“He’s scared of what he doesn’t know,” he tersely stated without emotion.
“Most people are,” I replied.
I know I used to be. I suppose I still am.
I used to go into a room. An empty room where I could think. I would let all of my safe, comfortable ideas rest there and proceed to seal the windows and lock the doors so that they would remain safely unchallenged. Far away from liberal theology, secularism, humanism and everything else I was taught to fear and despise.
Then one day a close friend knocked on my door and entered my seemingly secure room. I thought we would share safe ideas together. I hoped we would agree with one another until we both felt arrogantly secure in the theological boxes we would create. And then, the unimaginable happened. This friend surprisingly disclosed their doubts and uncertainties about the existence of hell.
My evangelical, bible studying friend.
How could they?!
I became emotional. Even a bit angry. I was concerned for them. What would they believe next?! Quickly I discovered that I wasn’t really concerned for them at all. Their doubts made me uncomfortable. They possibly even offended me. They made me question my own beliefs. My room full of safe ideas had been invaded and the walls quickly collapsed around me.
Isn’t that true for most of us in the world of Christianity? We are taught (either directly or in more subtle ways) to avoid certain places, certain people, and definitely certain books. We are told that if we go to these places, interact with these people and entertain the ideas in these books we will begin to ride the inescapable slippery slope of liberalism, resulting in depressed, disillusioned unbelief. Pretty soon we will even doubt God’s existence and walk away from him.
Is that really true?
What if the universe wasn’t created in six 24 hour days? What if Genesis 1 is a poem? What if the Bible isn’t as inerrant and infallible as we think? What if God actually condones homosexual activity? What if hell isn’t a literal place of eternal torture? What if salvation isn’t as simple as a quick prayer? What if we’re wrong about what we’ve been taught and what we believe? What if? What if…?
Many evangelical Christians would (and will) likely stop reading at this point, labeling me a heretical, liberal, false teacher. But please bear with me. Why do you believe what you believe? Because of what your parents taught you? Because of your pastor and spiritual mentors? Because of your professors? Because of your friends?
In my study of the Bible I have discovered that a lot of the doctrine that we hold onto with tight fists is actually less black and white than we make it out to be. There are a lot of grey districts.
And that’s okay.
I think it is good to question things. It is even good to have a healthy amount of doubt. As Paul Tillich writes: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” In fact, certainty is the opposite of faith. And if we were certain about everything we wouldn’t have faith would we?! And without faith, we cannot please God or even believe in him!
I do not believe that God has a problem with our questions and doubts. He is very secure in who he is. There is no question that will shock him. He gave us our minds and our emotions and I think that he enjoys it when we use them to think and feel our way through the things that matter.
So why are we so preoccupied with getting things right? Why do we find it so hard to say “I don’t know.”? Why do we always have to come up with an answer and deliver it with fake confidence? Why do we allow opposing beliefs and ideas uproot everything we’ve ever thought? Why are we so quick to attack people and label them as heretics?
How do we treat those who doubt? How do we treat those in our midst who have differing opinions? Or do we even allow those people into our midst? What do our churches and bible study groups do when “they” walk through the door. Do we welcome them to join in the discussion, or do we indirectly discourage them from coming back, hoping that they won’t pollute people’s minds with “false doctrine”? What about our churches in general? Do we create an environment and atmosphere where people can put forth their honest questions and doubts? Their true opinions? Or does everyone conform into sharing the same beliefs on the outside, never comfortable enough to say what they truly believe or ask the questions they’ve always been curious about? Are we encouraged or discouraged to explore the beliefs of others?
Brennan Manning writes: “…In conversation, the disciple who is truly poor in spirit always leaves the other person with the feeling, ‘My life has been enriched by talking with you.'”
What if we as followers of Jesus were so humble and loving that we could listen to anyone and learn from everyone? What if we could actually learn from those who hate us and disagree with us? What if we could even learn from other religions? What if we could embrace the diversity of different opinions and doctrines without world war three breaking out? What if we could humbly embrace doubt and vulnerably share our deepest questions with one another without the fear of judgement being passed?
When is the last time you read a book or an article that challenged you? That you disagreed with? That made your stomach churn a bit? It can be a dangerous thing to do. It can be emotionally draining. It will make you think. It will be difficult. Everyone wants to read something they will agree with. But often, when you read these books and articles written by notorious authors, you discover that they are not so different from you. They are people made in the image of God. It seems as though they honestly love God. Perhaps they have been misunderstood. Perhaps they are wrong.
Or maybe we are.
My small stale room has been rebuilt. It’s bigger now (and will hopefully grow more and more!). The windows are open, and the door is unlocked. The ideas I allow in are no longer as safe or as comfortable as they used to be. Ideas are constantly traveling in and out as I weigh them with my limited understanding of scripture. But the walls of the room no longer fall down (or at very least they are becoming stronger!) when challenging ideas enter. My world-view and love for God does not collapse when I talk to “them” or read a challenging article. And frankly, I feel a lot more free than I used to in my claustrophobic, stale, secure little room.
It turns out that there is freedom in the grey areas. There is security in the mystery. There does not always have to be fear in the unknown.