On empty shelves, not so easy to crack,
Got all these questions, don‘t know who I’m ever gonna ask.
So I’ll just lie awake and wait for the dream
Where I’m not ugly and you’re looking at me
– Pearl Jam
There’s an old joke that goes something like this: “How many idealists does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is that no one knows because an idealist has never changed anything. And within this antidote lies the terrible tension that has plagued dreamers and haunted realists since the beginning.
We often teeter the line between determinism and chaos, straddling back and forth while our theories struggle to see the light of application. I think we all have questions and wonder why this universe rarely lines up with our suppositions—the difference between naïveté and question-induced sleepless nights. Doubt is not synonymous with skepticism, but rather, it paves the road that can rescue us from denial. Sometimes the very answers we implore God to reveal still leave us unsatisfied. That being said … sometimes answers are highly overrated.
Wrestling with our thoughts and doubts can be both cathartic and whimsical. Attempting to find some closure and meaning in life affords us the occasion to play both the role of God and Job simultaneously. We are both accusatory and submissive in our pleas.
But how often are we honest with ourselves? How many times during the course of an average day do we put thought into our habits or routines? As followers of Jesus we are asked to live a certain way of life which, generally, makes sense to us. We can be quick to point out the inconsistencies in other’s ideas or beliefs, but have we ever turned that introspection on ourselves? .
What I am getting at is this: Is our devotion to God sincere or wrapped in a cloak of regurgitated clichés? There is so much in this world that I do not understand and am not comfortable with, and I am tired of pretending that “everything is going to be all right.” That is such a Western answer to the real problem and issue of pain and suffering. I also know the Scriptures teach that “all things work for good for those that know God.” I have heard, countless times, how God has a future for us and if we trust in him it all will go well. We ignore the big questions that gnaw at our soul until we can make it to the next prayer meeting to gather reinforcements to prod us on till the next Christian ghetto gathering.
In 1998 I spent some time working in an orphanage in Thailand where many of the children were HIV positive. We fed the infants and played with the toddlers and preschool-aged kids. It was not the nicest of facilities, but the children were genuinely loved by the workers. They were also genuinely loved by God, and that is where my theology began to choke on reality. Some of the children died while we were there. These children never asked to be born, let alone in a physical condition which seemed to be at odds with their survival since Day One.
I have a good friend who believes radically different things about this universe than I do. We approach this world from different base camps, both seeking to arrive at the same peak(s). The main issue that keeps him from fully embracing the Jesus in the Bible is the behavior of Christians. He doesn’t view them as mean-spirited, right-wing evangelicals. And he doesn’t even use the overplayed “hypocrite” card. His major beef with Christians is their ideology that suffering is just a part of life, and we need to trust God (blindly) that things will be fine one day. He can’t fathom a tradition of people who are willing to trust the very God who allows the horrific to happen. We can argue all day about the goodness of God in contrast with the falleness of man and the concept that there are no “good people.”
But honestly, is that ever the first reaction when a small child is raped and murdered? “Well, we live in a fallen and sinful world that has ramifications going back to the dawn of man’s disobedience.” If that is ever my first thought, then please put me out of my misery, because that is what I will have become … miserable. Should disaster be rationalized from a spiritual point of view? My immediate response to horrific events is usually to ask why. And I am growing tired of the bumper sticker prescriptions prescribed by those who have never thought for themselves once in their entire life.
I never promised you answers, but I sure have a lot of questions.
Next week Curt will feature a follow-up to this story called “Why I Hope”