Every once in a while, I run into someone who is not happy with the theology department at our local Nazarene University. Usually their complaint boils down to a story about a friend or a loved one who went to school to study theology and came home not sure if they believed anything at all. The friends and or family of these students feel like the university has failed them. I would argue that it didn’t.
I would argue that the university was doing its due diligence in training up godly pastors and leaders.
You see, long before I ever took a real theology class, (my undergrad was in chemistry) I noticed something about the faith, and scripture in particular. I noticed that the more a person reads and studies scripture, the less they seem to know about scripture.
Sure, when a person hasn’t deeply engaged scripture, it is easy to spout off a bunch of “bible promises” or single verses that “support” our faith. But it doesn’t take a very thorough examination of scripture to begin to come across questions. In fact, sometimes it seems like the more you study scripture, the more the questions surface. This is what happens to the theology majors mentioned above. They are forced to wrestle with questions they have never encountered before. Up until that point, most of them have lived on the faith of their parents or have developed a faith of nice, easy cliches.
The longer I live, the more I am worn out by the cliches and the faith that goes along with them. I would never want someone to pastor my congregation who had never wrestled with the tough questions of the faith. I would hope that my pastor was still wrestling.
That’s the universities job. To send out pastors who have been willing to wrestle.
Have you ever read the book of Joshua? What are we supposed to do with passages that seem to indicate that Yahweh instructs Israel to wipe out entire nations of people? What do with do with this genocide that seems to be mandated by God? Were the writers attributing something to God that was not of God as some would suggest? How do we handle such texts? There are no cliches to answer these types of questions. Do we really believe serpents talked as we are told in Genesis 3? What do we do with talking serpents? Sometimes different passages of scripture seem to be in direct opposition. How do we reconcile stories that flat out seem to contradict each other? Like I said, the deeper we get into scripture, the more questions arise…
I think a lot of times we believe that our faith has to be like a fortress. We build up our fortress with passages like John 3:16, Romans 6:23, or Philippians 4:13. We have the little family of Christian fish on our minivans and bumper stickers that say “God answers knee mail.” We are poised to “defend our faith.” We don’t want to get too deep into the questions because we might not have answers, and then the armor of our faith would have a chink in it.
Have you listened to the songs on Christian radio lately? Yeah, me either… But today I found myself listening to a Christian station in the car, and it was like every song had the same five cliches about grace, or being set on fire, or the like. Not a lot of REAL music. Not much of it spoke about the messiness of our existence.
The kind of faith I want looks a lot more like Jacob than K-LOVE. (The local Christian station) Remember Jacob? He spent an entire night wresting with God. He grabbed on tight and wouldn’t let go. Jacob’s hip even got wrenched in the process, but he still wouldn’t let go until The Lord blessed him.
Today, we were talking in my Hebrew class about the actual Hebrew verb in story of Moses and the burning bush. God says that his name is “I AM that I AM.” The actual Hebrew verb that is used there is the verb for “I will be.” So one way to read it would be, “I will be what I will be!”
There is no way for us to reduce God to a bunch of simple answers, catch phrases, or even “bible promises.” God will be who God will be!
I want the kind of faith that dives into the mystery of God and holds on for dear life like Jacob as he wrestled. I want to wrestle with questions and trust God even when there seem to be no answers. After all, isn’t faith really about trusting even when we can’t see the answer?
In other words, I don’t want the faith of some sort of shallow, self-help religion. I want to dive deep into the mystery of God. I want to be so deep in the mystery of God that I am way in over my head. And there, in the midst of my questions, I want to place my hand in the hand of the One whose name is “I will be what I will be…”