Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wrestling with God

(This is a long one, folks, grab a cup of tea, coffee, beer, wine or whatever your reading beverage of choice is, before you begin … I'll wait for you to get back …)

I have this friend whom I've known longer than any friend I'm currently in contact with. I first remember her from first grade, but we lived on the same block (different streets) so I wonder if we somehow met in the neighborhood before that and were just too young to remember … anyway, I'm telling you this as part of the introduction to this post because she is the cause for the topic here. Our families each moved away from that neighborhood at different times in elementary school and we tried to keep in touch (back in the day when snail mail was the only option) and did, off and on, through our high school years. We saw each other right after we both graduated and then lost track. A little over a year ago, I think, we found each other on Facebook and it was a joyous reunion.

My friend always posts the most amazing quotes in her status. She must read continuously and I'm not sure how she does it while raising 5 great kids! She is a true inspiration to me. She recently posted a quote that sparked quite a debate on her wall and it really got me to thinking and I wanted to share a bit of the thread and get your thoughts.

The quote is from Miguel de Unamuno, someone I'd never heard of before but after this I'm definitely going to read the book the quote is from.

"Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not in God Himself." ~Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life, 213

In reply to this quote, my friend received a wide gamut of responses, ranging from the angry to the encouraging. I'll walk you through a select few (copied straight from her wall, with names x'd out, just as they were written):

Some that agreed with the quote:

  • Great quote. It resonates with me deeply. This quote has little to do with a lack of faith, far from it. "I believe, help me with my unbelief."I personally believe that faith is directly inverse to your deepest doubt. That it is through doubt that are faith is fleshed out.

Some that expanded on others:

  • I would go further: believers who imagine their beliefs about God are somehow closer to Truth than those of others need to realize that ANY concept of God is just that, a concept, infinitely smaller than the True Truth God. None of us has the complete picture; that thought should keep us humble...

Some that took the opportunity to voice their own opinion of God:

  • If there is a "God," and it's purely and solely male, I want no part of that, thank you very much. If I was supposed to be made in "God's" image, then God is a fiesty, questioning, doubting, anguishing, feminist, mulit-layered being who savors variety and adores mysticism...not just a Christian who takes some old book, written centuries ago, literally. Although, that could certainly be part of it.

Some that were a bit harsh:

  • ridiculous! believeing in God is about FAITH. the bible tells us..."blessed is he who believes yet does not see." why do you keep doing this, xxxx? when is enough going to enough for you? you pretend to understand someone whom you don't even believe exists.

Some that tried to explain and perhaps ease the tension:

  • The point of the posts is to get us to think and to learn from each other. If you disagree with the quoted person's thoughts on this subject, she wants to hear why you disagree. She may or may not end up agreeing with your position, but she wants to hear it.

Some that questioned other responses:

  • Aren't Christians supposed to reflect Christ in their words and actions??? Being judgmental, whether through words of ridicule or by an attitude of intolerance - especially to those seeking answers or guidance, fail to reflect the Christ I know, trust, and love. Peace and love to all.

Some that were defended a Christian view of the quote:

  • As a born again christian, i understand the "strongly indoctrinated" views being expressed here by some. i grew up in church, and had my parents beliefs pushed on me by them and their organization from childhood. but none of that aided in my quest to find god and build up a personal and real friendship with him. it was my questioning and searching and finding out for myself through prayer and reading the bible and asking questions. i doubted for a while, and it bothered me. but even since i have found myself, and my beliefs have grown and matured, i still sometimes catch myself questioning things. certain things that i have come to believe and trust in can provoke questions and unneasiness, but that doesn't mean than im not a christian or that im trying to discredit the bible. it just means that i am human, and that i make mistakes and before i can fully understand what it is that i believe, there are going to be human thought and emotions to climb over. im done. also, i just have to put this out there because it irritates me when "christians" are so condemning and judgemental, that they don't even see the mistakes that they are making themselves.

