Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Broken

I hope everyone had a good Christmas. Things were good on my end. I’d have liked to written a post beforehand, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything appropriate to write for the occasion. It hasn’t helped either that my mind has been overworked. I’ve had a lot going on lately.

Anyway, I’ve had something bugging me, and I wanted to share this and get it off my mind.

I remember writing some time back, either on this blog or as a commenter on another, that knowing Jesus makes life easier. I think I was wrong to believe that. This last year, I’ve not gone to church much at all. When I have, I’ve become guilt ridden, frustrated, angry, edgy, depressed, and faced battles of feeling really low self-esteem and self-worth. Life is not easier knowing Jesus. It can certainly be better in a lot of ways, but far from easy. Knowing Jesus takes a lot of work, and it takes a lot out of you.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. This last year I’ve increasingly felt more and more of a resistance to anything God-related. I think, to an extent, it is because knowing Jesus is hard, and it brings to mind a lot of the negative aspects of my life/past. I don’t like feeling this resistance. It’s affected my faith in some rather major ways. I’ve had a lot of doubts about Christianity.

I hate saying or thinking that.

I know this is probably going to sound out in left field, but it’s something that really has weighed on my mind lately and something that has seriously caused some doubts in me. I don’t understand why God would be so vain as to require circumcision as a necessity to showing faith in Him (talking about the Israelites). Why would God make this requirement and then come down to Earth and preach a message that circumcision of the flesh is meaningless, and that it is actually circumcision of the heart that really counts? I’m confused by this. If physical circumcision was so important that God would threaten to cast out Moses for not circumcising his son, then why would He a few centuries later say that it’s not that important? I guess God can change His mind, but that in itself begs the question if God really is all-knowing, all-wise. I can’t help thinking that circumcision was simply an ancient custom adopted by the Israelites at some point and accredited as God’s commandment for His people later on. And if that is true, then perhaps a lot more of what we read about in the Old Testament is untrue, or at least not the whole truth. Perhaps there is indeed a God, but a lot of His so called commandments, really are not from Him at all, but made by people who simply thought they knew what was best for their people during the times in which they lived.

These doubts aside, I’ve felt so much of a resistance to going to church, reading my bible, praying, or just having anything at all to do with God. I feel like I’m going to hell. But aside from that, I’ve felt better about myself, been more outgoing, and relaxed about life the last few months than I probably ever have. It’s really only the last few weeks that that has begun to change. I did not go to church this last Sunday, but I did go the previous five Sundays. I was glad to go. But I didn’t at any moment feel as though I belonged. And I’ve been reminded of how much I tried to belong a few years ago and never was really allowed to. I’ve had a lot of doubts creep in, old wounds resurface, and in general felt like I’m just a piece of crap. I don’t know how to feel close to God. I don’t know how to feel close to other Christians. I don’t know where I belong in the great realm of Christianity. And all of this bothers me a lot.

I do believe in God. I think it’s ridiculous to believe everything in this great big universe just came about of its own accord. But I do doubt a lot of what we Christians have been taught about God. I think, as in today, people in the past may have been wrong on their teachings and beliefs. How do we know that certain dreams weren’t just that and nothing else? How do we know that certain visions weren’t really episodes of drunkenness, hallucinations, and/or forms of mental illness? How do we know that Moses didn’t just take old stories (maybe of truth or myth) and add a bit of his own thinking to help rule the Israelites? How do we know that the good men and women of the Bible weren’t really as honest or noble as we’ve been taught they were? Perhaps their actions were more in the line of best intentions than clearly presenting what they knew as the truth. Along that line, I can’t help thinking about the Catholic view that Mary must have not died, but ascended into Heaven sometime late in her life. I see no proof at all to suggest that this is the case. There are no eye-witnesses, no one that wrote about it near the time that it supposedly happened, nothing. I think it’s likely that the Apostle John took Mary into hiding, to protect and to care for her, as Jesus wished, and she eventually died in obscurity. I think it’s likely that no one knew what happened to Mary. And embarrassed not to know this about the mother of the person for whom the church was founded, some early Christian leaders came to the conclusion that surely she must not have died such an ordinary and depressing death, but that something marvelous must have happened to her. And so, in their search for an answer as to what happened to Mary, they concluded she must have been ascended into Heaven to rule alongside her son. I have to say I like the notion of this idea, but I’d like to know where the proof is. It’s not enough for me that some priest a few hundred years after it supposedly happened wrote that that was what happened. He didn’t see it, so who did? How does he justify this answer? Apparently it’s supposed to be enough just that he said it, and so we just have to take him at his word, that’s the conclusion, case closed. I’m sorry, but it’s not enough for me.

