Monday, July 1, 2013
shedding our (theological) skin
As it turns out, children's books are a great source for theological reflection. While reading The Butterfly Story by Anca Hariton, I learned something new about caterpillars. And that new thing came in handy in a recent conversation with another student.
She came to me for help on a paper, but after that we chatted for a bit. She expressed that being in grad school has been confusing for her. She feels like the God she learned about as a child is different than the God she's learning about at Wheaton. Now when she prays she's not sure who she's praying to. And that's disconcerting.
We didn't go into detail about the particular differences between her childhood theology and what she's hearing in class. But I've felt that tension before, too. You don't want to turn your back on your childhood faith and the people who instilled it in you. But you trust that your professors know what they're talking about, at least most of the time. The choice between them is sometimes awkward and painful!
Everything seemed so simple before seminary. Your job was to read your Bible, pray, and tell other people about Jesus. You were supposed to tell them that he died on the cross for their sins and that if they ask him into their hearts they can go to heaven to live with him forever.
But then you discover that reading the Bible is not that simple. The Bible never talks about "asking Jesus into your heart." And "Jesus" doesn't make any sense without the Old Testament background. Furthermore, you're told that Westerners tend to over-emphasize individuality and miss the corporateness of the Bible. It's not about "me and Jesus" but about identifying with the believing community. And then your professor points out "heaven" is not forever. It's only temporary. The real forever is in the new creation. All that makes sense, but it's crippling, because you're not sure how to talk about the gospel anymore. How can I encourage people to read the Bible without getting stuck in hermeneutics? What is the gospel if it's not "me asking Jesus in my heart so I can live in heaven forever"? What do I tell them?
The first skin was not defective. It was right for beginning. It did the job. But it's not big enough to accommodate all the growth the caterpillar needs to experience so that it can become what it was designed to be.
Faith is like that. Our simple ideas about God work for a season. By God's grace they get us where we need to be to learn more. But they can't accommodate everything. We must keep eating and keep growing and not be afraid to shed our skin when things get tight. God hasn't changed. But sometimes our picture of who he is and how he works needs filling out. And that's ok. It's all part of growing up.