This series has focused thus far on the dilemma that occurs when a person begins to suspect that all he or she has been taught about God, and God’s relationship to creation, may not be “true.” So far I’ve been raising the possibility that, for some people, this dilemma can be due to poor religious education. People are regularly encouraged to invest their hopes and dreams in a false view of God – a view that brings comfort so long as life stays mainly on the asphalt.
I’m asserting that this “god” is little more than a golden calf — an “idol” we have crafted with our own hands. Your idols will always get their power from your fear, and they feed on your need for control. Idols promise to take care of you. The God of the Christian tradition does not promise to take care of you, but promises to be with you. This God promises to remain as close as your breath as you muddle through this mess of a creation that was thrown off its axis by the sins of others, and continues to wobble from the weight of your sins.
How do we move beyond this small god, and into relationship with the Living God? To liberally paraphrase Richard Rohr:
There are two paths to transformation – prayer and suffering. And most of us too dumb to choose the path of prayer.
(Richard is too kind to use a word like “dumb.” No one is surprised when I do.)
I’m a big fan of the NPR program Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross. Gross recently interviewed Bart Ehrman, author of Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible. Ehrman’s story is more familiar than Christians would like to admit. He embraced faith as a teenager and became a committed evangelical Christian. His studies at the Moody Bible Institute prompted him to further investigate scripture at Princeton Theological Seminary. These studies led him towards a more “liberal” brand of Christianity. His attempts to wrap his mind around the Christian understanding of suffering eventually led him to embrace agnosticism. Ehrman no longer participates in organized religion.
If you listen to the interview or read the transcript, your first reaction may well be to argue with him. If so, I’d ask you to forgo that exercise and consider the following questions:
- Is there really no place for the Ehrmans of the world within the church?
- Is it inherently impossible to be both an agnostic and a Christian?
In my next post I intend to delve into these questions more deeply. But, for now, I’ll just say that I think Ehrman’s story speaks to all that has gone awry in Western Christianity.