Evangelicals are belatedly grappling with how to minister to the young skeptics they are producing, but they still don’t understand why sticking with the church has become so prohibitive. Anna Scott describes the overwhelming, disheartening effort involved in not only believing in the midst of deep suffering, but in finding a Christian identity in a landscape so fraught with division, hypocrisy, and misunderstanding.

Life as a Leaver

AFTER READING Drew Dyck’s article, “The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church,” in Christianity Today, I found myself feeling viscerally and personally offended. While  numerous other valid critiques could be made of the piece, I have to concede that my response was sparked by a deeply personal experience: in December, my formerly Christian husband left me; in February, he asked for a divorce. With each month, new and nightmarish revelations followed.

Needless to say, in my particular circumstances I was not blameless, but I tried to do everything in my power to save my marriage; to “win” my husband “back to the Lord,” and try to extricate him from his seemingly immovable depression. I believed—and still do—that marriage is sacred and was committed to stay in mine, no matter what happened, even if that meant I could foresee only a life of misery at home. In other words, I did everything Al Mohler, John Piper, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or others who decry the culture’s casual view of marriage would have suggested or demanded. Every Christian I knew tried to approach my ex-husband, and I would guess that even my non-Christian friends and family offered up their own versions of prayers. But, in the end, he walked away from his faith and from his vows. And left me scraping myself up off of the floor.

How does this relate to Dyck’s thoughts on “leavers?” I would suggest that it relates fairly directly: where Dyck observes a shallow, uninformed, utilitarian faith, my church background has been in the Presbyterian and Anglican traditions; that is, my maturation and establishment in the faith consisted of both the robustness of Reformed theology and the tradition and history of sacramental worship. I attended a Christian college, spent a year in missions work, over a year working for a Christian social services organization, and nearly 2 years in an evangelical seminary known for its integration of intellectual depth, Christian orthodoxy and engagement in culture. But, no amount of theology, liturgy or depth can really and truly inoculate you against what Dyck refers to, in passing, as “the hard rocks of reality,” which is how he refers to suffering. This might not be true of the first collision, or the second, or even the third, but at some point, as I have done, you begin to question at least two pillars of Christian faith: sovereignty and love.

Though I knew that there is suffering in the world, it never made me look the doctrine of sovereignty in the eye, or made me question the refrain, “He is for your good.” On some level, I felt that if one had “good theology” and was a thoughtful person, then she wouldn’t question her faith because of suffering. I guess I believed that suffering was somehow a silly reason, one not fit for a deep person or an intellectual Christian. I learned in reading Job that we cannot fathom or grasp the mind of God or His workings in the world. I always thought that, if we could understand or “pin down” God, He wasn’t a God big enough to be worth believing in. If the gospel is true, the things that we observe and experience cannot prove it false.

But, what did it mean that, while God is sovereign, and while He works all things for my good, great sin was allowed to occur that would change my life forever. Was God using sin? Could he have done this to me? Is this what he wanted for me? Did He want me to honor my marriage and try my best to save it, only to have it fall apart in the cruelest of ways? I know that we don’t always get what we ask for, and I realize that this view proves Dyck’s point, in that it reflects a “naïve, coldly utilitarian view of God.” But, if God seemed fairly “hands-off” here, the next logical question seems to be what was the role of personal, intercessory prayer, or the belief in a personal God? And, if He was “hands-on,” what did it say about His character?

Every time I think about returning to church, standing and singing hymns about God’s care and love for us—songs that I used to sing, standing next to my husband in our beloved Massachusetts church—every time I want to return to “my only comfort in life and in death, that I am not my own, but belong—in body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful savior Jesus Christ,” à la the Heidelberg Catechism, I am overcome with sadness and anger. He is either sovereign and cruel or removed and abstract. I could read all of the theology in the world; I could worship in the oldest and most rooted of churches and it would not settle this question for me.

Surely, I am not the only person to have “crashed” on these “rocks” of sin and suffering, sovereignty and certainty. And I no longer think that it is a sign of immaturity or ignorance that these rocks give birth to doubt; in fact, I think it is immature and ignorant to deny these very real questions: about rape, about mental illness, about earthquakes, about affairs, about divorce, about children born into extreme poverty. Where does sovereignty end and sin begin? And what does that say about God? Shouldn’t this be relevant to any discussion of disbelief?

