My Bad BeliefsBy Steve | February 12th, 2012 | Category: Steve's World | 2 comments
When I was an undergrad at UC San Diego, I was also a full-time employee of the university. I had an extremely low stress, low responsibility swing-shift job, which gave me freedom to go to class during the day and a lot of time to get my reading and writing done at work. Faithful, young, fired-up evangelical that I was, I also used the quiet night-time hours at work for spiritual self-care. I did my Bible reading and prayer nightly, as well as books and books worth of journaling. I kept up this rhythm up long enough that every year, around my birthday, I’d go back to the previous years’ journal entries on that day. I remember these times of review as moments of red-faced embarrassment, because I would inevitably think, “Man, I can’t believe I wrote and thought and believed that stuff. I’ve come a long way since then. I was kind of an immature jerk last year.”
Of course, after about the fourth or fifth time I did this, I suddenly had a revelatory moment – if I always end up amazed at all the screwed up stuff I used to believe a year ago . . . that can’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean that I must be believing some pretty screwed up things right now! The image for this post illustrates (in a little harsher way) that the truth in my beliefs isn’t always what I hope it is.
And you know what? After twenty years of doing this (though not in journal form any longer), I can verify that it’s still the same. This time last year, I thought and believed some things that I no longer do. And that’s a good thing. It represents growth and movement in my life. Thankfully, I’ve learned to let the younger version of me off the hook for some of that stuff. All of this has convinced me that the certainty that I used to pride myself on isn’t really that valuable anymore.
Yes, my theology has changed a lot over the years. But for all the certainty I’ve given up in the way I understand God, the church, and my role in the world, I’ve gained much more. By giving up the need to force the Bible to speak clearly and tangibly into every life situation I face, I’ve gained the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide me through times of mystery and confusion and pain. By giving up the need to have my theology cleanly categorized in bite-sized pieces, I’ve gained a greater sense of awe for a Creator God who loves the world so much more completely than I ever will. By giving up the need to know who is on God’s friend list versus enemy list by virtue of whether they believe the right things about God, I’ve gained a beautifully long list of friends that have spoken beauty and wonder into my life . . . friends I would not have been likely to hang out with before.
The younger, undergrad version of me might be alarmed at what I’ve become, and charge me with being careless and reckless with my theology. I’m going to have to answer for all this stuff some day, right? But here’s the deal – if I already know that I always have and always will believe some of the wrong stuff, isn’t it better for me to err on the side of loving and embracing too many people, rather than fearfully refusing to embrace enough people because they might not be right with God?
God embraces and loves and forgives me, even when I believe the wrong things and do the wrong things. I hope I’m getting better at imitating God in that way. I guess I’ll have to re-read this post about a year from now to see . . .
I leave you with a lovely quote:
Orthodoxy as right belief will cost us little; indeed, it will allow us to sit back with our Pharisaic doctrines, guarding the ‘truth’ with the purity of our interpretations. But orthodoxy, as believing in the right way, as bringing love to the world around us and within us . . . that will cost us everything. For to live by that sword, as we all know, is to die by it.
~Peter Rollins, How (not) to Speak of God, p. 3