Though I have loved and believed in God for as long as I can remember, I haven’t always been confident in my faith or completely satisfied by the spiritual food I was fed in church.
Often times in the church – well, I’ll speak from a Black church perspective since that’s really all I know firsthand – you are taught not to question the preacher, the Bible, or God. Growing up in the church, I remember that more often than not, questions of “why?” and “how?” were ignored or given a hand-waiving explanation, and sometimes reprimanded. “That’s what it says in the Good Book so that’s how God wants it.” “God is mysterious He has mysterious ways.” Though I always thought these responses were suspect, I didn’t think about it much. Perhaps I was subconsciously afraid to question God or my understanding of God, so I never bothered to ask questions or just wonder about a religion I spent so much time devoting myself to.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I was questioned about my religious beliefs and that I, in turn, questioned my faith as I knew it.
I met this guy at a gig (a few years older than me). He was of the Nation of Yahweh and he spent a few phone calls and many letters trying to convince me of how ignorant and misguided a Christian I was and how enlightened a Yahweh Ben Yahweh follower he was. I won’t go into the details of his beliefs (you can Google them for yourself) or the details of our discourse (I don’t remember it all). There was so much going on, but his man argument was that I did not know my true history as a Black woman and that Jesus was not the son of God and he listed out all the reasons why, and tried to introduce me to “God’s true son,” whom he followed. What stuck out to me the most was how he used the Bible against me in such a way that I felt like I was meeting Jesus for the first time. How was he “schooling” me in my religion? Was I losing?
Now, I thought his religion was the bogus one from jump. To each his own and all but I wasn’t hopping on his bandwagon simply because he declared me to be in the “white man’s darkness.” Besides, none of his arguments held water as to why his faith was the right faith. But he challenged me to a dual and I was not going out without a fight, despite how little I initially came off as knowing about it. I remember taking my dad’s Bible, and searching for answers. I poured over scriptures, I read into the historical context behind them- who wrote them? what was going on at the time? why were there differences in each account? – and I wrote pages upon pages in rebuttal. Unlike him, I wasn’t trying to convince him that I was right, that my religion was truer, better. In fact, it wasn’t even about him. I searched for understanding for myself, to better grasp what I claimed to believe in. It was important for me to know this God and Son I served beyond what I was taught and what I read in Bible study (all surface level information).
I don’t think this guy ever imagined that he would drive me closer to Christianity. Perhaps a weaker believer would have folded at the first sign of uncertainty and lack of knowledge. But he challenged me to challenge myself, challenge my beliefs, to know my beliefs. And what I discovered on my journey to understanding was that I believed in God (and Jesus) because of something greater on the inside of me, not because some one told me to believe or scared me into believing. My understanding of my faith or my religion may not have been well rooted or nourished at first, but it was real.
But despite this new assurance security in my faith and my religion, I was still a bit… uncertain. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if we (the church in general) have gotten it all wrong? What if the Biblical authors wrote more from self than God? What if we completely missed the message of what God was trying to convey to us? Of all the churches working in Christ’s name, who is right, if any? Is God pleased?”
My faith in God is undeniable. My faith in the church is not. Because I’m not convinced that the people involved in the church’s development and maintenance have gotten “it” – who God is, what God wants – right. As some one who attends church regularly, and desires to be part of church ministries, this is quite a conundrum. Compounded by the fact that my doubts have made it very difficult for me to relate to other believers and I often feel like an outcast.
How can one be so convinced in their faith but so uncertain in their religion? Is Christianity as a religion even for me, when I have such quandaries about the written word it is founded upon?
1 I played string bass in high school student. As such, I was invited to play bass with a group of musicians (the leader of the band was a friend of my dad’s and he was looking for some one to fill in on bass). We were playing for a grown folks event downtown. Yeah, Teenage Gem was feeling something like a boss. (Despite having my parents’ watchful eyes there, I felt quite grown lol).