But, my own suffering was not the end of doubt for me; rather, it has been a beginning. Now, the things that I used to have the energy and the will to battle or persuade myself of, I can no longer face. Many of these are things that friends—mostly from Christian colleges—who have already left the faith have been testifying to for a long time; things that I have long tried to verbally refute (God didn’t bring about your suffering! He created a world without sin and death!), or prove wrong with my life (evangelicals can work for social justice!). In the same way that I can no longer dismiss suffering as a legitimate impetus for doubt, neither can I dismiss the state and behavior of the Church, issues of identity, and the reality that life in this world is complicated as hell.

So, while the next portion of this reflection will treat a group of less personal issues, they have been of equal consequence for me, and were all but neglected in Dyck’s piece. As he frustratingly and quickly passed over the question of our encounters with suffering, so he gave only cursory attention to some of the areas that I and others have found to be most problematic.

I see three of these issues as primary; the first is the state of the Church itself. Dyck certainly acknowledges the holes in our church programming and in evangelicals’ reflexive responses to questioning and doubt (as David Sessions affirmed here at Patrol). Unfortunately, he neglects the larger issue of the Church’s witness. He fails to see how faith crises and innate longings push evangelical youth, people who were raised in or came to faith in the context of an individual church community that formed their idea of the Christian world, to grapple with ecclesiology and the grim scene with which they are faced. On the one hand, the non-denominational bible churches—whether in houses, storefronts or school gyms—have been riddled with crises of authority, scandals, cults of personality, and other challenges that suggest a need for greater structural accountability. But the more traditional denominations are likewise riddled with conflict and declining attendance. For a young evangelical to wade into the broader ecclesial morass is discouraging, to say the least. More discouraging is the way so many who eventually follow the “young, restless and reformed” crowd or the evangelical-to-Catholic convert crowd become smug and condescending toward those who opt for a different theology or membership.

The stakes become higher when denominational choices and theological forays are attached to questions of identity, another area not touched on at all in the “Leavers” piece. For women who feel called to ministry, this is not an abstract issue, as our home church or our new denomination has likely debated—or will likely debate—our role in the church and in the home. That is, while these are academic questions for male theologians and pastors, and even for many women who do not feel called to positions that would precipitate a run-in with these debates, for many of us it is not only deeply fraught, vocationally, but also deeply painful, personally.

This particular “identity” issue is another area in which the evolving complexities of the world come up against the absolutes of the evangelical church. I don’t mean to suggest that the church should adapt to culture or any such thing that would raise the hackles of purists, but, rather to highlight the reality that many women hold powerful and prestigious positions in the world, and yet are constrained in their churches. Although this is couched in language of “complementarity” and “difference in roles rather than worth,” the fact remains that it is an inherently jarring experience to be encouraged to pursue influence and achievement outside of the Church—and, particularly in many of the urban church plants, to use this influence to make an impact within culture—but not be allowed a vote or have a place at the table in the Church. I suspect that, after the dust settles at many of these primarily urban churches that have had some success in reaching out to young, skeptical, educated evangelicals, many women will begin to ask questions about their role, and will be unsatisfied with the answers. Because I was pursuing an MDiv and, ultimately, ordained ministry, this is something I was constantly evaluating. I would weigh my options thusly: this church is theologically orthodox , but doesn’t ordain women, or even allow women elders; this other church allows women in ministry, but seems to sell out the gospel; still, this other one has a rich history and clear doctrine, but says that only a man can represent Christ in the Eucharist. I can say, from experience, that this is utterly wearying both in terms of an ecclesial journey and in terms of affirmation and validation of one’s identity.

