Painful Growth

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’sstages 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.
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  • have some questions.TReid

  • Hey James, as one still in that process of growing and figuring things out, it certainly is not an easy ride. I remember reading in some Christian novel the idea that if you doubt the first chapters of Genesis you will eventually doubt John 3:16. I think it is these slippery-slope type arguments that get people reacting so strongly about inerrancy. They worry that even a little crack in the armour will eventually lead to a loss of faith, so I think it is up to Christian academics to show how scholarship can inform faith.

  • On the one hand, it may well be the case that some will find themselves doubting everything. On the other hand, doubting everything doesn’t have to be the last stop on the journey, any more than believing everything and ignoring any evidence that might raise awkward questions.Many find the slope slippery. What they sometimes ignore or neglect to mention is that there is an upward slope on the other side, leading up to a peak higher than the one you slid down from. And of course, there are plenty stable flatlands on both sides of the valley where one can stay and rest or even make a home for oneself. Not everyone has to cross the valley, and not everyone has to climb to the highest peak.

  • Anonymous

    I agree Mike. I appears that the slippery slope arguments are a big part of the problem. That is why I am doubting everything from the ground up. James, I did not mean to spell our name wrong. It was late when I wrote and it was a cognitive malfunction. I do hope you will accept my apologies.TReid

  • Don’t worry, I wasn’t offended – just puzzled! 🙂

  • Jay

    Mike -I’ve heard the same idea before, phrases as “if we think that one part of the Bible is wrong, how can we believe any of it?” What puzzles me, though, is that the same people that might utter a phrase like this have probably already decided that some things in the Bible no longer apply – like restrictions on women braiding their hair, so they’ve already tacitly abandoned a strictly inerrantist position. I don’t believe anyone does themselves a favor by ignoring or dismissing evidence that doesn’t favor their personal beliefs. That practice doesn’t make the evidence go away, and simply fosters a shallow understanding of their faith.

  • My teenage cousin asked me once… "If God made Adam & Eve, and from them, came Abel and Cain, and all the others… who is to say what color their skin was? If it was black, where the white people come from ? if it was white, where the black people come from? If one was black and the other white, that would explain the naturally tan people… but who explains the Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Chinese people? Their eyes are very different!" If this is only one family tree getting bigger and bigger… how did we end up with so many languages, how is that possible???" His questions opened up other questions, and he did not stop there where I stopped… I wish I had a simple answer for him, but I had to give him the secular "mystery of the holy trinity" sort of thing that the priests always said to me when I was younger and I dared to ask such things… then as if I had sinned with the questions, they had sent me away to pray… I am glad my young cousin asked me instead of a priest… but he should really ask a priest… a pastor or whatever… what is your opinion about these questions!?

  • I think the answer to your question is that your cousing should be given some reliable scientific sources to read about human evolution, genetic variation, and other factors that provide an explanation for the variations we see among human beings. There is no need to appeal to mystery when it comes to this particular topic. We have an explanation.