I was in the final hour of my 14 hour shift Sunday morning when I was called to a case that would unknowingly shift some things for me internally. Generally speaking, I do not approach my job as something that will change me but by the time I left the hospital to go home, I found myself with several questions looming over my head.
In counseling, there is this technique called challenging yet supporting. The idea is that the counselor may notice some incongruence between what the client is saying and how the client is acting and should be able to bring the difference to the client’s attention. This should not be done in a way that is not condescending or rude but in a way that brings the difference to the client’s attention while still supporting the client as they “do the work” in the session. It is a delicate technique to utilize but it can be a way for the client to go deeper in what he or she is trying to work through in the session in a powerful way.
Working at a hospital has been one of the most rewarding yet hardest experiences of my life. I have seen and experienced things I never imagined myself seeing and experiencing and in the greatest of ways, it has challenged my personal theology. I left the hospital Sunday morning trying my best to be comforted by what I know – by what my two years of seminary taught me, by what my years growing up in the Church taught me. I could not apply the Sunday School neatness of my theology to what I had just experienced and that bothered me to no end. The questions I had about God’s sovereignty resurfaced with a vengeance and once I finally got home, I cried not knowing what to do with this interpersonal struggle. I finally had to give myself permission to admit that my theology was being challenged in a way that I couldn’t neatly tuck away and forget about once I got some sleep. This has stayed with me for days.
What happens when you know all the answers and life just blows all those answers up right in your face? The instigating situation had nothing to do with me and yet it was inducing a mini spiritual crisis. All of my little struggles with God of the past few years seemed small as I considered how this one case rocked me. And not one Scripture that I had memorized over the years could sufficiently comfort me in that moment. I had to stay and sit with the tension and it was so uncomfortable. It felt wrong in that moment to admit that my knowledge was not saving me from asking the questions, that my knowledge was not saving me from doubt.
There is a reason that I don’t freak out anymore when I see my friends who grew up in the Church leave the Church or admit that they have too many unanswered questions in their minds to know what to believe. I have come to realize that it is in my questions where I have experienced more of God than in the comfort of what I know. The governing thought of the Church of yesteryear was generally this notion that you don’t question God and you don’t question His ways. You just accept out of reverence and humility. But there are things in life that will blow your neat little ideas about God out of the water and then what are you left with? A pretentious faith borne out of respect? Or are we just afraid of not having all the answers?
Throughout the Bible, I see people asking questions. I see people not understanding God and how He operates and yes, even what He allows. I see that. Job. Paul. Jesus. I see people trying to grapple with an understanding of life’s happenings and God’s sovereignty. And I see a God who is capable of answering (even if He waits a little bit and even if His answer isn’t what is expected). So I’m inclined to believe that my earnest questions can lead my personal theology deeper – it can challenge what I already know and still support the basics of what I believe. My questions can lead me to more dependence on the Holy Spirit, who is the One who leads us to all truth.
Theology is not meant to be neat and cute with a red bow. It should be a continual process of learning and challenging. So many people operate with the idea that if their beliefs are challenged, the whole thing falls apart. But of all the questions I’ve asked, what has developed in me is a greater sense of faith that covers the growing pool of questions. As I work through the discomfort of the breakdown of my personal theology, I find myself closer to God than when I can hide behind being a 3.5 point Calvinist or whether I’m a premillenial dispensationalist. What does all of that even mean if I don’t have a general sense of whether the big God in the sky is truly present with me in my suffering?
I’m finding that the good place is where my faith is challenged. It’s not a comfortable place but it’s a good place. I have a tattoo on my right wrist that reads, “Credo ut intelligam.” These were the words of St. Anselm of Abbey, which are roughly translated to mean that my belief informs my knowledge. I read these words while in seminary and they really resonated with me because it is really how I’ve approached my faith. My belief is strong and there and that leads me to want to know more, even if that knowledge is through a critical or pointedly inquisitive lense. The strength of my faith is not how neatly the message can be conveyed on Sunday morning but it’s in how deeply it can resonate with me and translate to others on Monday through Saturday.
Oh Macon, the things you are doing to me…