I just feel as though everything is all mixed up. No two Christians ever seem to believe in the same thing. No one has any convincing answers. A lot of Christians act anything but Christian these days. It’s just all such a huge turn off for me, and something that I’ve increasingly wanted less and less to do with.

I could write more, but for now, I’ll leave it at this. I’m not feeling bad, really, or depressed, so please don’t anyone think that. I’m just frustrated because I’d like some answers and to be able to feel as though God actually is God.

On another note, I want to apologize for something else which I implied in a previous note a few months back, concerning friends. I think I was operating under the assumption that online friends weren’t as good as other types of friends. I’m sorry I ever thought that, and I’m sorry if I offended any of you for suggesting it. I’ve met some really great people online, and I’ve made some of the best, closest friendships I’ve ever had with some of you. You’re blessings from God, and that’s one thing I surely do not have doubts about. I thank God for each and every one of you.

19 comments:

Jonathan said...

oh man I've been having a lot of the same thoughts this past year too! I feel like i believe that there's a God, Jesus came to the earth to take on our sin, but everything else is up in the air....if there's so much truth in the bible, why does everyone argue over what's true!?

I've also been feeling less and less like I really fit in with mainstream christianity...

I guess this is just what everyone has to go through in their walk, whether they truly believe what they believe or not.

Erik said...

You withdraw from the fellowship of the saints for corporate worship and then you wonder why you think and feel this way.

I understand the FEELING of wanting to withdraw, but to do so is like not going to the dentist because you fear the pain of the needle that is needed in order to get the tooth fixed. The withdraw only makes the situation worse, not better.

The questions you have regarding circumcision etc. have rather simple answers, but to find them you will need to love God with all your mind by studying His Word and developing an understanding of covenant theology. You won't find your answers in baptist or dispensational theology or mainstream evangelical theology. Understanding the covenant as the backbone of the Bible will tie all the loose threads and bring all the peaces of the puzzle together.

Here is my offer, you know my true identity. Send me an e-mail and we can arrange for a one on one weekly Bible study via Skype or on the phone.

What you need is a mentor to disciple you. I'm willing to be your Paul if you are willing to be my Timothy.

Love ya man!

Erik

jennypo said...

Oh, Brandon. It's true that life with Jesus is anything but easy in the short run. And since anyone looking for easy is looking at the short run, Jesus is the last thing they'd pick. But over the long run, how MUCH easier it is to live his way, with him. Don't be discouraged. We do live in a broken world (and that includes what we call "the church"), but there is wholeness in the Lord Jesus and rest from the struggle. Take heart, my brother. There is victory for the one who leans on him. He who died to set us free - will he leave us in confusion?

Furthermore, please don't let us give up trying to understand the Old Testament just because the world around us says it can't be understood. It is full of difficult, necessary truths about our Father - truths we must face if we would face him. I don't know much about any kind of theology, but I do know that any question I take to God, searching his Word, he answers. He has never failed me yet.
Remember that God uses different things to reveal himself in different contexts. Just as you or I might use a gift to express our love, God can use a physical thing to demonstrate a spiritual thing. It isn't to be ignored, but it can't take the place of what it represents. The gift might represent love, but it can't replace love. Since the Lord Jesus has come, we have through him the indwelling Spirit of God - what need have we for representations like circumcision? The Bible says that the law (including circumcision) was the teacher whose purpose was to bring us to God. We always want to skip right to the end of things, but if someone handed you a box of medicine before you discovered your disease, you'd be liable to throw it away, wouldn't you? We had to learn, through the law, about our need for Jesus before his dying could mean anything to us at all!

Yes, Christians disagree. We are imperfect yet, and none of us gets a full revelation of our God because we are so susceptible to pride - it would destroy us. Forget Christians - the Bible is unchangeable and it is made knowable by the Holy Spirit that is in you. Use any theology you like, but seek the God who is truth and ask him your questions. You will find, as I have found, that he delights to reveal himself to the intellect, though never without the spirit.

It's a hard world for a Christian - but tell me please if you get a better offer. I haven't seen one.

Brandon said...

Thanks, Jennypo. I really appreciate all you said. That's some good truth/advice to take there. You make a lot of sense, and I'll try better not to get discouraged about things.