And now, as a divorced person, I have unfortunately been exposed to a new manifestation of Christian identity politics. While my divorce seemed fairly straightforward, biblically speaking, and I had no control over my ex-husband’s decision, I engaged in a little exercise a few months into the process, and researched churches’ and denominations’ positions on divorce and remarriage. As we all know, the Catholic Church does not recognize even the accepted biblical allowances, except via the apparent “loophole” of annulments, but I was surprised to find that Reformed icon John Piper also opposes remarriage. While the Southern Baptists affirm the abandonment, adultery and apostasy allowances, Al Mohler has recently taken to the blogosphere regarding the prevalence of Christian divorce. I have no problem with a high view of marriage—God knows I tried to adhere to it—but I do have a problem with having to try to discern what a given church’s pronouncement will be on my tragically unavoidable status.

The world is complicated, unpredictable, volatile and tragic, but the Church rarely has room for this, except in theological debates that do not touch the laity, who are merely expected to toe the line. For example, a young woman in Dyck’s article was sexually abused, but all we are told is that she was confronted for her “hardness,” which she apparently recognized. I am betting more could have been explored about how the situation was handled, structurally; what kinds of pronouncements were made, officially; and, equally relevant, what kind of teaching and activism goes on (or doesn’t) that might fail to equip young women to face these situations in an informed manner, or emphasize the imperative for female modesty in order to repel male aggression. These things are not, necessarily, about evangelical tropes like “hardness of heart” or even “being hurt by the church”—they are about pronouncements made about identity, about structural limitations and ideological minefields. We cannot be surprised when young people are tired of facing in the Church what they do not have to face in the culture.

As a woman, and now as a divorced woman, I must spend far too much time trying to discern how a given church will view my role, my identity and my “rights.” Admittedly, like many evangelical, egalitarian women, I have always fought the “slippery slope” argument against women in ministry, insisting that it was unrelated to the homosexuality issue. But, despite knowing that this might serve to discredit me, I am increasingly cognizant of the fact that this must be how gays and lesbians feel in the Church. As we have seen, many efforts to “change” one’s sexuality have ended tragically and lifelong celibacy must seem a cruel fate, much like not being permitted to remarry would feel to me. When you see something as an immutable but integral part of your identity, it is heartbreaking to have that rejected in the Church. I always held that personal experience, such as that of homosexuals, did not change biblical truth; I now have a harder time with this. Personal experience is often all that we really know.

I want to end this litany of criticisms by acknowledging a point that I found both offensive and mildly insightful, but for different reasons than Dyck identifies: I do think that moral compromise plays a role in a person’s decision to leave Christianity, but I think that the negative influence is actually exerted on the developing doubter, rather than on the moral transgressor. Having attended youth group religiously (yes, I am going with this idiom despite the pun) and a prominent Christian college, followed by years in communities, churches, faith-based organizations and Christian graduate school, I can easily attest to the willingness—even eagerness—of young evangelicals to compromise biblical standards and call it doubt or rebellion. But, sooner or later, these people will find a nice Christian husband or wife and return to the church of their childhood, because doubt is not their real issue. It is those of us who are trying to build a thoughtful, substantive, deep faith who observe this behavior in young people raised in the church and wonder what has gone wrong. What the hell is going on here? I often asked myself, observing this profound lack of authenticity. Why do these people—and, in all honestly, I became one of them in college—bother retaining the trappings of Christianity at all?

My initial reaction to Dyck’s piece included a list of solutions to the “young doubters” problem, but, upon review, I realized that these are the same things we can—and do—read about anywhere: call for a more culturally engaged church, or more listening and less anti-intellectualism, more civility, and a renewed connection with the historical church and liturgy. These things might help, but they may also serve only as stopgap measures, a kind of reupholstering of the furniture. I worry that, once one begins to truly comprehend the depth of suffering and complexity, and the Church’s repeated inadequacy in responding, there may be no return. I also fear that I will run out of energy and will give up at some point in the search to discern my place in the Church, or that I will get tired of weighing one sacrifice against another (preaching or liturgy? egalitarianism or vibrant urban ministry? Anglican and orthodox or Episcopalian and tolerant?). Surely these issues are not insignificant, and, even if there were easily accessible answers, I do not know when or how I will believe again as I did before. Whatever the solution, it must take us—“doubters,” “leavers,” or whatever your preferred label—on our own terms, rather than attempting to rope us back into the old paradigm with only a new look to offer.

