Certainty is a funny thing. It can give great comfort to you while you have it, but if a crisis occurs, it can crumble and leave you feeling lost, broken, and untethered.
When I graduated college, I moved to East Tennessee, where I took a job as a student minister at a Southern Baptist Church. I was raised in the Southern Baptist Convention. It was all I'd ever known. I spent my college years diving deep into apologetics and proving why Jesus would support the Republican candidate for President. I was as certain of my theological understanding of God as I was that gravity would continue to hold my feet to the earth if I attempted to flap my arms and fly away.
I picked up some questions during college from religious studies classes. I was introduced to authors and theologians I had either never heard of, or whom I had been told to avoid. I began to think about things in a new light, even while rooting for Ken Ham in a creation vs. evolution debate against Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Trying to reconcile my budding questions with my evangelical worldview plunged me into a pretty substantial faith crisis. I felt the need to take apart the faith I had been handed from my fundamentalist upbringing and to reclaim what I truly believed, and why. Looking back, this was one of the most formative periods of my life to this point, and a time I would not give away for anything. During the time, however, it felt like the floor fell out from beneath my feet. My certainty had crumbled, and I felt untethered. I sought a true connection with God, but my church began to feel less and less welcome to someone who was asking the questions I was asking. Add to this dynamic the 2016 election, and 81% of white evangelicals supporting Donald Trump's presidential candidacy, and you have a volatile situation. I was faced with a daily dilemma of speaking up for what I had begun to believe about the Gospel and its relevance to everyday life, or keep my mouth shut to keep my job. I'm certain you can ascertain a guess as to which choice often won the day.
On Christmas Eve of 2016, my wife (then-fiancee) and I visited Church Street United Methodist Church for a late-night candlelight service. The worship space was one of the most beautiful spaces we'd ever seen. The music was beautiful, and the liturgy was so well-crafted that we felt God dwelling within us and walking among us. We found so much space available to facilitate true worship, and true realization of God's presence, highlighted in partaking of Holy Communion. This was a vital time for me, as I had been longing for such meaningful worship, and for such openness and mystery. I had lost all interest in the god who fits into the neat little box I had created for him. I had developed an insatiable longing for the God who gave his life for his enemies and welcomed all to his table. In that service, I began to feel myself being rooted once more, although not to certainty, but to a community.
Since then, my wife and I have joined the United Methodist Church, and I have begun the process to become ordained. I have also been accepted into Duke Divinity School to begin working on my M.Div in August of 2018. Looking back at the time of deconstruction and reconstruction now, I am grateful. At the time, I felt lost and hopeless, and little made sense. And yet, the wonder of it all is that God was with me the whole way, beckoning and calling me further and further into his love, mercy, and compassion.
If you are reading this and you have been through this sort of faith crisis, you will understand very well what I've written here. If you are reading this and you haven't experienced this, I am happy for you, as long as you are truly where God would call you to serve and are open to his renewing Spirit to blow at any moment. If you are reading this and you are in the middle of this faith crisis, I want you to know that God is with you. God doesn't forsake you for questioning a literal six 24-hour days of creation, or biblical inerrancy, or how the God revealed in the self-sacrificial love of Jesus could order the Israelites to slaughter man, woman, and child in the conquest of Canaan. God won't leave you for wrestling with questions and doubts and fears. In my experience, it is precisely in and through these moments that God draws nearest. My hope for you is that you will realize, even in the darkest of nights, that God is with you.