I almost became an atheist.
Reading that sentence is going to shock a lot of my friends and family. Actually probably the majority, seeing, as I am never open about my doubts, grievances and issues with the Gospel except for a select few of my friends.
As someone who doubts the existence of God, questions the teaching of Jesus and the current interpretation of the Gospel by the evangelical church today, I feel as though I should be an atheist.
A little more context to this belief that I should be an atheist is that I am a recently die-hard-Sarah-Palin-loving-Conservative turned Liberal. I am the only Liberal (that I know of) in my entire family. I grew up as a fundamental Baptist-pastor’s daughter that was strictly Conservative and believed that a Liberal was basically just a political name for an atheist. Towards the end of my sophomore year of college, when I started to identify with progressive views, I began to have what I call a “existential crisis” in my life. I could no longer support the Republican views and values due to my personal and logical convictions. As I began to study science I realized the holes in creationism and saw that evolution was not a satanic belief system that Charles Darwin had created in order to discredit God, but rather backed by evidence and helped us have a better understanding of humans. I began to question why homosexuality was a sin and why two people of the same sex that loved each other deeply could be sent to hell even though the science behind sexuality proves that our ideas of sexuality/sexual orientation are greatly limited by our social societies, when they are actually more complex than our minds can imagine. I also became a feminist and a supporter of groups like BlackLivesMatter, something not deemed acceptable by the vast majority of my friends and family. This of course led me to question why woman could not be pastors and why we were only seen as someone to bear children and clean the house. All of this was in complete revolt of my upbringing and what I deemed as “true Christian values” and yet my heart was screaming that it was finally free and more in tune with an expression of who I really was as a person. Clearly you can see why I began to have many sleepless nights and hours in prayer, asking God to give me clear answers on these questions and show me how my new way of thinking was sinful just as I grew up to believe. My entire faith began to crumble and I was left with the question of; how can you even be real God?
My older sister often tells me that this process of deconstructing our faith is like playing the game of Janga. I was given a neatly packaged, comprehensive world view that always had clear cut answers, from my parents at birth that I quickly learned could not so easily hold up when faced with these questions. When we begin to remove pieces of our fundamentalist basis that we do not truly believe any longer, it is much like removing the small wooden pieces from the strong foundation in this game: we end up wobbly and almost toppling over.
Bitterness and anger took over these holes as I removed the pieces.
Why did God not think to answer all of these questions in the Bible?
Was God really only in favor of these harsh conservative values that I could no longer support?
Did God really reject someone who wanted to love and serve Him faithfully but could not help that they were attracted to someone of the same sex?
Did God really intend for women to remain silent in the church? Limiting spiritual gifts to the confinements of gender?
How could God create people with such restless hearts and such uncertainty of life?
To say that I felt like I was in complete isolation was an understatement. I began to draw further into myself, keeping everyone out from my thoughts and harboring bitterness for Christianity, American Nationalist, Republicans, and basically anyone who believed that they had a clear answer regarding the certainty of faith and the meaning of life.
This is around the time that I started to secretly considering myself an atheist, or at least an agnostic that had a bone to pick with this “God” that Christianity talked about. But even though I had resolved within myself that as soon as I was done with my undergraduate degree and moved to another state, that I would finally become an outright atheist, God began to chase my closed off heart, just like He always did.
Social media can be one of the most amazing things in our generation. It allows us to connect with so many different people that our going through things just like us and help us not feel so alone. God used Twitter to save a lot of my faith.
I met one of my most respected friends Ricky through a mutual and just as respected friend, Ian, over twitter after tweeting commentary of the first Democratic Debates. I was shocked to find someone else that was a Christian who also supported progressive views and was actually voicing them! After connecting over Twitter, we three began a group chat that remains both an outlet of philosophical, theological, scientific and political ideas, as well as a group therapy session where we can scream in all caps about things that infuriate us to our core. (We also briefly discuss Star Wars but that’s a must for obvious reasons.)
Through this interaction, God began to move in my heart and show me that I was in fact not alone in my thinking, but rather one of many who had gotten to their wits ends in their faith because of these questions.
Moving forward in this, I began to discover writers and theologians who have gone through the exact same “existential crisis” that I was currently trying to navigate through, that had indeed still found a love for Christ Jesus and deeper faith than they could have ever imagined. I ordered theology books, listened to podcast, poured through blog posts and, while trying to hold everything to the light of Scripture, I realized that I was not the only person going through this experience and even read about how many of these people had even spent a period being an Atheist. People like Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessy, Michael Gungor, Mike McHargue, Peter Rollins had been down this path before. They had wrestled with scripture, their faith, been angry at God and still found themselves deeply in love with a Savior who did not give them the black and white answers they were searching for.