Erik, I appreciate the offer. I am working on all of this. I've pretty much decided not to go back to the church I had been going to. This Sunday I'm going to go someplace else. For the time being, I want to pass on your offer, but I would like to keep that option open. I do think I need a mentor of some sorts, but I want to try to find somebody closer to me first. If I can't find anyone soon, I'll take you up on that offer. Thanks, again, for wanting to help. Just keep praying for me.

Jonathan, I pray you'll be able to work through any doubts or uncertainties you're having. I'll be praying for you.

M Greyson said...

hey, i'm new to all this... but stumbled onto your blog from "Adventures" and "Disputed Mutability". thanks for the honesty of your post. i look forward to reading more.

i don't think in your example that God was changing his mind. in the bible you have a series of covenants that really help complement the whole meta narrative of God's redemption. circumcision was a mirror for baptism... or circumcision of the heart. the sacrificial system was a mirror (or picture) of the need for a blood sacrifice that would soon be found in Christ.

the law, which in the OT was pretty intense, is shown in the NT to be a "tutor" to lead us to Christ. a person that is in Christ is no longer bound by the law. does that mean the law is bad? as paul would say, NO! what it means to me is that God can be seen consistently ramping up the volume -- making people sure that they they were helpless to save themselves.

i have no doubt that Christians, including me, have not interpreted scripture right. the interesting thing that i have seen is that the ONE thing... and i do mean ONE thing... that i would be willing the die for is Christ and Him crucified.

women in ministry.... no. innerrancy v. infallabiliy.... no. christian with ssa v. gay christian... no. the list could go on.

the ONE thing i can cling to... the ONE thing... is Christ and Christ alone. thanks again for your post. don't be afraid to ask those questions and never pretend to have all the answers.

Brandon said...

M Greyson, thanks for responding.

I understand what you're saying about circumcision. I've often been taught and understood that circumcision was a prelude (of sorts) to baptism. The problem I have though is that circumcision wasn't taught or looked at as one not only of the flesh but of the heart. Should it have been, and the Israelites got away from that and became more interested only in the flesh, or was Jesus' teaching something new? When I read the Bible, it comes across as though Jesus was teaching something new. And if that's the case, it just leaves me wondering why God wouldn't have made this teaching to begin with.

And on this note, I'll admit God knows better than me. I'm not arrogant enough to suggest otherwise. It's just that I wish sometimes, a few things made more sense or wasn't as confusing.

The book of Revelation, for instance. What's that about? I've been taught, but then what I was taught is different from almost everyone other person I've ever talked to was taught. Why has God allowed the confusion here? That's what gets me so frustrated with a lot of Christians. It's like we all belong to the same body, but no one knows which piece fits where, and we're all disproportionate.

I just feel confused anymore. I guess that was my main point for this particular post. The last two years I've had so many people telling me different things (all supposedly Christian, and people whom I trust) that I really don't know what's true or untrue anymore on several issues. And that's what really makes me wonder, if people are so mixed up and disagree so much today about certain issues, then how do we really know that they weren't mixed up in the past? How can we be sure that anything we've been taught is 100% true. And that is important, because just 5% untrue can mean the difference in a great number of things.

naturgesetz said...

Brandon, I found your blog through your recent comment on "Adventures of a Christian Collegian."

Others have commented on some of your more central points. As a Catholic, I'd like to clear up one point. The dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary does *not* teach that she never died. That point is left open. Catholics may believe that she died and was then assumed into heaven, just as Jesus died and was then resurrected and then ascended. Or they may believe that she was taken up like Elijah or Enoch while still alive. I tend to the former view. For one thing, it agrees better with the Eastern Churches, which call the event the "Dormition," the falling-asleep. They believe she died first. And in my parish church there is a window which has a stained glass window based on a Renaissance painting which depicts Mary as being lifted from her grave by angels.

As to how anybody knows this in the absence of contemporary eyewitness accounts, we rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of teachers who reflect on the scriptures, such as Revelation 12:1 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17. I know that the Thessalonians verse is talking specifically about those who are alive at the end of time, but it tells us of something God can do, and we believe that Mary, as the exemplar for faithful Christians receives the Assumption into heaven as a pledge that what happened to Jesus is also something which is available to us who are purely human — but in a way which is appropriate to our nature. In other words, we are promised that where she has gone, faithful Christians will follow.

How do we know? This opens into your wider question of how we can know we understand the Bible correctly. We rely on the Lord's promise of the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, his declaration to the apostles that those who hear them hear him, and his promise to be with us until the end of the age. So we are confident that those he has given the Church as the successors of the apostles are preserved from by the Holy Spirit from teaching error. In other words, you need the Church and its tradition and teachings to make sure you aren't going out into left field in the way you interpret a given passage. That's how we see it.

