August 24, 2011

A Christian conundrum

I just read a post on Gifts in the Journey that sparked this (long!) comment in reply. Since I rarely make time anymore to be philosophical, I wanted to share it with the rest of you as well.

As I've mentioned before, I grew up in a Christian family, but because we chose voluntary poverty and chose to live in a 'rough' area, I also grew up where prayer was super practical. Mom and Dad, not knowing where the next meal would come from, praying for food and there would be provision. At the same time, we also grew up surrounded by death and violence. (in the same year--I was 4--our Pastor's grown daughter was murdered by an ex-boyfriend and my godfather was hit in the head by a kid with a baseball bat and died 6-months later.) So my parents could never give us a simplistic version of faith where God would always make everything better. In fact my Mom often struggled with the idea that as much as she loved the Lord, she didn't trust him to "do her good". Toward the end of her life, while dying of cancer, she got a revelation of God's Father love that really changed her. She wasn't healed, but her joy in the midst of dying was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Part of what's hard about prayer is that (at least in the Christian version) it's as much a reflection of the relationship as it is about a formula or set of words. There's a reason that Jesus' revolutionary prayer begins with "Our Father". Not "My Father" not "Our Holy Director". It's about community with others and communion in a loving relationship with God. The problem is that when we go through really crappy life events, it's really hard to reconcile that with a loving Father and, and, frankly, the 'gimmee' faith that I've seen in many American churches makes that wresting match all the more confusing. It also makes it harder to find a community where honest struggle is welcomed.

My husband has been wrestling with these sorts of questions for much of our marriage. For three or four years I gave him a string of rah-rah answers, the lines that had been fed to me. In the end, I did a study of the book of Job where I went through and underlined in one color the things I heard him saying, in another color what people from our church told him, and another for what I was saying to him. It seemed like there were three approaches: God IS responsible and I want him to answer (Job/Jrex); God is always good and this bad stuff has happened because you deserve it (Job's three friends/church); and It's a mystery, we just have to trust (Elihu/me). In the end, God did answer Job, but the answer was mostly a non-answer where God basically says, I'm really big and most of what I do is beyond your capacity to execute or even fully understand. Somehow in the end, that glimpse of God's reality is enough that Job says he gets it. I don't fully understand it as an interaction, but it seems like there was something in that to reconnect the relationship enough for Job to return to a trusting relationship.

Again in the NT, Paul comes to the point where he questions why God does what He does and again, it's a non-answer, "Who are you to question God?" I find that one of the really difficult things about the Christian faith: the reality that Why? won't necessarily be answered. Perhaps Who? and What For? might get clarified, but going down the Why? road seems to lead to a lot of despair. There is a lot in the NT about counting suffering as joy and being thankful in all circumstances that I still don't understand. That somehow mixes into the life of prayer and the living of life in a way I don't often see modeled in the States.

For me, I've had enough relational encounters with Jesus/God that I can't walk away from the reality of his existence. Some of the theology/philosophy around who he is can be confusing, but the core of knowing he's real and trusting that somehow, somewhere along the road he'll use all this still feels true.

I found this verse last night in Hosea: "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." As much as Jrex isn't sure about a lot of the Christian faith, he trusts that Jesus died and rose and that heaven is real. Somehow that's been the thin thread that he's held onto and that verse spoke to me about God's attitude toward that. The person who chooses to not completely walk away is someone of great worth to Him. I think of that in your honesty and hope that maybe there's something worthwhile in prayer, there is great worth.


OTR sister said...

Good post.

Right now our pastor is doing a sermon series on Psalm 73, which is a pretty fascinating choice.

In the middle of the psalm the author gets to a place where he states that his faith in God is pointless, and a wasted effort. But then he realizes that if he had shared that he could have damaged the faith of others.

One of the applications that Pastor Mike gave was that we should be honest about our faith struggles, but we should be struggling with them, not boasting of them. Not imply that, because I struggle, I'm deeper and think more about things than you do. That hit home for me.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

There's a comment for you over at my place on the post where you left your response to my question.

I've read your comment several times already and I'm sure I will go back to it again. You've given me a great deal to consider and I am really grateful you took the time to share your thoughts and experience with me.

Jo said...

You are one of life's deep thinkers you know? You should write more in relation to your thoughts. I love reading about people's views on how their life is progressing, and why. Thank you for your thoughts. They give me more thoughts of my own!

Mizasiwa said...

This is so weird - I was thinking the other day what you would think of a question I had... and this is sort of along the same line...
Anyway I tried to be baptised 3 times from when I was 16 - 30 and each time my situation and faith was tested beyond my own ability to handle. (or i thought so) In one of our RCIA classes our priest was asked a question i cant remember exactly but his answer stuck - he said that as a christian Jesus dies and that we should not expect glory for being a christian on this earth. Now know this may seem a bit harsh but in many parts of the world this is a reality and while i walk free and am a christian i do not take the power of prayer lightly. I come from a household were my mother always told us that god helps those who help themselves. Believing that you should not ask god for petty menial things. I never believed that I could ask for anything untill last year when my husband and I nearly lost our house and car. We had tried every other avenue and eventually as a slim chance last resort we prayed. We did not however ask for our house and car to be kept - not exactly but we gave in, we 'caved' to the belief that it was up to Him not us what our future landed up being. I believe it was this utmost faith in knowing that whatever happened He would be there that changed out live. Im not sure that this makes any sense but I just mean that it is in the faith that christianity can make sense - for us at least.

Anonymous said...

Robert Frost brilliantly summarized the Book of Job -- and our human condition:

"There's no connection man can reason out
between our just deserts and what we get."

Suzanne said...

I love that verse from Hosea...your thoughts echo many of my own when it comes to the mystery of prayer.