“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”
―TheFellowship of the Ring
I’m not gonna lie. Life was easier when I had all the answers. It was a point of pride with me really, since I was that kid. Maybe you’ve met her. The one who got all the prizes for memorizing the most Bible verses. The one who endured the mockery of the other kids as she defiantly read her Bible during recess. The obnoxious little punk who had a compulsive need to correct the Sunday School teachers if they misremembered even the most minute detail of a Bible story. That girl was me.
|That’s me on top–the holiest in the land.|
Looking back now, it’s kind of hard to believe. The person with all the conviction of an Inquisitor–that’s not someone I recognize anymore. And despite my choice of metaphors, I don’t want to belittle her. She had her good points. The most interesting and, from my current perspective, most alien virtue she had was faith. She really believed. In all of it. In seven day creation and a God who loved mankind as His own children. In an imminent rapture and water turned to wine. She was certain that asking Jesus into her heart would preserve her soul from a literal torture chamber of eternal flames. That girl didn’t doubt, and she didn’t waver. Her faith pointed true north. And I’m sure if she could see what I’ve made of her, she would be so disappointed.
I don’t think I’ve read my Bible–really read it–in a decade or so. My “relationship” with God, if it even comes close to deserving the term, is…troubled. I attend church when it’s convenient for me, and I pray when I need something or get guilted into it. If you asked me what happened to turn a good, solid Christian into a functional agnostic, I couldn’t tell you. Doubtless, I have my reasons. I find I usually do. But they’re opaque to me.
Don’t get me wrong. God’s still a huge part of my life. I think about Him a lot. I put Him under a microscope and peruse Him for flaws. I spread Him out on a table to dissect His parts, maybe try out a few different permutations–tinker with His omniscience, reconfigure His justice. He’s the ultimate cosmic puzzle, and pondering Him takes up a lot of my time.
But loving God is hard. He is inscrutable. He is hidden. And in a world like this I just can’t make sense of it. Why the big secret? How can I have faith in the face of all those scientists with their big brains and fancy words who tell me they’ve uncovered the truth about everything, and at the bottom of it there is no magic at all? The sun rises and sets because it has to, not because some god pulls it across the sky in his chariot. Life is no miracle; it’s an inevitability when we are one of billions and billions of worlds in the multiverse. How do I take comfort from stories of seas parting and people rising from the dead when everywhere I look nature runs its predictable course and death ultimately claims everything–the young and the old, the faithful and the wicked? What do the promises of God mean next to the inexorable monotony of life?
I feel alone. I feel afraid. I feel as though I’m hanging on to faith by my fingernails. And I don’t know if there’s a happy ending in this for me. I was raised to believe in things, and somehow I’ve just lost the ability. Like Peter Pan, I think I was supposed to stay a child, but while I wasn’t paying attention I must have accidentally grown up. Let me tell you, the view from up here sucks.
|Older but no wiser|
For years I’ve been in a holding pattern with God–a standoff, a war of the wills. And now I’m exhausted and ready to blink. The way I see it, either the questions of God (i.e., does He exist? What is He like? What does He want from us?) are the most important questions or else nothing matters at all. So I want to figure this thing out. I want to see if the frayed strands of my erstwhile religion can be rewoven into something new–a parachute I can cling to so I don’t dash myself on the jagged rocks of hopeless, atheistic existentialism. I want to believe, and as C. S. Lewis once averred, I hope that desire alone holds some meaning. For years I’ve been angry at God and almost pathologically suspicious of every earthly institution supposedly dedicated to His cause, but maybe all that time being torn from my religious foundations was time well spent after all. Maybe the creation of all that negative space was necessary so that I can be filled with better things, truer things. Maybe it’s time for me to leave the spiritual desert. Maybe I’m being led, at long last, to a mountain top. At least, if this were a story that’s how I would write it. I guess we’ll see if God’s artistic vision and mine overlap.
I think I’m finally ready to seek the Most High, wherever He may lurk. Even if I can’t commit to the doctrine of inerrancy or original sin or any kind of eschatology at all, I intend to commit myself to this pilgrimage. If He is willing to be found, I am willing to find Him. And…that’s all I’ve got. But hopefully it’s enough.