June 6, 2006
Is Jesus the Answer or the Question?: rediscovering the role of mystery in our faith
Recent posts on Ur have focused on the nature of Emergent - is it liberal Christianity recast for a new generation, or simply a forum of conversation for those looking for a better understanding of their faith? Critics have accused Emergent's better known participants, Tony Jones and Brian McLaren, of being evasive with answers to pointed doctrinal questions. In response, Jones and McLaren have pointed to the importance of dialogue and thoughtful questions over definitive answers.
Ed Gungor's new book, Religiously Transmitted Diseases (Nelson Ignite, 2006), equates definitive answers with "dead religion." In this excerpt from the book, Gungor affirms the life-giving role of mystery within our faith.
I think Christianity is supposed to be the unreligion. That's because the strictness and predictability of religion causes simple, pure faith to become diseased. If not stopped, religion can even kill living faith. And dead things just aren't very interesting. Case in point?
I was eleven years old the first time I dissected anything. I was on a scouting trip. Armed with flashlights, a few of us wandered into the woods after dark to explore. Joe was the first to spot him. He was a pretty good-sized frog. And he was quick. Flashlights and size 8 feet darted every which way as we scrambled to grab him. Something in us boys wanted to know what was inside that frog, what made that living thing alive.
"Don't kill it!" Joe cried. "Take him alive."
I'm sure that frog had no idea he was going to stumble into the midst of a gaggle of earth giants that night, and he did his best to flee, but to no avail. I got my hand around him as he tried to hop between my feet. Then we each whipped out our scout-issue jack-knives and begged to be the surgeon.
In a few moments the frog lay dead, his inner secrets uncovered. But to my surprise we didn't gain any greater understanding of Froggie when we opened him up. We had lost something. The interest that had charged the air during the hunt completely disappeared when he lay open and lifeless before us. Dead things aren't nearly as attention-grabbing as things that are alive. Only in the presence of life does mystery exist.
My quest to dissect continues to this day. It is as though I am uncomfortable with wonder. I find something full of life and, instead of enjoying the mystery of it, I want to dissect it, to figure out the how and why. But dissecting life results in death. And once death comes, the mystery disappears.
Religion, too, is all about dissecting. It is the nemesis of mystery.
But religion does have its attraction. It is so neat, so organized, so repetitive, so habitual, and oh-so-predictable. It makes God look more like a clock than a person ? ticking and tocking in a perfectly ordered way. Life isn't nearly so conventional. It is messy and full of surprises. Repetitious? Yes, but certainly not predictable.
I have conducted more funerals this year than in recent memory. We often say that dead people "rest in peace." I think we are fooled by the way they just lie there. No complaining. No whining. Just nice and stiff and orderly ? religious, really. That's because religion is antilife in some ways. It demands order and fixation, just as rigor mortis demands of the dead.
Religion may be attractive on one level, but it always strives to remove all the mystery that congests life. It has answers for everything, because questions are way too untidy. "Jesus is the answer." Right? But what if Jesus isn't the answer? What if He is the question?