Tagged with:
 
About The Author

Anna Scott

0 Responses to Life as a Leaver

  1. Mason says:

    Brilliant post, thank you for sharing this. Felt like I was reading my own story. It’s comforting somehow to know others are seeing and wrestling with these realities.

  2. I resonate with your article and responded here (http://livingstoncontent.com/2011/01/26/aliens-sit-at-this-end-of-the-bus/ ). There is much more at work than superficial questions or doubts. We need a new kind of conversation.

  3. Matthew L says:

    This is an incredibly well-written and moving post. I really appreciate the author’s honesty as she shares with us her struggles. However, I do want to mention that Jesus was only mentioned once in the article. The post was already quite long, so I understand that it might have been left out intentionally for space. I certainly don’t want to jump in with an abstract criticism from a stranger on the internet. That being said, I don’t think we can really grapple with any aspect of suffering and sovereignty until we dig in to the Cross– where the most senseless injustice and the most purposeful suffering took place and we find God Himself dealing with our sin and the sins of others by absorbing that pain. I have no doubt that the author has contemplated this many times, but I felt like it would be appropriate to add that aspect of how we humans reckon with the terrible questions that suffering leaves us with here in the comments. I hope & pray that you and the many people I know who doubt and ask these questions over & over– including myself– will find peace and security despite the pain and questions.

  4. William Brafford says:

    Thank you for this tough and thoughtful essay.

  5. Steve in Toronto says:

    My own experience of divorce closely mirrors Anna Scott’s (right down to my back ground in both the Presbyterian and Anglican Church’s). I how however was blessed to be under the spiritual care of an Anglican priest who was also divorced who was the very model of Christ’s love and forgiveness and as a result I was never tempted to leave the church (although my Calvinist theology was badly shaken). If we have no room for grace, forgiveness second, third or even seventy times seven chances in our churches we have no right to call ourselves Christians.

    Peace
    Steve in Toronto

  6. Joshua Keel says:

    I have many of the same struggles and doubts, Anna. Thanks for caring enough to write this.

  7. John L. says:

    Thank you for this honest and well written post. You are right that the CT article misses a lot, including those of us who are leaving not our faith, but certainly the church. And it hardly touches on people over 40, of which I am one. I have some of the same struggles you do. The reason we’re without a church right now is because we really can’t find something of depth and authenticity that we’d like. And similar to your experience with the treatment of women, in our community we find it difficult to locate a church in our area that has a rich history and clear doctrine but doesn’t commingle it with right-wing politics and ideologies that really aren’t rooted in the faith.

  8. Mrs Spit says:

    My husband and I left our Anglican church after our son died. As we struggled to understand not so much why this happened, but how we should live, we watched our church, utterly unable to support us in a dark place. We became tired of pedantic cliche, we became tired of the taint of blame they continued to place on us. We tried to speak up, we tried to find help, we tried to talk to people in leadership and in the layity, and we got nowhere. We quietly, with no fuss and no muss, left. We recognized that we wouldn’t simply be ‘over it’, ever, and so we stopped trying to fake it.

    I am, well, I guess resentful, at the implication that the default lies in us, that we were somehow wrong or sinful because we looked for both better answers than our church and our faith gave us. I’m resentful that the church failed us so badly. I’m especially resentful when I see any sort of indication that the church bears no responsibility – they have no duty to care, no duty to dig in the trenches. Perhaps what made me so angry about CT’s article is the repeated insistence and language of judgement, that leaving is always the fault of the person, and never the institution.

    Thank you for allowing me into a private and hard place, and sharing your experience so that I could see my own more clearly.

  9. Zach L says:

    Wow . . . it’s really sad that most of your explorations and musings center around the church in America rather than Christianity. Your focus is clearly on the denominations and what each church might allow rather than what God allows. If you allow yourself to be socially and spiritually harangued by the confines of what you’ve already noted to be a broken system of organized religion, then you need to find true religion through God’s grace, and you need to find out outside of those said confines. I happen to be on staff at a church that bucks a lot of the conventions of organized religion that most people find so constricting, so I know that churches like this exist outside of the Midwest. In fact, most people that I know that have left the church altogether did so because the churches they were denominational, and those churches held to their humanitarian-interpretations-turned-into-church-bylaw idioms in such a way as to make engaging in one’s faith almost futile. There MUST be room in the Church today for people of doubt without making them feel like outcasts, but maybe in order to find what you haven’t found, you need to look where you haven’t looked before.

