7/23/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Carolyn Hyppolite ~
There was never a time when the question of God was not important in my life. As a child, I was disinclined to believe. I was appalled by the story of the testing of Abraham—God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son. I was eleven years old when I read that story and I decided that this was the kind of deity that I should stay away from.
Despite my natural skepticism, there is another part of me that has found something appealing in the Christian story. At its best, it is a story about sacrificial love and the restoration of a broken world into something whole, just and beautiful. Perhaps, all of us can find some attractiveness in such ideals.
In 2005, I had what I believed to be an encounter with the divine—a calling from God. I fell in love with Jesus. It transformed me radically. I became a zealous and conservative Christian. From that day, everything in my life had religious significance. I became obsessed with what God’s plans were for my professional life; I was only open to dating the most devout of men; I prayed constantly; I looked for His hand in everything.
Yet, all was not well in Christian paradise. For despite my love affair with God, there were always questions and problems that nagged me—matters about the world, the Bible and my personal experiences that seemed contrary with the existence of an omnipotent, loving and intervening deity. God as preached was often far different than God as experienced.
I believed that God was all-powerful and all-loving and yet, before me stood a cruel world brimming with tragedy, injustice and often, futility. And when I was honest with myself, I could see no evidence that God was acting in any way to infuse order and goodness into his creation. The cross? No, that would not do .Jesus’s rough weekend is too small when weighted against injustice and suffering he permits. He died for our sins? Is that not the least he could do?
Then there was the Bible. What was I do with all the untruths, violence, misogyny, and gross immorality? How was I suppose relate to this petty, pompous, petulant, and pitiless deity?
I would not have put it so bluntly last year. In fact, last year, I was organizing street evangelism for my Church. The flaws in the Bible and in its protagonist were facts that I tried to explain away. They were questions to ponder; doubts to be prayed over; mysteries to be left to the wisdom of God.
But there times when they was no denying that the text I claimed to be inspired by a good deity was deeply ethically challenged. For example, I used to read the Psalms every morning and one morning, as I was reading the 135th psalm, I became struck by moral myopia of the Scripture writer:
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
sing to his name, for he is gracious.
For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself,
Israel as his own possession (3-4, NRSV)
He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
both human beings and animals;
he sent signs and wonders
into your midst, O Egypt,
against Pharaoh and all his servants.
He struck down many nations
and killed mighty kings—
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
and Og, king of Bashan,
and all the kingdoms of Canaan—
and gave their land as a heritage,
a heritage to his people Israel. (8-12, NRSV)
That is not good if you happen to be an Amorite, I said to myself. I had read this psalm about once a month for several years. But that morning, I read it as if I had never read it before. I saw it for what it was—the ethnocentric war chant of a tribal people cloaking their mythic imperialist history with the robe of divine sanction. God was not good; just the God of Israel.
That was not the day I walked away. It would take me many such moments of cognitive dissonance to realize that the silent wall that I prayed before was nothing but a cold, silent wall.
My story, which I recount in my book, Still Small Voices, is one persevering as the mountain of contrary evidence threatened to drown me in cognitive dissonance.
When I would inevitably stumble upon the Bible’s falsehoods, violence, sexism and immorality, I resisted the more obvious conclusion—that it is the product of flawed, ancient, tribal peoples. Instead, I convinced myself that there was some perfectly rational explanation for all disturbing passages (or worst I occasionally denied that they were morally problematic at all), and that I would endeavor to discover said explanations. To that end, I asked all I could, read all I could, studied Latin, Biblical Greek and Hebrew, and enrolled in a Master’s in Biblical Studies Program.
However, none of this brought me any closer to any resolutions or inner peace. In fact, the more I learned about the Bible, its sources, compositions and contradictions, its textual variants and the Church that produced and promulgated it, the more difficult it became to believe.
Of course, all of this was happening as I tried to have a personal relationship with an invisible, silent and unresponsive being. Prayer proved no more effective at resolving my cognitive dissonance than study. When I asked God to help me understand these things, I heard nothing but silence. When I asked God to intervene in my personal life, he was equally absent.
This. The silent, absent God in my own life made an intellectual question—the problem of evil—a very personal one. You must not misunderstand. I live a fairly decent life. However, it did dawn on me one day that I had been both foolish and arrogant to imagine that there is a God who would listen to my relatively minor supplications when he clearly has and continues to ignore the much more dire pleas of so many billions.
But if God does not answer prayer, if he not did inspire the Bible, if this was the only life I had to live, what had I been doing with myself? I had tragically spent some of the best years of my life chasing an illusion.
I became angry; not just over my own finite wasted time but over the wasted time of all of humanity. I became angry over all the health care debate hours wasted arguing over how the invisible man in the sky wants us to use our genitals; all the brilliant minds devoted to deciphering some relevance from antiquated ancient texts; all the material resources directed towards cathedrals; and of course angry over that most precious of finite resources—time; all the wasted, finite human time.