In total, there were over 30 responses to the post. Now, I'm not one who likes confrontation. I enjoy sharing my beliefs and hearing those of others, but as soon as anyone takes on the tone of a debate in which one of us has to be right and one has to be wrong, I clam up (on any topic, not just about beliefs). But on this occasion, I felt lead to respond and so I did …

  • I rarely (if ever) chime in on xxxx's inspiring and thought provoking posts but I'm going to step out of my comfort zone and put in my 2 cents worth. I watch xxxx's posts and read them all with enthusiasm. The questions raised and comments made are wonderful! I'm blessed to be a witness to xxxx's journey and am inspired that she has the courage to seek out what she wants to discover. I believe that all humans seek God, our Creator. If not, this whole idea of religious beliefs wouldn't have lasted since the dawn of time. Every civilization has sought some way to wrap their human heads around the awesomeness of the creation of the universe around us. God did create humans in his image and because of that I believe there is an innate desire in each of us to find him. Even those who have never heard of or turn away from Christianity continue to seek some sort of spiritual fulfillment. Those of us who are Christians also continue to seek him each and every day. Just because one claims to be a Christian doesn't mean that seeking is over. Belief is not a stagnant thing; grounded, yes, stagnant, no. But being created "in his image" doesn't mean that the personalities and traits we posses as God's created are God's personalities and traits. That is creating God in our image. God created humans to carry forward his purpose for his creation, not as mindless robots doing things according to a good behavior/bad behavior check list, but as thinking, reasoning creatures with freewill who can choose to love (or not) our creator because he created us, a creator that is beyond our imagination and understanding. I truly believe that God wants us to continuously seek and question and wrestle with him. Keep wrestling, xxxx!

Like my friend, I'm left to wonder "why some feel threatened by this path," which made me think of a quote from another friend and mentor (you know who you are) "God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable."

The whole thing is very timely for me in light of the discussions going on in my Leading Missional Congregations class that I mentioned in my previous post. How is the Church* supposed to reach those who are unchurched* or dechurched* if we can't respect the various paths that people are currently on? I stopped going to church in my early adult years partly for this very reason. Instead of trying to help others find answers to questions, we lead them to believe that wrestling with our belief is dangerous and a threat. Why should we expect them to listen to us if we won't listen to them? If we are strong in our faith, why would feel threatened to hear about what others believe? So perhaps this is the beginning of me figuring out how I'm to lead a parish some day in a time when going to church is becoming something we do rather than living our lives as the Church*.

[*A few definitions: I use Church with a capital "C" to mean the body of Christ made up of all believers; little "c" church is a specific place, denomination, or building; unchurched are those who've never been to church (except perhaps for the occasional wedding and funeral); dechurched are those who either grew up in a church or spent time attending a church and for one reason or another stopped going.]

What do you think about all of this? What do you think of the quote, what do you think of the idea of continuously "wrestling" with one's faith? Why do you think some people jump on the defensive when it comes to talking about their faith?


  1. wELL,,, I have two comments to make. First I agree with St.Anselm who said "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, rather I seek to believe in order that I may understand." The second thing is that God is not a he and God is not a she, God is God. And when we try to define, describe, explain God we are ttrying to label something that is totally other. And sometimes it seems we are doing so to try to win a debate. All I know is that God is ENOUGH .... and MORE. Chuck+

  2. I love the quote, and the post. And I think it can be supported by solid theology. A medieval rule for theology says "between the Creator and the creature there cannot be a likeness so great that the unlikeness is not greater." (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215). The rule is about analogies. Since all language about God (all theology) is analogical (drawn from comparison to created realities), we always have to recognize that the analogies have limited power. We have to continuously acknowledge that God is infinitely greater than the language we use to talk about him, which for me means a continual kind of wrestling, a continual acknowledgement that, while we have a true knowledge of God through Christ, we can say at the same time that we don't know God. There's always more. I'm coming at this from a kind of intellectual angle but I think it applies well to the whole discussion. Our relationship with God is a dynamic struggle with a reality that is beyond our capacity to understand. It's only because God chooses to condescend to speak to us that we can know Him at all. But even then, God doesn't reveal all of himself.

    If you haven't read it before, you might be interested in the Charles Wesley hymn "Wrestling Jacob":
    Isaac Watts apparently said that this hymn alone was worth all the verses he (Watts) had written. It's one of my favourites, especially the line, "Lame as I am, I take the prey"

  3. Nancy, I just got to this post today and hope you get notified by email and read it. I read Unamuno while doing my MA in Spanish; don't remember much of all we read other than that I like him and this quote (probably from the same text as the one above) "Fé que no duda, es fé muerta" - a faith that doesn't doubt, is a dead faith. Tosca