Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Post in Which I Confess: I Believe Almost Nothing

Occasionally, I'm asked what I believe about some aspect or other concerning God, Jesus, or faith. And I always have a hard time answering. Not because I'm shy about what I believe. And not because I do not know what I believe--I do. Rather, it's more that my beliefs tend to be very open. I have thoughts and ideas more than beliefs.

Most people I know, who declare that they believe this or that, tend to have very strict ideas about who God is, what God does, and what faith looks like. There tends to be little, if any, room for growth. Hell, there's barely any room to breathe with most of them. Too many people have an attitude of, "I believed this when I was 5; I believe it at 25; I'm going to believe it at 50; and I will die never having challenged my beliefs. And furthermore, I fully intend to vilify and ostracize anyone else who attempts to challenge my beliefs." This always makes me sad and, more often than not, frustrates me.

Most people I know treat their theological beliefs as Ultimate Truths. When my pastor and I discuss theology and I say things like, "I can tell you what I think about this or that, but I'm not sure I believe it," he counters with the notion that as a preacher it is my job to share my beliefs, that I'm called to take a stand, and surely I must, on those issues, acknowledge that I believe something and that I believe my beliefs are right.

I disagree.

There are only two beliefs I hold. Only two theological points I consider to be Ultimate Truths:

1. God exists.

2. Love is the single most powerful and transformative force in the universe.

And there are days when, intellectually, I doubt the first.

Regardless, I generally think these two Truths are linked.

But that's about as far as it goes. There are things I choose to accept as part of the faith tradition to which I subscribe. But these are all things which are open to revision. As a Christian, my experiences to date have led me to think X. But prior to experience P, I had thought W. Thus, I must leave room for the possibility that someday, I will experience Q, which will open my ideas to include Y.

Because my theological ideas and my understandings who God is, who Jesus, what and how God and Jesus operate in our world has shifted radically between the time I was five and thirty and as I fully expect to live at least another thirty years, it would be irresponsible to claim that I know and thus hold as Ultimate Truth X or Y concerning the nature of God, Jesus, and faith.

Thus, when people ask, "What do you believe about...?" I'm left wondering how to answer this question. I've found that if I answer, "Well, today I think..." people tend to find it evasive, wishy-washy, and disconcerting. It leaves them with little confidence in my gifts, skills, and abilities to serve in a position of ministerial authority.

What further complicates this is that few people have a frame of reference for a system of ideas that so open and expansive. "This is what I think today" rather than "This is what I believe" does not communicate to most people, "I realize I am human and I am leaving room for growth." It communicates, "I don't know what I believe and you shouldn't trust anything I say."

Now, in the categories of things I choose to accept as tenets of the faith to which I subscribe are:

1. Jesus is the Son of God.

My experiences have led me to understand that Jesus, as the Son of God, is:

A. Wholly God with all of the power, glory, and honor that comes with such a position; and
B. Wholly human with all the pitfalls, limitations, and challenges that come with such a position.

As a human, Jesus fails us at times. As God, Jesus failing isn't an option. As human, it's inevitable. As a matter of faith, most people I know would be horrified to read that I consider Jesus to have failed because while they believe A and insist they believe B, the reality is they are afraid of what would happen if A were not true, and though they accept B in theory, they reject it as reality.

So, that's just some of my thoughts. I'm sure there'll be more. Someday. When I've decided I actually believe something more.

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