Saturday, August 25, 2012

Real Theology

A few years ago, some time after I had been diagnosed, I found myself pondering what real faith and theology were. I confess, theology, and, my real passion, philosophy, sound, at best, like guilty pleasures for brainy believers. No matter what anyone said, I have never been able to rationalize theology and philosophy as spiritual callings. I am sure hundreds of thousands, if not more, would argue with me. But, to those that may feel insulted by claim theology is not a spiritual calling, I simply ask, hear me out. When a pastor walks out his or her calling, they directly impact the lives of others. They cry with others, pray with them, console broken hearts and restore broken souls to faith. Evangelists use words and lives to convince people how significant and meaningful their faith happened to be. They are working in the fields, harvesting, sowing, reaping and transforming lives. Again, true evangelists impact the world so clearly and effectively, it is impossible to ignore their lives' work.

I could go on, listing calling by calling, discipline by discipline and show real world, positive impacts of each of the major gifts. And, then, there are the rest of us. I sit on the sidelines, sort of a spiritual bench sitter, watching the main players. Friends I have had for years, profoundly change the lives. A dear friend of mine, Christen, is now an excellent colo-rectal surgeon. He saves lives every day in his normal, day job. Yet, I believe, if God gave him the freedom to do so, he would walk away from surgery to be a missionary and evagelist. In fact, he was the man who led me to Christ. Even as a teenager, his gifts were impacting the lives of others. And, I a wall flower, sat back, longing to put my gifts into play. Others I have known for years also used their gifts. The main idea is out of Ephesians where Paul talks about the church body buying build up by those with gifts using them to edify each other and lift up Christ.

For years, I have felt useless as a Christian. At one point I began searching for my place in the universe outside of the Church. Even after a lot of exploration I didn't really find my place. It was not until right before I came back to Christianity that I stumbled onto some new age areas. Needless to say I explored things I probably shouldn't have. In the end though, I found some things in the Church that resonated with me. I had, after a lifetime of searching, found what God created me. Well, I thought I had. As it turned out, not only was I wrong, it began a series of disappointments with God that I am still reeling from. I had, though long experience I won't go into here, the believe my life was set aside by God to become a "spiritual ecologist". For 15 years I searched, explored, prayed, read, sought and hoped to begin realizing what this meant. When I began my work as an ecologist I would be moving into what God had created me for.

Only one problem: incurable cancer. Or, to be more precise, two incurable cancers. The ideas that has sustained me through the hardness of Texas, the barrenness of ideas and relationships I longed to have brought from my imagination into reality, the hope to see God. And yet, what I found: disease. Medical misdiagnoses. Sickness. Pain. Alienation. Loss of hope. Meaninglessness. Death. And, despair. God, I clearly missed the mark if this is what you made me for. I used to see theology as an amazing field. A strategic place where the minds of men and women could seek God and interact with the world to defend the minds and souls of people by fending off theological attacks in the guise of cultural wars, pop culture, media driven onslaughts, and, explaining the plans of the enemy. In short, it was a way to unveil the attacks against the church to provide a way for the church to defend itself.

Yet, what am I to do when the one thing I saw as a redeeming grace, a place where I could still have a mind and be a Christian--that is explore ideas though thelogy--, fails to be able to address my own very, personal attack. I turn to theology, I turn to Christ, and, I turn to God in hope the miraculous power that raised Christ from the dead, that supported the 12 disciples in their early days, and, the same power the testified to the world the God is alive and his son, Christ, is the Messiah. And, I sit, waiting, unanswered, silently, patiently, waiting. Indeed, prayer, when it is a matter of patience, requires a transformation. Many prayers are uttered and their being answered (or not being answered) relates to issues that can be seen as having been answered quickly and easily. When I prayed for healing, I though it was a trivial tasks for God. After 6 months post-surgery I waited on God a lot. I had stood, believing God would heal me and I would be able to stand before my oncologists praising God because God irradicated his need. And, yet, I was wrong in those prayers. Those surgeons, not a miracle where surgery was not required answered my prayer. Well, that was a major blow to my theology, but, I thanked God nonetheless. I was still alive.

Now, we stand at a different crossroads. Science, in all its power and glory, has his a glass ceiling. No more miracles, no more hard, but, effective therapies. In short, the doctors are crying uncle with the admission of their limitations, "We are sorry, there is nothing left for us to do." All right, now, that is an entirely different matter of faith. In the past it was a question of "God, give me the strength to fight this battle no matter how difficult." Now, it is a very dark, much more sober struggle which may lead to utterances like, "God, I don't even know how to love you any more. You may not have done this but you certainly aren't using any of your infinite power, wisdom, and, love, to help me grapple with this. So, in the face of all this, I have stopped, done the proverbial clearing of the desk in my mind. I'm starting, as it were, with a blank slate.

