Is It Safe Here?
I was reading an article about a pastor getting into a conversation with her neighbor about what that neighbor thought was a troubling development at her child’s school. The pastor had trouble seeing what the issue was and why it was causing such concern (the school was going to teach yoga as an exercise/ “quiet time” session).
Her article addressed the need in each of us to be certain about what we believe and the problems that can cause. And I hear this a lot from people – lifelong Lutherans, young adults, visitors from other faith traditions and denominations, and from folks in general. How can you be so certain about ….?
Actually, if I am honest (and you as well), there are a lot of things that we are not ready to go on a hill and die for in our religious beliefs. We are a “creedal” church – professing our faith is as expressed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed (and that Athanasian Creed as well, but that’s another story). Yet I suspect every one of us has had those thoughts, like
Does it matter that Jesus was born of a virgin? That Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead? That the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” or just “from the Father”? One holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic church? Bodily resurrection?
And what about other areas of doubt? Did Jesus always know he was the Messiah? Was he ever naughty as a child? Did he ever get angry or jealous or frustrated or aggressive with people?
Questions abound. Our minds can’t help but question things, especially things that of which we do not have first-hand knowledge or experience. There is a built-in wariness to us humans, probably as a safety mechanism which allowed our existence to continue and evolve over the millennia.
The conflict between “being sure” and “having doubts” can be an impediment to growing not only our church but also our own personal faith. Exploring the level of trust one can have in God and God’s Son is something we should encourage, but that entails being comfortable with questions or thoughts which make us uncomfortable. Why do people hesitate to ask questions?
From the Living Lutheran article “Freed to Ask Difficult Questions” by Anna Madsen (04/08/22):
“First, questions might indicate doubt. If we doubt, we might disbelieve. And if we disbelieve, well … then what? How, we wonder, will God feel about that, about us, who once believed but are no longer as certain?
Second, we might worry that asking questions borders on disrespect. Can there be things
about which God does not want us to wonder? Is asking questions an act of audacity and
pride in the face of a mysterious, ineffable, powerful God?
Third, asking questions in public betrays that you can’t grasp something that perhaps you
ought to. Admitting that you don’t know, you don’t understand or you’re not sure makes you vulnerable. It’s safer to pretend we have it all down pat.
And fourth, raising a question can change present and reigning realities. Asking a question
can be risky because it can upend the way things are and always have been.
One way of thinking about questions is through our Christian commitment to hospitality. No virtue, no habit, no representation nor manifestation of God’s essence or identity is more valued in Scripture than hospitality. Welcoming the stranger is God’s modus operandi – and therefore ours as well.”
There is probably no act less hospitable than judging another person for asking questions.
Unless you consider ostracizing that stranger for even asking the question. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, having a healthy, active faith means that we have all been though periods of questions and doubts. I do not look at anything the same way I did when I was nine years old, nor when I was confirmed at fourteen, nor when I graduated from college at twenty-two, when I had children at thirty-seven or even when I went “over the hill” at fifty!
Perhaps we should look at faith the way we look at life – full of ups and downs, unexpected revelations that either shake our foundations or reinforce our trust. As we get to understand or experience the human condition, it is a natural and good thing that we should wrestle with how the tenets of faith hold up in the face of evil or fear or rejection or hate or death.
Only by entertaining the possibility that God is in the questions can we find our way to true
hospitality – and be a safe, welcoming place for others and for ourselves.