The schedule i set up for my Bible reading (back in May) really has me powering through the Old Testament. Which is fine with me; i've read the books of the Law approximately seven times in their entirety, and i was in a weekly Bible study on Leviticus last semester, so i feel like i don't need to take that much time with it.
Also, i need to be honest: i'm kind of in a dry spell right now, spiritually.
Faith goes through seasons, just like everything else in life (to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven), but Christians are sometimes made to feel guilt about being in one season or another. I've heard preachers saying that every day should be full of joy, that we should be overflowing with joy in Christ, that we should be so full of the boundless love and grace and mercy that we have received that nothing can bring us down.
I have a friend who suffered from clinical depression and was told to pray more and deepen her faith, and that Christ would fill her with joy.
Because nothing balances the chemicals in my brain like yet another fucking chorus of "Our God Reigns".
This semester, my Bible study is focusing on the non-fuzzy images of God. We're looking at the Jesus who hurled racial slurs at a woman who asked for His help, the Christ who withered a fig tree because it wasn't bearing fruit, at the God who ordered the slaughter of babies, the God who sent lying angels to prophets so that people would die. We're looking at Hagar, who got pile after pile of rancid shit dumped on her, and was ignored by God, except for when He was telling her to go back and take more abuse.
Last week, i went to a writing retreat where Benji talked about how the Church doesn't have sad songs. The Bible has psalms of lament, where we talk about how life sucks and we don't know why God won't rescue us. But in modern Christian contexts, the best we get is "Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, 'It is well, it is well with my soul." We don't make room for doubt, for sorrow, for anger. We must be happy.
In our Bible study, Benji said that theology should be "a testimony for conversion". In other words, what we say about God should make people want to know Him for themselves. This does NOT mean that you should walk up to strangers in the parking lot of a rest stop in New Jersey, hand them a tract, and tell them that God wants to save them from their sins (this happened to me over Christmas vacation). What it means is, the things you believe about God, the things you know about God, the things you say about God, should be compelling and attractive.
That doesn't necessarily mean that you should tell people that everything with Jesus is sunshine and roses. Even Jesus didn't say that (the Son of Man has no place to lay His head, He came to turn families against each other, people are going to hate you and treat you terribly, etc.) If i asked someone about their religion and they said, "It makes everything happy forever!", i would run away.
Some day, someone you love will die. If it hasn't happened already, it will. My grandmother is dead. My great aunt is dead. One of my friends is dying. My parents will die. My cousins will die. My siblings will die. My spouse, my kids, my co-workers, my pastor, my professors, my favorite musicians, the students i teach. Everyone i know and love will die some day. I will die. And maybe i'll go before some of the people i know and love and won't have to be there when it happens, but that just means that they will have to mourn my death.
People die. It's a part of life. And it is good and right to mourn them. We may be able to draw some comfort by thoughts of them in a happy afterlife, or by knowing that their pain and sickness are ended, but the reality is that they are dead in a box in the ground, rotting away. They will never again laugh with you. They will never again cry with you. They will not see you grow old. You will not see them grow old. My friend who is dying is in his 20s. I will never dance at his wedding, never meet his children, never tease him for his grey hairs. And it is good and right to mourn this.
And there's a whole lot of other shit in life, too. People get sick and injured. Children get raped. People get fired. Hearts get broken. Spouses cheat on one another and lie about it. Houses burn down. Cancer exists. Homelessness exists. Malnutrition, starvation, poverty exist. Do you ever think about how fucked up it is that we have social workers? We have people whose job is to make sure you are taking care of your kids, and to remove them from your care if you are not. They make sure you are going to rehab. They make sure your kids are going to school. They make sure that there is food in the refrigerator and that you are not doing drugs or having sex in front of your toddler. Because there are SO MANY people who cannot take care of their own lives and the lives of their children that we have entire undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs devoted to training other people to take care of them.
There is a whole lot of shit in life, and it is right and good to mourn it. It is right and good to be angry over it. It is right and good to respond with negative emotions to these things. There are only two ways to completely remove yourself from all negative emotional response: heavy doses of psychiatric medication and death. Meds can also dull or remove positive feelings, and death is, well, death. A religion that promises that everything will be sunny all the time always is either lying or deluded, and either way you shouldn't drink any kool-aid they offer you.
I'm still reading my Bible. I'm still praying. I'm still having spiritual conversations with people, still writing about my feelings, still processing. I'm still a Christian. I'm still a doubter. Recently, someone asked me the question i've been fearing: what's the point of religion? Bad things still happen to good people, and there are good people who are not Christians, and even some good people who don't believe in any God at all, so what are you getting out of it?
I told him i didn't know. I don't know why i have faith. I don't know what i'm getting out of this whole religion thing.
This is true and not true. I can't point you to the pile of gold i've amassed because of God's financial blessings on my life. I can't point you to the perfect job He provided for me. My brother may be alive, but he's lost a leg and a year of his life and lots of memories and joy and God may have brought him miraculously out of his injuries but God still allowed him to be injured in the first place. I can't give you a bulleted list of reasons to follow God. I can't show you tangible things that God has done in my life. I believe that i have experienced miracles, but they all come with caveats (my brother's miraculous recovery wouldn't have been necessary if God hadn't let him be blown up in the first place).
But if you're in religion for what you're getting out of it, you're missing the point. I can tell you things that i've "gotten out of" my relationship with my boyfriend, but i'm not with him because he buys me nice presents or takes me out to eat or listens to me complain. I'm not with him because of what i'm "getting out of" the relationship. If that was all i wanted, i'd be dating someone with more money and time to lavish on me.
I'm with my boyfriend because i love him, and he loves me. I'm with God because i love Him, and He loves me.
I'm still mad at Him for a lot of the stuff in the Old and New Testaments. I'm mad at Him because of my brother, and because of the shooting in Connecticut, and because of people who say that God hates fags, and because of poverty and cancer and AIDS, and because i don't have enough money to student teach and buy everything i want from Amazon, and because my parents are divorced and shouldn't have been married in the first place so maybe i shouldn't even be alive, and because Republicans keep trying to take rights away from women and non-whites, and because of earthquakes and tsunamis and war and oppression and starvation and mental illness.
But being in a relationship means experiencing a whole range of shifting emotions, sometimes even many emotions at once. And my God lets me work through that stuff, even when that means i yell at Him or don't represent Him well to others or regard my personal devotional time with Him as a chore.
So i guess what i'm "getting out of" this is a love greater and freer and fuller and more compelling and empowering and gracious and overwhelming and gentle and sweet than any love i have ever known. It's a love that enables me to love better. It's a love that makes me better. It's a love that withstands my anger and weariness and confusion. And i don't know how to say any of that in a way that makes other people want to know God too, but i guess that's something that He and i can work on.