Imagine traveling into space and witnessing the blinding intensity of the sun’s light unmediated by our atmosphere, or feeling the heat in what you assumed was the cold darkness of space. C.S. Lewis describes this experience in his novel Out of the Silent Planet when the main character Ransom is kidnapped and forced into a cosmic journey. I had always imagined space as cold, dark, and empty, but when Lewis described the abundance of heat and light, I instantly could not imagine how I had ever thought of it differently. Space only appears dark when there are no objects to reflect the sun’s light. Looking back it seems strange to have changed my mind so drastically because of a science fiction novel.
That’s a funny thing about life, we never know when something’s going to change us. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek describes how jarring these changes can be in our lives by relating them to moments in a movie or play, moments when the illusion of the performance is broken. He goes on to distinguish between when these breaks occur intentionally, as when actors address the audience, and when they happen unintentionally. The example he gives for an unintentional break is that sometimes when a play had a scene in a butcher shop, an old theatre practice would be to kill a live chicken on stage in an attempt to add authenticity. This technique, however, had the exact opposite result of the desired effect. The death of the chicken would break the illusion of the play rather than adding to it.
Having grown up in church and then working in ministry for several years I had the opportunity to see several dramatic changes in people’s lives. Sometimes these changes strengthened people’s beliefs and sometimes they lost their faith. Leaders in the church, myself included, would often recommend reading the bible as a way to strengthen faith, but this practice would often have a result similar to that of “killing the chicken.” People frequently come across graphic or shocking passages of scripture and if they’re not prepared for them they can create a dramatic change in their view of the bible. Sometimes people dismiss the difficult questions that result from those bizarre passages, but sometimes the questions simply can’t be avoided.
The initial thoughts and feelings we have when confronted with these questions can be overwhelming. People often feel guilt and shame for doubting some of their deeply held beliefs, but there’s a wonderful story in the bible that I think can help us with these situations. In 2 Samuel 16 there’s a man from the clan of Saul who is cursing and throwing rocks at king David. One of the king’s advisors asks if he can go and cut this man’s head off and I love David’s response. He says leave him alone, the Lord has called him to curse me, my own son is trying to kill me, maybe God will see my mercy and restore his blessings to me. It reminds me of a line from Rudyard Kipling’s beautiful poem If, it says, “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch…”
David hasn’t just walked with kings but he is the king and has still not lost the common touch! When we think of dramatic changes in the scriptures we often think of situations like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, but those stories tend to revolve around people who experience changes that bring them closer to God. It takes humility like king David to face our doubts and fears head on. I recently saw a quote from Brian Zahnd that perfectly embodied this frame of mind, “I do my best to nurture my grandchildren in the rich soil of historic Christian faith, which in it’s healthiest forms allows mystery and nuance, candid questions and honest doubt. Christianity has suffered more casualties from faux faith than from honest doubt.”