Questions I’m Afraid to Ask

This may come as a shock to many of you, but I actually spend a lot of time thinking about faith, and not just football and tacos. Not faith, generally, but Christianity, specifically.

You see, I consider myself a Christian – I always have and I imagine I always will – but more often than not I feel “unqualified” to speak about my faith. Unqualified because I recognize in myself a number of questions that cloud my faith, which in and of itself isn’t a reason to mute myself. It’s those doubts – those questions that I have – joining up with the guilt from a bevy of mistakes I’ve made and pain I’ve caused others that silence me when I want to speak.

How can I, with a litany of poor decisions, stand before anyone and espouse the virtues of a faith that I so often struggle with? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite of the highest order? I’m a Christian, but each and every day I sin, I fall short of His demands and my own expectations, yet I want to tell other people about my faith? What kind of faith do I have if that’s what I do? Ironically, it is my recognition of those mistakes, those struggles, that keeps me feeling closer to God, yet further from the majority of Christians. It’s waking up every morning knowing that I’m broken and that I need His hand in my life that gives me hope that I’ll be one day free of the chains I’ve oppressed myself with.

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I know a number of people in my life who are “better” Christians than I am. They wake up, publicly proclaim their faith, splash it all over their Facebook walls, stick it on the back of their cars in the form of a fish or a creatively displayed cross and scream it from the rooftops. “I’m better than you!” they scream without saying a word. It’s not that they are intentionally trying to best me, or you for that matter, it’s just the way they approach their faith. It’s hard for anyone to notice their scars or their pain if they’re beating you over the head with their “goodness,” right?

The thing that I’ve noticed about those people, more than anything, is that in the event that their faults get recognized (by someone else, of course, not themselves) they are by far the least likely to accept any criticism someone may have about them. The piousness is so thick, so deep-seated, that they refuse to even hear about any of their potential shortcomings. After all, they’re better than you so how dare you try and give them a lesson in morality or Christianity! You, who drinks a few too many beers on the weekends, or cusses at a football game, you’ve got no right telling them they’re not perfect. They are better than you because they don’t do stuff – ever – that displeases God. So, you, who have made mistakes and continue to do so, can’t do anything but hang your head over your mistakes for the rest of you life. You’ll never be able to speak to the better about faith. 

The thing is, I wake up every day and give thanks to God for the chance to see another sunrise, and I go to bed every night and pray to Him for strength to get through another day of horrors, doubts, fears and weaknesses that cripple me; and that’s good. I feel comfortable in my understanding of most scripture, and I try to live a life in accordance with that knowledge, but I know I always fall considerably short. I may not have a verbatim of His word – I don’t know exactly who begot whom – but I’m not ignorant of it all.

(Side note: Do you think “Begot Ya!” would have been an awesome name for a Biblical reality TV/practical joke show? I do.)

I acknowledge God’s right to rule but other than that – through the rest of the day – I pretty much question every single thing I read, see or am told, and that’s bad. I question daily why God continues to allow suffering, hatred and evil to thrive in the world and lets children starve, or entire civilizations of people be held under the violent thumbs of ruthless and vile dictators. I recognize God’s power and I know that He could wipe away all of the injustice and pain with a blink and yet He won’t. That pisses me off, and yeah, I’m just an insignificant smudge on the canvas of life eternal who has no right to question His methods, but I do. I question it. The Grand Experiment to prove His sovereignty appears to have reached a conclusion, because more and more people have turned away from Him, and I don’t think it’s because they truly want to, but rather they lack a fundamental understanding of the term “seeing is believing.” No one has seen evidence of God’s existence for many, many years and if He did exist, they’ll argue, He’s certainly gone by now. At the least He still exists but has turned Himself away from us.

Sometimes I feel that way, so I can see their point. Sometimes I feel that God no longer cares for us individually, as His children, as He used to because simply put, we don’t deserve it. We never have. That doesn’t, however, change that I see God every single day. I see God in the sun and the stars, I see God in the face of loved ones and strangers. We are built so uniquely, so complexly, that the notion it all happened by chance – and without a Divinely Inspired Creator – is so foreign to me that I’m incapable of understanding any other concept; and not because I don’t want to. To exist in this world without believing in God and His promises and His expectations would no doubt be easier than to live in it with the weight of His existence and His requirements.

