When I was a senior in high school, I was not invited to the new Bible study for just the seniors (and the one junior who hung out with us). I was often the difficult one who asked too many questions, so they assumed that I wouldn’t be interested. My questions were often interpreted as impertinence when I just wanted to better understand what they were teaching me. Not wanting to be left out, I went anyway.
One night, we were reading something, somewhere in the Bible and I had an epiphany: when God created light on the first day, that was time, it was the time-space continuum, the Big Bang.
“No. God created light,” they replied
“But the sun and the moon and the stars came later, so what was the light?” I responded.
To their credit, Curt and Marlene were great facilitators and they let us go down these “bird walks,” as the junior liked to call them. Not all small group, Bible study and Sunday school leaders allow their groups to stray like that.
Despite some good leaders like Curt and Marlene, the church in general hasn’t done well at embracing questions and doubts over the years. Churches have instead become curriculum-driven. Curriculum makes things easier for everyone; it has the “right answers” in bold or italicized text next to each question. But most volunteer leaders don’t feel empowered to stray from curriculum they are given by church leadership.
Much of the most attractive curriculum, especially for teens, has been produced by groups with a fundamentalist bent, so that even very liberal churches wind up having youth groups and Sunday schools teaching things incompatible with their doctrine. Just following the curriculum! There is no room for questions because we’re too often focused on the “right answer.”
What if there is no right answer? What if the point is to ask questions that continually lead to more questions? What if that’s how we pursue God?
Jesus welcomes you and your questions and your need to deconstruct and question your faith structure. In fact, Jesus’s teachings and presence among the Jewish people were a call to deconstruction. Did you know that the Greek word for “repent” actually means “to exercise the mind” or “to think again”? That sounds like a call to deconstruct.
When Jesus called people to repent, he was saying something more like, “rethink this path you’re on; perhaps you should set a new course.” We always infer this to only be about “sin,” but that’s not consistent with the overall teaching and ministry of Jesus. This sounds like a call to deconstruct.
“You have heard it said, but I say….” Jesus liked that phrase. It’s a call to rethink what we thought was right based on the new information that Jesus brings to the table. This sounds like a call to deconstruct.
God’s people, the Israelites, were literally defined by their struggle with God. They tell the story of their ancestor, Jacob, who wrestled with God for a night and whose name was changed to Israel. An Israelite is “one who struggles with God.” This looks like an act of deconstruction.
The Psalms are full of laments, which is a poetic way of saying that David, and others, had lots of issues with God. God wasn’t doing what they expected, and they let God have it, venting their frustrations and disappointments. These are ways of deconstructing.
Think about Saul/Paul. Paul was as righteous as they came; he followed all the rules. One day, Jesus showed up and knocked him off his horse. When we read Acts, it seems like no time passed and he was off evangelizing the Roman Empire. But that’s not what happened; there is a time gap. If Jesus was the Messiah, then all of those rules he held so dear and expectations he had, were false. Paul’s identity as a Jew was in question.
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.” (Galatians 3:13-17)
Why did Paul go to Arabia? What’s special about that place? That’s where Mt. Sinai is, the mountain of God’s presence. And that’s the wilderness.
Paul deconstructed his faith. He went to a mountain and into the wilderness where the Israelites spent forty years struggling with God. They were called out from one place to go to another; on their journey and God spent time with them, deconstructing their faith in order to build someone new.
The wilderness is the deconstructing space. How many Sundays have you decided that a hike would connect you with God better than church would? Perhaps we are all drawn to nature, to creation, in search of God. Perhaps the Spirit leads us all into the wilderness, to wrestle and struggle with God.
There are dangers in the wilderness, though. We could get lost; we could get hurt; it can get lonely. In the wilderness, there is the temptation to take shortcuts and settle for easy answers.
But it is in the wilderness that the wonders of God are revealed, where our faith can be strengthened. It is the road less traveled. It is the narrow road that Jesus calls us to walk with him.
Read Part 1: I Don’t Want to go to Church Anymore
Next week: "'The Bible Says So' Is Not an Answer"