I grew up in the Church. My family and I attended Chase Oaks Bible Church in Plano, Texas every Friday night. We were always late, but my parents liked to sit in the front row anyways. I knew the layout of the building like the back of my hand and everyone there knew me, too.
I also went to Christian school. We had devotionals every morning, weekly Bible verses to memorize, and our classes were designed to showcase a (quote) “Biblical” viewpoint. I knew all of the important Bible stories by heart and could quote not insignificant chunks of Scripture from memory. Classroom discussions about the nature of grace were just as likely as ones about the structure of a cell.
My point is that I knew the Bible well- or at least I thought I did. By high school, I could explain why evolution didn’t really make all that much sense, and why the Bible clearly supported a particular political party’s platform.
But then, in the fall of 2015, I moved 600 miles away from home to begin my studies at the University of Alabama. And by a stroke of providence, not to mention the allure of free food, I became involved with the Presbyterian campus ministry, UKirk. At first, it really wasn’t my cup of tea. For someone like me who was baptized in a Pentecostal church, the “frozen chosen” seemed stuffy and their worship, rote.
But, I liked the pastor and started to make friends. Quickly, I developed a deep appreciation for the rhythms and intentionality of the liturgy. Most importantly, I found a space where I was welcome to worship with both my head and my heart, where questions I had never considered were broached and taken seriously.
And I was starting to ask questions. Were evolution and Christianity really incompatible? Did God really order and condone genocide and ethnic cleansing? Why couldn’t women lead in the church?
Like any good Southern Christian, these weren’t questions that I had asked before, or heard other good Southern Christians ask either. These were the kinds of questions raised by wishy-washy mainline Protestants and other people who were too smart for their own good.
At first, I was embarrassed that I was having these thoughts. Kind and devout Christians had warned that the devil would try to sow doubt in my mind, but that if I prayed hard enough and didn’t surrender to the world, God would see me through.
But my doubts didn’t dry up. Instead, they became a deluge. The easy answers I had been fed growing up couldn’t hold any longer. The dam burst. I started reading books, testimonials, and blog posts by thoughtful and sincere Christians like Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Marcus Borg. These Christian authors couldn’t accept that God condones violence, oppresses women and LGBT folks, or plans to send billions of people to suffer eternal torment in hell. Their stories of questioning, doubt, and newly-given sight were deeply compelling, and ultimately liberating, to me.
I had been trapped in a place where I just didn’t get it, where little that I had been taught seemed to make sense, where my questions left me feeling ashamed and alone.
Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it either. Several times in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus explains who he is. He explains that he is the Messiah and that he will be taken, killed, and raised from the dead. But it doesn’t click with the disciples. They just don’t get it.
Everything that they had been taught and led to believe suggested that the Messiah would come in triumph and glory, that he would kick out the Romans and establish a mighty kingdom, that his reign would never end.
So, of course, the idea that the Messiah would be seized and executed simply does not compute for the disciples. And they seem afraid to ask Jesus what he means. Instead, they argue amongst themselves about which one of them is the greatest.
Jesus goes so far as to give the disciples a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven- God’s will made tangible on earth. He describes a society in which “the first must be the least of all.” That statement would have sounded even more incredibly radical in first-century Palestine than it does today.
But the disciples don’t bite. They don’t ask Jesus any follow up questions. They don’t try to argue with him or pressure him to elaborate on what he means. The Scriptures don’t record any comments at all.
Maybe the disciples were afraid. Maybe they were wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Or perhaps they simply weren’t paying attention to what Jesus had said. Surely, at the very least, they were blind to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus had described.
Now, it would be very, very easy to mock the disciples for their lack of understanding and their failure to ask Jesus any clarifying questions. After all, we can see now that Jesus was very clear in his description of his arrest, torture, and death. But, I’m sympathetic to the disciples. I know how hard it is to let go of foundations of faith, and to stumble around in the dark for a while. In time, the Holy Spirit gives us sight anew.
Can you imagine all of the details and nuance that we miss due to our own fear and blindness? The times when the Kingdom of God has been within reach of us, yet we failed to stretch out our fingers? It’s easy to look back and see what the disciples missed in their day. But what are we missing?
There is still plenty that I just don’t understand. I really don’t understand the nature of the Trinity, or the exact presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or how Jesus could be both fully human and fully divine. But, I’m no longer afraid to ask those questions or questions like them.
I readily accept that I may never find the “right answers” to any or all of my questions. But I’ve come to accept that faith is far from certainty. I’m not a Christian because I believe that Christianity has easy answers. I’m a Christian because I believe that God cherishes my questions and because I feel closer to God when I ask them.
Benediction: Go in grace, knowing that God walks with you through your questions and doubts, and that God loves you for asking.