Faith, Fully: Andrew D’Angio White (Prompt #2)
Prompt #2: What is the one aspect of your faith/belief system that troubles you the most?
In Letter 1, I asked you to introduce yourself to me and tell me about your belief system, whether religious or not. But no matter how strong you believe in something, there are always bits and pieces that cause us doubt. In Letter 2, I’d like you to tell me about the aspect of your personal belief that gives you the most trouble. This should be specific. Don’t be general. I want to hear what you struggle with, and why that struggle is so hard for you. I believe we learn as much about people by listening to what causes them to struggle as we do by listening to what causes them to celebrate.
Please remember to send your responses as both a snail mail letter (please!) and as an email. I’ll use the email to post your response on the website and cross-post them on the Faith, Fully Facebook page. The snail mail letters will be used for a physical project that’s coming later!
Seriously, thinking about time travel opens up a sense of doubt in me like nothing else. As this answer might suggest, I’m a fan of science fiction. One of the first works of science fiction I remember reading is Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End. ” The novel deals, loosely speaking, with the effects of a race of aliens who visit Earth and gift humanity with fantastic technology. One of the gadgets they offer is a way to look, unerringly, back in time to see things as they actually played out. With a few sentences, Clarke describes how this device effectively ends religion as we understand it – once you’ve seen how your religious figures really behaved, once you’ve seen the footage of the burning bush, the mystery is gone and faith unravels.
This is a deeply unsettling idea for me. What if you were able to go back in time and get a DNA sample from Jesus, who I say every week “became incarnate from the Virgin Mary? ” What does God’s DNA look like? Or, more frighteningly, what if it’s just ol’ Joseph sharing chromosomes with Jesus, same as with his siblings? It sounds silly, but it bothers me that I don’t have any kind of answer. More pressingly, however, what if you were to go back and watch the Crucifixion, watch as Jesus’ body was taken down and placed in a tomb. What if the Resurrection didn’t happen in the way that I believe? As I said in my last letter, that’s the central story from which I ask and answer questions about the world. What if it’s not true as I think it is?
This isn’t to say that I doubt the existence of God, the divinity of Christ, or even that the Resurrection is true; simply that I doubt the sufficiency of my explanation of the mystery of God. My fear is that my God is too small; that the God I believe in and worship and serve is so divorced from the God-Who-Is as to be wholly inadequate. What if God is far bigger than the Bible, the Church, or even human intellect can fathom or contain? I grant that I believe that to be true, but I think in the back of my mind I’m saying “Yes, God is beyond human comprehension, but the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement gets it about as close as you can, so come Judgement Day, I won’t be too surprised by how it all turns out.” What if I am laughably, catastrophically wrong? Will it matter?
It’s this last question that bothers me most. What if it matters so much to me that I am wrong that I somehow miss out? I fully expect a certain amount of surprise when I come face-to-face with God, but what if I am so tied to some wrong notion of God that I find myself unable to accept the Truth as it stares me in the face?
The closest I can get to an explanation or a satisfactory response to these questions is the whole idea of Grace: that God is capable of crossing any divide to be in relationship with us. One of my favorite Christian stories, often ignored these days, is the Harrowing of Hell. The general idea is that when Christ was dead, he went to Hell. Not as any kind of punishment, but to free those captive there, to preach the Good News to those in prison. (As an aside, my thoughts on Hell are roughly that it is not a place of punishment so much as where we take ourselves when we cannot accept how beloved we are; as C.S. Lewis wrote, “the gates of Hell are locked from the inside. “) I imagine Jesus looking a bit like an Aramaic Rambo, kicking down the gates of Hell in the universe’s greatest prison break, dragging even those unwilling to leave out into the light.
If that is the God I believe in, then surely even I, with my doubts and my likely wrong-headed theology, can be brought into relationship with the God not of my imagining but of reality. And so, in spite of time travel and everything else, I remain