“Be careful in the Master Peace and Conflict Studies,” the woman said, most sincerely, “a few of my friends did it and came out questioning their faith.”
“Too late,” I said, “I already question…” And I was amazed how vulnerable it felt to say those words out loud, but paused a moment, because it is true, and then continued with explaining. “Given the work I do, and the horrendous things I hear and see in Christian communities, I’ve been questioning my faith for a good six years. Daily… It’s inevitable…. I’ve often said, ‘If it wasn’t for God I’d be an atheist.'”
I don’t know her well, the woman who spoke those words when we bumped into each other downtown. I even had to think twice about her name when we parted ways, and would have been clueless if her friend hadn’t walked by and called it out before we parted ways.
Truth is, I do question God. Not His existence. Not even His goodness. But God Himself, and how things are what they are with the suffering of little ones on the streets, being trafficked… and in His house… the molestation. No, there’s not a fragment of a doubt in my mind that He exists, and is good… But these questions about His household run deep, so I question. My faith has been taxed heavily, and I have questioned for years. And I hope I continue. Because there are a few simple ‘hard truths’ I cling to for dear life, but with everything I know of life and crime, in church and on the streets, I fear that by the time I stop questioning, I will have come to the wrong conclusion. So I question, and God listens. Sometimes He answers in ways I can cling to, sometimes He just listens. At least for a while.
It is not possible to know what I know, of darkness hidden in religious communities, of hatred (by some) for those who desperately want truth on all levels (not only convincing doctrine)… Of leaders so insecure in their calling that they write off and attempt to silence anyone who speaks into that hidden darkness…. No, these things are not possible for me (and for many others in the trenches) without questioning both God and faith, in some way. I’m sure there’s some easy religious answer to explain everything, and make it all look nice again, but I can’t do that, can’t go there. A few Bible verses, lengthy prayers or one hundred or even a thousand ‘Hail Mary’s’ just doesn’t make the hard reality go away, or even more bearable. Nor does booting out a few demons heal every inner trauma. Those solutions work much like masking tape on a wet surface. It sticks until it doesn’t. And when it no longer sticks, there is a need for deep, compassionate care. (For the sake of everyone who feels a sense of obligation to burn their candle at both ends until they suffer burnout, let me add… ‘Compassion with boundaries’, because Compassion Fatigue, Vicarious Trauma and Burnout are real… and knowing when to step back is critical. Also, it may not be the hard stories that wear you down. Be aware of personal stress triggers, and set boundaries accordingly.)
Anywhere else I can reconcile wickedness, but not among the Jesus people. It violates every part of what He came to be and do. Especially when hidden and then protected under a guise of forgiveness, while the naked victims stand by, beaten with stripes they never deserved, just for admitting to pain. I can even reconcile wickedness happening among Jesus people, because of human struggle and scars of unhealed wounds, but when there is an agenda to hide or mask over without deep acknowledgement of the suffering it has caused, and care given accordingly… Not that.
So, yes, I question. And, yes, I have walked through more than one faith crisis in my six years of ministry. The one thing that has helped me refocus, is speaking truth over others, because there is truth that I cannot ‘unknow’ even if I wanted to, and that truth is the love of Jesus, and when spoken it has power. I fall hard on it’s simplicity. And in moments of hopelessness, I have grasped it with slippery fingers. Still that love remained, and remains still. I have grasped it when grief at what I see ‘among His’ washes over me, defying that grace-filled love, realizing it’s all I have…
Now, having nearly completed my first term, I find it fascinating that rather than causing me to question God, and the things He allows in this messy world, it has affirmed my faith. It has helped tremendously to take a step back from being so close to trauma in religious communities, and take a break from the harshness of it to study. It has been a good thing and a God thing.
That said, I know my journey well enough to know I will continue to question and wrestle as long as I work with victims and offenders of sexual violence. I wish at moments that I had suffered nothing of abuse in religious community… that I had heard none of it… that I was innocent of knowing the cover-ups… All so that I could walk in innocent, intoxicating-ly sweet love relationship with Jesus, oblivious to the messiness of crime and wickedness in church. The tired heart of six years of investing, at times thanked, at times cursed, struggles, but it is a rare and selfish moment that cries for this innocence.
Instead, I will continue to do what God has called me to do, pressing into His heart for answers when I question, wonder or wrestle. Because it is in those moments I realize how imperfect, inadequate and human I am, and how much it is His love that carries me. And that, alone, makes every question a faith-building one.
~ T ~
~ T ~