The Burning City
Those with intelligence will survive but those with imagination will thrive. My crime as a young adult was to exaggerate the importance and righteousness of being correct and of possessing all the answers. I had accomplished the great task of distinguishing the light from the dark, the black from the white. In my great, knowing mind I had erased all shading, there was no gray matter; I was wise beyond my years and the only direction I could possibly go was up.
However, the more I learned the less I knew. The answers I had previously relied on were suddenly unsatisfactory. They didn’t explain the events of my life, the course it was taking, or offer any comforting insights. The gray matter of truth enveloped me and I couldn’t tell up from down. I began to question the church, to question myself, and to question God. Trust was nowhere to be found, I locked my doubt away inside me and it began to straggle me. I choked on everything I had hidden away and so my doubt became a scorching fire destroying what I thought was my life-saving beliefs. My faith was once a grand, fortified city, magnificent and majestic; it was the stronghold of my life and of my happiness. Certainty reigned on the bedrock of facts and figures, it commanded truth and righteousness. My doubt was a foreign invader who raped, pillaged, and destroyed. Questions pounded like war drums through my head and cynicism dismantled the throne of certainty, throwing my heart to anarchy and chaos. The voices I once trusted and respected turned into monstrous lies before my very eyes. Jeremiah’s words echoed in my mind, “But I was like a gentle lamb led to slaughter,” (Jeremiah 11:19a).
My own faith experience serves as a reflection of Jeremiah’s own story. He began to question not only the revered institutions of his time but that of his own calling and purpose. He was opposed by even his own family and was ostracized by his community because of his questioning. However, Jeremiah still acknowledged God’s presence. Even when Jeremiah unleashed his anger towards God he knew that God had been right all along. Jeremiah’s doubts and questions served as an introduction to a deep and intimate conversation with God. Jeremiah was the child on God’s knee asking, “Why?” and “How come?” God answered Jeremiah just as God will answer you and just as He answered me. God’s voice is one of reassurance, “For I am with you to save you and to deliver you” (Jeremiah 15:20). Jeremiah’s faith grew deeper and stronger by withstanding the fires of his own doubt. He bought more time with God and grew to know more of who God was for himself.
Like Jeremiah, the fires of my doubt had wiped away the simple, childish religion of my youth. It had completely emptied me out so God could pour His truth, love, and Spirit into me. I have come to realize that I never really doubted God; just what I thought I knew about God. In the end, this questioning and re-evaluation enriched and refined my faith. My faith journey has become less of a war and more of an adventure where I am invited to discover the wondrous mysteries of our Lord and Savior. Knowledge and certainty is overrated, it steals the transforming power of faith and surrender.
I once thought that conviction and certainty were signs of strength and that doubt was a sign of weakness. However, this doubt was only an indication of a child-like curiosity, full of wonder and awe for something I don’t completely understand. It was an invitation for God to have a conversation with me, to talk to me. I wanted God to tell me a story, to let me wander and explore.
Once the raging fires had died down, I felt the healing, cleansing power of my Savior. These “fires” which we experience in our spiritual walk force us to come to terms with who we really are, our capabilities, and the powers we have received through Christ. In the space between doubt and faith there is room for action. Faith is fire retardant; it is resilient and has the uncanny ability to adapt to our questions and doubts. God uses these experiences to pry the idols of religion and knowledge from our grip and teach us something new. I have experience a rebirth, a baptism by fire. The magnificent city that once stood for my faith may now be in ruins, but I walk on a path paved with stones of love, mercy, grace, and humility. I hope, because it’s okay to be wrong, to not have it all figured out. Because of this I can declare along with Lamentations that, “You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life,” (Lamentations 3:58).