Still, knowing those requirements, I fail, in spite of my desire to succeed. I believe in God’s plan, but I question his means of achieving it occasionally. I don’t know if the people who don’t question His plans are more acceptable to Him, but something tells me He’s not impressed by “yes men” who blindly do whatever He decrees as way to serve themselves rather than serving Him. What value to Him are we if don’t live? If we are screaming our faith from the four corners of the earth in order to be recognized by others as Christians rather than because we love Him, is it true service? I’m not suggesting that those who regularly do whatever they want, disregarding His commandments at will and without remorse are in any way preferred by Him, but I do think it’d be silly to ignore that Jesus very regularly preferred the company of tax collectors, prostitutes and generally broken people in favor of the church leaders in His time. I don’t think that was just because the sinners were “more fun” but rather they recognized their need for Him and His influence in a way that the Pharisees refused to, adhering more to their pride and tradition than His grace. There are two diametrically opposite sides of Christianity today (and of course those who deny God altogether, who have likely stopped reading this a while ago or aren’t impacted by these thoughts regardless so they don’t really “matter” to me as I write this) and I think that both are taking different roads to the same place.

There’s the in-your-face, I’m-better-than-you Christians and the I’m-so-flawed-that-no-one-could-love-me-so-why-try-anymore Christians. The former seems to need the latter in order to feel superior, and the latter are so brow-beaten by the former that they begin to resent Christians and turn further and further away from God, who is innocent in the blame game but guilty by association.

Both sides of the aisle look at the other with this disgust on their faces and scoff. “If those people are Christians, then why would anyone want to be associated with them?”

The disparity between people who have the single greatest connection in the history of the world devalues everyone involved in Christianity. The vast majority of Christians fall somewhere in the middle of those two sides, constantly vacillating between overt righteousness and hidden shame. I think most Christians are like me, I do. Afraid or embarrassed to speak about their faith because they harbor guilt over the many mistakes they’ve made and don’t want to risk being labeled a hypocrite by those Christians who still think they’re “better” because their mistakes remain in the dark.

I don’t have answers, I have questions, a lot of questions, and I’m going to try harder to be less afraid to ask them.. I have doubts, I have concerns. I’ve made mistakes, I make mistakes, and I will continue to make mistakes. If the mistakes I’ve made in my past prevent you from taking my questions, or my perspective or thoughts seriously, then perhaps you should ask yourself some questions about what being a Christian means to you.

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3 responses to “Questions I’m Afraid to Ask

  1. @Birm I relate as a Christian. Jesus died for all of my sins..past, present and future. As He was on the cross He said “it is finished.” I hold on to that. It’s a struggle. As mentioned in a tweeted response …some verses from Romans 7…I like Romans 6,7 and 8 all together. Paul discusses sin and his struggles and then victory over sin with Christ’s power. I share my faith and try to point lost people to Christ and His gift of salvation. I look forward to eternal life! I need to pick up my cross daily. It’s a fight. Other Christians encourage me as they speak of their struggles and victories. I need Him daily. I want His joy that He provides. He is the living God. I am thankful for Christ in my life and fellow Christians to lift me up too. I believe a huge purpose for me is to pull more sinners(like me) to the Lord! Thanks for sharing! Bill Scott

  2. Mr. Birmingham,
    I just want to applaud you for using your voice to publicly ask some of the toughest questions about faith. I also hope to offer some level of comfort in the fact that millions of people ask the same questions as you, especially the ones who are being afflicted. Also one of your questions in particular has been the focus of the church for the last 50 years. I am not the most pious person in the world, but my academic training was in the catholic intellectual tradition. I cannot give you the answers because I am not the proper authority on the issue, but what I do know is that there are several church documents that discuss the exact same questions that you have about your relationship with God and your fit between the mind and the world. With all that being said I would like to point you to a document called Gaudium et spes (I promise it’s not a spell from Harry Potter) and then from there Lumen Gentium and Pacem en Terris. If you have already read these then I am sorry for wasting your time. If not then I hope they have helped.
    Sincerely,
    Jacob Neutzling
    P.S. Big fan of your work

  3. Good thoughts brother. I appreciate your openness and honesty. Bill’s reference to Romans above is exactly what I was thinking about as I read as well.

    I think Paul is an excellent example of how to balance faith and questioning, but all the while remaining bold in proclaiming his faith because he knew he was sharing with a world of people who were going to hell if they didn’t come to a personal and saving relationship with Jesus. Paul always kept the good news, the Gospel of Christ, as foremost because it is ultimately the only hope for any of us.

    Ultimately, the body of Christ, that is, his church on earth, is the place that God has ordained to try and work through many of the questions, problems, struggles, you’ve outlined. As imperfect as people are, and therefore his Church gatherings, this means of bonding and growing together as a body is essential to growing in the Christian life. All members of his body, no matter what end of the spectrum as you’ve outlined, need to do a better job of loving one another as one loves his own body.

    Hebrews 10:25 ” not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5t8ORnWNSfQ

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