I love Modest Mouse, but when I listen to their album Good News for People who Love Bad News, I skip the track, “Bukowski”. If you aren’t familiar with the song, these are some of the lyrics:
If God controls the land and disease
Keeps a watchful eye on me
If he’s really so damn mighty
My problem is I can’t see
Well who would wanna be?
Who would wanna be such a control freak?
If I get upset when I hear this song, it’s because I’m proud of believing in God and hate to hear people trash Him. But at the end of the day, I can’t blame Modest Mouse because sometimes God seems like a jerk.
Because of the Enlightenment’s reverberations through our culture, many in our Western society have rejected the idea of God completely. Atheism and agnosticism are on the rise, congregation numbers are down, and the next generation’s children will no longer be able to take it for granted that their parents went to church growing up.
Richard Dawkins, a popular atheist, summarizes this shifting attitude towards God when he wrote, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak, a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Tell us how you really feel Dawkins. These perceptions of God are salient in our culture, and before some people ever step into a church, their concept of God is laced with cynicism and resentment.
What’s interesting is that many of these people aren’t rejecting the existence of God. It’s more like we just don’t like Him. When we hear something we don’t like about God, we criticize Him and get mad at God for not doing things the way we believe is best. You’ll often find someone who has rejected God is bitter because of an unjustifiable trauma that happened in their life or someone close to them. They can’t wrap their minds around a loving God who allows rape, war, cancer, death, abuse, pain, and suffering. So people who might hope for a god don’t want to believe in the one they’re presented because they don’t like what they see.
The problem with this attitude is that many people skip a major step on the path to truth because of their skewed perspective.
We’ve been brought up to believe that “faith” means “blind acceptance” and “doubt” is presented as “any questioning of God’s perfection”. And from the outside, this makes Christianity look like some Kool-aid-drinking cult where we replace our own critical thinking with the uncompromising belief that everything God does is perfect. So if there’s something we don’t like about God, someone needs to grab the ruler and slap that crap out of us because that’s a holy no-no. Questioning God is not only sinful and wrong, but it demonstrates weakness in our faith. Two slaps for you!
It doesn’t help when popular Christian responses to doubt include, “leap of faith”, “obedience”, or “just pray harder”. These further brand this concept of blind Christianity. This alienates anyone exploring faith because they read those infamous Old Testament verses about God who stoning disobedient children, commanding you to abstain from tattoos, and promoting slavery. If that’s the picture of a god you were asked to blindly follow, I don’t think any of us would. The problem is that we’ve swallowed the lie that “questioning God” means “sin” instead of “seeking to understand” or “strengthening our faith”. We believe that being a Christian means abandoning our responsibility to dig deeper, wrestle with what it means to follow God, and discover who He really is.
It seems that we have forgotten how to live in the tension of things that don’t make sense. What’s interesting is that the Israelites are God’s chosen people, and the word “Israel” literally means “wrestles with God.” What’s more is that the bible is chock-full of its heroes defying God, doubting Him, and outright cursing Him. Even Jesus, before He knows He’s going to be arrested and crucified, pleads with God to change the plan. If you struggle to believe in God because you don’t like Him, take a look at scripture. You’re in good company.
Somehow, Western culture has turned this message into, “If God doesn’t make sense, He must not exist.” Instead of weighing the different tensions in our hands and searching for His voice, we’ve believe it’s black-and-white: faith or doubt. And many abandon their search for God right there. We have convinced ourselves that indisputable logic is the only thing we can accept or put our faith in. That’s one way to live, but if your experience was anything like mine, having faith in nothing is miserable. I’d rather wrestle to understand God than reject Him because I’m not supposed to question Him.
So the next time you listen to “Bukowski” by Modest Mouse and wonder why God is such an asshole or a control freak, don’t fall into the trap of believing that you can’t ask Him those questions. Those who are closest to God aren’t the ones who take His word on blind faith; it’s those who have wrestled with Him and asked Him the most pressing questions on their heart. Jesus wrestled with God to the point of sweating blood. David wrote song after song, voicing his concerns and questions to God. Jacob physically duked it out with God, and all three of these guys are pillars of “faith”. If we were to model our relationships with God after them, I think we’d see that the sturdiest building material for faith is actually doubt that we chose to explore.
So wrestle with God. Become familiar with those areas of life that makes absolutely no sense, and carry them around with you. Ask Him, and seek the answers you want. Know that it’s OK to believe in God and not understand everything about Him. The point is that you try. You explore. You wrestle. To be a Christian isn’t to never question God; it’s to seek God even when He doesn’t make any sense. Because it turns out that your doubt might be your clearest path to stronger faith.