  10. Dan H. says:

    “I would weigh my options thusly: this church is theologically orthodox , but doesn’t ordain women, or even allow women elders; this other church allows women in ministry, but seems to sell out the gospel; still, this other one has a rich history and clear doctrine, but says that only a man can represent Christ in the Eucharist.”

    What are these churches that ‘sell out the gospel’? What is the gospel? Can the gospel be proclaimed if women are excluded from the proclaiming?

  11. Beth in Portland says:

    Anna,
    I found your essay through a facebook post my brother made of it. I found myself at a loss for words, because your own words and descriptions perfectly described me. I saw myself within and in between every line, seeping out between the paragraphs. I have never been able to eloquently describe where I am at in my thoughts and so few people understand my struggles and doubts. You voiced them perfectly. I moved to a city I now hate for a person who I devoted almost 4 years of my life to. The week I got here he walked out of my life. I have been reeling from the loss trying to figure out how to redefine myself and what I want. I did not lose faith because I had my heart broken. I am not that naive, nor did I ever have such little faith in God. However, in my vulnerable state I found that like you “the things that I used to have the energy and the will to battle or persuade myself of, I can no longer face.”
    While the world as I knew it began to fall apart my brother shared with me that he was gay. The most perfect human being I know, whom I love more than anything in this world, has lived a tortured and silent childhood into adulthood, because of the very real fear instilled in us as children of the fires of hell. How can God create something so perfect and then teach that they are at their very core wrong, evil, and despised by the church and faith they are supposed to find comfort in? That was the day I stopped praying. I would never dream of praying for God to change my brother. There’s nothing about him that needs to be changed. If I were to pray I would pray that God would change the world so that in it my brother could find the same acceptance you or I do. I know the world is sin, but this alienation of homosexuals comes from the church and not from the world.
    So I find myself today, still trapped in this God-forsaken city (I like the irony of that statement) alone. My brother is doing brilliantly as he continues to go to a Christian college. He has not found answers to his questions, yet, and neither have I. But we have both distanced ourselves from the church and from God. As much as I would love for my perspective to change and to go back to the comfort of being Christ’s child, to go back to the comfort of prayers and the comfort knowing there is someone so much greater than anything in this world watching over me, I have not been able to yet. Like you, I am left believing that “He is either sovereign and cruel or removed and abstract.”

  12. Joshua Keel says:

    I recently finished reading Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer. I would highly recommend it to anyone here, and to especially those who, like me, resonate deeply with Anna’s post. That book is written for the “leavers”, and Michael has a great deal of wisdom for those who are struggling. While reading the book, I was struck by how much I have trusted other people to dispense my Christianity for me. Much of my trust has been placed in man and not God, and as far as I have been let down by Christianity, I feel that it is the fault of the people that told me half-truths rather than God. I realized how little I’ve been listening to what Jesus had to say as God’s human incarnation, and how if there is any hope for me, it will be found in reconnecting with Jesus and not with the Church, as the quite un-Jesus-like institution it has become.

  13. Joshua Keel says:

    I recently finished reading Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer. I would highly recommend it to anyone here, and to especially those who, like me, resonate deeply with Anna’s post. That book is written for the “leavers”, and Michael has a great deal of wisdom for those who are struggling. While reading the book, I was struck by how much I have trusted other people to dispense my Christianity for me. Much of my trust has been placed in man and not God, and as far as I have been let down by Christianity, I feel that it is the fault of the people that told me half-truths rather than God. I realized how little I’ve been listening to what Jesus had to say as God’s human incarnation, and how if there is any hope for me, it will be found in reconnecting with Jesus and not with the Church, as the quite un-Jesus-like institution it has become.

