I'm Tired of Apologizing for God
Like many Christians, I began the process of deconstructing my faith in college.
The de facto understanding, even in my congregation today, is that college is where faith goes to die. The logic, it seems, is that the beliefs of the "secular world" are too alluring and overwhelm the good Christian teen. After all, what's sexier than evolution, literary critique, or nihilism?
I think, on reflection, the truly powerful aspect of a (secular) college experience was meeting people who were fundamentally different from me and growing to appreciate them. Through those other people I found myself trying to understand how we all end up in different places. And the more I tried to see from someone else's perspective, the more I realized how strange my own perspective was.
There are two ways that can go. For someone with more burdens and hurt from the Church, a realization of the absurdities of one's belief system may be a welcome opportunity to break out of that mold. Our snake talked, their snake evolved from a fish. But they don't tell you you're going to hell if you drink and beer is delicious, so why not try the fish-snake lifestyle?
For me, who was less burdened by the Church and therefore still had a great deal of loyalty to it, it lead to apologetics.
Apologetics was fun and fruitless. It allowed me to believe my faith was rational, even if I didn't remember all of the reasons I learned for why that was (I was never very fond of memorization). I could fantasize about debating atheists (thank God, sincerely, I never tried).
I studied and theorized on reasons God seemed to tacitly condone slavery in both Testaments, what it meant when God hardened Pharaoh's heart, how the Exodus could be historically true... I agonized over details like the Bible's inaccurate definition of Pi (rounding?), how Adam's grandchildren lived for centuries (decreased solar radiation from a thicker atmosphere?), and other spiritually useless pursuits of correctness (but not Truth). I'm exhausted just trying to remember these things. And who were they meant for? The arguments, proofs, exegesis... the only person I was trying to convince was myself. And in the end, I failed, and I deconstructed anyway.
Here's a rule of thumb: if I find myself trying to explain how one form of slavery is better than another, my theology is probably the wrong fit for reality (here's a simpler one: any slavery is wrong!). Once I stopped building scaffolding around the Bible in order to justify myself, I was finally able to realize the far more elegant Truth which was there all along.
I had found myself apologizing for God in order to defend the Bible. I would have liked God to have been someone who loved and accepted the LGBTQA community, but if I "took the Bible seriously," how could I help but equivocate and dodge what I saw as "his words?" I would deeply enjoy the experience of learning by the leadership of women who I have great respect for, but God (I mean Paul, speaking for God) forbade that, so we'll all just have to lose out. And on it went. If only God were... better? I could try to suppress such a thought, but how could I for long?
It turns out you can deconstruct something while also rigorously defending it. Once I had built the scaffold around my beliefs, the beliefs themselves began to sag and crack under the weight. Was God even good anymore? I couldn't remember the correct proof of it.
All the while there was Jesus. The one who said that all the Law and Prophets hang on Love. The "author and perfector" of the faith. I never found fault in Jesus, even if I believed (and denied, with great cognitive dissonance) I had found faults with God the Father.
To quote Richard Rohr, "Jesus is my hermaneutic." Focusing on Jesus has helped me start to exit the period of deconstruction and enter reconstruction. The hardest questions have simpler answers, now. The Bible's authors—Old and New—were simply human people living in their own preconceptions, their own flaws, and their own clouded vision. Didn't even Paul admit to as much ("we see as through a clouded glass")?
Yet throughout, there are threads of magnificent beauty, even in the oldest and most primitive writers. And that, to me, is even more convincing of faith than if the whole book were literally unerring. To read an incredible description of grace in the prophets, or encoded into the (often, frankly, barbaric) laws of Moses—did the authors realize they were weaving the threads of the Gospel? They don't seem to. They recoil back to violence and retribution just as quickly as they left it. These links in the chain seem to be placed in the minds of authors from some higher ethic than they are conscious of.
Again, Jesus is the key. See how easily he shakes off the burden of the Law! "The sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath." Wisdom which still shocks the religious—if we could hear it! "My yoke is easy, my burden is light." Haven't we enslaved ourselves to the words and traditions of our Book and our Church—but not to Love? In enslaving ourselves to lesser things than Love (for God is Love), what else have we enslaved but love itself? How can we exercise our love completely if we are restrained by codes written millennia ago? I realize I sound completely ungrounded, but I am genuinely trying to grapple with what Jesus means when he says that the Law is fulfilled by Love. It is the Law which is encompassed by Love, not Love which is encoded into the Law. If we have Love, we have our righteousness and the fulfillment of the Law. If we have only the Law, we have nothing—not even justification!
I can't help but go on. Didn't Jesus say "if you have seen me, you have seen the Father?" How do we reconcile this with God as he was understood, and related, in Old Testament history and myth? While Jesus has an edge to him, it's the good kind of edge—the kind that's willing to call a hypocrite a hypocrite. Not the kind that condones Benjamites kidnapping and raping women of another tribe because they needed wives, or that accepts Jephthah taking an oath to sacrifice his own daughter, or that lets Job's children die to win a bet.
Who am I to apologize for God? The God who I have experienced first hand in my own life is foreign to those things. I look at Jesus first. If I have questions about the rest of Scripture, I settle them based on the ministry, character, and life of Jesus. Even saying this, I experience a healthy fear of saying anything in Scripture is "wrong." But at the very least I intend to begin saying "I don't know" quite a bit more, and returning to rest in the goodness of God as revealed in Jesus.
I want to choose elegance. My goal is Love. My law is Love. The law which binds me perfectly fulfills my goal. Love, as James added in his own thread within the tapestry of grace, is "the perfect law that gives freedom." Love never fails.
My conservative family may begin to invoke the Slippery Slope argument: if I accept this change, what more will I accept?
However, I find myself pondering a far more interesting question: why did it take this long for the Spirit to reveal this to us?