My mom got me a worship CD a few weeks ago. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it. For one, I have trouble with worship because of all my unanswered questions, with next to no answers. I’m actually sitting here wondering if I have any answers. But the worship CD. When I’m by myself, I entertain all the dark, lonely questions of the universe and am just that—alone. However, when I sing along with this worship CD, I’m serene. I feel secure. I’m thoughtful. I stand on centuries of tradition. I experience what many experience in their cars and in their churches every time they gather. I almost enter a place of “Do my questions even matter?” It’s almost like the bliss state from the recent, horribly cut-short show “V.” But then I get out of my car. Back to my questions. Back to my doubts. Back to cursed responsibilities (my wife and I get in fights about this all the time lol). Back to…reality? Are the feelings I experience while singing or listening to that worship CD merely a response to music, an altered state of reality? The guy on the album does have a smooth, hypnotic voice. If I read the bare lyrics, I know the same experience wouldn’t be there, but is that a bad thing? Can the tension just exist there, and I just let it lie (unresolved questions and what feels like very resolved feelings)? Probably not. I like coherence. I like for things to make sense. Granted, I like my horizons to expand to where formerly disparate things can coexist with the right understanding of them, but I am not in that place for my theological/hermeneutical questions and worship.
And just what are some of my problems/questions? Here are a few, and most of them come through a Christian lens, but with philosophical and theological flavor:
- Revelation– Multiple religious traditions claim god or the gods have revealed themselves through a particular tradition. If that is the case, which one is right? They can’t all be right, right? Or can there be elements of truth in all of them, but not the whole in any? What criteria are there for teasing out revelation? Is it a book? Is it particular persons? Is it an impulse or feeling? Is it nature or reason? Is it a synthesis of many things? If there is revelation in the Bible, but the Bible isn’t inerrant, how does one determine what is or isn’t revelation without recourse to some mysterious spirit? If there were revelation, what does one do with it?
- Religious experience and God– how does one know that the god of experience is the God of the Bible? Is the god of philosophical argument the God of the Bible? Is the god of religious experience a god at all, or merely physical responses to one’s environment or mental state?
- Theology and culture– how much of Christianity is transferable to a Western context from a first century Palestinian context? Is it merely a product of its time, therefore, something to move past in foreign (gentile) contexts? Is Christianity of yore merely Judaism with Jesus as the messiah? What does that have to do with the plethora of Christianities today? Is the term “Christian” even useful in describing anything, given the amount of qualifiers the many Christian groups use to distinguish themselves?
- The (in)justice of God– this list could go on for awhile. I won’t speak for other religions’ gods though I’m sure there’s enough injustice to go around. Christianity’s god seems rather doucheish. Rather than answer Job’s questions that emerged out of his pain, he responds with an elitist monologue (Job 38-40); I mean, imagine a being superior to the Jewish god telling him to shut up with his questions after his son died on the cross) ; David had to pick a punishment on his people for his own sin (which his god made him do…), because his god said so (2 Sam 24.1-17); the unstable lord of the flood incident (Gen 6.5-8) definitely doesn’t sound like a gal who wishes all to come to repentance (2 Pet 2.9); hell as eternal punishment for a finite number of sins (see many verses here); holding people without the law accountable for some somehow “obvious” but actually oblique natural theology (Rom 1.18-20, 1 Tim 1.9); sexual immorality being the only occasion allowable for divorce by Jesus when domestic abuse and emotional scarring sure seem like good ones to me (Mat 19.9, Mk 10.11); if we take the Calvinist sounding verses at face value god creates some vessels for destruction with no chance of redemption because of his immutably capricious will (e.g., Rom 9.22); forcing a rape victim to marry her rapist (Deut 22.28-29), wrecking people’s lives (Isa 45.7, Lam 3.37-38, Amo 3.6; attention brought to these vv here), etc. I’m not being original here, I don’t think. I’m sure some of the bloggers I follow here, here, here, and here could list many more. And many Christians have probably had trouble with many of these things like I have, but like I have in my past, simply stuffed them back under a bushel to run back to the fluffy god who loves. Or maybe some have come up with legitimate answers to these questions I simply haven’t heard yet. I’m all ears in the comments section or in email (ilostmyprayerhanky at gmail dot com).
- Occam’s Razor– I started applying this pretty wildly a few years back. When I’m sick, I used to pray and take pills. Now I just take pills. When I was having trouble in my marriage, I could say myself, sin, and Satan were brewing the perfect storm; I would pray and talk with others on how to solve my problems. Then I just focused on my own problems I brought into marriage, without any reference to sin or Satan, and the problems evaporated. Yes there are still arguments, but they’re constructive and healthy. God and anything metaphysical just seem so irrelevant to my life, because when I concentrated on the concrete, results occurred that were controllable, predictable, and concrete.
- Historicity of Bible and Jesus– suffice it to say, I have trouble with their historicity. I’ll provide examples if desired.
- God’s absence– I wrote about this earlier, but I’ll mention it again. Things would be a lot clearer if god did his own speaking, rather than letting everyone else have mere opinions on what they think she means. Instead of liberal and conservative views, theist and atheist views, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, or Baha’I views, cataphatic or apophatic views, we would actually have god’s view on abortion, capitalism, Marxism, politics, essentialism, and anything we wished to ask him if she had the time. But instead the teacher leaves the kids to run unattended on the playground with complete freedom to annihilate themselves or grow morally.
