A friend got me thinking tonight with his question about what it takes to really 'get it'. i.e. I can know about Jesus and the resurrection, but why is it that I can go through year after year never seeming to get it, to really live it, any more than before?
I would venture to guess that most Christians have had that feeling. Or at least tiptoed toward it, peered over the edge coming as close to a ninety-degree angle as they dared before fear made them turn back and maybe pretend to have conquered, or decide not to be concerned with, that challenge.
And it is scary. It brings up uncomfortable questions, like what is Christianity really all about? Why do I keep believing this stuff it doesn't seem to be doing me any good? What does it mean to live as a Christian - what does that life look like? Is it always a struggle? an obligation?
Our conversation veered away from this question before I had a chance to weigh in, but it got me thinking. Thinking about how I didn't 'get it' before, and how that changed. I went through a period where I disbelieved in Christianity. Not 'doubted', but truly disbelieved. I spent time trying to figure out what to believe in, what was true, and to shorten a long story I came back to Christianity but I knew that needed to look different from the fundamentalist distortion I had known growing up.
But even then Christianity was mostly something I 'knew', not something I had internalized. I didn't 'get it'. Ultimately I don't think I could ever have understood things like grace and the resurrection had it not been for the brand-new experience of feeling loved. That wasn't all it took, but it was essential.
I had foreseen the end of my paths - whether a life of hedonism, or graceless religion, or humanism - and despaired. But in the actual experience of being loved by someone who would continue to care about me and show me love even when I committed offence, I began to understand grace. There were a couple of important people, but I'll talk about one.
I imagine we all go through life winning friends and earning enemies...or if not enemies, at least people who aren't too keen on us. But I once earned an enemy who instead treated me as a friend, and I couldn't get over it. It didn't make sense. It wasn't normal. Sure, there had been others who wanted my friendship even after I had rebuffed them, but these were people who needed something from me. I provided at least some measure of what their emotional needs required. But this other friend didn't need me, by all rights shouldn't even have liked me, and still offered friendship. During this process I came to understand more clearly that God's grace isn't just an example of bizarre mathematics (sin = hell but sin x 1,000,000 + Jesus = heaven) - it's a relationship. And it's like the best kind of relationship imaginable, except that it's better because you could never have imagined it.
So that was one piece, but there's another that has been just as important.
I spent a few years studying life intently. I read philosophy, fiction, poetry, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, psychology, economics, sociology, politics, etc. (Of course I still do all of these things, but with a different purpose.) I reflected, I wrote, I conversed, and I came to a certainty that can best be summed up as despair. I can't explain all now, but if you dig down deep enough into any system you come to a fundamental hopelessness. "Vanity" or "emptiness," one Teacher called it.
Everything points either to God or to this "emptiness."
So I started to contemplate what it is that God is really all about. What are God's purposes for people, for the world, for Christians. Along the way I had to discard a few dogmas and I found that there are a few things that are only safe to believe after you've spent good time doubting them. To introduce another ellipsis, I came up with a shorthand that is now the title of this blong - theology of joy. I'll spend some time addressing that from different angles, but to introduce the topic,
- God created this awesome universe, crowned by humans, who got to lead, create and care for it. The humans and God were not alone, they were made to be together and with God. The humans lived in a garden where they got to enjoy a world that was awesome. God gave them important responsibility as caretakers. After a day's work, the humans and God spent time together during the evening.
- Things got messed up and God worked in some interesting ways to move people back in the right direction, eventually choosing one family within humanity to lead and care for the rest. People relearned a lot about who God is and what God is like. That family's execution of their task was hit-and-miss,
- But eventually Jesus came and did it right. Finally God's reign is growing on earth
- And soon earth and the heavens will be remade and we'll all be hanging out in a garden again!
I had to unlearn a lot of dogmas along the way - e.g. that heaven is a place where a bunch of Christians will be singing all the time; breaking the speed limit once is the same as murder, etc.
Text: 1 Peter 1:8,9
Listening to: the beautiful Brandi Carlile - Live at Benaroya Hall. BTW she's an alumna of my high school.
Recommended reading: C.S. Lewis - The Chronicles of Narnia. These are generally classified as children's literature, but I think all truly great children's literature is worth reading for adults, too. And this series in particular is a classic. In each book (some more than others), Lewis tells a great story with a lot of charm, but also communicates a lot of theology in a poetic way. Too often Christians think theology has to be done in a prosaic or logical way, but when you look at the Bible, there's only a small portion of it that fits that mould.
I like an honest doubt better than a truth blindly held.