You may be familiar with the prayer from Mark 9, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The man was expressing his desire to overcome his lack of faith for a fuller and deeper conviction in Jesus. The prayer that follows this post is formed with those exact words and even with the same desired end, but with a significantly different meaning and means. The prayer I want us to pray makes the first sentence, rather than the second, the place of confession. And the second sentence, therefore, becomes one asking for increase rather than decrease. The first statement, not the second, is the place where transformation is needed. The second statement is what is to be honored, not regretted. I want us to pray for a diminished sense of belief and conviction and an increased amount of doubt and questioning. And I want us to do this for the same reason the man in Mark 9 prayed - to draw us nearer to Jesus… not our inherited, accepted, limited portrait of him.
Enough of that. Let me get on with it. A few quotes will be helpful:
John Keats, 19th century English poet, once wrote, “There is a need in contemporary spirituality to find ways of praying and engaging with God, ourselves, and one another that have room for simultaneous contradictions, the experience of opposite emotions. We need the sacredness of living in the tensions and to admit how unsacred, how disconnecting, and profane are the attempts at praying and living while surpressing half of the stuff that fascinates or plagues us…”
Kathleen Norris calls the phenomenon “sacred ambiguity.”
In talking about the different lenses we all use to interpret the Bible, Shane Hipps says, “An examination of our lens is not a process of changing the Bible, the world, or truth; it is a process of changing ourselves.”
I offer all of this to make a suggestion for a pathway to great freedom.
I have heard all my life people claiming to be “serious about the Bible.” This was usually in a polemic context which implied that people that saw things differently than them were not “serious about the Bible.” Churches split, people fight, names get called, labels get assigned. You know the drill. If you were “serious about the Bible” you would hold as strongly as I do to some certain truth, and you would be just as devoted to defending that truth from all compromises.
But I have come to a place where I have seen that doubting my convictions is a more respectful - or “serious” - way of treating the Bible than defending them.
I have observed within myself that I have too often been more devoted to my lens for interpreting the Bible than to the Word of God.
I am coming to see that “serious” commitment to Scripture looks less like a fierce defense of certain positions and more like a courageous openness to seeing it in fresh, new, challenging, and disruptive ways.
I say this because if I truly love and long for the Word of God to be alive in my life I can never confuse my understanding of the Bible with the Bible itself. To do so is the highest arrogance. ”My views = what the Bible says” is perhaps one of the greatest idolatries that has ripped apart the church and made Christians appear before an unbelieving world to be a petty and divisive religious sect arguing over issues no one else can possibly understand.
I am not saying there is no room for belief or conviction. I am not advocating for some flimsy, relativistic, privatized understanding of truth.
I am actually calling myself to a more rigorous commitment to Scripture than I ever had in my more “serious” days. I am asking myself to be so doggedly devoted to the Word that I constantly ask questions, doubt convictions, and allow others to challenge me with different views. If I love the Bible I must hold it tightly and hold my interpretations lightly. I must allow for contradiction, doubt, abiguity, and uncertainty.
I must not ever disrespect the Bible by thinking that my limited, sinful, arrogant, selfish mind can fully understand it truths and completely contain all its claims.
I must love the Bible enough to let it and others who are reading it differently than me disrupt my life.
I am not advocating for making the Bible whatever I want it to be, I am trying to get to a place where the Bible can make me more of what it wants me to be.
And… in the spirit of honestly about lenses… I am on this journey right now with the assumption (or lens) that Jesus and his words/life are the filter though which we read everything in there, and when an argument/conversation/contradiction appears, it will be his life and words that teach me which side to fall on.
Lets love the Bible enough to enjoy the “sacredness of living within the tensions.” I think this is a pathway to freedom. I think it is a pathway to greater unity. I think it is a pathway to discover the Jesus way.
So…. “I believe. Help my unbelief.”