Years of Doubt

I

I was four. I clearly remember standing in front of my bedroom closet. My mother and my cousin were about to make a trip to pick something up, and I had to decide whether to go or not. My fingers were knots, crawling one over the other as I stared at the clothes hanging there. I leaned my face into the soft sleeve of one of my winter shirts, but it wouldn’t comfort me enough to take the stress of the dilemma.

                                                 Should I go?

                                                                         Should I stay?

Cartoons would be on. But my mother would be gone. I saw myself in the floor, in front of the television. I saw myself in the backseat, behind my mother. I stayed. I left. My stomach was a fist. My mother walked into the room to ask if I was going. The dilemma came rushing to a fine sharp point. My mouth contorted, by eyes exploded into tears; I ran into her arms. “I can’t decide if I should stay home or go with you!”

It’s a strange memory, but a comforting one. It serves to pull me in close and remind me that I haven’t learned to be this way. It strokes my hair and whispers that this is how it’s always been. I haven’t become broken. I was born broke. Writing that, I can understand why you might think that’s not comforting at all. But there’s something restful in knowing that I don’t have to search incessantly to find where I fell apart. That my anxiety and needless worry over the everyday are a natural dysfunction. As natural as doubt to faith.

II

The bus window was half-down. It wasn’t particularly cool outside, but any air was better than the stale, warm air of a school bus. Screams, laughs, cries buzzed about me, but I stared out that window. Not at the freshly planted fields of soybeans and rice. Not at the green of new leaves on trees and bush. Just out. Do I love her? Do I not?

It’s a question without much actual existential weight for a fourteen-year old. What could a boy who played with action figures just a few years earlier understand about the intricacies of love? Meaningless or not, the question still burned both sides of my brain. A tennis ball of doubt bouncing around the inside of my head, breaking up the place. I slouched as I pulled my bag onto my shoulder and slunk off the bus. I was too old to burst into tears. There was no one to run to this time. No one to urge me in one direction or the other. I just knew I didn’t want to be alone. I prayed I could keep loving her so I could keep getting her love.

III

I was seventeen. I clearly remember kneeling down in the center of the living room in the middle of the night. I’d wrapped myself with the blanket from my bed and stumbled in the dark to that spot, slipping to my knees. Then I collapsed forward, weeping. The moon had set. The stars were clouded over. So dark, so quiet. My brain was the only noise, and it was loud. Louder than it had ever been. “Stop,” I said, elongated the word, grinding the heel of my hand into the side of my head.

I wept there, begging God to make it stop. Then a new thought occurred to me, and I gasped. My body froze. I realized I wanted to die. My head shot up, and I stopped breathing. “This is where I am, God!” In my head, I was screaming it. “I want to die!” Don’t you get that? Do you see me? “…Please let me live.” Years of this-the anxiety, the unwanted thoughts, the constant sound of a broken brain.

Do I live? Do I die?

There was no burning bush. No armor-clad angel of light. No glimpse of glory. Just a boy, empty of fight. I pushed myself up on trembling legs, the weight of the blanket almost too much to pull along behind me. I crawled back onto my bed. It’s the last thing I remember. Somehow I fell asleep. While I slept, He came. I don’t remember the warmth of His touch, or the weight of His words, but I know He pulled me close and whispered that this was not how it would always be.

Forgive and Forget?

Like God, shame is omnipresent, especially in our culture. Thanks to social media, our voice is everywhere, and even the slightest unintentional misstep is torn into by the ravenous wolves; the gatekeepers of the politically correct. But the ubiquity of baseless shame does not exclude a place for earned guilt. It doesn’t mean there aren’t times we should all crouch in fear at the knowledge that we deserve the sharp yellow tooth of the wolves in the cradle of our necks.

God is said to short-circuit that process. Not by covering our throats, or even lopping off the heads of the wolves. But by kneeling, and exposing the soft flesh of his neck. It’s a beautiful, upside-down action. Understanding that his life becomes ours, and our death becomes his, in every sense, is the defining aspect of the Christian faith. The misunderstood, neglected simplicity of the gospel.

