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Nothing cute. Not even an attempt at clever. Here goes.
So today I’m hangin’ with a bunch of good Christian folks, listening to a Baptist preacher talk about forgiveness. He had many good things to say. I’d venture that we could all stand to hear more about forgiveness and I admit to being much edified by his exhortations.
But, you know me (those of you who know me–and I’m pretty sure you’re most of who reads this blog), I’ve got to pick my nits. Three big ones:
1) In the midst of saying that forgiveness isn’t a one-time event, that we have to continue to forgive the same offense and that we shouldn’t be surprised or discouraged by this fact, he had to go and say that salvation is the one thing that’s once and done. And he even used the language of trusting Jesus: as in, trust Jesus that one time and you’re good. It’s just way too ironic, if you ask me; and if you don’t see the irony, I doubt it’ll do much good for me to try to point it out. I may or may not agree with the doctrine (and, really, my argument with traditional soteriologies goes way deeper than the fluff of eternal security). Here’s the core problem: our distorted preoccupation with it is clearly counter-productive. Born-agains (and I’ll just go ahead and count myself among you) blab all of the time about relationship, but most of our theology belies it. I ask you this: what kind of marriage ends with “I do”? And is this whole God thing just a ruse? Are we mostly intending to use the Almighty as an access ramp (a ballsy maneuver, I must say) to “eternal bliss” (whatever the hell that means), or are we really interested in One Thing? Decide for yourself. I’m interested in God, in relationship, in genuine intimacy. And I’m uninterested in contorting the reality of that relationship to make my systematic theology more comfortable. Completely. Uninterested.
2) I think we spend way too much time talking about the fact that we all deserve death. Maybe that makes me a bad Christian. Probably. Okay, label me. I don’t feel any different.
3) He made some great points about actually reckoning the wrong that’s been done against us. Denial isn’t forgiveness. Here’s my problem, though. It gets back to item #2. People, it seems to me, are relatively easy to forgive. They are weak, ignorant, damaged. They are, in other words, too much like me. If I can’t forgive y’all, well how in heck can I expect to forgive–and be forgiven–myself? Jesus was right (damned irritating habit He has): “they know not what they do.” We act upon our hurt and insecurity, and, God bless us, we’re mostly friggin’ clueless. And it seems to me that too much of our practical theology focuses on holding the clueless accountable. There, I said it. Again, maybe it makes me a bad Christian to feel that way. So be it.
And here’s how all of this fits together, here’s the rub. By my estimation, we spend far too much of our time, as Milton so nobly and foolishly set out (and in the process, joined cause with Job’s “friends,” and brought great, undeserved praise to the accuser) attempting “to justify the ways of God to men.” It’s come up far too often in my spiritual journey for me to feasibly deny: the one I have a hard time forgiving is God. If anyone is accountable, it’s Him. If anyone has what to answer for (and wherewithal to do it, I might add), well, He’s the one. And I’m not righteous like Job, but I presume to ask that God answer for Himself. I’ve not been much impressed by what most humans have to say on His behalf.
And, if I may, I’d like to piss off the rest of you by saying that I don’t want any of your weakass sh*t about God not existing. Yes, it’s probably the case that I’m no longer capable of comprehending such a possibility and maybe that’s one of my weaknesses. And I hasten to add that I have great respect for some atheists. Here’s my problem with the default to disbelief: more often than not, it’s a cop out. More often than not, it’s simply a matter of our not being able to fit God in our heads or make sense of what He does. Let me say it as clearly as possible: that God is nonsensical to me doesn’t mean She doesn’t exist; that I can’t render Her as a wholly palatable idea (and here’s the critical error, I think: we’re committed to God more as an idea than a person) that fits in my puny heart doesn’t mean I should give up on Her. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that just makes the pursuit more exciting.
I close with this. I love God. In my own weak way, I love Him, Her, Hirm. What’s more, I like Hirm a lot. And we have our sweet moments. I consider this journey one toward a truer reconciliation. I don’t expect it to be painless. And I’m not looking for a divorce. But I’m sick of platitudes and easy outs. If we’re going to do this, let do it for reals. I mean to be naked before God. (S)He sees my nakedness anyway, doesn’t S(H)e? I’ve spent too much of my life lying in the name of and for the sake of religion.
So I present for your consideration (of course, as with every topic I introduce, I’ll attack it intermittently; but this, I think, is at the core of all of my considerations of faith and doubt so maybe it’s subtext to all of the other nonsense): the impossibility, the necessity, the quest of forgiving God.