Questions on the Journey
While I threw myself more and more into Christian life as a teenager, I think I always knew something didn’t quite add up for me. I should preface everything I’m about to say with the note that I’m incredibly grateful for my upbringing in the church. It was there that I found Jesus – the man that still inspires me to (try and) live a life of self-sacrificial love, drawing alongside the downtrodden and marginalised as he always did. I may not do a very job of it but Jesus and his way of life is the ideal. I’m also grateful for the spiritual leaders I’ve had, who I know always led me in love and with the best of intentions. But what they didn’t know, because I never thought to tell them, was that I had a lot of questions bubbling up inside.
Looking back, I’m not sure why I never dared to voice them. I suppose challenging the asserted order, when nobody else seemed to be, was a little daunting. Maybe society had taught me implicitly not to rock the boat. But how often does Jesus subvert the expected norms? It was his example of mischief-making and upsetting the powerful that has enticed me into a place of daring freedom. I’ve been helped along the way by podcasts like Nomad and Left Side Up and the seekers who had taken those bold steps long before. I suppose that’s why I’m finally writing all this down. For me, it’s been an exciting but scary and often lonely journey. It’s only now, years down the line, that I’m ok with asking those ‘unaskables’. Maybe, just maybe, there are others still hiding them inside, not daring to let them out... What exactly happened on the cross? ‘Jesus died for our sins’. Yeah but, like, what? Why? How does the notion of hell and eternal torture make any sense alongside the loving God we see perfectly manifest in Jesus of Nazareth who taught the love of our enemies? What exactly did Jesus mean when he said he was the ‘way’ to the Father? How do we reconcile an Old Testament that’s full to the brim with violence, murder and rape in the name of ‘God’? What am I getting ‘saved’ from? Why exactly would God be against two people developing a loving and committed relationship just because they’re both the same gender? Why does the church often not look as radical as the homeless man they worship, who tipped the tables in the temple and caused mayhem amongst the established order that was structured to benefit the powerful? Why don’t a lot of Christians even seem to agree with Jesus’ points of view?
Maybe it’s because those are just my interpretations of Jesus’ view. That’s all I have – all anyone has. If it was portrayed to me in those terms before, it was never how I understood it. I had picked up that there was the church’s way to interpret scripture and there was the wrong way – no in between. But there are hundreds, aren’t there? So to think that the one I grew up with is the only one to hold truth is at best arrogance and at worst rank stupidity. I would say I’m finally comfortably uncomfortable; happy to question it all, happy to explore those other options, within and without Christianity. Because “if you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (God in Jeremiah 29v13). So, I’m fairly sure God’s ok with the exploration. No, I’m almost certain he loves it. I hope it’s an honest, humble search for the heart of the creator. Then, at time, I wonder does it all matter, this wrestling with scripture, with religion and spirituality? In some ways it has to be secondary. First and foremost must always be the goal to live a life of love – for other people and for creation. But then I remember that it does matter too. Intensely. Because while the best we can offer on issues like God’s thoughts on the LGBT community is a quiet shrug and a desire to know more, it does little to help the people impacted so deeply by the traditional church’s behaviour. It’s not good enough to say I’m not sure. So the search must go on.
There are two absolutes I’m working off: 1. God is real 2. God is love.
Well it’s up for debate.
And that’s ok.
I’m looking wholeheartedly.
Let’s see what I find.
Gareth Hanna is a sports reporter at the Belfast Telegraph and, having grown up in traditional conservative Christianity within Northern Ireland, is embarking on a wider exploration of faith and spirituality.