M Greyson said...

i hear what natur is saying about needing the traditions of the church and teachings, but my goodness... it seems like we can look back at many a time when the Christian majority was in "left field" following those same teachings and traditions... and i don't mean just catholics.

brandon, i'm not going to pretend to give you a perfect answer to this. i'm compelled to believe because Christ compels me. i've learned that there is but ONE thing i'd die for... and that is Christ and the things that directly surround salvation.

i wouldn't die for women in or out of ministry. i wouldn't die for side a or side b. i wouldn't die for protestant/catholic or orthodox traditions. i wouldn't die over whether or not we had to use the world "innerrant".

i think it is rather intentional on God's part. there is but one central thing all Christians can focus on -- Christ. Salvation is by him, through him and only because of him. We stand righteous only because he has taken our sin and given us his righteousness.

i don't know if that helps at all. but know that it is ok to grapple with this stuff. you will have changes in your thoughts on scripture as you grow... and some of them may not be entirely correct. do your best to seek God, know Christ and love others.

thanks again for your post. peace.

naturgesetz said...

@ M Greyson — "there is but one central thing all Christians can focus on -- Christ. Salvation is by him, through him and only because of him. We stand righteous only because he has taken our sin and given us his righteousness."

I agree.

Jarred said...

I’ve had a lot of doubts about Christianity.

I hate saying or thinking that.


Why do you hate saying or thinking it?

Any search for answers must start with questions. Any search for truth must start at a point where one questions what truth really is.

Having doubts is not a bad thing. In fact, quite the opposite. It's a good and necessary thing.

Brandon said...

I'll agree with you, in part. But I won't agree with you if those doubts drives you away from God. I'm worried that my doubts are causing that.

Jarred said...

So you've already determined where your search must rightfully lead you? How can you search honestly under such a constraint?

Brandon said...

What do you mean?

Jarred said...

I'm simply saying that you might want to trust the process of seeking truth and not worry about where your doubts during that process lead you.

Or to put it another, I'd suggest you simply trust God to lead you to Him, doubts and all. In fact I'd say He may lead you closer to Him because of your doubts, rather than in spite of him.

I'm also suggesting that maybe your current understanding of God is off-kilter a bit, and you might want to be open to that possibility. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. But only allowing yourself to really grapple with your questions and doubts -- no matter what -- will ultimately to truth.

jennypo said...

Brandon, I've been thinking of you all day today. I'm sorry I was more about giving advice than understanding where you are.

I forgot just what it was like to be flattened by questions that had no answers. I'm all square with doubt now that I've got some answers, but truthfully, doubt shook up my whole world and laid me in the dust. I didn't have an ounce of faith left. The only thing that kept me from letting go was plain old fear of God. I promised God and myself that I wouldn't forget - that I'd remember how faithless I was and how faithful he was. But I got comfortable, and I forgot.

If you are anywhere close to where I was, it stinks. Even if it will be a thousand times worth it in the end, you aren't AT the end yet, and God doesn't expect you to be.

In my dark night, I took real comfort from a line I read in a book about David as he was hiding out from Saul, constantly hunted down and on the lam, accompanied only by malcontents and social rejects. The line is etched into my memory: "Those were David's pre-king days. But he didn't know they were his pre-king days."

Just like David, we don't know what we may need this for. I hope this gives you courage, too.

Praying.

Brandon said...

Jenny,

You don't have to apologize for anything. I appreciate your advice, and I welcome it. You tend to give me much courage and hope. Thank you. And thanks for praying for me.

Mikey said...

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." I think that's the process you're in the middle of, although acknowledging that doesn't make it any easier.
Having been raised in a fundamentalist church, one of the things I really appreciate about the Episcopal church I'm in now is that they accept that we can all disagree, or have different understandings, differences of opinions, but we can also support and love each other in those differences.
My prayer for you is that you will find a similar spiritual home as you "work out" your own relationship with God.

Brandon said...

Thanks, Mikey.

Dave said...

Hey Brandon,

Just saying hi. Been a long time since I've blogged or checked out anyone else's blog.

Sounds like you've got some deep questions going on. I hope you're doing all right though.

It's late my end though so I'm not much use for any meaningful contributions. Maybe I'll pop on at a more sensible time and share something meaningful.

Bless ya man.

Dave