Over the last two weeks I have been slowly reading through a book titled Stumbling Toward Faith: My Longing to Heal from the Evil that God Allowed by Renée Altson. The book is her story of being abandoned by her mother, growing up in a home where her father sexually abused her while reciting scripture to her, and being made out to be an outcast by the church.
Neither of my parents abandoned me, I never was sexually abused (or abused in any form), and I never was treated as a social outcast by a church. Therefore, I come to this book as one who can only learn through the eyes of the author what it is like to be victimized to such an extent that your innocence is completely robbed and your trust in everything, including God, is shattered.
On the other hand, I read the book as one who has suffered the loss of a child and as one who has preached the funeral of his younger brother who left behind a wife and two children. So in one sense, I unfortunately understand what it is like to believe in God but have everything you believe about God brought into question by shattering and painful experience of death. Here is a lengthy section from this book that details her struggle with the church:
“i have always posed a lot of questions that made a lot of people in the church uncomfortable. to many of those people my questions were insignificant, and their responses were hastily muttered under their breath. i don’t think they ever even really thought about anything i said. they didn’t want to confront their own questions, their own doubts, and they labeled by dangerous. i was considered a troublemake.
this made it difficult to ever be taken seriously. i was silenced before i ever found the courage to speak. i was told half-truths before the questions ever left my lips.
slowly i began to their problem wasn’t with me or with my questions as much as it was with the inevitable (but never verbalized) ‘i don’t know.’
it was imperative that they ‘know’ – even if it meant age-old platitudes grown hollow and insignificant through years of recitation…
i heard a lot of the same things:
‘god always provides.’
‘god will not give you anything you can’t handle.’
‘god will make a way for escape.’
these pat answers were thrown back at me as weapons, as ways to silence my questions. but while these kinds of statements were usually sucked right from the pages of scripture, and therefore bore some element of truth, they became meaningless to me with their overuse…
…they were easy explanations, cut-and-pasted christian phrases guaranteed to stifle honest exploration into pain and turn god into a magic 8 ball with answers that fit any situation.
the truth in them was stripped out; the whole story in them was eliminated: god doesn’t always provide when we think he should, and sometimes, his provision looks nothing like what we expect it to. god may not give more than we can handle, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t hurt under the weight of what he has already given us…
in my journey toward god, one of the greatest things i have learned is that there is much i do not know…
if there’s anything i’ve learned about not knowing, it’s that it reveals the depth of my trust. can i trust a god who will not explain himself? can i trust a god who leaves me not knowing his purpose, his will? can i trust something beyond the pat answers, the snatched promises, the ways we quiet ourselves when the questioning grows too strong?
can i trust a god who lets me live with an ‘i don’t know’ and expects that it is enough?”
I understand completely how the author feels. My wife and I had some of the same “pat answers” thrown back at us in response to the new faith questions we had. Those pat answers never answered anything. They cannot! God is too big for such naïve, simplistic concepts.
I wish I knew why certain children live while others die? I wish I knew why certain children remain innocent while other children have their innocence stolen before they even know what the term “innocence” actually means. I wish I knew…
But I don’t know. All I am left knowing is that God has come into this world proclaiming his reign through Jesus Christ in death and resurrection as a promise that suffering and pain will not have the final word in life. So I am comforted, even though God remains in many ways a Divine Mystery.
The question ever before me is whether I can trust in God who in many ways remains a Divine Mystery?