Consequences:

If we misunderstand that, it’s no wonder we seem so confused about what to do when faced with failure. Either ours or others. We react in extremes. Some would toss the ugly sinner out on his tookus, and others: cover their eyes, poke their fingers in their ears, and yell, “grace, grace, grace, grace,” over and over. Ignoring the natural consequences of sin.

The ultimate consequences of sin, death and hell, have been taken by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The physical consequences of our adultery, theft, lies, and greed leave bruises and scars on others. Yes, when asked how many times we should forgive a brother, Jesus pretty much said infinity. By the power of the Spirit, we Christians engage ourselves in the process (sometimes a long one) of forgiving the person who betrayed us in some way. That’s the odd way of Jesus. But the natural consequences—the cause and effect—of our sin, may still linger. I’ll give you an example.

Your lifelong friend is having financial troubles. In a moment of desperation, she waits for you to leave the room and steals a hundred from your purse. You happen to walk in and catch her. You may immediately forgive her, even embrace her in empathy, and possibly even give her the hundred she was too ashamed to ask for. But you’ll probably also start taking your purse to the bathroom with you when out to lunch with her. Consequences.

Here’s a harder one:

Your pastor is over for tea and cookies and while you’re thinking about asking him to pray with you about your grandmother’s bursitis, he makes a pass at you. You turn him away. He immediately apologizes, turns the color of a ripe strawberry, and leaves. You forgive the guy, but do you let him in your home again? Do you warn your single friend Anna who has a counseling session with him Thursday? Do you trust your 15-year old daughter with him on a youth trip? Or does forgiveness mean inaction?

Forgiveness & Trust:

The argument goes that we are a people of grace. We are all sinners who have been forgiven so much, so how can we judge someone whose sin happened to be made public? It’s an argument that bypasses the medulla oblongata and strikes directly at our hearts. We feel that argument. We know we’re sinners, and that we’re called to forgive, and to love. And, in that respect, the argument makes sense. But to say that we should then allow the guy who was church treasurer and stole 100,000 bucks from the church back into his position because he’s repented doesn’t seem all that wise.

Even our enemies are to receive love from us. But the person who has sinned against us in some way doesn’t have to receive our instant trust. That has to be earned back. To be clear: it’s not something we hold over another’s head, or remind them of constantly. The friend, the pastor and the treasurer should be receiving unconditional love from us, not condemnation. But it does help us decide what decisions we make about what boundaries to let them through in our lives.

It can be a frustrating conundrum for a follower of Jesus trying to do the right thing.

Believe Them:

Maya Angelou wrote the oft tweeted phrase, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” There’s a truth there that’s important to internalize. But we don’t write someone off for their sins. Everyone is loved by God, and is redeemable by God. Our job, as the Bible commands it is to “forgive one another” as we were forgiven by God (Eph. 4:32). That’s a complete forgiveness. But, in our forgiveness, not our bitterness, we can be smart based on what we’ve learned about the weaknesses of the sinner. We can be careful not to put them in situations in our lives where they might be tempted again. We also have a responsibility to warn others about an unrepentant sinner’s actions, even though we have forgiven, and love, him or her.

While we forgive, we allow others to set the boundaries of our relationship with them. We “believe them” when they tell us they struggle with lying, lust, or untrustworthiness, and we love them in that wisdom. In some serious cases, like physical, sexual or psychological abuse, those boundaries may not even allow us to love them in person.

We can love our friend, but not trust them with our wallets. We can forgive our pastor, and love him in the truth that his public ministry might be hindered by his ongoing private struggle with sin. There is wisdom in caution, in always being willing to move (or remove) those boundaries when it becomes apparent that God has changed the person’s heart. Trust and forgiveness, while related, are different things.

