My mom got me a worship CD a few weeks ago. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it. For one, I have trouble with worship because of all my unanswered questions, with next to no answers. I’m actually sitting here wondering if I have any answers. But the worship CD. When I’m by myself, I entertain all the dark, lonely questions of the universe and am just that—alone. However, when I sing along with this worship CD, I’m serene. I feel secure. I’m thoughtful. I stand on centuries of tradition. I experience what many experience in their cars and in their churches every time they gather. I almost enter a place of “Do my questions even matter?” It’s almost like the bliss state from the recent, horribly cut-short show “V.” But then I get out of my car. Back to my questions. Back to my doubts. Back to cursed responsibilities (my wife and I get in fights about this all the time lol). Back to…reality? Are the feelings I experience while singing or listening to that worship CD merely a response to music, an altered state of reality? The guy on the album does have a smooth, hypnotic voice. If I read the bare lyrics, I know the same experience wouldn’t be there, but is that a bad thing? Can the tension just exist there, and I just let it lie (unresolved questions and what feels like very resolved feelings)? Probably not. I like coherence. I like for things to make sense. Granted, I like my horizons to expand to where formerly disparate things can coexist with the right understanding of them, but I am not in that place for my theological/hermeneutical questions and worship.
And just what are some of my problems/questions? Here are a few, and most of them come through a Christian lens, but with philosophical and theological flavor:
- Revelation– Multiple religious traditions claim god or the gods have revealed themselves through a particular tradition. If that is the case, which one is right? They can’t all be right, right? Or can there be elements of truth in all of them, but not the whole in any? What criteria are there for teasing out revelation? Is it a book? Is it particular persons? Is it an impulse or feeling? Is it nature or reason? Is it a synthesis of many things? If there is revelation in the Bible, but the Bible isn’t inerrant, how does one determine what is or isn’t revelation without recourse to some mysterious spirit? If there were revelation, what does one do with it?
- Religious experience and God– how does one know that the god of experience is the God of the Bible? Is the god of philosophical argument the God of the Bible? Is the god of religious experience a god at all, or merely physical responses to one’s environment or mental state?
- Theology and culture– how much of Christianity is transferable to a Western context from a first century Palestinian context? Is it merely a product of its time, therefore, something to move past in foreign (gentile) contexts? Is Christianity of yore merely Judaism with Jesus as the messiah? What does that have to do with the plethora of Christianities today? Is the term “Christian” even useful in describing anything, given the amount of qualifiers the many Christian groups use to distinguish themselves?
- The (in)justice of God– this list could go on for awhile. I won’t speak for other religions’ gods though I’m sure there’s enough injustice to go around. Christianity’s god seems rather doucheish. Rather than answer Job’s questions that emerged out of his pain, he responds with an elitist monologue (Job 38-40); I mean, imagine a being superior to the Jewish god telling him to shut up with his questions after his son died on the cross) ; David had to pick a punishment on his people for his own sin (which his god made him do…), because his god said so (2 Sam 24.1-17); the unstable lord of the flood incident (Gen 6.5-8) definitely doesn’t sound like a gal who wishes all to come to repentance (2 Pet 2.9); hell as eternal punishment for a finite number of sins (see many verses here); holding people without the law accountable for some somehow “obvious” but actually oblique natural theology (Rom 1.18-20, 1 Tim 1.9); sexual immorality being the only occasion allowable for divorce by Jesus when domestic abuse and emotional scarring sure seem like good ones to me (Mat 19.9, Mk 10.11); if we take the Calvinist sounding verses at face value god creates some vessels for destruction with no chance of redemption because of his immutably capricious will (e.g., Rom 9.22); forcing a rape victim to marry her rapist (Deut 22.28-29), wrecking people’s lives (Isa 45.7, Lam 3.37-38, Amo 3.6; attention brought to these vv here), etc. I’m not being original here, I don’t think. I’m sure some of the bloggers I follow here, here, here, and here could list many more. And many Christians have probably had trouble with many of these things like I have, but like I have in my past, simply stuffed them back under a bushel to run back to the fluffy god who loves. Or maybe some have come up with legitimate answers to these questions I simply haven’t heard yet. I’m all ears in the comments section or in email (ilostmyprayerhanky at gmail dot com).
- Occam’s Razor– I started applying this pretty wildly a few years back. When I’m sick, I used to pray and take pills. Now I just take pills. When I was having trouble in my marriage, I could say myself, sin, and Satan were brewing the perfect storm; I would pray and talk with others on how to solve my problems. Then I just focused on my own problems I brought into marriage, without any reference to sin or Satan, and the problems evaporated. Yes there are still arguments, but they’re constructive and healthy. God and anything metaphysical just seem so irrelevant to my life, because when I concentrated on the concrete, results occurred that were controllable, predictable, and concrete.
- Historicity of Bible and Jesus– suffice it to say, I have trouble with their historicity. I’ll provide examples if desired.
- God’s absence– I wrote about this earlier, but I’ll mention it again. Things would be a lot clearer if god did his own speaking, rather than letting everyone else have mere opinions on what they think she means. Instead of liberal and conservative views, theist and atheist views, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, or Baha’I views, cataphatic or apophatic views, we would actually have god’s view on abortion, capitalism, Marxism, politics, essentialism, and anything we wished to ask him if she had the time. But instead the teacher leaves the kids to run unattended on the playground with complete freedom to annihilate themselves or grow morally.
- I share many of the questions listed in the comments section of one of the Evangelical blogs I follow here.
So I sing along with a worship CD and enjoy myself. Should I take that away? Is it a healthy reprieve from my questions? Or a temporary lapse in judgment? Are the good feelings associated with worship music something to maintain or to disrobe? For my own happiness, contentment, and comfort I’d rather keep the good feelings. But in this case, is my happiness, contentment, and comfort the right thing? Is the right thing, rather, going through the grief process of an old system, and then moving on with life? I invite your responses, friends, foes, and strangers alike. One thing I do believe is that I don’t have all the answers and that many people’s experiences can enrich my own if I give them a platform.