  14. Anna, Nicely communicated.

    I’m agnostic, and I recognize that everyone’s trying to find their way, both inside religion and outside it. Sometimes you find a place to settle, both intellectually and socially, a place with friends. Sometimes you feel out of place. Iedited a book of testimonies from people coming out of conservative Christianity, toward more moderate and liberal pastures, as well as joining more inclusive religions, or becoming agnostics, or becoming soft or hard atheists. Very few female testimonies were included in that book, so later I looked up stories of females who left the fold and compiled two blog pieces on them:
    Women Speak Out!
    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/09/debunking-christianity-women-speak-out.html#
    Women Speak Out! #2
    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/10/debunking-christianity-women-speak-out.html#
    You might find that reading the stories of others helps make sense of your own. But that’s true of everything it seems.

  15. HTowner says:

    Questions I have: is God God? Is Jesus who He says He was/is?? If so, then perhaps our journey is best found in relationship with Christ and this on a spirit filled level-not fraught with tradition and ritual but a true, real to life spirit filled relationship with the Creator……….that’s how I make it through the day, the week and the month-good times and bad, etc. I pray that all believers experience the Christ in such an intimate way. Blessings

  16. Anna says:

    Hi all, thanks for the kind and encouraging feedback. And thanks to Fitz for suggesting I write this up, as well as Patrol for posting such a long and personal piece. There are a couple of things that I do want to respond to (although I don’t want to get caught up with whether each reader has perfectly understood me) one being that, while a lot of people have suggested that these issues would be less pressing were I not to seek out a place in the organizational/institutional Church, I actually–doubts aside–feel quite strongly that we need the Church, and that being a Christian “by yourself” is not necessarily a desirable, feasible or biblically based concept. So, that is why I am so discouraged as I look at the Church–because I believe that it is so important. But, obviously I don’t mean that Jesus and a personal relationship with Him is less important or irrelevant to the discussion–no, I didn’t mention Him once (wasn’t counting!), but that doesn’t mean I don’t realize that His vicarious life and death are not the final word on suffering. The problem has been, I know all of these things, theologically and have believed them passionately in the past, but neither jettisoning the institutional Church nor trying to “focus on Jesus” enough to ameliorate the experience of suffering are viable or adequate answers for me right now. Again, thanks for your thoughts, everyone! I have been really moved by how this has been received.

  17. Emily says:

    Anna,

    Thank you for this honest, thoughtful article. Many, many times I found myself thinking, “That’s exactly how I feel!” I have not suffered the agony of divorce, but my struggles with multiple deaths and a number of other deep heartbreaks led me through a journey similar to yours. And, I share in the dilemma of being an egalitarian-minded evangelical looking for a suitable church.

    A few months ago, a friend asked me about the status of my faith, whether I was “drawing near to Christ.” Although your article is mostly about the church, I thought I’d share my response to my friend. Perhaps it is something you can relate to. If not, that’s fine, of course. Regardless, best wishes to you on your journey and know that you’re not alone.

    ——————————–

    Dear __________,

    I’ve been reflecting on your question to me: Are you drawing nearer to Christ? My gut-level reaction, as you heard, was “No,” and I gave you my reasons why. But, as I’ve thought about it some more, I’d like to add to my answer.

    Although I do not feel closer to Christ, I do believe I’ve gone through a sort of spiritual trial the past couple years—a process with consequences that I don’t yet realize or understand. In the middle of and coming out of the difficulty we had at ____________ Church, with all the pain and sorrow involved, I wrestled deeply with my conception of God—particularly God’s goodness. What does it really mean for us that God is good? And, what does it mean for us that this good God is revealed to us in the crucified Christ?

    Throughout our struggles, I think I finally came face-to-face with the fact that apart from the presence of Christ, fellowship with the Holy Spirit and those types of things, disciples are promised nothing in this life. When my husband was out of work for several months and we couldn’t pay bills and faced the possibility of foreclosure, there was no guaranteed “safety net” just because we were Christians. There is nothing in the Gospel that would protect us, necessarily, from bankruptcy or foreclosure or miscarriage or other earthly sufferings. This is something I knew intellectually, but had yet to know experientially. And so, I guess what I’ve gone through recently is the death of a very limited view of God—the death of the “loving grandfather in the sky” who ensures that Christians don’t suffer. Again, this is something I thought I was beyond. I thought I was more mature than that. After Bible college and seminary, you’d think I’d be beyond that! But, when the crisis came, I found myself face-to-face with an idol and not the God of Jesus Christ.

