faith is built upon the fact that I have had experiences with something beyond myself. It now demands of me to wrestle.

Saying this, if my faith stopped at the experience and didn’t have the structure of tradition (tried and true practices, rituals, and paradigms) and the Scriptures (God’s word that tells of the Word, Jesus) then my faith becomes a kite flying in the wind with no string.

We must wrestle with all of these aspects of faith.

As a teenager, I had a lot of struggles with the church. Its brokenness has a continual effect on me. One of the many things that helped save my faith was a little book called Joshua by Joseph Girzone. It’s a story of Jesus showing up in the church today. It was then in my first year of college that Len Sweet’s book Postmodern Pilgrims opened my eyes to new ways of expressing our faith. Sweet helped me find the traditions that could keep me tethered.

During my mid-twenties, I was struggling with the abuse of experience in my movement. As I reflected on those I grew up with and the teens I was now pastoring, it was plain to see that in many cases, their whole faith was built upon experience alone. There were no roots! No tradition or Scripture – no wonder they fell away. It was a dedication to Scripture in this season that helped me sift through the healthy and not so healthy experiences — something I still have to do.

More recently, I had a crisis with the Scriptures. They weren’t working for me anymore. I was preaching and leading others, but the words fell flat for me. Luckily, as I stated previously, my experiences wouldn’t allow me to let go. What I needed was a new paradigm of understanding. I am thankful for POD casts like The Bible For Normal People and Reknew With Greg Boyd. I’m eternally grateful of Boyd’s book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (I suggest the abridged Cross Vision) that has given me a new lens (hermeneutic) to reading the Scriptures that have allowed it to come alive in my heart again.

If I never began to wrestle I would have thrown it all away, of this I’m sure. If I never struggled through the hard questions, I would never have the faith I do now that is vibrant and life-altering.

I not only see the value in doubting and questioning; I see it’s vital. Just remember, it must never end with doubt and question. That’s just lazy. The doubts and question must propel us forward to seek new lands of truth that direct us to new understandings of God that are never complete but continually drive us forward to new areas of discovery.

Check out the resources used in this post