A glimpse into my convoluted thinking
A while back, as part of a blogger review network, I received a movie to review. My family sat down and watched it. And then I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
See, it wasn’t bad. As far as Christian movies go, it was actually pretty good.
But it stirred up all kinds of feelings inside of me.
As an author with a book releasing soon, I certainly didn’t want to say anything about it if I couldn’t say something good. But at the same time, I want you to trust me, to believe what I say. To know that I don’t gloss over the things that are less than perfect, that I will say what I feel needs to be said.
And I didn’t love it. So I was conflicted.
But last night, as I thought more about it, I realized why. And I knew that it was OK, that I could tell you about it. I realized we didn’t need to talk about the movie by name in order to have a good discussion.
Here are the things that bothered me. While the acting wasn’t too bad for a Christian film, I hate that we have to give special dispensation for something calling itself Christian. Why can’t it be just as good and just as strong as something that isn’t? And if it’s not as good, why not? Why do we watch it anyway? The same questions apply to books, to music.
I don’t want Christian to mean lesser. And yet in our society, it usually does.
The movie ended with a happy ending. I have friends who love that, who long for the resolution in which every loose end is wrapped up in a big, perfect bow and they live happily ever after. And in Christian movies and books, that often happens. Because of God. Because saying a magical prayer washes away all your worries and suddenly life is good.
And really? Admit it. We all know that’s not true.
We want it to be true. We long for life to be carefree. Along the way, I’ve experienced for myself the truth that life with God—even when facing frightening, tragic or otherwise unsavory situations—is better than going through those things without Him.
But we’re afraid to admit to someone who doesn’t believe that life won’t suddenly be perfect if they take that leap into faith. We live in a Photoshopped world, a place in which appearances matter. So when we tell our non-believing friends about God, we leave out the parts when God gets angry and smites people. We ignore the behaviors of God that we can’t defend or explain. We skim over the hard parts, the places where Jesus says that, although many called on His name, He did not know them. We neglect that whole love-thy-neighbor-as-thyself and the part about selling all our possessions to give to the poor. We don’t try to convert people by reading them the part about how we have to give up everything to follow Him.
Because we don’t know what to do with that. We think it’s our responsibility as Christians to sugar-coat God. To put a colorful, unblemished mask on Him so that people will like Him.
And in a way, it is our responsibility to market Him. To exhibit Him and all that He believes to the world. To live according to His commands. To love extravagantly, to give joyfully, to stop judging. We’re called to let people see Who He is. We have a responsibility to draw close to God, to reach for Him in prayer, to study His Word and His life so that we know Him. So that we can show Him truthfully and accurately.
But it is not our responsibility—or our right—to try to change Him.
It is not our place to pick and choose the “good” parts.
In my spiritual life, I’ve struggled with certain things, some of them pretty foundational to Christianity. For example, I’ve actually spent time questioning why I should have to accept the sacrifice Jesus made. I didn’t ask for it. And I don’t understand why it had to happen. After all, if God is God then shouldn’t He be able to say He’ll take us anyway? Can’t He abolish the need for a sacrifice? Why did something so bloody, so unsavory, so troubling, have to take place? Why didn’t He stop it? Why didn’t He change the rules?
Finally, I came to peace with the idea that there are certain things I will never understand. I don’t know why it had to happen. But if God is the God I believe Him to be, then there must be a reason. If He is holy, maybe it’s like the opposing ends of a magnet, pushing us in our unholy states away from Him. Making it impossible for us to come to Him. Maybe that’s simply the way it has to be. And maybe I’m too full of myself when I begin to think that I need to understand God, or to think that I’m capable of grasping something that is obviously ginormous and critical to my whole belief system.
Because if my God is big enough to take care of my life for all of eternity, then He’s surely big enough to be in control of the facts. To make the right choices. To not be petty. To not require useless sacrifices. I have to be willing to yield—control, yes, but also the chance to be “right”.
I’m willing to share my doubts with believers, and I believe passionately that doubt and faith can exist side by side. But I don’t want to be the reason a non-believer turns away from God. I don’t want my lack of answers to get in the way.
But maybe it’s time we all started talking about it. Because to any outsider looking in, it’s clear that we, as Christians, don’t have it all together. It’s obvious that there are things we don’t know. That we live imperfectly, that our understanding, at times, is flawed. When we pretend otherwise, they can see right through us. And then not only do we look like we don’t know what we’re doing, we also look like hypocrites. Pretenders.
None of this would make anyone want to join this exclusive little club we’re in. To tell the truth, I’m not always convinced I want to be here, either. Not that I doubt God. I always believe in Him. But sometimes I cringe at the impression left by those who profess to follow Him but act nothing like Him.
So how about it? Want to start having some of the hard discussions? Want to develop relationships with people that are strengthened by the shared journeys towards answers we can live with? Want to muddle through this together?
If so, talk to me. About anything. I don’t have words to express how much I love to have these kinds of discussions. So, what’s on your mind?