I walked into a Christian bookstore today, and instantly developed a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I suppose it was partly because I worked at that same bookstore many years ago, and have such unpleasant memories of my time there. That was my first “Christian” boss, and definitely one of the WORST bosses I’ve had before or since that job (and I’ve had lots of bosses to compare him to). He was mean, selfish, inconsiderate, and more interested in capitalism than compassion.
I suppose it was also because I almost always feel a little sick when I see the “trappings” of Christianity. No I don’t WANT to buy “test-a-mints” so I can offer my non-Christian friends a breath mint and then segue smoothly into a conversation about the “breath of God”. Nor do I want to be a “woman of god” if it comes with all those flowery sickly-sweet book jackets with muted pictures of women and flowers and OF COURSE the fancy script font. And HONESTLY are there really people who think a painting is more beautiful or meaningful if there’s a scripture verse plastered across it? (I could go on and on about the way Jesus communicated as opposed to the way so many Christians feel they should communicate, but I won’t waste my breath on that sermon.)
No, I’m afraid this time it went deeper than that. I’d gone there looking for a book called “Intimacy with God” and though the above-mentioned things made me want to bolt, I persevered and made it through all the plastic crap at the front to the book shelves. But then, as I perused the books, my nausea deepened. I stood there in front of walls and walls of books about walking with God, developing your Spiritual gifts, learning to pray, finding God’s purpose for you, etc., etc., and had a sudden, out-of-the-blue crisis of faith.
I wasn’t expecting it. Sometimes, when a crisis like that appears, I see it coming ahead of time and I can brace myself for the arrival. But not this time. This time I was caught completely off guard. This one crept up on me and sprung like a lion hunting its prey. I guess, when I look back a little, I can see the signs were there. I can pick out moments when the walls of my belief system started to crumble bit by bit. But I hadn't put all the pieces together yet.
I don’t know why it hit me there in front of the books. Books are usually touchstones and beacons for me – helping me stay grounded and pointing me toward truth. But this time they seemed foreign and unkind. This time they reminded me how little I know about the truth and how much I doubt the “truth” that I’ve been taught. So many of the books just looked like paper reflections of the plastic crap at the front of the store. Others looked like they were way too holy for me - way beyond my battered and bruised spirituality. They painted a picture that I neither understood nor felt drawn to.
At that very moment I felt cheated by the written word. It didn’t look like truth to me. It looked like an artificial painting intended to disguise the genuine artwork. From my vantage point, I didn’t understand the cover-up, nor did I feel that I had any glimpse of the masterpiece underneath.
At this very moment, I don’t know if I want to be a Christian. I finally found “Intimacy with God” on the bookshelf and it looks like a very good book about just what the title says – learning to be intimate with a God who seems distant and aloof. I didn’t buy it. I don’t really know if I WANT to be intimate with God. I’m not sure why. It’s not like I look back at my life and see an endless void – I’ve had lots of moments when I felt truly close to God and really sensed his presence. But none of those moments are sustaining me right now. None of them are convincing me that intimacy with God is something to strive for.
I've been struggling with the Bible lately too. I guess that was one of the signs of deterioration that I overlooked. I'm not sure I trust the Bible. There are too many inconsistencies and too many things that don't make sense. Like all that crap about women remaining quiet in church. And then there's the picture of God that makes NO sense at all - the vengeful destructive God of the Old Testament. How does any of that fit into an image of a God of grace? And really - who wrote the Bible and how were all these individual men convinced they were writing the word of God? Was it really intended to become what we have made it into? Is it REALLY more important than all the other good stuff that's been written along the way? And if He's really the God of the Jews and Gentiles, male and female, why were ALL the writers of the Bible Jewish men? It doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes I can overlook the inconsistencies, but that's not working for me right now.
It might be a momentary lapse. I’ve had these before. Sometimes the dry spells last a few days or a few weeks, other times a few months, and then sometimes they last for years. It might just be another way of God communicating to me – helping me go deeper and find a new level in our relationship. That’s happened before too. But what if the dry spell drags on and on, and faith eludes me again? I don’t think I want to go through that again.
Perhaps I should go back and buy the book, because as much as faith is hard sometimes, I still believe a faltering faith is better than none at all.
I’m a little scared though. With my faith weakened like this, how will Africa appear through a cloudy lens? Will God seem more or less real when I’m faced with starving children and mothers who might have to sell their bodies to buy them food?
I don’t know. But I guess I have no choice but to walk through it. Perhaps somewhere in Africa, faith will come back to me.