    So, all this is to say, I don’t feel closer to Christ. But, I believe that I’m closer to a fuller understanding of the depths of Christ’s mystery. And, frankly, its scary. It feels a lot like starting over. I feel like I finally grasp the depth of C.S. Lewis’ statement that Aslan is good, but not safe. The God I was worshipping was safe and comfortable, but now I’ve realized that God isn’t real. God is radically free, fearsome, and even dangerous. This is the God of Sinai—lightening and thunder and earthquakes—and the God of the Exile—destruction for God’s Chosen–and the God of the cross—triumph through defeat, life through death.

    Now that I know I can’t put God in my box and that the life of discipleship really is the life of self-denial, I’m trying to put the pieces back together again. God seems frightening to me and I’m trying to figure out how to approach the throne of grace with boldness again. Some days, I’m not even sure that I want to. But, I want to want to and I think that’s the place to begin.

    • Joshua Keel says:

      This is very much how I feel right now, Emily. Like I’m starting over and I’m not sure of anything anymore except maybe that somehow it will make sense eventually. I have faith, but not so much in the things I know, but in the idea that I will come to know again. Probably in a much humbler way than before, though.

  18. Derrick says:

    Thank you for your article. I agree with the praise of other commenters.

    “He is either sovereign and cruel or removed and abstract.”

    Do you know how tormented I am by this? I cannot see a third (or fourth…) way. I, like one of the main characters in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, cannot figure out how the cross makes up for certain suffering. And I cannot fathom a resolution to history as it stands that would be just to all parties involved.

    I too have grown up in an Evangelical Christian subculture. I too have slowly allowed myself to ask the questions you ask. I too used to judge others who asked such questions, or who simply gave up asking them. At the time, I thought myself more mature.

    Where do we go from here? I still talk to G-d as if he is loving, but I ask all of these difficult questions. And by asking them, directly to Him, I in this small way am maintaining a belief in His goodness. I am hoping that He will eventually reconcile for me all of these contradictions.

    But then I think, even if I have the answers, isn’t that a tiny victory in a world of nightmares? (I say that fully aware of the limitless beauty and good in the world. The two certainly coexist.) Suppose G-d is sovereign. What kind of G-d is He if he allows the majority of His creatures to die destined for eternal punishment that He chose for them before the world began? Maybe righteous, if you can somehow allow that people are guilty for their sins that G-d predestined them to commit. But loving? And suppose He is not sovereign. Then what? How shall I understand claims that He acts in the world? That we can trust all will be worked out for good? I mean, I can’t even list all of the questions, in either case.

    I have grown up in the church, read books about this stuff, had all the conversations. And I still don’t see any apparent answers.

    And this is only one of the areas of questioning you touched on. Nor are any of these questions new. While they may seem like academic/theological questions, to be solved by the in-house theologians, the implications of our answers to the questions are huge. How we live depends on our conception of G-d’s reality and character.

    My years in the church–and I am still completely “in the church”–and my own reasoning both tell me that this doubting is wrong. But what is to be done?

    G-d, see our situation and bring us the resolution we need to live as You intend. Where we have grossly misunderstood You or your world, give us understanding. Please heal those of us who need healing. Forgive us for our sins, and help us sin no more. Why is this so difficult? Why the confusion? And thanks for the beautiful, sometimes tortured world. Amen.

    Anna, thanks again. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot.

  19. Dustin says:

    amazing post. thanks for your voice here.

  20. Guesty says:

    I found this very thought-provoking. I think American Christianity has exiled the idea of suffering from faith, which leaves people completely unready when they are struck with suffering. But I think Christianity in the past (certainly the first few centuries) *knew* suffering would happen and thus weren’t surprised by it. Getting rid of the Ozzie & Harriet model of Christianity would be a great thing. (Btw, I think the Orthodox and to some degree the Catholics get the issue of suffering as participation in Christ a lot better than your average American Evangelical.)

Leave a Reply

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.