- I share many of the questions listed in the comments section of one of the Evangelical blogs I follow here.
So I sing along with a worship CD and enjoy myself. Should I take that away? Is it a healthy reprieve from my questions? Or a temporary lapse in judgment? Are the good feelings associated with worship music something to maintain or to disrobe? For my own happiness, contentment, and comfort I’d rather keep the good feelings. But in this case, is my happiness, contentment, and comfort the right thing? Is the right thing, rather, going through the grief process of an old system, and then moving on with life? I invite your responses, friends, foes, and strangers alike. One thing I do believe is that I don’t have all the answers and that many people’s experiences can enrich my own if I give them a platform.
4 thoughts on “Worship and extreme doubt”
Just a quick FYI, the links you gave to other blogs don’t seem to be working. More to the point, I have a very hard time ‘worshipping,’ for many of the same reasons you listed here. There are some songs at Brentwood that I simply can’t sing. Pretty much anything that talks about praising God, worshipping God, glory, for God’s glory or name, etc., I am simply unable to voice. Funny enough, though, I have had similar experiences as you in that sometimes a worship song from my past pops into my head, and if I don’t think about the lyrics too hard, it is definitely a comforting thing to allow it to ‘wash over me’. Endorphin rush, maybe? 😉 So…Job! Believe it or not, that is one of my favorite books in the Bible, but maybe not for the reason that most people would guess. I actually kinda like it because God is depicted as such a bastard! Not only, as you pointed out, does God answer Job’s cries for justice with an arrogant, pompous deflection (I am not going to answer you directly, just look at how awesome I am), but he put Job into the place he was by making a wager with the enemy to–in a sense–prove that God is awesome enough that even a man in the greatest suffering will curse him. And then, after Job’s cries for the opportunity to defend himself–as if in court–and God deflects, God then basically settles out of court, hehe. He gives Job all of this great stuff back, even more than Job had before…it’s almost like a payoff or bribe. 🙂 The book of Job, to me, is almost like a satirical criticism of religious theodicies…I am not saying that was the original authors intent, but I think a case can be made for it to be read like that. 😉 I could probably say a lot more, but I am out of time, hehe. I will say this, though…if I worship, it isnt because I know how awesome god is, but how insufficient I am…maybe both worship and prayer to me is the cry to become something more than I am…or something. 😉
Thanks for the heads up, Travis! It looks like there were extra sets of quotes in the anchor tags of a lot of links. And what a cool read of Job! I never conceived of a satire on theodicies. Yay for smart friends! And I definitely resonate with your “praise out of insignificance/insufficiency remark.” That’s something that sometimes drives me to prayer, though, again I don’t really know what I’m doing when I do it.
Following up on the comments on worship, I always enjoyed two aspects of going to church above all others. One, a good, exegetical and expository sermon that makes me think. Not some “fire and brimstone” style that is intellectually void of thought but something that makes me want to go back and read up on other authors and study more. Two, a well oiled music team that has a good variety of songs but focus on God himself and his positive traits. I figured that was the whole point of “worship,” was to direct something to God that honored him.
I wanted to get up and walk out the first time I heard Israel Houghton at chapel. Or the time they took a U2 song that has nothing to do with God and applied it to him, expecting us to worship to it but somehow disregarding the fact that some of the lyrics would feel very awkward singing to God. Anytime I venture to a church now I try to enjoy the worship but the moment they go into these emo-laden songs that are slow and depressing I tune out. I wonder if maybe that’s part of our problem, is people spend too much time directing things inward instead of outward, so to speak. I don’t know, but I do know I too ask a lot of questions, some of the ones you mentioned.
For example, Occam’s Razor. I do the exact things you do. If I’m sick, I take some medicine, get some extra sleep, drink a glass of orange juice, take some vitamins, anything that we know will fix the issue. I don’t kneel in a closet and pray. When I was looking for a new job, particularly the one I have now, I looked for a position that fit what I wanted and needed financially and did my interviews. I didn’t pray for hours for “God’s will” I just accepted that if I did a good interview I would get a job…and that’s what happened. The only “spiritual” thing I said was “the right opportunity will open up.”
I have decided to start looking for a church here in my new town, but I’m hesitant. My desire is to meet some new people, develop some friendships that I can bounce ideas off and discuss matters that would be important to single men in their 30s. I admit I’m hoping to find a mate. But then I also ask myself if that’s the right reason to look for a church? I am most certainly not socially adept enough to go meet people in bars or clubs or anywhere else for that matter. I feel comfortable in a church setting (perhaps familiarity is the culprit). But I wonder if I’ll get there, and then one Sunday they will start with some terribly inwardly focused songs then follow up with a pitifully shallow sermon. Or I’ll try to meet some people and eventually feel comfortable enough to ask some of these questions that keep coming up…only for them to give me this look like they saw a ghost. “Wait, so you don’t pray for every little thing?” “No, I do not pray for God to answer what I should eat for lunch today.”