In church today, I got a little teary-eyed over Pontius Pilate.
Sometimes I think I am the weirdest Christian ever. Most of the time I think I am the worst Christian ever because I don’t feel excited about God very often and I doubt a lot of things and don’t feel like I love Jesus like I should.
Instead I worry and sometimes cry about long-dead people.
Pilate didn’t want to kill Jesus. He wanted to wash his hands of the whole matter, and then he was just trying to not be killed by the Roman Emperor, and I don’t know if I would have done any different in his place. I find that heartbreaking.
And the Old Testament concerns me a little because the death toll is so high there. The people standing in rising flood waters with no higher ground, the firstborn sons of Egypt wiped out in one night, and all those nations God sends the Israelites to destroy.
People say the Psalms give us words to pray but what about Psalm 137, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against rocks?”
You can say all those people were corrupt, but that doesn’t feel like justification to me. If God is merciful and unchanging, shouldn’t he be merciful through all of time? If he loves all the nations now, shouldn’t he have loved them back then?
And I worry about people who have only ever seen the gospel twisted in terrible ways–crusaders in the Middle Ages who thought it was God’s will for them to slaughter Muslims and the Muslims who only ever saw Christianity as these people who wanted them dead.
I worry about people like Vincent Van Gogh, who once wanted to be a minister and then a painter in God’s service, who once said
One cannot do better than hold onto the thought of God through everything, under all circumstances, at all places, at all times, and try to acquire more knowledge about Him, which one can do from the Bible as well as from all other things. It is good to continue believing that everything is more miraculous than one can comprehend, for this is truth; it is good to remain sensitive and humble and tender of heart . . . . For what can one learn that is better than what God has given by nature to every human soul—which is living and loving, hoping, and believing, in the depth of every soul, unless it is wantonly destroyed?
but later cut ties with religion because of his belief in the hypocrisy of those around him. And later still, he lived a life of depression that most likely ended in his own suicide.
What are we supposed to do with this? It’s one thing to say that people have twisted God’s word through the ages but when the bible itself is condoning the slaughter of children–what do we do?
I sometimes feel like I can’t be shocked and upset by parts of the bible and still believe in God’s goodness. I feel like I’m just partitioning off parts of the bible that are scary and terrible and pretending they don’t bother me. And I feel like I was a reasonable person I should have to choose between pretending ignorance or giving up the faith completely.
But maybe not.
Sometimes I wonder what faith really is. I used to think it meant knowing something without a doubt, and if I really had faith I wouldn’t ever question parts of the bible or God’s goodness.
Hebrews says that faith is “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The technical wording changes a bit through different versions. Sometimes it’s the confidence of things hoped for or the substance of things hoped for. But the hope part never goes away. It’s something I’ve realized is mentioned in the bible more and more recently. Hope.
I don’t think faith and doubt are necessarily at odds with each other. Maybe if we were perfect they would be. But when Jesus rose from the dead and Thomas didn’t believe it, Jesus never rebuked. He came and let Thomas put his finger in the hole in his side. He let him come and touch him to have the proof he needed. Maybe God doesn’t mind questions if we’re willing to let him answer.
I’m sure some questions won’t ever be answered in this life, and that seems kind of unsatisfying. I will probably continuing crying about ancient dead people at times. But at the same time, I’m going to keep hoping. Hoping that God is good. That he’s loving. That he’s merciful and has died on the cross to pursue every one of us in all times.
If anyone has anything enlightening to say on this subject, please do. It’s something I’m still struggling through.