The thing about the Christian life is that no one really knows what they’re doing (this is true for most of life). There’s a reason why we have so many different denominations and sects. I’ve met pastors, scholars, and believers from all sorts of churches and traditions, and, apart from Jesus, the one thing we all have in common is that none of us really know what to do with it.
Once I met a guy who had a family, and he was an avid street evangelist. He would stand on street corners and loudly preach repentance. He was even arrested for it once. It wasn’t long after that, however, that he did a complete 180 and became aggressively antichristian in everything he did. He told me that he changed his mind on everything because we don’t even have the original copies of the bible. This surprised me because I wasn’t aware that we believed there were.
I used to meet regularly with a friend for coffee at a local cafe near the beach when I was a pastor. He was and still is one of the most passionate people about Jesus I’ve ever met. We used to talk about everything “bible.” From miracles to church to science and faith. One morning, as we were discussing science and biblical interpretation, he said that if evolution was true, he could never be a Christian. I was shocked. Here was one of the most lovely, passionate people I’ve met who never backs down from talking about Jesus to people and yet a single potential change in his worldview could lead to his entire faith being undermined.
I meet people like this day in and day out. I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons why one would walk away from their faith. There is. The reasons above are justifiable. I completely get it. What surprises me is how easy it is for these reasons to cause us to walk away from something we’ve placed our entire identity on. Though I doubt and wrestle with God, and I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I didn’t follow Jesus, I’ll never not believe until I’m dead and come face to face with endless nothing. Until then, I’m winging it. I try to attend church, knowing it’s good for me, even if it’s boring. I read my bible, knowing that I am getting to know Jesus more and more, even if most of what it says is either lost on me or it just drags on. I try to pray even if no one talks back. I do good even if there’s not always sense in doing so. My life is based on risk. My life is a gamble. I believe my choices in the here and now will pay off in a potential eternity.
The irony is that if I gave it all up now, I’d be trading one sense of freedom for another and one doubt for the next. If I walked away from Jesus, I’d spend the rest of my life wondering if I made the right choice. What if He is real? What if Hell does exist? I would be wrestling with the God of Nothing, wondering if worshipping at his altar is any better than the last. Would I miss how the biblical story makes the most sense of my existence, or would I ignore the voice at the back of my mind and embrace the meaninglessness that my new God offers?
All this diatribe makes me wonder if Jesus struggled with the same levels of doubt. We’re told that he was tempted in every way we were, yet he was without sin… But did Jesus doubt that God was real (a strange thought given Jesus is God) or that he was imminent or in his corner? When offered the riches of the world from Satan, did he – even for a fleeting moment consider bending the knee? There’s debate within theological circles as to whether or not Jesus could really sin.
On the one hand, some say he can’t because God can’t sin. Others say his temptations couldn’t have been genuine if he couldn’t sin. The answer may depend on how you see the person of Jesus. There’s something comforting in the idea that the humanity of Christ genuinely struggled with doubt, questions and temptations on the same level that we are tempted. He overcame sin not because he was divine but because he was truly human. Which means most of us aren’t truly human. Which begs the question, what does it mean to be human?
I’ve been watching and listening to many of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works lately. The more I get into it, the more I identify with the Hobbits of all people, or I may want to identify with them. Living in the rolling lush green hills of the Shire with its winding creeks and rivers, the Hobbits are reclusive but communal. They’re simple and well-fed, not wanting to stick their noses where it doesn’t belong. Bilbo Baggins cooks, cleans and smokes his pipe. Frodo runs around the Shire and plays as they anticipate festivals and parties. They are living the human dream.
Furthermore, the one ring, perhaps one of if not the most corrupting power in Middle Earth, has a hard time genuinely turning them to darkness. Humans, on the other hand, wage war and consume and destroy anything they get their hands on. They build up their kingdoms, and the ring corrupts them very quickly.
I see the good life in the Shire, but I know it’s currently in the power-hungry cities and wartorn lands of men. I desire the carefree life of Bilbo (before he goes on his adventure), but I try to take it according to my own power rather than wait for the good life to be given to me. I maybe have 50 years-ish left on earth, and as I look back on the last 30 and the world around me, I realise that the thing that defines humans the most is having an idea of the good, striving for it, but in all the wrong ways.