When I was nine years old, I raised my hand in Sunday school and asked my teacher why God would drown all those innocent animals in Noah’s flood when it wasn’t their fault that people were sinful. The look on Miss Linda’s face told me that this was not a question that little girls were supposed to ask in Sunday school….especially if they expected to win the Best Christian Attitude Award again.
The Best Christian Attitude Award was the raison d’être of my preadolescence existence. Presented annually to a boy and girl from each class at my private Christian elementary school, it was the highest accolade that a kid with severe eczema and off-brand shoes could expect to receive. So I did my best to bring it home each year, even if it meant kissing up to teachers, sharing my lunch with classmates, and tattling on the competition. I was pretty ruthless in my pursuit of Christlikeness.
I won the Best Christian Attitude four years in a row and probably would have won it again if I hadn’t transferred to a public school in eighth grade, where its existence would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. But even there I found ways to win it in theory. I witnessed to my classmates, organized See You at the Pole, and served as a student leader in youth group. After high school, I attended a Christian college, where I studied Christian apologetics, listened to Christian music, and won awards for Christian influence.
I was great at being a Christian, and everyone knew it.
…That is until I started asking questions again.
They were questions that had been floating around my mind for years, but didn’t take shape until my early twenties. They were questions like: What happens to people who have never been exposed to the gospel when they die? Does God punish them for being born at the wrong place and the wrong time? Did he predestine it? Why is there so much scientific evidence in support of an old earth and evolutionary theory? What does it mean for the Bible to be inerrant? How are we supposed to respond to passages of Scripture that seem to condone genocide and the oppression of women? Why do people refer to new cars and scholarships and kitchen appliances as “God things” when 30,000 children die every day from preventable disease? If God intervenes in order to get someone the three-bedroom-two-bathroom house of their dreams, then why doesn’t he intervene and fix that?
When I started asking these questions out loud, Christians didn’t like it.
They told me to have more faith. They told me to rely on God’s mysterious ways. They told me to stop sticking my nose where it doesn’t belong. Questions like these, they said, are questions that atheists and agnostics ask, not questions that good Christians ask. Questions like these would send me sliding down the “slippery slope” to unbelief.
It seems you don’t win any Best Christian Attitude Awards by voluntarily checking books about evolution out of the library or writing a guest post for Jon Acuff about secretly being liberal.
(http://stuffchristianslike.net/2010/07/secretly-being-liberal/) You don’t win any Best Christian Attitude Awards by admitting you don’t understand why God allows so much injustice in the world or by confessing that sometimes this frightens you. You don’t win any Best Christian Attitude Awards by being honest about your questions and doubts.
But I’m beginning to think that you gain something else.
Knowing that I’m not going to win any Best Christian Attitude Awards has freed me to be more honest with myself and with other people. As a result, my faith has grown stronger and my friendships have broadened.
My faith has grown stronger because it has been tested and proven strong enough to survive. I haven’t found answers to all of my questions, but I’ve encountered a God who is big enough to handle them and who does not condemn his children for asking. My friendships have broadened because the people who used to avoid me—atheists, agnostics, doubters, artists, gays and lesbians, democrats, men—feel more comfortable talking with me now that we both approach the conversation assuming we have something to learn.
I’m just as scared and insecure as the next person, so there are days when I wish I could get the Best Christian Attitude Award back. But something tells me I couldn’t win it if I tried.
Once you’ve told yourself the truth, it’s hard to get away with a lie.
What questions are you asking at the risk of losing the Best Christian Attitude Award in your life?
Rachel Held Evans is the author of “Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions” which released in July. She blogs at www.RachelHeldEvans.com