I feel like my tenuous connections to the Christian body are being chewed away. I belong to a wonderful community of believers and I participate wholeheartedly but I feel like something is missing. I'm hungry to go deeper, to study more, to challenge every last tenet of this religion but I'm hard-pressed to find anyone in real life who shares this hunger for truth. I'm not saying they aren't out there, but they certainly aren't very visible.
The community I belong to is filled with an amazingly diverse group of believers, our pastor is spiritually healthy (encourages questions, doesn't provide simple answers, continues to seek and grow himself) and I have formed many meaningful friendships yet I have a big spiritual need that remains untouched. I'm starting to think that if you want to research basic Christian principles or study the Bible you should avoid the church.
I want to tear open the text and rip into it like my life depends on it (and I'm told it does); I want to know not only what was said but also who it was addressed to and what their beliefs were; I want to avoid taking for granted that words like hell, salvation, grace, belief and resurrection mean what we've been taught. Instead let's study the people, consider the context, and research the original Greek or Hebrew words being used. But man, most Christians really don't want to talk about these things. Not only that, I'm feeling judged and discouraged as I travel this path. I can't begin to tell you how heartbroken I am about this. I'm hurt and I'm lonely.
I've asked these questions as an outsider and although I rarely found someone willing to seriously ponder the questions with me I at least felt it was okay to ask. But when I started calling myself a Christian and continued to ask questions the responses started to shift. I've been told I need to pray about these things, should trust the authority of the church, am on a slippery slope, etc. I've been reprimanded and unfriended. To tell you the truth I feel very unloved and unwanted if not completely ignored and irrelevant.
I've harboured deep doubts about sustitutionary atonement, questioned the teaching that homosexuality is sinful and been appalled at the blatant but seemingly ignored misogyny presented in scripture. When I call myself a Christian what am I telling the world about who I am? I have no idea anymore. In the few years that I've been on this path and expressed these concerns I've never once had a Christian say to me, 'let's get together and really explore this issue'.
I'm certain there are a wide variety of reasons people are disinterested. Perhaps they were raised by loving Christians and these beliefs have served them well; they trust the Bible as God's message to mankind and have never seriously considered an alternative perspective. (I'm guessing these people are usually younger and probably in the minority.) There are also those among us who do have concerns and questions but they trust that God (as revealed in scripture) knows best so they repress any doubts they may have. Maybe some of us believe that to question the Bible is a foothold for Satan or displays a lack of faith. Undoubtedly there are a few who have wrestled with their own questions long and hard and have now made peace with their beliefs; they feel no need to engage in the discussion any further.
I also think there are a lot of misconceptions about people like myself: that we are just trying to warp the Bible's message so it confirms our own (liberal) beliefs, that we want to have our cake and eat it too, that we are trying to eradicate our guilt or can't cope with the truth, that we think traditionalists are ignorant or dumb, that we are argumentative, that we have issues with authority.
Some of the above criticisms contain seeds of truth but they are not, independently or collectively, the driving force behind my questions. Let me ask you something which might better clarify my position: can a person be a Christian if they don't affirm the inspiration and authority of scripture? If your answer is no then you can strike me off your list of Christian friends. I can only speak from the truth of my experience and that is of a God who is so awesome and complex that no book can ever claim exclusive knowledge of or access to His divine presence.
The Bible does not define my relationship with God but that doesn't mean I throw the baby out with the bathwater. We have at our fingertips a collection of the most remarkable stories of man's encounters with the Supernatural dating back several thousand years. Is that not profound enough to make you want to cry? It's truly breathtaking. Not only that but in the New Testament we find what I consider to be the most incredible story to ever grace mankind: the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. This Prince of Peace came into the world to share God's love and surrender to His will. He showed us what it means to be fully human and in the process reconciled to the Divine. He bridged heaven and earth. He conquered the grave. And because of the gospels I can read all about the things He said and did.
So yes, I have a deep appreciation for the Bible but I don't believe God dictated or compiled it. What we read are God experiences as seen through the filters of the experiencer and/or author. This doesn't make it any less special but it certainly highlights the need to study the historical context and personal background of each author. This means we can't take every statement at face value; it requires study. This is especially true of the letters that compose most of the New Testament. This is the canon from which we base our beliefs and values as Christians yet we only have access to half the conversations.
If there is a prominent or relevent teaching in scripture that opposes the clear voice of God that speaks to me through His Holy Spirit, if I am told I must deny my intuition and suppress my love to submit to the authority of the church, if the God being presented to me requires emotional and mental gymnastics to reconcile all the contradictory messages then I want to challenge those teachings honestly. Not in a dismissive, that can't be right because I don't feel good about it kind of way, but in a way that looks at many sides of the issue with an open mind and good research.
And who knows, maybe one of these days I'll find someone who shares my enthusiasm.