Faith and I have hit a rough patch lately. It’s only the five zillionth time or so that I’ve found myself alternately doubting God and storming against him; my inner teenager is determined to become a proper heathen, I think. In these times when my thoughts about religion smolder and char, the Bible reacts like gasoline, every word going up in an angry blaze. (I’m a joy to have at church, can you tell?) And anyway, I’ve never bought into Sola Scriptura for the same reason that I don’t believe Fox News when it claims to be the only unbiased channel—conflict of interest and all. I just cannot bring myself to blindly trust a source alleging to be the only truth.
So I sift through experience and impressions, listen to my instincts, taste the air for clues. I don’t have God’s character figured out, but I have to trust at least this: that he left his imprint on creation, that some remote corner of me bears his signature. And when I tune out theology altogether, I can almost start to make it out.
The first belief I find inked onto my heart is heaven. Doctrinally, the subject has always made me feel homesick and even miserable—hard golden streets and individual mansions in the sky for God’s groupies. No, no, no, my soul whispers. You were made for trees, whole unscarred forests of trees, and waterfalls and snowcapped mountains at sunrise. You were made to climb inside of symphonies and breathe art. And the puzzle pieces lock together in my mind: the moments I find myself on the cusp of pure creative energy… the healing, cleansing effects of beauty… this drive for more, always more out of life… the profound sensation that this world is broken… These compel me more than decades of sermons could that we were meant for eternity.
The other thing I can’t help believing, no matter how I feel about God, is Jesus. Maybe this makes no sense considering the Bible and I aren’t on speaking terms, but everything he said and did resonates so strongly with me and has so little to do odious churchy representations of him that I feel I must have always known him. I believe in him, not because I was told to (which only makes me want to go vandalize something), but because he wasn’t repulsed by doubt or greed or prostitution or shame or immaturity or nakedness or insanity. Because his commitment to world peace and soul-honesty would have offended many of the uppity religious personas today who profess to follow him. Because he drew people’s perspectives away from materialism and perfectionism toward extravagant generosity and fierce acceptance. Because he was radically different from anyone’s expectations and had love strong enough to forgive the people who butchered him.
The idea of heaven is counterintuitive to our five senses, and a kick-ass Jesus is counterintuitive to our religious traditions, and somehow, this helps convince me that they are true. And if these two things are the shape of God’s signature, then this helps convince me that faith is worth every minute of struggle.