A friend recently came to visit and naturally, we spent a lot of time chatting about faith. This isn’t anything new as I talk about faith a lot—all the time, actually. After all, I am finishing up a degree in theology and it requires that I think and write about faith well over 40 hours a week.
It’s actually pretty mentally and emotionally exhausting, now that I think of it—which is why I so crave carbs and a glass of red wine at the end of most days.
Most of my conversations with my visiting friend about faith revolved around the things I once thought fit neatly into perfectly separated folders in the desktop of my mind. The folder for “Christianity” had several subfolders: “Christology,” “Ecclesiology,” “Soteriology,” etc. I even had a “Calvinism” folder with even still subfolders, one for each letter of TULIP.
Oh, how complicated it all was back then. Which is ironic, you’d think such a neatly compartmentalized “faith” would make life simpler, no?
Well yea, that would be true if we lived in a Black and White world. But let’s face it, we don’t. I’m sure we can all agree that most of life takes place in the mess—in the grey areas, doesn’t it?
Let’s take racism, for example. I’m sure, we can all agree that it’s wrong. But many people want to pretend that it’s “Black and White” (no pun intended). Many people I’ve spoken to (or read Facebook posts from) assume racism is simply “a heart issue.” The problem with this is that it removes all responsibility from any of us to dismantle it, because, well, “it’s simple: it’s a personal problem.” And trust me, I wish it were that simple. What perhaps is foundationally “a heart issue” has permeated into a societal, systemic issue. Racism exists in the grey area: in stereotypes, in microaggressions, in the fact that Black men get shot not only in their own homes, but even when they’re doing the right thing by protecting active shooters. Racism isn’t just about slavery. It’s more than that. It’s complicated. It’s grey.
You can apply this same idea to not only all social issues, but life in general.
How do you convince a new mother who’s just lost her infant daughter that God is good? Or a young girl who’s just been sexually assaulted by a family member and finds herself pregnant? Or a father of three who is dealing with mental illness that’s affecting his entire family?
There are no easy answers. Life is complicated. Faith is complicated.
But the more I study Scripture, the more I recognize a God who is well acquainted with the complicated—a God who we’re told created people and then regretted it (Genesis 6). A God who wanted to wipe out folks, but then had a change of heart when asked to reconsider (Numbers 14).
A God who became human and wasn’t disconnected from society, standing on the outside, telling people what to do. Instead, God stepped in the muck, broke “purity laws” by engaging with the outcast—those deemed too dirty or too broken. When people died, God wept (John 11). When they were about to be stoned (for reasons justifiable at that time), God intervened (John 8).
It’s interesting, when I read the Torah, I don’t just see a bunch of nonsensical laws that need be dismissed, but I can see a story of a God completely aware of the complicated—of the grey area. According to Deuteronomy 22, there are different punishments for men who sexually assault women in the middle of the town in front of everyone, verses men who sexually assault women out in the country where no one else is around (and yes, both instances involve the man being executed). Now, of course we understand that these laws were written thousands of years ago when culture, society and life was completely different, but the point is that they’re oddly detailed and very circumstantial because, well, life was (and still is) intricate, complex…complicated.
Maybe Scripture feels like a hot mess most of the time because it’s a story of a God choosing to get dirty and to exist in the grey, among complicated people. And I think this should not only give us hope, but should inform our Christian ethic. Perhaps it’s not about making perfect sense of Christianity, having all the answers, knowing or deciding who’s in and who’s out. Perhaps it’s about sitting with God and with others in the muck, not being afraid of the mess, and living out our faith intentionally and carefully in each unique situation.