Many appear to believe that faith in Jesus calls us to deny our feelings.
“Don’t worry,” the meme reads. “Here’s a Bible verse saying God will protect you.” But you know what? I’m still anxious.
“Don’t be afraid,” writes another, “and here’s a tweet that says faith conquers fear.” Unfortunately, I’m still scared.
“It’s all going to be OK,” another says, “because… all things work together for good,” or “I know the plans I have for you,” or simply “Jesus.” But the CDC reports things are expected to get worse before they get better. And I know more than a few people in the “vulnerable populations.” I need a little more information to understand your declaration of okay-ness.
That’s not how this works
The evidence, both in my life and scripture, doesn’t support these conclusions. The entire book of Job, for example, is about the unfairness of life, how bad things happen to good people. And the “answer” Job gets is far from satisfying.
Jesus addresses this issue, too.
“Who sinned,” the disciples ask, “this man or his parents?” Jesus tells them that’s not how this works. He tells a story about rain and sunshine falling on both the just and unjust. He even warns his followers, “In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.”
He never says, “Don’t feel what you’re feeling.”
Faith is not the opposite of fear, worry, doubt, loneliness, anger or any other “negative” emotion you may be experiencing. God doesn’t expect Christians to put on a happy face and be the shiny, happy people R.E.M sings about.
Faith for the real world
You know the quote from Karl Marx—the famous one about religion being the opiate of the people? My Facebook feed appears to be proving his point.
Faith is presented as a way to appease emotions we don’t like. We are asked to deny how we feel and the reality of our situation because we have faith.
It’s as if we see faith as a drug to dull the pain, a Band Aid to cover a wound, a coat of paint to hide the mold. None of which do anything to actually make things better.
That, however, is neither the religion of the Christian or Hebrew Scriptures. The faith passed on to us knows the world is a dark, dangerous, broken, sometimes frightening place. Yet, in the midst of it, we dare to say God is present.
That’s the message of the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas. Bono, lead singer of U2 put it this way,
The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw…a child…I just thought ‘Wow!’ Just the poetry…Unknowable love, unknowable power describes itself as the most vulnerable.
That vulnerable God, is who we remember during Holy Week—hanging on a cross, willing to die and in the person of Jesus asking the question you and I have asked, “God, why have you left me?”
So, I take no comfort in the memes that ask me to deny my feelings because of my faith. The out-of-context Bible verses of encouragement, offer me no solace. The (problematic) theology of a God who won’t let bad things happen to the faithful, does nothing for me.
Instead, I believe in a God who is more comfortable with my emotions than I am—even the so-called “negative” ones. A God who isn’t telling me to “buck up” and have more faith, but a God born in skubalon and straw to meet me in mine.
These days, I’m drawn to the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the peacemakers and the persecuted.
Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t mourn.” Rather he says, “Blessed are they who mourn.” He doesn’t tell the people who are hungry that it’s going to be OK. He feeds them. He doesn’t ask Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, or anyone else, to get their skubalon together. He meets them in it. He was born there.
So let’s stop treating our faith as some palliative elixir to wipe away our feelings. Let us instead proclaim in word and in deed that God is with us—even when we’re afraid, worried, lonely, angry, or whatever else we’re feeling. God is with us, even when things might not be OK.