Friday, October 25, 2013

Sometimes Faith Is Miserable

But Some Doubted

Flannery O'Connor

Never knowing if believing is a blessing or a curse.
Kris Kristofferson

Yesterday I came across and posted on Facebook a Flannery O’Connor quotation (below). For those who may not be familiar with her, Flannery O’Connor was a Roman Catholic, southern, gothic writer of novels and short stories. Dying of lupus at age 39 her life was a short but productive one, as she published 2 novels and 32 short stories, along with reviews and commentaries.
"I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”

I put the quotation on Facebook because it  resonated with my soul (and is a a little more substantial than the "I had beans for supper" kind of posting one sees so often). I figured it would be ignored and, getting no "likes", I would remove it in a day or so. It is not so popular as some of the "cutest grandkids in the world" pictures or some of my funnier comments, but in the first 24 hours 22 people "liked" it.  Some of those who approved it surprised me. Among them were some strong, tough-minded types as well as those like Thomas.

Here is a question, why does Flannery O'Connor, a Roman Catholic laywoman speak to me in a way few, if any, Reformed preachers do? Similar questions have come to me as I have read the spiritual-themed poetry of John Donne and John Berryman, as I finished a few weeks ago the last book of short stories written by Episcopalian John Updike, and last spring as I read Roman Catholic, Brennan Manning's memoir, All Is Grace. Or, for that matter, the songs of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard.

I don't experience this resonance of the soul, when I read most Reformed writers, bloggers, or even Reformed Facebook-posters. What I get from them is a sense of clarity and certainty:
God exists. Even the atheist knows he's there. Doubt about God is not just unbelief; it's dishonest unbelief.
The Bible is God's Word, directly inspired and without error.  You either believe it or you don't. Questions come from elevating human reason over God.
There is life after death, and heaven is real. Uncertainty and fear are unfounded. Who wouldn't have a "can't wait to get there" attitude?
Babies are born with horrible deformities, people live in and die in unrelieved misery; God made some people for hell. But bad things do not happen to good people because there aren't any. Don't ask why. 
Reading the Bible is like God talking to you and prayer like you talking to God. There is no place more delightful than church and no company more refreshing than Christians. 
Having a happy marriage, bringing up good kids, and growing in your faith are not complicated. You do what the Bible says, and it works.
The great dangers are nominalism, easy-believism, self-deception. Every effort must be made to expose these.  
The "grace boys" are wrong, wrong, wrong, and the "obedience boys" are right, right, right. Christians are born again and regenerate by the Holy Spirit, converted and new creations in Christ, raised with and united to Christ, steadily and progressively sanctified.
I wrestle trying to figure out why my soul resonates with Flannery O'Connor and other doubters and sinners.

One possibility that will occur to some is that there is a spiritual affinity and that is not a good sign. With the possible exception of John Donne, these others were not or are not true Christian believers. For a Christian to identify with them may indicate he/she is no Christian at all. Like attracts like.

But here is another possibility. I identify because they tell me that I am not alone. They don't fix my problems; they don't have solutions; but they know the human (and my) condition. Life is pretty messy. People are very complicated. Questions are easier asked than solved. Solutions are more easily identified than implemented. Not infrequently this world is a dark and stormy night.

I think the Psalmists who wrote things like "darkness is my only companion" would understand. So might Paul, who found that the good he would do he didn't while the evil he wouldn't he did ,and who experienced fighting without and fear within, would understand.

But, then I think perhaps Jesus understands. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmites. He did not turn away the man who said, "Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief."


Lee said...

I think it was because we were sold a bill of goods. "Do what the Bible says and everything will be ok. Obediencce insures an easy life". Don't get me wrong, I have asked God for an easy life over and over again but it just has not happened. I found it interesting several years ago when I was doing a new members class at my church. There was this couple who did not come from a Reformed background and eventually did not join because they just could not "buy this predestination stuff" but said they really wanted to join to have me as pastor because I was the only Christian minister they had ever met who when they asked him a question would sometimes say: "I don't know". That is not to say a great deal about me but it does say that the church might have more people in it these days if we would own up to our own doubts. I am fond of quoting my favorite poet at this point: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now".

PS Bill I think you are really one of those "grace boys", certainly sound like one to me.

Eutychus said...

Thanks, Bill. Very good stuff! So sad, but it's often hard to say these things openly in the PCA, isn't it?

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

Indeed it is, Eutychus

Scott said...

In he US, we have a "can-do" spirit. Everything is conquerable, given the right formula. Implement, rinse, and repeat. Ditto for many Christians. It id hard to face the fact that we can't fix ourselves much less anyone else. Better to keep the mask on than admit we're in a mess. Gotta keep up appearances, after all!