 

Dreams From God

I dreamed I was trying to get to the grocery store last night. But every time I was almost there, something would keep me away. I went the wrong way. I forgot my bags and had to go back to the car. A band of 10 year old ruffians held me up with their hoodlum shenanigans. I just wanted my Cheerios, man.

Dreams are strange things. Some stick around for years, while most wither minutes after they’ve bloomed in our heads. We don’t really know what they’re for. They could be the dust of the day we’ve picked up on our subconscious shoes being shaken off. They could be the result of our brain acting as secretary—filing away experiences and ideas in their proper place. They could be the articulation of our most aware self, revealing the things we don’t want to face.

Dreams may even be the voice of God.

Sarah avoided the unwanted touch of Abimelech when God sent him a dream warning him to keep his hands in his royal pockets because she was Abraham’s wife. Jacob dreamed of a ladder of promise. Joseph’s dreams landed him in prison, and then in a position to feed an entire starving nation. Me…? I dream about dinosaurs in my backyard.

If God is speaking there, I’m not sure what He’s saying.

I prefer to think of dreams as peeks into another world. That they’re the emissions of a factory at work restoring itself after a long day is a better answer. But it’s not nearly as much fun as thinking every time I go to sleep  I drop into the head of another me, into a fantastical world so different it seems ridiculous upon waking. A place where monsters exist, we can sometimes fly, and people we know are our bank teller or boss look like our 10th grade girlfriend for some reason.

Even though I know my theory isn’t true, part of me refuses. I’ve always preferred the fantastical to the cold hard facts. I played with toys until I was almost old enough to drive and buy them myself, I still watch cartoons, and sometimes I read comic books with the same seriousness as Solzhenitsyn. Maybe that means I’m stuck in some earlier age; my development, in some important area, arrested. I might agree if it weren’t for another part of me: The responsible part that worries incessantly, considers grown-up consequences to very adult problems; the care-giver who will take on the problems of others at the cost of my own sanity.

However… that may be proof for that whole childish argument.

The childlikeness I tend to hold onto may sometimes leak out, sit in some dank corner of my mind, distilling into childishness: The immature idea that I can save everyone, fill in the emotional gaps that my loved ones lack; that my shoulders are wide enough to carry every burden.

The dreams I have most lately are stress dreams. I’m running somewhere that I never reach. I’m looking for something I never find. I’m found out. The darkest part of me is exposed. Those are the dreams that don’t disintegrate with the sound of an alarm. It doesn’t seem fair that dreams of dinosaurs, fighting off alien hoards, or seeing my grandmother’s face again are often as elusive as a whisper across a room, yet these acts of subconscious self-flagellation stick around for breakfast. But… maybe that means I’m hearing the voice of God after all.

The burdens with which I load myself down, the shame I refuse to put aside, the stress that tightens my muscles into fists—carry over into my dreams. There, a door swings wide, all the lights come on, and a giant magnifying glass hovers over my doubts and fears and shame; my lack of faith. And the voice of God whispers to lay it down.

I’m Tired of Being Right

I couldn’t look at my Twitter feed today. I stumbled into my office still wiping sleep from my eyes, still trying to remember how to walk, post-unconsciousness. I dropped myself into a chair and sorted out in my head what I needed to accomplish. But my brain hadn’t quite caught up to my ambition yet. It was telling me I should be happy it got me to the chair, and that I should let it be for at least another five minutes out of respect. So I called up Twitter. But I couldn’t move past the first two tweets. I realized how tired I am of some religious stuff.

The first thing I’m bored of is other Christians telling me what to think. Every Christian has an opinion on God’s opinion. You want to know what Christians think God thinks about anything? Google it. Cremation, money, your sex life, dating, and even your diet. And few of them agree. I mean, there are three views on hell, five views on sanctification, four views on justification… It’s not that I’m not interested in these topics. I really am, actually. It’s that almost all of these guys tell me I’m a heretic if I don’t see their view as the plain reading of Scripture. It makes me want to give them a plain view of my butt (but that wouldn’t be very Christian of me).

