For some time now I have read (and appreciated) the writing of Peter Rollins. But, tonight was the first time I think his ideas really permeated my own thinking and feelings about God, and finally something he talks about with regularity made perfect sense to me.
Today is Ash Wednesday. One of those holy days that I've been observing since I was a child. I've always felt like it was a day of beginnings, not endings. That is - it has ordinarily signaled the beginning of Lent - a time of deeper reflection, righting the things that need righted and a time to figure out how I've gotten off track. While the day is about recalling that "from dust we come, and to dust we shall return" - it also marks a change in seasons and is full of not just a little anticipation of the main event for Christians - the resurrection of Jesus.
As I sat in church this evening, I felt something shift in my thinking. For quite awhile (probably most of my life), I have grappled with two fundamental questions. The first - why do bad things happen to people? And the second - when bad things happen to people, where exactly is God in the midst of it all? Or in other words, why doesn't God step in and stop it/fix it/heal it?
My questions are something I wonder for those around me - for all of the children (and adults for that matter) I see who continually suffer and have suffered the worst indignities. But, the questions are also deeply personal and painful for me. In those times when I come undone remembering my own trauma vividly, I still question God why? And where were you? And why didn't you save me?
Over the years of my life, I've felt and held different answers to these questions in my heart.
For some time, particularly when I was a teenager, I felt that if perhaps I had been better or done better or been more...whatever...that God would have intervened. That in fact all the evil we see done to others is the result of someone's sin. If I could just get "clean enough" God would make things better for me - for all of us. Getting clean really was a matter of faith - if I believed the right things, said the right prayers, did the things I knew I should, God would bless my efforts with His love and healing.
Later on, as I got older, and rejected such an arbitrary God, I started to think that while God didn't cause the horrible things to happen to people, there still had to be some intervention by God. Surely, a loving God couldn't stand by when his children were raped or abused or harmed. It still had to come down to some logic, right?
Still fast forwarding, at some point I began to believe that God really did weep for the terrible things that we humans do to one another. But I still clung to the notion that God, being God, would exact some revenge on those who harmed His children. And that after all "what goes around comes around." Or in the words I have said to my own children, "that's what you get." Still, I wasn't quite comfortable with this sort of judgment, probably because I feared I would be judged just as harshly as I judged others.
At some point in my recent history, I began to understand my faith as entirely relational. That is - that faith to me is not really an individual pursuit so much as a communal thing. I only understand God in community and through community. If we are to be united to God - not in an afterlife, but here and now - then the kingdom of God must begin now - in all of us - together. While this faith doesn't provide any easy answers to my questions, it has led me to a place of: Shit happens. We don't know why. And trying to figure out why is an exercise in futility. Together though we can dig ourselves and one another out of the shit. And God is found in the digging out. Right in the middle of the pile, God (through each of us) picks up a shovel and steps right into the dung heap to get us through the mess.
So, where does this leave me? I think it means I'm giving up God for Lent. That is - I'm giving up all of my limited ideas of God, faith, relationship, forgiveness, even resurrection. I don't have answers to my two fundamental questions. And for once I actually feel that while I don't have the answers, I'm closer to the fire that is faith than I've been before. I think Lent is less about burning off that which needs burning off and more about getting our hands dirty, both figuratively and literally. It's about giving up our fear of the questions, doubts and conflicts faith (and God) naturally bring us, and rather seeking to hold them in the same space we hold those deeply held beliefs that have sustained us in the past. Faith isn't about a fidelity to ideals and truths we have clung to out of fear or bitterness or a need for justice. The only truth I know is one can only be found if one has been lost. And getting found sometimes involves giving up entirely on the notion that someone else will find us.
If I can give up on God for Lent, then I am free to step ever closer to the all-consuming fire that is God.