Friday, September 24, 2010
We all want to be part of a group in which we’re liked and affirmed. We also want to be appreciated and loved for who we are — validated for our beliefs, attitudes, habits, tastes, politics, and even for our worldviews. Consequently, we usually choose people who share our views and lifestyles and tend to feel uncomfortable and insecure when others don’t share them. We either leave the group or learn to conform to group “expectations,” even down to dress and appearance.
Our sense of insecurity is often magnified when it comes to finding a church “family.” Not only do we want to find a worldview/lifestyle fit – a fitting in with the people – we also need to feel that we’re fitting in with God. More than anything else, we seek to find a community that will validate our spirituality, our relationship with God, with all its uncertainties and feelings of insecurity about our adequacies.
Nobody wants to walk into a church where everyone is speaking in tongues and where you too are “required” to do the same. To many of us, being part of such a community is a prescription for feelings of alienation and inadequacy. Others have fled from churches where everyone was saying, “The Lord told me…” Well, if the Lord wasn’t “telling” you anything, you begin to feel worse than a freak – a second-rate spiritual entity!
For a number of years, I attended a church that had regular “testimonial” services. People would testify of the goodness of God that they were experiencing. I found these gatherings particularly painful and often wanted to run out, but lacked the courage to do so. I had been experiencing intense depression and hearing these testimonials made me feel like a spiritual “reject,” a divine discard, or even worse, someone God had scorned!
These tortuous experiences have somewhat opened my eyes to the extent of spiritual insecurity (SI). Many churches have learned to capitalize on rampant uncertainly, confusion and SI. Instead of directly challenging these three viruses, they have taken the opposite strategy. They reassure the insecure that SI is natural, normal, and inescapable.
Instead of doctrine – it can create an intense sense of alienation from both man and God if you feel that you can’t believe in the same way that others believe – these churches emphasize friendship and acceptance of whatever beliefs, religions or lifestyles that you might bring to the table. Their sermons emphasize inclusiveness and disdain any mention of a “we and them” divide. Consequently, even though they might preach salvation through the grace of Christ, they are loathe to pass judgment on any of the other supposed roads to God or on any divergent teachings. Instead, everything and everyone is OK! It’s about feeling accepted and exploring together and not about arriving at the truth.
Instead of a dogmatic confidence in certain theological propositions – Jesus died on the Cross for my sins – these “emerging” churches assert, equally dogmatically, that we really can’t be certain about any theological constructs. Then, they baptize their conclusion with the assertion that thoughtful and intelligent people know that certainty is a myth. Well, if you can’t be certain about anything, then you can’t judge and offend anyone. (Besides, if you can’t be certain, then you can’t make the assertions that certainty isn’t possible.) However, this type of church makes many insecure Christians feel comfortable. Uncertainty and confusion are no longer threats to our spirituality. Instead, they have become our final resting place – “If nothing is possible beyond uncertainty, then I don’t have to feel bad, insecure, or alienated from God. I fit right in, and I can feel comfortable right where I’m at!”
Uncertainty has been turned into a virtue. In The Myth of Certainty, Daniel Taylor writes,
• “When people defend their world view, they are not defending reason, or God, or an abstract system; they are defending their own fragile sense of security and self-respect.” (25)
Well, if there’s no certainty to be found, then the quest for it is ultimately grounded in our psychological needs rather than in a search for or defense of the truth. We can also argue that when people defend uncertainty, they are likewise defending their own fragile sense of security. Where then is truth? Is it no more than a figment of our insecurities? Is it just a matter of the way we feel? An Emergent church guru, Tony Jones, claims that,
• “The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping…and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures [theological teachings] is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.” (The New Christians, 234)
Ironically, Jones is equally dogmatic and certain about our inability to be certain about God. God is merely someone to be pursued but never found. However, this is a comforting message for those who are confused about God. It tells them, “It’s OK. Actually, you are a more thoughtful and sensitive person than those who claim to be certain!”
What then is the answer for those who struggle with uncertainty and SI? It’s not the easy way of comfortable resignation. Instead, it’s a matter of pursuing the God who promises that He is able to make us stand firm (Romans 14:4). It’s a matter of asking Him to provide (James 4:2-3). It’s a matter of meditating on His Word day and night (Psalm 1:1-3). It’s a matter of entrusting Him with all of our concerns (Phil. 4:6-7) and then waiting patiently (Psalm 27:14). If God is God, then He is able to provide certainty.
Christ has expanded the boundaries of my spiritual comfort zone. I no longer feel that I need to flee from church, when I feel that the fit is lacking. I know who God is (Jer. 9:23-24) and therefore feel safe and secure. However, I must admit that this understanding came very slowly and painfully. But confidence about God is the most precious jewel:
• “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:2-3)