Sunday, February 18, 2007

252. a confession (part two...sort of)

Yesterday, I wrote about a prayer and a "deal" I made with God that had to do with some missing files at work and a girl I've been trying to ask out. In that entry I made reference to some ancient history in my life that calls all this into question.

There was a time more than ten years ago (ugh, that makes me feel so old) when I thought I had heard from God about rekindling a failed relationship with a girl that I had fallen hard for, a few years before that. That story is entirely too long and messy to retell here but if you want more detail, you can find it in blog 174.

Suffice it to say that I thought I had heard from God regarding this girl (I believe I referred to her as Kay in blog 174) but it turned out not to be true and that left me reeling in regards to the "relationship with God" metaphor that is so popular in so many churches (at least the churches that I attended at the time).

See, back then, I heard lots of talk at church and at the para-church meetings I attended about the importance of having a relationship with God. I'd hear testimonies all the time about persons who had attended church all their lives but only recently learned that "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship." I also heard sermons about the importance of hearing from God when it came to important decisions in life. Others talked about how they related to God the way they did to their best friend.

All this talk of relationship was confusing to me because I couldn't figure out why I wasn't experiencing anything that I would call a relationship, much less a friendship with God. I mean, when I think of the word relationship, I think of a back and forth conversation between two people. My relationship with God seemed to be all forth and no back - I'd pray and ask God questions but I was never able to discern any kind of reply.

For a while, I thought I wasn't good enough or that I wasn't trying hard enough. I did my best to read my Bible more and to pray more and to volunteer more of my time at church. But no matter how hard I tried or how much work I did or how many books I read on the topic, I wasn't hearing back from God.

Eventually, I burned out from trying too hard. I didn't abandon my faith completely, in my heart I knew that God was real and that I believed that he humbled himself and came to earth in the person of Jesus and lots of the other foundational things I had learned. I just couldn't stop believing something that resonated so deeply within me, it's just that I wasn't exactly sure what that something was exactly, and I wasn't going to just blindly believe what people were telling me it should be.

Now for lots of Christians, this is the point where they jettison their faith and jump into the deep end of debauchery. Me? I stopped going to church for a while. I started drinking - not hard drinking, I just felt free to drink a Jack and Coke if I was at a bar or club with friends (I didn't have my first drink until I was 23). I started asking some big, hard questions about what it meant to be a follower of Christ - questions I'm still asking today.

Basically, what happened was, I decided to break off the crust of the cultural aspects of American Evangelical Christianity to get back to the core essential truths. And though it was hard at first, one of the things I let go was this relationship idea.

At first I felt in the minority - that I was one of the few unlucky Christians who just weren't born with spiritual sensitivity (I called it "broken spiritual antennae" in a previous blog). But then a friend gave me a copy of a couple CDs that contained a talk by a Christian apologist (person who tries to defend the faith through reason) named Greg Koukl who runs a radio show called Stand To Reason. The talk was titled "Decision Making and the Will of God" and I won't go into detail about it here (see blog 94 for my longer take on the talk...caution, small kine potty mouth), but basically Koukl makes the case that according to principles drawn from the Bible, making decisions (miniscule or monumental) comes down to asking three simple questions:

1. What do you want to do? When presented a with a choice (A or B), the first question is to simply ask, which one do I want? Which do I prefer?

2. Is it moral? Is making that choice within the boundaries presented in the Bible? When choosing between adultery and abstaining, most would rather choose to get it on, but Biblically, that's not a moral choice so it's off the table.

3. Is it wise? Cashing out your retirement fund and gambling it all in Vegas is something people contemplate (though not me), and while I don't think it's explicitly prohibited by the Bible, but it's certainly not a wise decision.

Simple as that. No waiting on divine revelation, no setting out of fleeces, no casting of lots, and, I suppose, no banking on lost (misplaced) files to be found. If something you want to do passes those three tests then have at it.

And so finally, I'm back where I began - at this deal I made with God about asking Quest Girl out. The prayer about the files was something I thought would be fun, a way to brighten up an otherwise tedious task. But when they were actually found, I was torn. A part of me was ecstatic because I thought maybe I had seen the had of God at work, but another part of me remembered the situation years ago with Kay (see paragraph three above) and how wrong I was then about supposedly hearing something from God.

At this point, I know there are some Christian friends I have who would tell me that I made a binding agreement with the God of the universe when I prayed that little prayer and that I have to live up to my end of the deal. I know there are other Christian friends who will tell me that I'm making way to big of a mountain out of far too small of a molehill (see the comments section in blog 252).

What do I think?

Well this might seem like an non sequitur, but maybe things went down the way they did just so that I could write about it.

Here's what I mean. Those Christian friends I mentioned? Let's put them into two camps. Camp A believes that my prayer about missing files and Quest Girl amounts to a binding covenant and that I must uphold my end or risk dire consequences. Camp B thinks it was a stupid prayer to pray and that finding the files has nothing to do with talking to this girl.

Normally, Camp A people don't hang with Camp B people and it's just as true the other way around. No surprise there because birds of a feather, they do flock together. But you know what? It may be logically inconsistent, their two views might be incompatible, but I honestly believe that they're both right...and that they're both wrong.

I don't mean to say that there's no truth to be found in the world, but I believe that the truth of a matter such as this is far more generous and complex than those in Camp A or Camp B would make it out to be. Before he was crucified, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that his followers "would be one," that they would be united despite their differences.

Charles Baudelaire is quoted as saying, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist." That's a neat trick, but I think a far more powerful device in the devil's toolbox is division. By dividing Christians along non-essential lines, he keeps Christians hunkered down, defending their piece of theological turf instead of heading out into an increasingly broken, dysfunctional world.

I'm not saying we all have to come to some sort of agreement on which side (Camp A or B) is right, but I am saying that we should be able to agree to disagree in love. And no, that's not easy or clean or what comes to us naturally, but I believe that the widening divide in America (red versus blue, for example) is, in part, a consequence of Christians' failure to reconcile our own differences and to work together.

Dr. Martin Luther King referred to 11am on Sunday mornings as "the most segregated hour in this nation." (You can see the context of this quote here. Highly recommended.) And I hope I'm not doing a disservice to him by suggesting that this segregation exists not only along racial lines but also along ideological ones.

Let me end with this. The Bible teaches that God reveals himself not only through the Bible, but also through the universe he created (Romans 1:20). And what do we see there? Variety and diversity of color, shape, form, function, taste, smell, and on and on. What else do we see? We see harmony, symbiosis, a network of complex, highly dependent interconnectedness.

Seen in this way, God's creation tells me two things about him. That he loves diversity and that this diversity can work together for the benefit of all.

And so should we.

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