Listen To Article
My parents divorced when I was about thirteen or so. Probably should better recall when exactly—it certainly was a rough period in my family’s life and my development and maturation—but this is not meant to be a therapeutic exercise nor a rumination about divorce. Wounded and broken but nevertheless intact, all parties have survived and moved on. Such is life in the world we live. And I might add, having good parents, extended family, and generally a very good support system especially in the church I would call myself quite fortunate. I’m grateful.
I share this here because I’ve been thinking about how I thought back then. Back then as an adolescent/young teen I had the gift of knowing it all. These are some of the things I knew:
- I knew that my parents were no longer in love.
- I knew that divorce was wrong, even a sin; Jesus basically said so. Not part of God’s plan.
- I knew Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
- I knew that God was in control of everything, providence and what not, and has that plan even for my parents.
- I knew about forgiveness too, and salvation.
- I knew that somehow even romance connects with God’s plan, and as an Evangelical Christian, God makes one person out there for every other person. (In hindsight, this may have had less to do with evangelicalism and more with western romanticism, but it would seem that the Christian contemporary music I listened to supported it nonetheless, as well as a good amount of other popular evangelical messages and media.)
- I knew that sin is real, dangerous, all around, etc., bad, bad, bad.
- I knew that my brother and I existed, a result of my parents’ marriage.
Therefore, putting all that I knew together I worked out that:
- My parents are getting a divorce and that is probably the right thing to do. Is it a sin? Yep. But it was most likely a greater sin that they ever got together to begin with, because obviously, it wasn’t part of God’s plan! Two wrongs don’t make a right, but extending the first wrong doesn’t either. God must have had someone else planned for each of them, and they went and screwed that up. Fine. But what of the children? Of me? Hmm, that is tricky. My logic tends to lead me to think then that the children of such an un-God-planned union must also be unplanned? Sort of makes sense when I think of my little brother. But of me?! A conundrum… Am I not part of God’s plan? An unintended consequence of my parents’ sin?
Eventually, I would come to see another aspect of God at work: redemption and of God using all things to work together for good. Eventually, I would come to learn that while God is indeed in control and does plan, the two are not always the same, and do not line up neat and tidy in our human-way-of-understanding categories. Eventually I’d come to understand my adolescent/young teen logic didn’t quite cut it. I did know a lot. But I didn’t know it all. Much of what I knew was good. Some, less so, and most of it was only the start. Eventually I’d also come to learn of nuance and dissonance, even in faith and of the need to hold certain things in tension.
Let me reiterate, this is not about divorce or about my own personal experience of emotional and spiritual growth, per se. But it is about spiritual maturation and faith growth more broadly. This is about how a closed system of categories and simple logic don’t cut it when we experience our faith in real life with real people. “If this, then that” conclusion don’t assist us in growing in our relationship with Christ and one another, and at times, can shut us down to the Spirit’s gentle leadings.
This all comes to mind now in light of the Reformed Church in America’s recently concluded General Synod as well as Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and California’s Prop. 8. Homosexuality seems to be a big deal in our culture and in the church. I think back to my adolescent self and my clear understanding of so many things. Back then when I knew it all, I could have clearly told you that the recent SCOTUS ruling is wrong. Back then when I knew it all, I could have clearly told you that the bible is clear on homosexuality, why does the church need to continue to talk about it. That was back then. Now, I would come to completely different conclusions, an even opposite perspective.
Now, if you’ve hung on reading this long you may be sensing me saying, “See how I’ve matured and how I’ve got it right, now!” That may be true, but that is not what I’m saying.
For as much as I may well have matured at least a little spiritually, I still don’t know it all. My relationship with Christ and reading of scripture and understanding of Reformed doctrine have me firmly, wholeheartedly, and unequivocally advocating for the full inclusion of LGBTQ sisters and brothers in the church, and by extension, celebrating SCOTUS’s Wednesday rulings. I have faith. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I have conviction. But my faith and conviction has also taught me nuance, dissonance, and tension—and a big heaping of humility. And I know personally that we are a wounded and broken family, the church that is. But I believe it is ultimately the same faith (Ephesians 4:4-6), if at times different conviction we hold.
So I wonder if we can share the faith, and struggle with our convictions? Often we speak in terms of sides; I wonder if we can grow together, and not as us and thems?
Thanks Tom. I find that the more I know the less certain that I am. Honestly I don't understand some of the "certainty" I run into. Is doubt lack of faith? I don't think so. Fredrick Buechner says that "doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. It keeps faith alive and moving" and so I am grateful for doubts and uncertainty if they do indeed keep faith alive and moving. The humility of admitting that "I don't know it all" seems to me to be a posture in which the Holy Spirit can speak. Thanks for the reminder!
Thank you, Sara. And thanks for the Buechner quote! I agree. And yet, still have conviction in the grace and love of the God we know.
I'm with you. On the conversation, not just for the sake of the conversation, but for growing together. Like it says in the RCA Eucharistic Prayer, "Grant that, being joined together in him, we may attain to the unity of the faith, and grow up in all things into him, who is our Head, even Christ our Lord." So it's also got to be beyond the conversation.