I’m also tired of picking sides. It’s not just red or blue politics, or even Christian and non. It’s this denomination, and that denomination, male and female, black and white, bible versions, high church or low church. Some of these are super important issues, and we should blood our heads beating them against the walls built against them. But when everyone thinks their opinion or stance is the only acceptable version of an opinion or stance, and I get ticked because they can’t see that it’s obviously mine that’s correct, I get tired.

There’s just not much that’s worse than a Christian who thinks he should have a platform. I’m aware that I fall into that category on some level just by writing this. Some level I’m certain Dante described somewhere: Decently educated religious folks who see themselves as ordained to spread the true truth. Whenever I get like that—and it’s way too often to admit—I like for God to remind me about Jesus.

To be clear, I do not enjoy it at the time. It’s a painful and annoying reminder that, frankly, does damage to my brittle ego. I’m off blustering again about putting on the full armor of Chad, and there’s Jesus shrugging off his godliness. The creator of every Tom, Dick & Venus, becoming a single cell. Born in the usual traumatic way. The God who spoke and giraffes happened became a baby who could neither control what food went in, or where and when it came out. My ego is gnawing at me like a sewer rat because I’m worried enough people won’t read my stupid blog, and God humbly takes on the form of that which he formed with his own hands—a lump of living, thinking clay like me.

That’s the path I’m supposed to follow. The Jesus way. Upside down and crazy. But I’m over here thinking maybe I’m the special one—the one trustworthy enough to not have to be quite as humble and servant-like. I’m special; a little ahead of you other guys. Surely he wouldn’t have given me such an active desire to share my righteous truth if it wasn’t his will. But, no. Jesus is all: touching the sick and loving sinners. And, seeing him as he is—again—brings me to my knees.

I’m tired of being right all the time. I’m sick of trying to fix you. So, I’m going to move toward the way of Jesus. Trust me, it’s not going to be pretty. I’m not going to be a shining example, and it will probably take the rest of my natural life to even get a decent start. But I’m sick of pretending I’m your mother. I’m not too happy that you believe you’re mine either, but I can’t do anything about that… except love you anyway.

-Chad

photo used under CC

Inner Workings

I was walking down the internet super highway when it was not much more than a dirt road. The chug-a-chug-chug of the dial-up modem is carved into my memory with the sharp broken edge of a free AOL disk. The patience learned from waiting for an image to load, line-by-stinking-line, still serves me well. I became obsessed. I visited every website I could find, coveted every update to my RealAudio player, and taught myself the strange language that made sites go. A skeleton of seemingly unrelated words and numbers called HTML. It all felt like discovering a new planet to explore. A really poorly designed planet.

My first web page was a Star Wars fan page. I can still see the background–a field of stars that moved toward the reader like 1990s magic. I abandoned it as quickly as I’d made it. The only good that came of that page was that my long-lost friend Scott found me again through it. We spent the next year bonding over the past and the anti-christ. (He’s the prince of wales, by the way. Not many people know that.) In that year, I learned about tracking chips, read a large chunk of the Left Behind series, and made an impressive binder of all of the better articles on the End Times. I also started a fairly popular website called Prophecy Update & Bible Study. (…Don’t bother looking it up, it was a Geocities page.) 16 year old Chad was an internet machine.

In the far too many years since then, simple HTML has added scripts and languages that go far beyond the simple stuff I learned back then. I just didn’t keep up. It’s like high school Spanish. I know enough to ask where the bathroom is, but Telemundo might as well be Russian. I also lost track of my anti-christ buddy (…you, um, know what I mean). Even with an internet that’s faster, smarter, and larger, he’s lost to me in a crowd of 1’s and 0’s. Even my faith, which isn’t as naïve, feels heavier in a way. For all the growth, experiences, and closeness that have happened over the years, I lost the wide-eyed optimism of that kid. That may be a strange thing to say about a boy who was obsessed with the bloody end of the world at the time, but it’s true.

