I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone out there, but I am a nerd. How big a nerd? Big enough that after I saw the Matrix for the first time in 1999 I didn’t sleep for two nights as I contemplated exactly what the ramifications of the film were. (Fight Club still holds the record with three nights.) Needless to say, when the movie came to video (that’s right, video, not DVD) I bought it immediately. I watched it almost daily. I could quote nearly every line in the movie. What can I say? It got to me.
Well, time passed and eventually my level of fanboydom began to fade. Regardless, the movie will always have a special place in my heart. It’s for that reason, that when I began trying to think of an analogy for what I’m going through spiritually, that the scene in the video below began echoing through my mind. Go ahead and watch it, but pause when it tells you to.
“You could say that,” indeed. I guess in order for you to understand the rabbit hole I find myself tumbling down into, you should be aware of a little backstory.
Shortly before I took my second first communion, my small group had been reading a book called “The Case for God” by Karen Armstrong. In it, the author proceeds to pose a number of ridiculously unsettling questions about Christianity. Hard questions. Things like, “Why do we believe the Genesis account of creation is entirely literal, when the Jewish listeners who first heard it believed it to be fiction?” “If it’s not fiction, why does it use so many literary techniques that were used exclusively as fiction?” “What does it mean that nearly every tribal culture creates a story of Creation that largely follows the same patterns as Garden of Eden story?” Finally, most troubling, “If the story of Creation is just that, a story, then what does that mean for us today?” From there, Armstrong begins to follow stories throughout the Bible and using logic and reason, very clearly explains the hows and whys what we believe, may not necessarily be what the original listeners of those stories believed.
At this point in my life, I was a wounded animal, spiritually speaking. I was just beginning to feel at peace with God, and this book terrified me. My beliefs were on shaky enough ground without having an ex-nun shake them like a coconut tree. I shut down. I stopped reading the book. I refused to think about it.
But the damage was done.
Suddenly, the things I’ve always accepted as simply being Truth were suspect. Not the biggies, I was still sure about the existence of God, and mostly sure about Jesus’ validity, but that was pretty much it… Whenever these concerns would bubble up, I’d do my best to run from them. I grew up in the church. I grew up as a Christian. To doubt these things was to doubt the very building blocks my life was made out of.
And so, I ignored it. God is good and soon I started seeing him in my life a lot more often. Church was good, I was growing. Things were getting better. I mostly managed to move on with my life and forget about this whole sordid affair. But lately…
Go ahead and press play.
God stuff is slowing down. Something is wrong, and I’ve been around long enough to know what it is. He’s asking more of me than I’m currently giving him. For the last several months, attending church, nurturing relationships, and loving those around me has been good enough… But now he’s asking me to take a closer walk with him and once again I’m utterly terrified because he’s asking me to waltz right back into uncertainty. He’s asking me to leap headlong into the rabbit hole, strip myself of my beliefs, and figure out what’s really True.
In terms of practical application, this means a LOT of research. I feel like God is asking me to go backwards and learn about Christian history. He’s asking me to find out why we believe what we believe because… I’ve got news for you, what we believe as Christians today isn’t what Christians five hundred years ago believed. The Age of Enlightenment completely changed the way people understood the message of the Bible, and everything we know, everything we believe stems from that understanding rather than what may have been originally intended.
Now, hear me… I’m not saying that what we believe right now is wrong. I’m not saying that. What I’m saying, is that I’m terrified that at some point, we as Christians lost the plot and what we’re living out today, is a dark reflection of what may have originally been intended. Believing what I believe because it’s what I’ve always believed just isn’t good enough any more. God is asking me to go out and make these beliefs come to life. What is currently fluff; he wants to forge from iron.
And this is why I’m scared. Because there’s no going back from this. If I dive into this, there’s no telling how it could turn out. My research might lead me to believe that Christianity is a lie. Or that Christ wasn’t who he said he was. Or that all religions lead to the same God. There are any number of heretical possibilities I could wind up at, and because I’m a thinker, I won’t be able to ignore it.
But I also know, I can’t ignore this. Where I’m at, right now. I spent so much time during the Great Silence feeling miserable because of my lack of growth, that I can’t stand the idea of being there again. So, because I’m more scared not to move, I’m doing it. I’m jumping in. I have no idea how to start or what I’m doing… but I know that I have to do something. I’ve heard that our current concept of missionaries was something derived in the early 1900’s, so I might start there… but I have 2000 years to cover. At it’s core, what this is really about is learning to understand the Bible through the perspective of those that were actually experiencing it.
For example, the “eye for an eye” concept is often used today as a means of justifying retribution. Back then, however, it wasn’t unusual for someone who had been wronged to take revenge not only on the perpetrator of the offense, but their entire family. An “eye for an eye” was given as a means of limiting retribution so that the violence wouldn’t escalate. If you boil that notion down further, you can see that at its core, that notion is about preserving life.
How many more things in the bible do we take completely out of context? How much of what we know is the result of man’s ethnocentrism when applied to the Gospel as opposed to what God had originally intended? I don’t know. But God has called me to find out.
I don’t know what my faith will look like after this. I don’t know what my spiritual practices will be. I honestly don’t even know how or where to begin. What I do know, is that God has laid a dark smoldering passion in my heart for the Truth… and it’s up to me to find it.