Parenting and homeschooling a teenager in the Evangelical Bible belt has not been the easy road I thought it would be.
When my daughter was just a toddler, the songs “Father Abraham,” “Deep and Wide,” “the B-I-B-L-E,” and “This Little Light of Mine” reverberated throughout the house. She delighted the people at our church when she spontaneously danced with pure joy in the aisle during worship. No one else was dancing, but that little girl in the purple tutu danced with abandoned glee! There is a reason Jesus told us we needed to have the faith of a child!
When I began homeschooling nine years ago, we started each day by dancing and singing this song:
I purchased a complete curriculum, and together we read stories of missionaries and spent time in God’s word along with reading, writing, and arithmetic.
All was well for awhile until we read a science book that boldly presented dinosaurs in the context of a literal six days. The notion of evolution, which I had uneasily tucked away in a corner of my Christian brain as one of those issues I would never resolve until the day came when I could ask God himself how exactly he created the creepy crawlies and dinos and birds and trees and humans and amoebas. The way I figured, it didn’t really matter what I believed about how he created just as long as I believed that whatever way it happened, he was the creator.
Yet I did not reckon on having a daughter who would develop a philosopher’s love of questions. Whereas I was (sort-of) content to ignore those things in the Bible that made me uncomfortable, she was decidedly not. Her questions grew more complex as she grew, and it was not long before I felt completely out of my depth and unqualified to answer her deep questions.
If God is unchanging, why does he change in the Bible? The God who commanded his people to go and utterly kill everyone in Canaan also issued the commandment “thou shalt not kill.” In the New Testament, Jesus said that “thou shalt not kill” did not go far enough and told his followers to love and pray for their enemies (Matthew 5:21).
I confess to you that these tough questions were hard on this mamma. Rather than bolster my daughter’s faith with brilliantly thought out answers, I felt my own faith shrinking into itself, and I began to entertain my OWN questions to which I really wasn’t finding satisfactory answers. Why indeed did God go from ordering the destruction of entire villages to Jesus making Peter put away his sword (John 18)?
One of the main reasons I stopped writing much on these Everfaith pages is because I felt as if “Everfaith” was a farce and a shadow of my former convictions. “Everfaith” had become “ShakyFaith.” Church services felt super-sized — as if I walked into the McDonald’s of Religion and ordered a Contemporary Worship Salad with a side of Powerpoint Dressing. On top of feeling awash in guilt and shame with this crisis of faith, I carried the huge burden of my daughter’s faith on my shoulders. If only my faith was stronger…if only I had the right answers for her…if only I could find the right blog, the right scripture, the right xyz, she and I both would be satisfied.
On top of all those questions, I despaired to be counted one of THOSE people. You know, the ones with itchy ears:
3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4)
Are our questions the result of itching ears? Am I seeking answers to questions out of a desire to do my own will?
For sure I have not been looking for loopholes so I can do whatever it is I want to do or believe whatever I want to believe. I’ve been struggling and agonizing to find answers to my daughter’s questions…and my own. For awhile I searched Apologetics websites, listening to and reading William Lane Craig and Reasons to Believe. While these theological brainiacs proposed answers to my questions regarding The Beginning, I still felt trapped between a rock and hard place. Why did the unchanging God appear to have such different characteristics throughout the Bible? How did he go from commanding stoning to drawing a line in the sand and instructing those without sin to cast the first stone?
About a month ago I had a watershed moment. I was driving to my parent’s house, navigating country roads and tractor trailers, having a deep discussion about these questions when my daughter told me that if the only picture she had of God was Jesus, she’d be All In. But she just couldn’t reconcile the Deuteronomy 22 God who would condemn to death a women who was raped in the city because she didn’t cry out with the Jesus who refused to condemn the adulterous woman and instead drew a line in the sand, saying “He who is without sin should cast the first stone.”
At that moment I cried out in my heart and asked the Lord yet again for help because no matter how hard I tried, I could not reconcile it, either. My way of dealing with the Old Testament ugliness (ignore it and just read the New Testament) or try to patch over it with pat answers I didn’t understand myself (‘new wineskins’ — whatever that means –, OT doesn’t apply because now we have Jesus, etc.) just wasn’t going to to cut it anymore. Suddenly, in the whirl of my tears, I heard a still, small voice: Look at scripture in the light of Jesus.
Fourteen years ago when we lived in Maryland we attended a church that focused its mission on servant leadership. The small voice reminded me of one sermon series we’d heard that discussed the dangers of idolatry. At that time, the pastor dared to suggest the possibility that some people made idols of their Bibles. I hadn’t thought of that sermon in years, but at that moment, I remembered it and mentioned it to my daughter to illustrate that just because she had tough questions about the Bible didn’t mean she wasn’t a Christian. Having my own questions didn’t mean I wasn’t a Christian, either. After all, wrestling with God is something even Jacob did.
Over the past month I’ve discovered not a new Jesus but a new lens. Take a look at this gem, uncovered in the book of Hebrews 1:
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Jesus is the exact representation of God.
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (Colossians 1:15)
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)
When we want to see the Father, we need to look to Jesus.
Look at Jesus, because looking at the vengeful God in the OT who commands that adulterers be stoned is like looking at a shadow. Look at Jesus, who drew the line in the sand and championed the cause of the poor, the weak, the outcast. Jesus refused to be drawn into political battles but instead focused on healing the sick at heart, sick at mind, sick in soul, sick in sin. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for them and told Peter to put away his sword. Jesus tells us we should be more concerned with the inside of our selves than our outsides, that those who want to be first must be servant of all. Jesus tells us to take the plank out of our own eyes before we start telling others about the splinters in theirs.
So why does God appear to change from the OT to the New? I’m researching that question and have learned that the Old Testament was written by thirty separate writers and contains different literary forms, from poetry to prose. The effort of translating from one language into another, and then yet another, leaves even more room for meaning to be incomplete. The historical background of the biblical stories also colors their meanings in significant ways.
But the most important lens to look through is the lens of Jesus. I’ve come to think that any interpretation of scripture that does not line up with the image of God we find in Jesus…has simply not been translated or interpreted completely in its historical context. In my view, the Bible can be both true and incomplete. Incomplete because we humans can’t possibly understand the depth and breadth and mysteries and supernatural powers that are at play. It’s important to understand that God’s Word is not the words we see written on the page of the leather-bound book sitting on the coffee table. God’s Word is Jesus himself. There is no condemnation (Romans 8), so I should not allow the prevailing Christian culture to shame my questions. God wants me to worship him with my whole heart, soul, body, and MIND. To my new view, through this new lens, I will see my questioning and seeking as a form of Worship. Goodbye, guilt and shame! Good riddance!
I plan to write more on some of the scriptures I’ve wrestled with the most in the coming days, as I learn and as the Holy Spirit whispers. But for now, the bottom line is this: when I wonder what God is like, I need to look no further than Jesus, who is the exact representation of God. Not an image. Not a shadow. Not a copy — rather the Real Deal.
For those of you who may be facing your own questions, finding that those issues you put on the back burner never got resolved, you may want to visit a manifesto by a group called ReKnew. And you might want to visit the folks over at The Work of the People. That’s where I found poet and priest Malcolm Guite, who has written sonnets for worship. I leave you with this one, titled “Transfiguration,” used with permission for prayer purposes from his book Sounding the Seasons:
For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.