This is something that God has been revealing to me a lately. There are some things in the Bible that are very black and white for an answer; but most issues are flesh colored. Our personalities, our experiences, our race, our gender, our generation, our social structures, the limits of our cognitive mind and that capacity of what it can hold, shape these things. We have to wrestle with these things, we have to keep going back to scripture and refine the way we interrupt it while seeking to exhibit the grace and love of the God who inspired it.
I approach this confession of my change, not to say that I have discovered all the answers to my questions or that I believe my way of thinking is the only Biblical truth; far from it actually. I have found in my searching lots of pain, confusion, exhaustion, bitterness, anger and overall wanting to give up on the belief in God all together. But I have also found honesty, love, peace, joy, community, grace, acceptance, tolerance, empathy, and have been humbled by a complex God more times than I can count.
I do not know why God had me be born into the type of conservative, fundamental Baptist family that I was. I do not know why God made me wake up one day and question everything that I ever believed. I love the way that Rachel Held Evans describes her similar upbringing in her book Searching for Sunday:
“At times I’ve tried to wring the waters of my first baptism out of my clothes, shake them out of my hair, and ask for a do-over in some other community where they ordain women, vote for Democrats, and believe in evolution. But Jesus has this odd habit of allowing ordinary, screwed-up people to introduce him, and so it was ordinary, screwed-up people who first told me I was a beloved child of God, who first called me a Christian. I don’t know where my story of faith will take me, but it will always begin here. That much can never change.”
I love my family; they’re the best people I know. I love my friends; they’ve been with me through so much. But I am terrified as I write this post. I know that many will shut me out and believe that I’m giving into secular culture. That I am just not believing enough or I’m reading the wrong type of books and listening to misguided Christians. I can be open to admitting that maybe I am. God has knocked me on my ass enough times these past few months for me not to think that I have any perfect way of thinking.
God is not confined by my political views.
God is not confined by my view of sexuality.
God is not confined by my understanding of the way the world was created.
God is not confined by my view of what sin really is.
I have gotten so hung up with trying to have all the right answers that I missed the most astoundingly complex and mysterious part of God; that He has called a sinner like me His beloved, extended me an unfathomable grace and asked me to partake in an adventure of living out a life that reflects His love.
When thinking of this, I am reminded of the story of Jesus and Peter, after Peter denied Jesus 3 times before his death.
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs”. He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him a third time, “Do you love me?’ and he said to him, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
I am so much like Peter in this story. When I’m faced with the reality that God wants me, I constantly question him.
“Andrea, do you love me?”
“Yes God, but I’m a Liberal”
“Feed my sheep.”
“Andrea, do you love me?”
“Yes God, but I believe in evolution.”
“Feed my sheep.”
“Andrea, do you love me?”
“Yes God, but I’m a feminist.”
“Then, feed my sheep.”
So this is where I am. I am Liberal, feminist, postmodernist, theistic-evolutionist, LGBT lover and accepter, perpetual skeptic, deep thinker and lover of who I believe Jesus Christ was. And I am completely okay with being wrong on every single one of those things.
I am deconstructing and I am learning. I am being humbled in the face of my pride. I am asking for grace and forgiveness for the things I might say and do as I go along. I am asking for prayer, community and acceptance of who I am and who I am trying to be.
More importantly, I am falling in love with Jesus. Some days I wake up and do not want to love Him. I don’t even want anything to do with him. Some days I doubt and cry and some days I can’t imagine how people go through life without knowing the amazing mystery that He is.
I will end with this quote by Mark McHargue in his soon to be published book, Finding God in the Waves, that I believe is where I have currently found myself in my faith;
“I can no more prove that Jesus is the only way to God than I can prove my childhood toys came to life when I left the room. There’s no ground to make the claim that I can’t take apart in my own mind and it doesn’t matter to me at all. I don’t know if the world needs Jesus, I just know that I do.
I know that for me God is an infinite, inscrutable mystery with Jesus. I know there are things I’ve done that I have had a hard time forgiving myself for, but that I am able to when I believe that Jesus already forgave me. I know the story of the man who said “turn the other cheek” inspires me to approach other people differently, and the inspiration turns into real action that effects those who interact with me.
I don’t need to know how Jesus means to the world. It takes all my energy to understand what Jesus means to me.”
Attempting to be the most truthful version of me,