Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Biblical Love Story (also, a confession of sorts)

This one's been percolating for a while. One of the things that is public about me is my faith, and I certainly am proud of it - not of my demonstration of it, but of my God and his power to soften the hardest heart, give freedom, and create beauty out of ashes.

Since I got sick, many people have been encouraged by my faith in the struggle. I am glad for that, but also convicted, because of course only I know the private parts of my heart that are less faithful, more arrogant, and overall yuckier than what you see here on this bloggy-blog. And, thus, this confession:

Cru, our sending organization, just published a lovely write-up about my story on their website. It touches on one of the scariest, darkest, most confusing times in my life - the few years leading up to when I was daignosed with cancer - and when I was sure that the Church, Christians, I, and most people that I loved and respected, had gotten this whole Bible thing wrong.

I am a skeptic, and prone to disbelief. But, thanks to lovely and faithful parents, I have always known Jesus loved me. I have also almost always known the right answers to any sort of spiritual or theological question. Yet, there came a time when the answers no longer made sense. Whenever I would read the Bible, I would get frustrated at the things that didn't add up anymore. I felt lost in doubt. I was a full-time missionary, someone whose entire life centered around the truth of the Bible, and I no longer trusted it.

I'll clarify. I believed God loved me, and had sent Jesus to pay the price for my sins so that I could have an eternal personal relationship with Him. I believed in the resurrection of Jesus, the impossible miracles of both the Old and New Testament, and that my identity was in Christ alone. Water into wine? No problem. Creation in 6 literal days? Why not? A worldwide flood? Gotcha. But the idea that God's entire words to man had been captured in a book, passed down in multiple languages, and ultimately canonized by a group of European men? Church men? Um, there I had a problem.

A really big problem. Cru's article goes into how God solved that problem for me, how God deigned to hear my cries for understanding and answer by relieving my doubt, but I want to explain a little more how this time affected me, and where I am now.

First, I took this problem very seriously. As a professing Christian, I was very wary of the hypocrisy in my life. Personally, I was also grieving. Losing the Bible as the source of truth felt like losing a trusted friend. I ached to have my friend back. I was lonely. I didn't know whom to talk to. Everyone I knew already knew exactly where they stood on this issue, and I already knew exactly what their "answers" were. (I have a very expensive degree in Biblical Studies). I also had learned that Church people have the ability to make the Bible mean whatever they want.

So, I talked to God. I still knew He was there. I suspected He shared my disappointment with the church's use of the Bible to corral people into uniformity. (I too often make the mistake of believing that God is on my side of an argument.) I trusted God and I knew Him as the source of Truth and I begged Him to show me. For a long time, I felt like I was met with silence.

But, then of course, God did answer my prayer. He did relieve me of my burdens. He did restore to me the joy of my salvation.

But then what? Well, I quickly realized that after three years of not really reading the Bible, my life was devoid of it. I was spiritually ready to accept its truth, and it had fled my mind.  At this point in time, there were a lot of hot names on the Christian best-seller list - Jesus Calling, anything Tim Keller or John Piper or Francis Chan....And I couldn't take it. I still am recovering from a season of marked distrust in the Church.

I felt like I was recovering from a disease and needed to put myself into some sort of intense therapy. I share this as my personal story, but not as anything prescriptive for doubters. First, I detoxed off all spiritual voices that weren't explicitly scripture. No Bible studies, devotionals, commentaries or blogs. I wandered aimlessly through my Bible, unaided by any sort of third-party tool or app or plan. As you might expect, this was a good first step for me, but ultimately pretty fruitless.

Then, in the beginning of 2013 (in the midst of my chemo treatments), I stumbled across Ann Voskamp's scirpture memory challenge. Now, I know Ann is a hit, but I was on my hiatus of Christian thought, and so not a follower of hers regularly. But as I read her thoughts on memorization, I knew that was my next step. I knew that I needed to gain back what had been stolen from me by unbelief - I needed the Bible living inside me.

So, I started with the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5-7. Three chapters. A lot of familiar words. I started to learn them. Precisely. And do you know what happened next? Doubt. Because it made no sense. I mean, seriously, have you read it? "Let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father" followed by, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them..." I eventually concluded that the Sermon on the Mount was some sort of Supreme Theological Irony, but that it was still God's Word, and because of that, I didn't need to understand it, but I did need to know it. And the better I knew it, the more it blazed relevant in every situation of my life.

I entered my season of gluttony on God's word. Shoving it in my mind, hoarding words, working them over in my brain again and again without analysis - only consumption. Annie and I, before every nap time, reading and hearing words into life because you're never too young and never too cyncial.

After Matthew, it was the book of Philippians. Then, a few chapters in John. Now, she and I are on Isaiah 43, and I want to stay there forever. For me, it's whole chunks of Scripture, not scattered verses. That's why, as much as I'm grateful to Ann's memorization challenge, I'm not participating in 2014's snapshot journey through John (although I might just print out those beautiful memory cards for my fridge). My goals will be a minimum of a chapter, but hopefully strain for the whole book. (Except Isaiah. With four kids and a baseball-sized chunk of my brain missing, I cannot manage the book of Isaiah.)

I haven't just gotten over my doubts; I've fallen in love with these words. I don't understand Isaiah 43 at all, but it is beautiful and it is alive and it's living in my heart and I can't speak it without worship. Frankly, I don't care what it means - I just know it's God's.

And God gave it to me. And I'm never letting it go again.

Now it's out there. So, feel free to ask me about it. I've learned enough to know that I don't have the answers to make a doubter believe. For me, it wasn't ever about information - it was about desperation and a perfectly-timed graceful answer. Doubt is scary and lonely, but
when you pass through the waters, God will be with you;
and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.


  1. Oh Susie, I can't tell you how many different places in my life this writing touched.

    Those dark nights shortly after my brother died when I heard a whispering, "There is no life after death; this is all there is."

    The college professor who encouraged us to treat some parts of scripture as more reliable than others.

    Scripture I have wept over because it was too hard.

    The pastor my mom and dad are currently wrestling with who is teaching that large parts of the bible can't be trusted because they were just written by men.

    Times in in college when I prayed for a hunger to read the bible because it seemed dull and boring.

    And that first part of Isaiah 43 was a life preserver to me during some desperately sad times.

    I am going to resist the temptation to recommend some "GREAT STUFF" that has helped me with loving the bible better. God be with you in your journey.

  2. Thank you for sharing your beautiful struggle with us! God is so good, even when we forget!
    Kari (Moon) Lines