Am I a Christian? That word is so loaded these days. It can mean very different things to different people. There are Christians out on the forefront of suffering, serving their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world through solidarity and support, and there are people holding “Jesus Saves” flags while storming the US Capital during a hostile situation. Mother Teresa identified as Christian; members of the KKK identify as Christian.
Sadly, to many from the outside POV, being Christian equates to the things Christians do not support. Christian = anti-LGBTQ, anti-science, and judgement-filled. Within Christianity, there are hundreds of definitions and views of who is “right.” Each denomination thinks they’ve got it figured out while everyone else is missing a key point or belief. Nevermind that the Church has been around for over 2000 years now with a WIDE variety of beliefs held over the centuries. Spend a little time researching church history, and you realize how arrogant anyone would be to think that only they, only now, have reached the Correct way of thinking and believing.
I myself hold a lot of conflicting ideas that may throw me out of each closed-box ideological category we like to create. I do define myself as Christian. It’s the world I grew up in since I was a toddler, and I’ve stayed immersed in it ever since. It’s my spiritual mother tongue. Active in AWANAs as a young child, active my high school church youth group, active in college campus ministries and my church in college, active in church in my post-college life through to today.
But I am very open-minded and willing to admit that there are so many things I do not know, cannot explain, and are a mystery to me regarding the very existence of God, the afterlife, and the nature of the universe. I do not think that God is limited to one religion, or that the relatively recently invented religion of Christianity (which Jesus did not set out to create) is suddenly the only correct one. I believe that God can be living and working inside of all kinds of belief systems. God is bigger than Christianity, which has only existed for a small blip of time on the scale of eternity. Religions are people’s ways of trying to work out who we are, who Created all this, and what is our purpose in being alive. And truthfully, religions, more often than not, quickly become power structures, corrupt ways for men to control others.
I believe in science very much. I support whatever widely accepted scientific views are current, while knowing that we are all always learning, and that ideas and theories keep changing and evolving over time. I support the dignity and rights of all humans, including people of all color, all sexual orientations and gender identities, all races and all religions, exactly because I believe that God created all life and loves all humans as God’s very own children.
My faith far supersedes my nationality. My Christian values, derived from the Bible in the voices of the prophets and Jesus himself, tell me to care for the foreigner, so I’m more likely to worry about the humanity in those getting separated at the border than in the law of the land that arbitrarily punishes them for reaching for a better life. My faith does not prevent me, and even encourages me, to look with open eyes at the fruit of my nation, and to criticize where we have failed and to push for growth and change.
There have been times when I’ve questioned if any Divine Creator or God really exists. Maybe we are all just here, just a byproduct of life, and will be as non-existent after death as we were before birth. Because what kind of God, who claims in the Christian Bible to BE love (1 John chapter 4, verses 7 & 8: ” …love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”), what kind of loving and all-knowing God creates this world where SO MANY people will only know suffering? I think of the woman, born enslaved, “owned” and controlled her whole life, raped daily as if she is the personal property of her master, who died still enslaved – why? Or the child born into poverty, sick and malnourished from day one, who will never grow and thrive but die before puberty – why? Love brought this into being? How?
And then, there are times when I think I have heard the voice of God. Once I was out hiking in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, all by myself and far from any town. I hadn’t seen another human for over an hour, and I was happily hopping from boulder to boulder while traveling up-stream to a swimming spot I’d read about in my hiking guide. I stopped to eat my lunch, and while sitting on a boulder under the hot Arizona sun, I received a message so strong, it was as if I heard a voice. It was more like I felt a voice, deep within my being, saying “Go back.” That’s all. No further explanation, but a very palpable message that I needed to turn back. And I did. Who knows what would have happened? I’ll never know.
Another time, I was sitting alone in agony, thinking about an upcoming reunion with dear friends from college, friends I had met in Australia and bonded with via partying and drinking. We were having a reunion, and I had just decided to give up alcohol for a period of time as a sacrifice to God (I can be a tad earnest sometimes lol). I was honestly terrified of how they’d react, since so much of our relationship seemed to be centered around drinking together (not in an unhealthy way, that’s just what we did to socialize and have fun). And I thought to myself, “I can’t do it!” And again, I nearly heard a voice, it was actually a sigh of exasperation, that seemed to say “I know! I’ll be there to help you!” And I summoned the courage, told my friends about my decision when we got together, and it was anti-climactic because they were super chill about it.
I’ve had other little experiences of internal dialogues that seemed to get timely responses from gusts of wind and other things of that nature. God, if they are out there, seems to reach out to me through Nature. Which makes sense, since God was incarnate in Nature before Yeshua bar Joseph was ever born. From the book of John chapter 1, verse 1 & 3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (even mosquitoes? even viruses? Why, God?!)
So am I a Christian? I don’t know. I think so? Some days yes, some days no. I want to believe in an all-powerful being who created the universe out of Love and will one day reign supreme in love and will banish suffering forever. And I can admit that sometimes that does sound like a fairy tale we tell ourselves to give some meaning to this otherwise random little blip of life we get to live. And I admit that I have felt things and have had experiences that I can’t explain. There may be a biological, neurologic explanation that we haven’t discovered yet, for those divine experiences. We’ll see. I do take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in my doubts. Even great thinkers of the Christian faith have been atheists for periods of time, including CS Lewis and Madeline l’Engle, questionably even Mother Teresa herself. There are certainly Psalms within the Bible itself that question if God is really there.
God or no God, I think the question for me is, “how should I live my life?” Religion at its purest is supposed to give structure, give guidance, give direction and give hope. And the God in the Bible was always radical and progressive for the time period recorded. This God was shockingly forgiving, shockingly inclusive, shockingly protective of the mistreated and undervalued. This God is supposedly made of Love, an all-encompassing Love for all of Creation – human and otherwise.
So I will try to live a life of Love. Which is no easy calling. Humans can be real assholes sometimes. I struggle with loving my fellow humans, I struggle with being selfless vs self-centered, I struggle with being slow to anger and quick to forgive. I struggle to see the plank in my eye before noticing the speck in someone else’s. But if God is real, and if God is Love, this is what I must strive for. And if God isn’t real, well, living a life guided by Love is still a pretty good way to live and be a human.