Long before September 11, 2001, I found myself saved from the clutches of hell. At the age of five or six, I accepted the fact that Jesus Christ was my lord and savior. My faith in him and the Holy Bible would save me from eternal damnation. Ten years later, I would attend Falls Creek with the belief that I was being called to minister to youth. I decided to once again accept God's wisdom and follow without questioning. If he thought I could and should do it, then I was going to do it. Then 9/11 happened...
In my small town, the faith of those who I had grown up alongside was galvanized. For the first time in my life, I began to question. As I watched the towers fall and the chaos unfolded, I began thinking, maybe no one is in charge of this thing. I tried with all my might to shake those sinful thoughts, but I couldn't. Soon, the creation of the universe in seven days seemed ridiculous. Virgin births were out of the question. A man living in the belly of a whale was laughable, Finally, the resurrection became something to investigate further and that's exactly what I did.
I looked everywhere for answers. I sought counsel from church leaders. I devoured books on faith and those without or doubting a belief in a higher power. I cried and prayed. I cried and prayed. At night while laying in bed, I would scream for God to answer me. For me, the answers never came and the doubt was cemented. As a 21-year-old man, I resigned to call myself agnostic. I could neither prove or disprove the existence of God. I did my best to make peace with the ambiguity. For the first time in my life, I made myself comfortable with not knowing. I decided I wasn't meant to know.
Now, I am 33. I still read books on faith and never shy away from those conversations you aren't supposed to have in polite company. This journey led me to "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism." When this book was written, Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark. Knowing where he worked, I thought the Bible would get fair treatment. In my estimation, this couldn't have been truer. When I finally finished it, I was left with a couple of thoughts...
First, I don't think the Bible is meant literally. As I mentioned above, for over a decade now, I have doubted the miracles taught to me as a child. For everything I mentioned, there are hundreds and hundreds of other instances where the reader is called on to believe things that just can't possibly happen. For centuries now, I think we have been reading the Bible incorrectly. We've been reading these stories as absolute truth and any effort to question their reality called into question a person's faith, dedication, or love for God. I don't think this was the intention of those who wrote the Bible. Instead, I think we were meant to read these stories and infer some deeper meaning. When I watch "Star Wars," I am drawn to parables about good versus evil, inner power, and dedication to something bigger than yourself. When I read the Bible, I marvel in the existence of our universe, the love of a mother, our ability to be tested, and so much more. I can find meaning in these stories without believing most of them ever happened or at least happened in the way which they are described in the Bible. For many, if not most, this creates a bigger question and leads me to my second thought.
What does this new reality do to religion? This is a harder question for me to answer, but it is a thought I am happy to ponder. For me, it creates a new lens to see the world. Absolutely, I am still unsure about a man dying for my sins. I question the existence of heaven and hell. The things I believe usually end when faith is required, but much like a great fictional book, work of philosophy, essay, or book of poetry, I can now pick up the Bible and know I am looking for something to enrich my life. I am not looking for the proven word. I am not looking for something to unlock the gates of heaven. I am looking to make my time on earth more fulfilling. For me, that's enough. I know that will not be enough for others and that's okay. I know some will read this and see my sinful, earthly ways. That's okay too. I freely admit my ignorance, but much like Thomas Jefferson, I believe,
"Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear."
I will continue hunting, researching, and reading. If there are answers to be found, then surely I will find them.
Be good to each other,