I often prayed a familiar prayer when I was a child and remember one line very well, “If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” That line scared the shit out of me when I was a kid, but now there is some comfort in laying down my head and embracing the mystery of God’s abiding love. Belief is not something that comes naturally for me. I struggle to believe in an afterlife. Most days I struggle to even believe in God at all…due primarily to God’s absence in the midst of injustice and tragedy. On my best days though, I am able to embrace the mystery of God and simply exist in the questions. I think this is where faith is found.
I had lunch with a fellow minister a few months back. We had barely sat down to the table before he proclaimed loudly, “You know I don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus anymore.” I responded quickly, “Your certainty and lack of wonder disturbs me.”
One week ago, I had the chance to hear the infamous Bishop John Shelby Spong. I have always been skeptical of Bishop Spong. I find his denials of the mystical and magical in the Christian faith to be unimaginative and uninteresting. I went anyway. Bishop Spong does not disappoint. In both his books and in person, Bishop Spong is very skilled at taking veiled and some not so veiled shots at the resurrection, the virgin birth and other miraculous occurrences described in the New Testament. Unfortunately, Bishop Spong claims to know more than is even possible for him to know. Was Bishop Spong at the tomb of Jesus and able to see what did or didn’t happen there? Did Bishop Spong perform a vaginal inspection on Mary to know if she had sex before getting pregnant with Jesus? Was Bishop Spong able to travel back in time and be present to see if and how all the other miracles in the New Testament happened too? These questions are ludicrous and so too is claiming to know whether or not the miraculous happened or not. I gave to Bishop Spong the words that I previously gave my minister friend, “Your certainty and lack of wonder disturbs me.”
The church desperately needs less answers not more. I am a proponent of leaving behind conservative and liberal fundamentalisms to venture to a place where we don’t have to even claim to know…we just embrace the mystery of faith. The beauty of the incarnation then and now is that it is too wonderous to be so easily defined.