I recently had a conversation with somebody who was wonderfully honest about their knowledge of the God of the Scriptures. It was a beautiful conversation about a lifelong search for 42 and difficulty marrying the story of scripture with modern life. He was apologetic about his lack of understanding and the doubt that arose because of it. I shared that the older I get and the deeper into faith I delve, the less I seem to know. I also explained that this is not necessarily a bad thing because it means we are searching. I also told him that I believe doubt is part of my faith which surprised my listener. I explained that the more I, a finite being, tries to comprehend the INFINITE, he keeps expanding before me, and I get smaller and smaller.
I have been thinking about this conversation since it happened, and what occurred to me is that we make the people, events, and God of scriptures cartoons. We turn Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Solomon into giants. We see Peter, John, James, and Paul as paragons of faith and knowledge. We treat Mary, Ruth, Ester, and Elizabeth as perfect women of virtue. But we also anthropomorphize the God of Heaven turning him into some CEO or vindictive dictator. And worse yet, we turn the man Jesus into some superhero who might as well be running around Galilee in a cape and a giant “S” on his chest. We turn the origin stories of the fall, Tower of Babel, and flood into two-dimensional sanitized cartoon episodes with little depth. The powerful mysteries of the cross and tomb become empty concepts and proof texts rather than profound statements. Simply put, 42 becomes too small and put him in a box to fit our lives.
The opposite approach by scholars and theologians has also had the same effect. For centuries, many traditions and systematic theologies have tried to codify and simplify the Lord of Life, the Universe, and Everything, in order to battle “heresy” or help laity understand their faith, and this has the opposite affect causing confusion and leaving people behind; people like my friend who apologized. Is it any wonder why at least one in three Millennials and Gen-Zs have rejected faith in God?
Many of us were taught that we can learn more from our mistakes than from our victories. Yet, seldom do we apply this wisdom to our faith walk. Instead, we try to be super-heroes, know-it-alls, and perfectionists in our faith. We walk around like faultless giants, projecting our arrogance upon those weak in the faith or lacking it all together. We don’t want to admit to our mistakes, doubts, and struggles. We don’t want to be transparent. We are like two-dimensional cartoon characters.
But look to the scriptures. Abraham’s missteps are what make him a giant of the faith. Moses’ doubt and occasional loss of focus make him an icon. David’s blunders make him a man after God’s own heart. Peter was impetuous, and John and James were glory seekers when they walked with Jesus. Paul convinced himself that he knew it all and had blood on his hands, that is, until the Resurrected Christ “knocked him off his high horse.” I’ll leave Ruth, Ester, and Mary alone other than to say that they were human, and nowhere in the scriptures does it say they were sinless. Jesus was a man who wept and doubted, was transparent, and understood what it meant to be humble and submit to the greatness of God’s glory.
Maybe the scriptures are there to show us the contrast between the created and the CREATOR, the rescued and the RESCUER, and the inspired and the INSPIRED. Maybe these writings from many faithful and flawed people handed down through the centuries are met to give us doses of humble, broken mistake-ridden people trying to comprehend the immenseness of the Great I AM.
And maybe they are there to give us hope that our mistake-ridden lives prepare our hearts and minds for serving the Lord in the here and now until the time comes when we arrive at our destination; before God.
The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go. Richard Bach