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I first encountered Shawn Smucker when he interviewed me around the time O Me of Little Faith released. He was a fellow writer and asked insightful questions and was acquainted with my friend Bryan Allain. Besides that interview, Shawn captured my attention because he and his family gave up TV for a year, something he’s written about on his excellent blog. His last name also intrigued me because I’m a big fan of fruit spreads, but I’m not sure he’s related to those Smuckers. Maybe he can answer that for us.
Anyway, Shawn is the co-author of Think No Evil (an account of the Amish schoolhouse shooting) and Twist of Faith, the story of Anne Beiler (who founded Auntie Anne’s pretzels). He’s also the founder and organizer of the Fireside Writers’ Conference in Gap, Pennsylvania. When he sent this post to me, I knew it was good because the first paragraph quotes one of my absolute favorite novels of all time.
“Gus, I’m a philosopher, not an evangelist! …To say ‘God does it’ and leave it at that is to abandon the search before it’s begun. To really want the truth, to long for it desperately, is to reject every formulation and theory and dogma and opinion right up to the time you see and touch and unite with the Being or Thing itself! Nobody ever discovers truth by barfing up Sunday-school answers to questions…but where were we?”
— The River Why, David James Duncan
* * * * *
Whether or not your world view allows room for a god, strap on your imagination for a moment. Imagine there is a god, and imagine this god decides to visit earth. But he’s coming undercover, as a human.
Seems to me that it would be difficult for this god-man to keep his identity a secret, but he somehow manages to do that for about thirty years. Think Smallville plus an other-wordly witness protection program.
* * * * *
There is something in me that has always wanted to believe in the existence of god, and there is something in me that has always wanted to call the other something’s bluff.
Both somethings hold pretty strong hands, and as I get older they each seem to throw more and more chips on to the table.
* * * * *
I love the book of John in the New Testament. Especially the beginning. The god-man is about to come out of the closet as god — after three decades of silence. A few random fisherman hear rumors about him, so they call out to god-man as he’s walking past.
“Who are you?”
A logical question. They want the answer straight from him. He turns. This would be a beautiful time for an insightful piece of wisdom about who he is. A direct answer would be great. But most Christians, when asked, wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing god-man says in the book of John, because the first thing god-man says is actually a question.
Christians, mostly, don’t like questions.
But the god-man turns to these fisherman and shouts back this question.
“What do you seek?”
* * * * *
Love and hate.
Good and evil.
Faith and doubt.
Our modern predisposition demands that we identify the polar opposites. We categorize our knowledge, we explain away the beauty, we deaden our imagination with a scalpel and a periodic table of elements. But what if?
What if the opposite of love is not just hate, but also fear?
What if the opposite of good is not just evil, but also inaction?
What if the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty?
What if the knowledge we accumulate is not meant to provide us with assurance, but actually with new doubts which in turn lead to new, never-ending avenues of curiosity and potential discovery? In other words, not answers, but new questions.
* * * * *
“Who are you?” the fisherman asked.
“What do you seek?” he replied.
“Where do you live?” the fisherman asked.
It’s our obsession. We want to know, if there is a god, where does he live? We want to know where this god is…when the suffering we see is so intense…when the confusion we feel is so overwhelming…when the world which once held so much wonder is now so explainable.
* * * * *
So my faith in him does not lead me to a static place of epiphany and belief and knowing, but rather on a journey of following and waiting and questioning? What sort of god-man is this, who does not hand out knowledge of himself like the man on the corner handing out tracts? What sort of god-man is this, who does not answer my questions with anything but a question?
This is where my doubt has led me: not to an empty house where god-man obviously is not, but on a journey to follow him. That’s why I love my doubt — because it forever keeps me from setting up a little tent outside any given house and saying, “This is where he is.” My doubt is what forces me to keep traveling.
* * * * *
Of course there’s always the chance that when the time comes to take off my hiking shoes (and I die), nothing will be waiting for me. There’s always the possibility that the essence of me is nothing more than skin and tendons and organs and firing jolts of electricity in my brain and my heart. But I don’t follow him to prove or disprove anything. I don’t follow him because of some inherent desire to be right.
I don’t follow him because of any certainty that I will have an afterlife.
I follow god-man because he said that the kingdom of the heavens is here, among us. Around us. In us.
And I’ve seen glimpses of this kingdom: two people my age who continue living in Haiti, even though they have young children and the orphanage is nothing but a tent on top of the rubble that buried thirty of their orphans in the earthquake; in the young people of my generation, like Jason Boyett and Rachel Held Evans, who are trying to turn their backs on the prejudice of previous generations and show love to the marginalized; in a friend of mine from college, who instead of using his Harvard Masters degree to give himself a better life, has spent his most productive years developing institutions of microfinance to help the poor around the world.
To me, these are glimpses of the kingdom the god-man promised. So I keep following, I keep seeking. I keep hoping to unearth more examples of how the kingdom of the heavens is among us, hoping that I can somehow contribute to its being, and to its discovery by others.
What do you seek?
Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…
• David Dark on Sacred Questioning
• Cara Davis: A Textbook Case
• Matthew Paul Turner: Letting Them See My Doubt
• Sally Lloyd-Jones: Where Did You Put Your Faith?
• Chad Gibbs: When It Doesn’t Seem Fair
• Leeana Tankersley: The Swirling Waters
• Robert Cargill: The Skeptic in the Sanctuary
• Rachel Held Evans on Works-Based Salvation
• Winn Collier: Doubt Better
• Tyler Clark on Losing Fear, Losing Faith
• Rob Stennett on the Genesis of Doubt
• Adam Ellis on Hoping That It’s True
• Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
• Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage