Monday, October 15, 2007

The Points

I grew up with fairly Reformed theology (though I am not prepared to define what that is any more than I am prepared to define racism). Then I got some friends who had a pretty tough time with life. Then I started to have some tough times myself.

In the tough times, pat answers don't work very well--either profferred or received--and the general tone of the Bible is that God and the other characters in there don't like them much more than I do. There are also lots of people in the Bible who got kind of upset at God about some things, and at some point in my life I began to feel that it was okay to do this, and so I did. Fairly often. Sometimes on behalf of other people, though usually, I confess, when things weren't going the way I wanted them to go for me.

Somewhere along this line of processing, I kind of lost the concept of the sovereignty of God. If you had asked me if I believed in it (and sometimes the Item does), I would have said yes, but I preferred to emphasise free will, because it's hard to get over some of the tough stuff when you think God made it happen, and didn't just allow it. I'd rather blame people, and human sin's infecting and breaking the world.

Well, I do think sin is the ultimate problem, and I do think there truly is human free will, even though I don't know how it fits into all this, but during the last few weeks, as I've been dealing with the latest stressors and reading through the lectionary and listening to the sermons, I've been thinking I should just go back to trusting God's sovereignty.

It's kind of hard and scary to trust, when you see that He, in His sovereignty, allows or even makes bad things happen. I still want to say He doesn't make them happen, but that's scary, too, because it implies He's disconnected, and I don't believe that, either.

Pat answers, it seems to me, are dishonest. But lately I've been thinking that sometimes my doubt is a little dishonest, too. Sometimes I doubt just for the sake of doubting; I feel simultaneously edgy and trendy. I'm kind of wondering, these days, if part of the exercises in frustration I've been going through lately are on purpose. I wonder if God is sending them so I can stop getting so all-in-a-wad about life. God doesn't always exact a reversal in circumstances. But sometimes He does, and if He's going to, I don't want to be whinging so much that I don't notice. I don't want to be surrounded by miracles and leave them standing out in the street. And if He doesn't reverse things, I don't want to miss out on what He's going to do instead.

I reckon it takes equal strength and obstinance to trust or to doubt. Lately it has occurred to me that all this doubting is making me tired, and also not very healthy. I've read lots of books on apologetics that satisfy my intellect at the time, but I know plenty of people who don't find that sort of arguments satisfying at all. I don't retain apologetic arguments well. Then there are experiences. My modus operandi of the last few years has been to see negative experiences as arguments against the Christian God, in the face of which I struggle with great fortitude to believe.

I don't think faith will ever be just a walk in the park for me (though it does often involve walking). I do think there's a point where eventually you realise that there are good logical and emotional arguments on either side of the faith issue, and you just have to come down on one. But I already know which side I come down on. It is almost, sometimes, like I don't, er, have a choice. So, if I'm going to be a follower of Jesus, it would probably be a lot pleasanter for both of us (not to mention all-y'all) if I spent some of my obstinance trying to see and bring about the glory God intends to come through the hard times, rather than getting distraught about them.

Yesterday, Pastor Steve talked about how God's sovereignty is, in the end, more comforting than not. It doesn't explain exactly why things happen, but it does mean things are not out of control as I feared. I mean, not if you look at it this way:
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all. (Charles H. Spurgeon, attrib.)


kristin said...

Hello hope your day is going well. I also would like to tell you that your faith in the lord is a wonderful one. I know GOD is with you always, and the energy you feel is his or her greatness. I try to look at this way all that is around you now is because of that energy. we are blessed you and i to feel that energy some don't. In faith Jenn we have to be the champions. The connection is the key. You have that connection!
Be Well. KRIS.

Annelise said...

I appreciated your blog and thought the Spurgeon quote was great, especially about the sanctifying nature of God's sovereignty.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

I hear ya kiddo. I remember for a number of years I had lost all sense of the sovereignty of God, lost the importance of the sacred. I just picked up Sr. Theresa's journals (which the atheists have been trying to use as a weapon against faith saying she never trully believed) which supposedly talk about the times she felt God was absent.

How is the book coming along?

Christianne said...

Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with such honesty.

In the last couple years, I've started thinking there's really something to this whole God's sovereignty thing. Especially as I keep reading the Bible and it seems to be everywhere there.

Then last night, our church was doing a special commencement ceremony for our new building and had invited a ton of our partners from all around the globe to be there with us. (We are big on distributed partnerships with the church worldwide, and we'll be having all kinds of events at church on this topic all week to celebrate with those that are here visiting.)

Anyway, one of the visitors was a minister we've worked with in the aftermath of Katrina. He came up on stage and played this GORGEOUSLY BEAUTIFUL song called "I love Louisiana." It was haunting. Even the way he sang "I lu-oo-uve Loosianna" felt so affectionate with longing, singing it in a Southern way, right along with the way Louisianans would probably say it. (Though I wouldn't know because I'm not from there, nor do I know anyone who is.)

The point of this very long story is that while he was singing and playing guitar for this song, there were heartbreaking images flashing on the huge screens behind him that made me positively weep. I couldn't contain my blubbering. And it really made me question the sovereignty of God in that moment in a way that I haven't done in a very long time. It's one thing to intellectually assent that His sovereignty is probably the most true understanding of His work in the world. It's something completely different to see all these helpless people completely devastated, left with nothing, having to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives for many years to come, and not having much in their lives to call their own or bring them much happiness before the disaster even happened in the first place. Why would God bring this upon them? It seems just cruel.

I left the service telling God I just don't understand the way He works sometimes, especially right now.

chris said...

As an observation - Reformed theology seems generally to flourish among groups of people who are on the whole fairly educated and articulate, who tend to like their systems of thoughts in neatly rational bundles. There is nothing wrong with that of course, and the balance comes not by abandoning rationalism, but in the realisation that real theology may not fit perfectly into the intellectual system de-jour.

Having been pondering this topic a lot recently I've come to the conclusion - hardly original - that the centre and starting point of our theology has always got to be the cross. Everything has to be viewed through it's prism and theology takes on a bad shape when it is ignored. It's instructive that the forms of Reformed theology that actually survive both doctrinally and pastorally always have a huge emphasis on grace. Usually to the point where, whilst it seems to arrive as a second order effect of the core doctrines, it's actually much more important than them. When it is stripped of grace it ends in a contest over who can give the most negative-emotion reading of the faith - with Fred Phelps as the ultimate Reformed theologian.

So - the healthy forms of Reformed theology tend to be cross shaped. Perhaps we'd be better off starting with that as a presupposition, rather than having to discover it along the way. Like Luther. "I want no God but the hairy one"

Marty Holman said...

Thanks for this great post Jenn. The only thing I don't like about reformed theology, but the way, is the reformed theologians.

Marty Holman said...

Hey Jenn, I was the assistant pastor, Lonnie is going to move back to Cincinnati, where he's from, so now I'm the pastor. (as of September 26th!)

L.L. Barkat said...

I don't claim to understand the sovereignty issue. I just know God is love. And this is what matters to my soul.

Heather said...

my friend, once again, i'm right there with ya.
i think b/c i grew up with such strong foundations, i had freedom to question for a while. oh, not questioning if god really exists or if i want to be a part of the church.
question, question, question.
and it was good. is good. it opened me up to mystery. it stretched my boundaries.
but sometimes answers are good too.
i'm a pendulum. maybe i'll settle somewhere in the middle!

Jenn said...

Kristin--thanks for always being such an encouragement. I guess I think there are different types of energy in this world, and I'm trying to be more intentional about tapping into God's.

Mom--yeah, the sanctifying part is what gets me.

Cube Rev--I think it happens to lots of us. There's something about her journals (and their content) that I find really encouraging--that she would just keep plugging away as if it were true, even though her feelings refused to confirm it. (As for the book, apparently they're working on the cover right now.)

Christianne--thanks for the honesty. I totally get where you're coming from. I think right now I'm in a place where it's dawning on me that I'm just not EVER going to understand God, but I'm not going to stop believing in Him. At least this side of Heaven, the "whys" are going to make no sense to me. So, by His grace, I might as well try to rest in His grace/sovereignty and grow from the pain, than keep asking unanswerable questions. Not that I'm necessarily going to succeed at that all the time!

Chris--thanks for the solid reminders (or clarifications). Also, the hairy God quote--I just couldn't stop laughing!

Marty--heh. I think I know what you mean, somehow! Also--congrats on the pastor-thing! That's really cool. But what in the world are we going to do at Starbucks without Lonnie's Dunkin Donuts coupons?

LL--I would NEVER claim to understand it! I just think I'm finally truly admitting that I can't. And that I have to trust in God's love even when circumstances don't make Him look loving.

Heather--you know, next time you're up in NJ . . . Anyway. Yeah. Somehow I've never truly been able to doubt God's existence. And I'm grateful for the freedom to ask the questions. I'm also becoming grateful for the freedom not to have to know the answers!

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