At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Where Angels Fear To Tread

I think that--to be completely fair--a number of people find comfort in the phrase "ignorance is bliss". Not that they spout it off, but their default mode is to hold to the principle of that statement.

I think a number of Christians can hold to this, too. The naive path can be fetching for some. The idea of "I know what I believe, so don't confuse me with facts" can be rampant anywhere. It should not be so in the context of Christian belief. Even St. Paul admonished the early church to "test yourselves."

This year, I began a new initiative in my Ethics classes of making the familiar unfamiliar. Concerned about the lack of Bible reading and understanding in the culture at large, I decided that--approximately every other week--we'd take a day off from the rest of the curriculum and really plunge into a passage of Scripture and work through some directed questions about it.

These have been--for the record--some of the most intoxicating, dynamic classes I've been a part of. I can't believe I didn't try this sooner. Stuff pops out of nowhere, like when a student says after reading Genesis 3, "Hey, why is Eve talking to a serpent as if it's the most natural thing?" Kids really respond to the beauty of how Scripture is put together in its story.

And they also respond to the disturbing aspects. The flood narrative in Genesis 6-7, for example.

Yes, we covered a lot of items yesterday after a reading of those chapters. There's plenty to keep people busy. "Who are the Nephilim?" "So it wasn't just rain from above, but the mangling of the ocean floor happened, too?" "Was it a global or local flood? (By the way, that's a fun question to explore down a rabbit hole!)

I want students to move through and even beyond that. I take a Philip Yancey view of approaching the Bible. Confront the hard parts. Ask the tough questions. Don't act like they don't exist. Be honest and ask students to be honest.

I asked the students yesterday, "Permission to speak freely...what sort of vibe do you get from God in the flood story?"

The answers? "He hates sin." Yep, I agree, but then students felt more free to open up further. "He seems harsh," others said. "This disturbs me and makes me uncomfortable," said a few more.

That's good on several levels. First, I don't think God's job is to make us comfy. You can be loving and still people can be confused by your actions (although that's for another blog post). But it was also good in that, even if my students don't completely understand the message of the text there, they feel a lot of freedom to question things and be trusted to be honest. I don't think someone's nascent faith is helped by being told "Listen, sugar britches...just believe what God said and don't doubt and don't question. It'll all be okay if you just have faith."

Crap, that line gets uber-annoying. Almost as annoying as putting "uber" before anything to denote the ultra-side of things.

That brings me to a conversation I had with a student after one of the classes yesterday. She told me she had read Genesis 6-7 in preparation for class the evening before. She told me she cried at the end of it. Because when God said "everything on the earth that has the breath of its life in its nostrils will die", that struck her down. Yes, the world was filled with violence. Yes, it was a horrible place outside of Noah's family (although they're not too sterling in Genesis 9 later). But a good chunk of the animal kingdom? Kids? Washed away like that? It was too much for her to take, and too much for me, to be up front.

So what did she tell me? That she was grateful were reading these hard passages. She said, "I would like to stay naive and not have to deal with the discomfort. I'd rather have the Sunday School image of Noah's ark in my mind. But if I confront things that are hard to deal with now, that prepares me for later. It's not about having the answers so much as it is being willing to take the risk of wrestling with the questions. Because this faith needs to be my faith, not just a belief my parents gave me."

Awesome. She gets it. Or rather, she is getting it, because this is a process.

Am I taking a risk by having students move in where angels fear to tread? I believe I am. Some may come to the Bible and say it's garbage if this is in there, and they walk away from belief. But the rewards outweigh the risks. Looking at the warts of faith now will make a faith in the future--if it takes root--that much more durable. And if God exists, I think that's the kind of faith that honors him.

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