It is my pleasure to introduce you to Joseph Aumentado, our newest contributor. Joe is majoring in Biblical Studies at Biola University, and his blog, For the Spiritually Inept explores faith with curiosity, authenticity, and flair.
In the second grade, I kept a small green spiral notebook on me at all times. In it I drew three columns. The first column, you might say, was for “nouns.” It could have been the name of the bully at school, something that happened at home, or some deep philosophical musing I had while on the toilet. In the second column was the word pros, and in the third the word cons. In either one of these columns I would draw a hash mark that best described my reaction—whether positive or negative—to whatever was in the first column. If, say, someone made fun of the way I did jumping jacks during PE, I’d make sure to write that asshole’s name down in the first column with a disapproving hashmark in the cons column. But, if someone paid me a compliment for my drawing of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, or I got accolades for reciting the pledge of allegiance—which was all I had in my skill set at the time—I’d put a mark in the pros column. I was collecting data. I thought by weighing the pros and cons of my life I could see if killing myself was a viable option. And so began my existential crisis—at the age of 7.
I have a natural disposition for being cynical and a little depressed. When my mom was giving birth to me, I fashioned a noose out of the umbilical cord. But, before I could get the thing wrapped around my neck, those damn doctors intervened. Thank Cedar Sinai. Since then, I haven’t stopped looking for reasons to kill myself (or not to kill myself).
I remember my parents taking me to a viewing once. It was an open casket affair, so anyone could walk up to the deceased and look death in the face. Unsupervised, I walked up to the casket, and with a sense of fear, and in a way, reverence, saw what used to be a living person just laying there. His complexion was waxy and anonymous. But those in attendance knew him, even though they were socializing as though there wasn’t a corpse in the middle of the room. A metaphor of the human condition I suppose. But underneath all the chatter, I guess it was a way of coping with the stark reality of death.
With the question of death on my mind, I began studying theology as a kind of coping. I thought if an answer could be found concerning life and death, then surely God would have it. But God has a way of going against the grain of our expectations. Rather than offering us an answer that might placate our anxieties about life and death, we’re offered a way of living in the question itself and encouraged to embrace the ambiguities of life. This point is made particularly clear in the way Christianity offers us death and abandonment as its religious symbol. For on the cross, we find the words for saying “Amen” to all of life when Christ cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In this way, we experience the loss of God as a strange kind of presence.
Within ancient Jewish culture, quoting the first part of a portion of Scripture was an abbreviated way of alluding to the whole passage. So, when Christ quotes the words of David in Psalm 22:1, we hear Him uttering the very presence of God expressed in the rest of the chapter in the very same breath (see, Ps. 22:22-31). So, even God is present in the midst of His own absence. In this way, He not only entered into the weakness of our flesh, He also entered into the very depths of life that render it meaningless—and that is where God is found.
The triumphalism found in the modern Evangelical church, and particularly in contemporary worship music, would seem, then, out of sync with the Cross. For we are called to live in the fallout of the crucifixion where the object of meaning and certainty died, and find God in the midst of our disillusionment with the world. When we say “Amen” to doubt and unknowing, we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow God, not as the guarantor of meaning and certainty, but for His own sake.