The years that brought internet to phones, WiFi everywhere, and better ways to meet girls, also brought loss, bitterness, and not a little anger at God, and people in general. The language of trust, hope, and kindness I learned from the Christianity of my childhood seemed to get more complicated. It no longer flowed so easily as it had before. But I do feel myself moving back; unlearning my bitter ways, and growing again in joy. “Restore to me the joy of the salvation of my youth,” the psalmist prayed. I probably won’t ever become a webmaster again anytime soon, and I might never find my friend again, but I’m finding that God’s loving work in my life is somewhat like a time machine. He uncovers the buried joy, refreshes my soul, and is restoring that which was good; that which I thought was lost forever.

-Chad

Photo used under CC

Brain Pain Change

Cotton balls in my head. A loose affiliation of words lay between the cracks in my brain. I have trouble prying them out. I have trouble doing anything. It’s difficult enough to lift my hand to scratch my nose, or do something so complicated as to walk across the room. Even more, to actually go into the dark, the unexplored ruin of my thoughts, and feel around for words, sentences, the pleasing rhythm of a coherent thought.

I went through a season where everything I touched shocked me. It could have been the shoes I chose to wear, or even a lame super power that never fully surfaced. But I began to dread touching all things. I would reach for a door handle, and stop in fear, hovering centimeters above it, preparing myself for the zzt. The same is true now. There are days when I don’t want to be around people, don’t want to sit down to write, don’t want to face the pain of inability. The zzt of failure to communicate.

When you’re going through puberty, your nipples hurt. Nobody tells you this. You just wake up one day and the half-inch circles on your chest ache for no good reason. You don’t know it’s puberty, you just know that you probably have some rare form of cancer, and will probably require a nipple-ectomy, and will never be able to go to a swim party again. Then hair sprouts… or whatever (I’m not sure those videos they show you in health class cover nipple pain), and everything goes back to normal.

Pain is very often a precursor to change. God takes piles and piles of sawdust and builds a house somehow. That’s what I tell myself. I wrap myself in that fuzzy blanket every time I find myself on the cold craggy floor of rock bottom. It’s not untrue. My worst hurts have melted down my baser instincts and poured them into more just molds. But that’s not all that satisfying when you’re cracked and bleeding again on the bottom.

Jesus isn’t recorded as having any mental disruptions, but he and sorrow were on a first-name basis. It’s strange to have a God like that. One who didn’t just sit on his golden throne wondering why we were such whiners, but lost people he loved, was betrayed by friends, stressed to the point of sleepless nights, and tortured to death. That’s no mean thing. You know? For all the filth I sit in down here at the bottom, for all the things I don’t think I can explain to anyone else to make them understand, belief that I have to convince God this crud hurts isn’t a worry I have. Him, I can talk to… Most of the time.

-Chad

In Touch With Pain

We all have pain. It’s one of the strings that run between us. Tied in an infuriating knot around each of our hearts. So, when we encounter someone else pulling away from the sensory overload of life in pain, it should tug us toward them. But we run from our own pain. We pretend it doesn’t happen. So what then happens is that when we feel that tug, we ignore it, explain it away, or minimize it. Because we refuse to deal with our own hurts, our hands are empty of the gold we’ve mined digging through our own suffering. At best, we give stale platitudes. At worst, we shame the other for feeling what we have so politely hidden away: 

You should get over it. 

      You should be glad it’s not worse.  

                      If you’d just have more faith. 

I think part of us believes that acknowledging the pain of others somehow diminishes our own. Or it could be that your loss, your hurt, your depression, reminds me too much of what could be waiting around the corner for me. We’re afraid acknowledging another’s pain might break the fragile peace we have with the universe, reminding it we’re past due for a beat down. Whatever it is, the others’ pain makes us uncomfortable more than it draws us in. 

