Faith, Fully: Linda Mansfield (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! 

You can read every Letter 2 starting in September 19, and you can find out more about the Faith, Fully project here.

Oct. 10, 2016

Dear Brad,

There are two aspects of my faith that trouble me. One centers on two stories in the Bible in which there appear to be inaccuracies. The other, more important one, is the difference between what God expects from Christians and what I’m able and willing to do.

God expects a lot.

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus tells us that the most important commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

That’s a really tall order.

When Jesus called the disciples, many of them dropped what they were doing and followed him immediately.

Just think about that for a while. Often it’s hard for me to find time to do something fun that I want to do, let alone something as drastic as that.

“I’ll pencil it in,” I tell people, but it’s still a 50-50 shot if the appointment will ever happen.

Case in point: my trip to the Kentucky Horse Park. I love horses (I’ve been a horse owner for more than 30 years), and I have been trying to find time to visit the Kentucky Horse Park since I moved to Indianapolis 16 years ago.

I’ve gotten close twice. Once I canceled out because work intervened. The other time I canceled because the weather forecast was for three days of solid rain during the dates I’d circled on my calendar, and I didn’t want to spend three days sloshing around in the rain and mud for my first trip to someplace I’ve been wanting to see for so long.

I’m scheduled to go again later this month so we’ll see if the third time is the charm, but see how hard it’s been to make this happen? And that’s for a quick, three-hour drive to somewhere I know I’ll enjoy, not a scenario where I have to give up everything I own to follow someone I just met.

In Luke 14:33, Jesus said “So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.”

Giving up everything is high on His list, but it’s something that I hope I’m never actually required to do. My whole life has been one of struggling to make ends meet, so to actually give up what I’ve worked so hard to get seems insane. It certainly isn’t on any list Forbes produces on suggestions for ways to get ahead.

It gives one the impression that the only people that really cut the mustard are people like Mother Theresa.

I’m just a regular working girl.

It gets worse a little further along in Luke. Consider Luke 18:22: “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”

To me, that reeks of brainwashing and cults. It certainly isn’t good business sense. After all, wouldn’t it be better for the poor if I could be wildly successful and then donate to charitable causes?

There’s another Bible story where one of the early followers asks to return home for a bit so he can tell his family that he’s going to leave to follow Jesus. Jesus chastises him for wanting to tell them his plans before he leaves, but to me it’s not only an understandable request, it’s just common courtesy.

The main points, of course, are that you’re supposed to do whatever God asks of you when He asks, with no regard to yourself. You’re also not supposed to worry about what you have in this life, and concentrate on what you’ll have in heaven.

I think that’s hard.

Jesus regularly stressed that life on Earth is fleeting; it’s extremely short compared to eternity.

In Matthew 19:24, Jesus said “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

So far it looks like there’s little chance of me being rich in this life, but I know some rich people who I feel are good Christians, and I certainly hope they’re heaven-bound.

If you read further in that chapter, the disciples were astonished over this statement too, so they asked Jesus “Who then can be saved?”

His reply according to Matthew 19:26 was mystifying at best: “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'”

A lot of people quote this verse when facing great difficulties, but the context it appears in answers a question about salvation.

All these stipulations are certainly quite different than Romans 10:13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Which brings me to the story about the penitent thief who hung on a cross beside Jesus. According to Luke 23:39-43, as he was dying that extremely cruel death he said to Jesus, “‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

This brings up one of the statements I don’t understand. The story goes on to make it pretty clear that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead until Sunday and he didn’t ascend back into heaven until about a month later, so it makes one wonder how he the thief would be together in paradise later on Friday.

One of the possible clarifications is that the writers of the Bible put the comma in the wrong place, and Jesus actually was saying that the thief would be saved as of today. Apparently there was no punctuation at all in the original manuscripts, and the translators put the comma in the wrong spot.

Another possibility is that the story got mixed up in the retelling. Since humans were involved that’s always a possibility.

I certainly don’t know the answer.

Another point that I’ve struggled with for a long time about the Easter story also has to do with timing. Jesus died on Good Friday and rose from the dead three days later; that’s what I proclaim each time I recite the Apostles’ Creed.

However, we celebrate Easter on Easter Sunday. I can’t get three days between Friday and Sunday no matter how I count it, but only two. That would mean either it wasn’t three days between Jesus’ death and his resurrection, or we should be celebrating Easter Monday, not Easter Sunday.

Perhaps this is something that we humans screwed up in the retelling or the celebrating, but I can’t explain it.

I hope that Jesus’ many comments about wealth were to stress that you can’t count on anything from this world to get you into heaven for eternity; that only comes through Jesus.

And I’m also counting that He wants me to continue to try to be a hard-working, contributing member of society, and doesn’t really expect me to go on welfare, read the Bible all day, and spend the rest of my life trying to convert everyone else.

I don’t understand it, but I’m counting that belief is the deciding factor, and I hope that in the end I’ll be acceptable.

Because like I said in the first letter, I believe.


Linda Mansfield