In the midst of pursing truth, of trying to find answers, we often lose sight of the thing we are after. An initial question, partially answered, brings with it its own questions. Sometimes these secondary questions become a study in and of themselves. A few more rabbit trails and complications, and, suddenly, you really have no grip with the original question and any semblance of what you were originally trying to understanding is long gone. In my case, I feel my waters are pretty muddy, so, my hope here is to clear my mind, refocus, and, see anew what I really am working with. Perhaps, in that sort of mental and spiritual reset, I can find real answers, solid insights and glimpses of truth that I once sought, but, in the madness of the pursuit, lost track of.

To put a clear line under the question before me: "What good will there be in my death?" Rephrased another way, "Why am I dying?" In all honesty, I have moved past the first round of questions, "Am I dying?", "Will I get better?" and "How can I keep my faith through this trial?" Many of these questions have been answered, at least in part, but, my main assumptions are: 1) I am dying 2) I don't see any meaning and 3) I don't know how to keep my faith in tact through this process. In many ways, I think my theology is very simple. Jesus is the Son of God, and, we, his adopted brothers and sisters. He himself said many great things would be done in his name, including healings, miracles, and, prophecies. I do not see much of this in the church or the world today, but, in spite of our sinful times, God is timeless and his promises still stand. Longing to see him move in the ways he used to I have held onto a antiquated, idealistic vision of who God is and how he reveals himself to the world. Sadly, my beliefs have done little more than fill me with despair and hardness of heart. God, how could that be you?

My hope, to create real theology, is to find God again. To throw away the dead, useless ideas that I have amassed over the years and connect, if it's even possible, with the God of the universe. The Father, my brother, Jesus, and, their spirit. Relics, artifacts, momentos, reminders all, of those special moments we had, a unique experience, a touch from God or the Spirit. Once their power wears off, they are just trinkets. In many ways, our ideas are much the same. Truths from an age, generations ago, which once held power, but, now, are just historical in nature. God, I am hoping you will talk to me, you will give me a real touch, and, a reason to pick up a new stone as a new momento to store away for a day when we need to recall God's closeness, a hope to recall who he was in that rare, precious moment.

Some years ago I made the connection with a verse saying, "Jesus is the way, the truth, and, the life." Simple. Straightforward. But, what I realized was anything but obvious. If Jesus is the truth, and, we seek to "know the truth and be set free", it is Jesus through whom we find truth and through whom we find freedom. In my case, I am trying to find truth, to find real answers to my questions, about my suffering, about my pending death. And, now, I have this exercise, to find the truth about my fate. To discern what God wants to do with me and my so-called life. In fact, this is a question I have been pursuing for a long time. Right now, I am trying to figure out what sort of meaning my death could have for the kingdom of God.

Kerri and I talked about it. I kept hovering around these ideas, these questions, and, she said maybe I need to focus on the last days of Jesus life. The garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had to, in his natural self, be feeling much like me, "God, there must be another way." I stand here, this way, lost in confusion, unaware of what to do, how to try and get through this with my faith in tact. Lately, I feel like so much has been lost already. My faith has been dissolved, bit by bit, and, what I have left is desperation. Hardly a noble point from which to start a theological pursuit, but, an honest one. And, I think honesty, truth, realness, those are the things I must gauge off of. Paired with the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc, etc, truth and realness may be the only ways I can find some sort of answer, a response from God.

It is my prayer, Lord, that you create in me a pure mind, a new vision and perspective on truth, on you, that will allow me to begin hearing you, knowing your ways, and, understanding what impact my life, and, through this path you have led me on, my death will have on the lives of others. I pray, Lord, that I am not giving up, and, what hope I may have, would be rekindled, to what end, Lord, only you know. But, God, I do not want to die and I pray, you Holy Spirit, would take what little strength and energy I have and put them towards whatever chances I may have. May my pain, my suffering, and, my desperate longing for the real God of the universe help me get  back to a place where I can clearly see, know, and, realize you are good. You are faithful. You are taking this horrific life and somehow using it for good. At this point in time, I can't see what its for, but, maybe, like the servant in the desert, you will open my eyes and let me see what is really going on. At that point, I would be content to say I have done some real theology.

1 comment:

  1. Amen. That is an honest prayer from a soul seeking truth. Yes, God IS good, He IS faithful. He will NOT let you spite of what you may be thinking or feeling at this point in time. There IS something happening in this midst of your search for truth and peace...eyes are being opened, prayers are being prayed, hearts are being kindled. God is NOT finished with you yet. There is purpose and power in every word you are writing. It is Spirit breathed, even the doubts and fears. God is at work. You are not on the sidelines anymore. You are in the midst of the battle. It is not a battle that will be lost, regardless of the earthly outcome. There is more going on here than earthly struggles. And there are more participants than human physical beings. You are doing something very important. TRUST the One Who died for you. He IS in control. Amen.