Can’t Hold Back 

An interesting thing about Jesus is that he didn’t seem to want to do a lot of miracles. I say that because when he did them, he regularly asked the receivers of raised daughters and eyes that could see to keep it between them. He probably knew that if he became known for miracles, people would start following him for the wrong reasons, and he wouldn’t be able to do what he needed to do. But I don’t think he could help himself. 
When he saw tears, nothing could keep him from wiping them away. He couldn’t help himself. He wouldn’t hold back. He was too much in love. 

 

Who Jesus is, is who we become. God said he’s conforming us into his image. We’re becoming like Jesus. That means we’ve gotta dive in when we see pain. Suffer with one another. Be covered in one another’s tears. Dare to step into the shadow at the risk of exposing our own raw wound. We’ve got to be like our savior. I mean, that’s not our nature, so I don’t imagine it’s that easy to do of our own strength. But we’re a new creation, with a new nature. And we need each other. I don’t think we’ll be able to help ourselves.

-Chad West

Thankless Crabs

I stood on the beach, the sand was velvet. The sun was high, but the clouds kept it from blinding us. The sea air kept the heat from stifling our fun. My friend stood next to me, watching his daughter paddling to a suitable wave on her board. She was sixteen. Her body gave an instant response the moment she decided to go from flat to standing on the board. She rode the wave in back and forth motions, then followed the board sideways into the frothing waves. A moment later, she was flattened out on it again, paddling once more to find another wave. I asked my friend if it was weird. If seeing her only a few years away from being an adult was strange for him. He looked back out at her, up on a wave again, her arms out for balance, doing the closest thing to walking on water.
 
My friend and I made our way back to the patio, washed the sand off our feet, and slipped into the pool. His other two kids pointed at something at the bottom of the pool, and his son managed to get the golf ball-sized crab into a net. I suppose it had made its way from the ocean a few hundred feet away to this concrete island with its chloride oasis. It scurried out of the net and into a corner, behind a green plastic bucket, and stayed there for the next several hours as we laughed, swam and ate. I wondered what would happen to it if it couldn’t find its way back out to the shore.
 
The sun began to dip into the ocean and we began gathering our things. My wife looked at me to see if I were ready to leave. I started to go, but frowned, thinking about that stupid crab. “Hold on,” I said. I walked over and picked up the bucket the crab had been hiding behind and held it up. “I’m going to take him down to the water.” My wife laughed and said she’d go with me.
 
The crab scurried behind a rock, under the table, and finally against the wall where I managed to tip him inside the bucket. When I drop him into the sand, I thought, he’ll understand. But as I looked down into the bucket, as we walked along the beach, I realized how naïve that thought was. He was curled into a fist, tucked as far into the bucket’s bottom as he could. I knew that he’d never understand. He’d only ever fear me. He’d only ever think, in his crabby way, he’d somehow managed to escape some giant overfed predator. And, as I let him tumble from the plastic bucket onto the beach, he proved me right. He scuttled away, turning after a safe distance, and raising his claws, ready for a fight if need be.
 
“I probably saved your life, you ungrateful sucker,” I said, smiling.
 
Earlier that day, watching my friend’s daughter surf, he’d said to me that it wasn’t easy. He talked about how difficult it was to let them make mistakes. How difficult it was to get them to understand that sometimes you’re trying to save them from themselves; save them from becoming you. How, sometimes, you even want to give up so you won’t get your heart broken, but you can’t. 

I think of me. I think of God. I wonder how many things I’d seen as his judgment and anger that I’d unwittingly brought on myself; the consequences of my own arrogant actions. I wonder how many times I’ve fought him as he saved me from myself.

-Chad

 

The First Three Rows

As a Christian, we can’t quite bridge the divide between sharing our faith and living it. It’s like a playwright wondering if advertising for actors to be in his play is as important as putting it on. James get a bad rap as a theological wet blanket, but this is all he was saying. Faith without works is meaningless. Not that works earn faith, but that they are a natural evidence of it. Because of God’s Spirit working in us to will and do, we will do. But what does that look like?

