Monday, May 23, 2011

The Return of Harold Camping

In the last week or so I've gotten quite interested in Harold Camping and his apocalyptic predictions. So much so that I listened to the majority of the Open Forum broadcast on Family Radio Monday night where he held a press conference. I wanted to hear his explanation of his failed Judgement Day prophesy. As many predicted, he offered a spiritualized interpretation of the apparent non-event on May 21st. Over the weekend, he realized that the Judgement Day was not to be accompanied by physical signs. Instead, God has ended the time where those outside Christ can be saved. Judgement has come upon them. However, he continues to insist that Oct 21 of this year will be the end of the world, in a real, literal sense. Camping downplayed former comments where he denied that May 21 would be an entirely spiritual event, emphasizing that understanding the Bible is very difficult and is a "slow and tedious" process, where he must revise his understanding as God opens his "spiritual eyes". This comment was not lost on a journalist, who wondered how Camping could be so certain that Oct 21 would be a literal event. This comment was entirely lost on Camping.

He is resolute in his core message and feels no responsibility toward those who spent money on getting the Judgement Day message out. He stated emphatically that he never told people to spend their money, quit their jobs, or drop out of school. Those decisions were between "them and God." He also denied culpability for one woman's attempted murder of her children following his failed prediction. He expressed relief that she didn't succeed, but called such an action a "stupid thing" that is not of God's will.

Throughout the question and answer period, he answered questions with long, often irrelevant Bible stories or sermonettes on topics ranging from evolution to the spiritual leadership of men. He was in his element at these times, speaking with the authority of an elder to his children, managing to sound authoritative and reassuring while also referring frequently to his fallibility as a human, noting that he is "not a genius", but a "humble teacher" while God is the real CEO of Family Radio. I couldn't help but feel he was trying to shift some of blame onto God. However, he did credit God with allowing him to purchase a large lexicon set many years ago which helped him understand Greek. This is largely how God taught him the message of Judgement. He also described praying, hoping, and begging for his eyes to be opened as other ways he came to knowledge.

Camping is right about a couple of things. First, the Bible is difficult to understand. And second, we should be willing to revise our understanding with further study. Unfortunately, what Camping has done is merely reinterpreted events to fit his original prediction. I think most of us view his spiritualizing of the Judgement Day with suspicion. This should cause us to reflect on times when we have done the same. Sometimes we spiritualize healing or other forms of deliverance. When is this legitimate and when is this rationalization? And is there a way to tell the difference?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Got Belief?

At my book club on Sunday, a question arose that has certainly reared its head many a time for me:

Why is belief a necessary component of Christianity? Of salvation?

Why this mental affirmation of the death and resurrection of Christ for our salvation?

Why even Christ's command to love God?

Yes, belief in these things may well motivate us greatly to love others, be forgiving, be willing to obey the commands of God and Christ and certainly have been motivating to me. But, is that the only reason for the command to believe? What if we do these things without belief? Why is belief necessary, particularly, when it is so hard, if not practically impossible for some?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Finding Our Way in Our Own Way

My husband and I continue on our respective and divergent paths as we seek to understand God and our relationship to Him. My husband's path is leading him through turmoil, despair, and feelings of rejection, while I journey on in relative calm, like a curious child, stopping at whatever point of interest I find. He doesn't doubt the validity of Christianity as I do, he questions whether he is beloved or rejected by God. He has openly expressed his pain and his questions to numerous others, especially those in leadership at our church. He's met over lunch with ministers, elders, and friends. It's no secret that he's struggling with his faith. I, on the other hand, began my questioning in private, reading books and blogs and speaking to no one. When I did share my questions with others, it was tentatively and with only a few trusted friends. Never did I approach the leadership of my church. I didn't want attention drawn to myself nor did I want to open myself up to judgment or criticism.

My husband, on the other hand, has never hesitated to bare his soul. In his "living out loud" style, he has felt the need for his public life to honestly reflect his struggles, so he believed it necessary to step down from teaching on occasion in Bible class and to step down from his role in leadership in the education program at church where he was helping to develop curriculum. He recently attended an elder's meeting and informed them of his intentions and the reasoning behind it. Thankfully, they responded in a positive way, mainly with hugs and prayer. This put a little attention on me in that a few people have asked him how I am doing. Though he hasn't shared details, he has let them know I am asking my own questions. No one has uttered words of condemnation or anxiously sought to bring us around to their way of thinking. I've greatly appreciated the responses. However, my husband has found some of the leaders reluctant to follow up or pursue his concerns in depth, which has caused some resentment for him.

I've been surprised at how comfortable I've been with additional people becoming aware of our current state of being. It makes me wonder whether I'm underestimating my family's ability to handle a greater awareness of my evolving beliefs. Over Easter, my husband's mom could tell that he was down in spirit about something and asked us about his mood repeatedly until he told her in a very general way about where he is spiritually. She was supportive and concerned and later left a voicemail for me expressing her care for us. However, I let my guardedness and discomfort over addressing it with her keep me from calling back to talk directly with her. I wimped out.

My husband has found a minister at another congregation who seems comfortable walking along this path with him and they are planning to study weekly together. My husband has enjoyed visiting this church recently. When he visits there, he has none of the accompanying resentment he has felt at our current church. In fact, he's resumed attending on Wednesday nights with the boys now that he's found this new congregation. Mercifully, he hasn't insisted that I join along.

I'm happy for my husband to find a place he enjoys instead of dreads. However, I am reluctant to invest energy into meeting a new set of people and connecting to a new church with a new set of ministries when I am questioning the fundamental basis for it all. I don't really want to change congregations, and my husband hasn't asked to do so. I love many aspects of our congregation. If I did make a switch, I'd rather it be after my thoughts settled and I actually had a better sense of my beliefs. It would also be awkward to enter a new church with this new role of "doubter." We are accustomed to being a couple who is counted on to be involved and committed to the mission and ministries of the church. We would not be in a very enviable role as Mrs. Doubter and Mr. Faith Crisis! Sadly, I must admit that my ego rebels a bit over occupying this lowly state. I don't want to be viewed as any one's project or fall in the "to be saved or rescued" category. I don't particularly feel a need to be rescued or saved. However, I do like the idea of having no expectations on me for being or believing in a particular way!

My husband and I each have our unique spiritual path that we choose individually, and yet, our way clearly shape the path of the other, making it even more difficult to predict what lies ahead.

And that's how are paths are meandering about these days.