Growing is painful. No one who is now mature bypassed adolescence, and while we may sometimes feel nostalgia for a time when things were (or I should say seemed) simpler, most of us appreciate the broader and deeper, if more complex and less easily manageable, view of things that comes with growing up.
Today in my Sunday school class, I said a little bit about James Fowler’s “stages of faith“. Without going into detail here, the main idea is that there are discernable (if not always utterly distinct and separate) stages in our faith development just as in our emotional, psychological and even physical development. This is important, not least because it can help place our questioning about and even in some cases loss of faith in context. Just as the stage of questioning authority and at least a modicum of rebellion is a natural part of adulthood, and need not be permanently destructive if handled wisely and appropriately, so too the loss of an immature faith, or at least questioning of overly simplistic views we had when we were younger, not only need not be the end of faith, but is quite possibly the only route to take on the way to a mature faith.
Biblical studies can be a crucial factor in facilitating getting to the questioning stage from the one before it. It opens up complexities where we thought things were simple, and that’s an important role for my field to play. But surely that is not the only role for Biblical scholarship that is in service to or dialogue with the church. And often it seems like we need to offer more assistance to those who have gotten through to the other side of the questioning stage and are ready for their second naiveté. And there are even greater questions for those of us, whether involved in education in general or in a church, who are in a situation that ought to be facilitating the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and psychological development and progress of a variety of individuals who will inevitably be at varied stages in their “walks”.
Growth is painful, and it is not surprising that, given the change to do so, many of us resist doubt and questioning, since it will indeed lead to at least discomfort and quite possibly the trauma the mystics referred to as the dark night of the soul. But the only way to reach maturity is through the tunnel. And although it isn’t visible from this side, and sometimes isn’t visible for a while after entering, the mature – whether emotionally and spiritually – can tell you this: not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, but life is better on the far side of the tunnel. Grown up life, and grown up spirituality, are certainly harder and more challenging that their kindergarten counterparts. But they are also more rewarding.