(more…)

The Sunday Jumble

Scripture is about as ubiquitous on social media as first day of school pictures and political rants. Before Facebook and Instagram, our grandmothers framed cross-stitched verses, and purchased various knickknacks emblazoned with the ones that touched their gray little hearts. That’s cool, I guess. But the temptation is to rip words from their context, misconstruing their intended meaning to warm our souls. 

In the late 1800s there was a movement by people like the famous Dwight L. Moody and R.A. Torrey to reject traditional church interpretation. The well-educated clergy were the guardians of truth at the time. Men like Moody believed the bible wasn’t so complicated that any Tom, Dick, or Rodrigo couldn’t find meaning there. But, not necessarily themeaning. Just meaning. 

The clergy wasknown for boring sermons chock full of theological particulars that the average church-goer didn’t understand. Dissatisfaction with what must have felt like a kick in the blue collar to many was one of the things that fed the religiously uneducated Moody’s movement. And it created a monster in the process. 

While having a dogmatic theology doesn’t protect Christians from huge theological issues, the practice of giving willy-nilly meaning to random verses certainly isn’t a problem-solver. The idea never occurred to me that everyone didn’t treat the bible this way. That it wasn’t a collected list of do’s, don’t’s and promises. I wasn’t unaware that I was reading letters, poems, and history. But I was taught to think of them as God’s dictation. Each verse was its own metropolis of meaning as much as each chapter or book.

For instance, I could take God’s specific promise “to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jer. 29:4b) as my own. The promise that:  “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (v. 11). Instead of seeing it as a bit of history, I could carefully excise it from its context. I take a promise expressly given to Israel in their exile and pluck it like a flower to display on the table of my circumstances. I steal what is at most a glimpse into the loving nature of God, and make it about me and my failing marriage, or choice of college, or new job.

You might wonder why that’s such a bad thing. Even though that verse isn’t for me, it’s still a nice thought that represents what God probably thinks about his children, right? Sure, except maybe my life has a bit of Cancer in it, or my wife leaves me for TVs John Stamos? What do I think of this God who promises welfare and not calamity then? How do I take a promise given to an entire nation that this wasn’t the end for them and make it about me without things getting a little strange?

Last week, someone posted a verse from Galatians which—by itself, in this translation—could be construed to make a political statement that Paul wasn’t making. In fact, when placed in its context, the verse was actually saying the exact opposite of said political thingamajig. Now, imagine that’s it’s not just a life verse or a political position we get wrong. Imagine all this rolling around in the verdant pastures of scripture, plucking this verse and that, we make a daisy chain of bad connections that define our spiritual lives.

I’m not saying the highly educated are the only people that should handle the bible. I’m definitely not saying religiously uneducated people can’t read and understand scripture. (That would be ignorant of me). What I am saying is that many of us have been taught a dangerous way of viewing the bible. I still run across verses, finally in context, and wince at the fact that the real meaning hadn’t even been in the same area code as the meaning I had given it. I’m saying truth matters.

We rip scripture apart so that, to ironically appropriate Nietzsche, “the text has disappeared under the interpretation.” The books of the bible aren’t made up of a long list of adages we can pick at random. (Except maybe Proverbs. I’ll give you Proverbs.) Each book is written in a specific context. 

You’ve got letters to churches covering specific topics, responding to letters we don’t have, directed to certain people in certain circumstances. You’ve also got poetry, songs, stories, and personal letters. Too often, we look at the bible as if it was a book of magic, and its words were holy incantations. Instead, God chose to use the weirdness of all these methods to deliver the message throughout the ages, and it’s our responsibility to understand the message as a whole. To work out our faith in fear and tremblingrather than superficially applying the words we like to ourselves. Scripture should always end up defining us, not the other way around.



-Chad West