Today Rachel Held Evans, a popular Christian blogger and writer I really like, wrote a post on The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart that really dug its claws into me. It is essential reading for any Christian who has ever asked questions (and I hope this is every Christian) though it might be considered “dangerous,” as her central question is this:
For what makes the Church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority? What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him? Did following Jesus mean becoming some shadow of myself, drained of empathy and compassion and revulsion to injustice?
She describes a youth group meeting where she discussed the story of the battle of Jericho–in which God commands Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in the city–and wondered out loud if this story, which describes what is essentially a genocide, seemed contrary to what Jesus taught us about loving our enemies. Afterwards the leader asked her why she had brought it up.
“Doesn’t that story bother you?” I asked. “Don’t you find the slaughter of men, women, and children horrific?”
“Not if it’s in the Bible.”
“Genocide doesn’t bother you if it’s in the Bible?”
He crossed his arms and a self-satisfied smile spread across his face. He was proud of his detachment, I realized. He seemed to think it represented some kind of spiritual strength.
“But genocide always bothers me,” I finally said, “especially when it’s in the Bible. And I get the idea that maybe it’s supposed to. I get the idea that maybe God created me to be bothered by evil like that, even when it’s said to have been orchestrated by God.”
It’s these kinds of questions she means when she talks about “emotional integrity.” In certain strains of evangelical Christianity, we have become quick to fit everything into a theological hermeneutic, and to rationalize away these kinds of questions by defaulting to the “God knows better than we do” response every time we come up against a question that doesn’t sit well within our conscience. It feels blasphemous to even admit that sometimes I feel that way, like I’m not submitting my will enough to God’s. Emotions are fickle, we say, while logic is steady and true. But Rachel argues that we need to trust our emotions a little more, and ask if maybe the confusion we feel (or should feel) when we come up against such things is meant to lead us to questions, and to make us struggle a little harder to reconcile what we read and know of God with what we experience of his love.
She admits that she hasn’t resolved all these questions, but that she doesn’t believe she needs all her questions resolved in order to maintain her emotional integrity as a Christian–just to be honest about her doubts and to fully engage them with both her head and her heart.Over the past few months I have realized that often I, and I suspect others, don’t take our emotions seriously enough. We always want to have a theological answer, and that’s great, theology is a good thing too. But for all the talking we do about faith as a relationship with a personal God, we tend to talk about it like it’s a textbook to be memorized and analyzed. I am learning more and more that it’s okay to question, it’s okay to doubt, and it’s dangerous to just shut these things out because I feel like the intellectual answers should be enough. That is not strength. Strength is fearlessly diving into the questions, turning them over and trying them on and sitting with them. God is a relational God. He wants to be fully known by me, just as I want to be fully known.
I have realized I grew afraid of questions: of where they might lead, of what they might say about me for even asking. I have often confused answers with spiritual strength, intellectualism for love, acceptance for faith. But now I’m not just learning more what it means to wrestle with my faith but to actively embrace this process. This isn’t to say I’m struggling with my faith, even amid the questions. I feel God’s presence in my life every second of every day, and nothing really makes sense to me outside of the love of God that I know. But I want to keep asking, because the day I stop will be the day I no longer care what the answers might be.