Recently Joshua Harris, author of the famous I Kissed Dating Goodbye, announced first his separation from his wife and then the fact that he no longer considers himself a believer. Lots of people have reasons why they think this has happened. I don’t pretend to know what is going on in his life, but I do feel one thing strongly–we need to give people room to figure out their faith. To me, pretending is much more destructive than doubting.
I understand that faith means holding on to something that we cannot fully understand or experience on this side. We are clinging with hope for what we cannot see right now. However, I do not believe this means that we totally negate our feelings. Emotions are, like our minds, given to us by God and, therefore, have a purpose. Because emotions can be unruly and deceptive, the normal narrative of the church has been to ignore them or bring them into submission.
While I am a firm believer that we should not allow emotions to dominate our lives, we cannot err on the opposite spectrum by acting like they aren’t important. Often emotions make us grapple with things we’d happily ignore–our sinful natures, our anger, our sadness, our fears about the goodness of God, and so on.
When I look at the Bible, I don’t see stoicism. I don’t see a people who feared emotions. The old testament especially is filled with people who poured out their emotions in intense ways, who wrestled with God (figuratively and literally) and who didn’t have pat answers to their suffering. In the end, they often walked away with a better understanding of God, but their journeys were anything but simple and straightforward.
The books of Ecclesiastes is an existential lament about the apparent meaninglessness of life. While the author does make comments about the hope we have in God, the overwhelming narrative is one of sadness and frustration. The opening lines of Ecclesiastes say, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 1:2 NIV). The book marches through the meaninglessness of wealth, of hard work, and of wisdom. His final lines bring one conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments because God will bring everything to light (Eccles. 11:13-14 my paraphrase). There is, of course, great wisdom in this, but notice the journey he took to get here. He had to grapple with life before he could conclude that life only has meaning in the context of God, and, even then, we really don’t understand it all.
The danger of our modern, evangelical movement is that we’ve created an answer that is too slick and simplistic for real life–we’ve left no room for dealing with hard questions. Our answer to every difficulty is to have more faith and to ignore our feelings. We have a Christian package that is neat and pretty, but it doesn’t always work.
The religious leaders of Jesus’s time thought they had everything figured out theologically. They knew who was good and who was bad, whom God favored and whom God hated. Jesus revealed a different mindset though. He revealed that we can’t know from the outside whose hearts are soft to God. People who had their theological ducks in a row were often rebuked by Jesus. People whose lives were a hot mess found an audience with Christ that shocked the religious elite. Jesus is looking for something different, and I don’t think it is something we can measure with a religious litmus test.
Reading God’s Word gives me hope on my journey. It shows me real people who didn’t have all the answers. People who struggled and got angry and made stupid mistakes, but people whom God still loved and was still working on. I am so very grateful for this. I don’t want to pretend so that I can fit in with the religious. I want to be real and confused and doubting and hoping and trusting and open, so that I can really find Jesus and be found by Him.
My emotions are often an indicator of things too deep for me to process. I have to unravel them and walk with them. They feel like angry toddlers who need their words given to them. When I listen to them though, I start to understand things. I can begin the hard work of taking the truth in my head and bringing it into my heart. This process is messy though.
What the church needs more than anything is to be patient with each other. Yes, theology and orthodoxy are important, but they aren’t more important than the people for whom Christ died. If we can walk alongside each other as we do the messy work of assimilating truth, we don’t have to be so scared. Plus, our greatest example of faith will be faith in God’s ability to work in people, even those who seem like hopeless causes. In this way, we can imitate the faith of the early church who trusted not in their programs but in a real and living God who did the impossible.
I applaud Joshua Harris for not pretending anymore. He has a lot to sort out, and I’m not sure where he will end up at the end of the journey, but my prayer is that when he removes the layers of religiousness, he will find a true faith and a true Savior.