And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
—Mark 9:24 (KJV)
As we mentioned recently on the podcast, I started a new job a little under a month ago. And as often happens to me in new situations, that newness brought a fair bit of anxiety with it. One day in particular felt especially bad after a bunch of random things went wrong (in retrospect, most of them completely out of my control) and had me seriously questioning whether I should have made the transition at all. The next day, I casually asked my new boss if I was doing okay, and the swiftness and enthusiasm of his assurance that I was was a huge relief.
I suffer from “Impostor Syndrome,” a fairly common mental/emotional problem that isn’t an actual mental illness, but nonetheless manages to keep me up at night on occasion. (For those unfamiliar with it, this page veers close to being “too true to be funny.”) My particular flavor of it comes with a little extra wariness of authority figures and a strong inclination to disavow my expertise on virtually anything. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ll probably come to notice that I pepper both my writing and speech with a lot of qualifiers. Some of this is a desire to be clear in my communication, but oftentimes the message I’m trying to be clear about is “I don’t claim to know more than I do, please don’t be angry with me.” It has led to feeling intimidated by exceptionally kind, decent people like some of the folks we’re participating in Game to Grow with – and that is completely absurd. But this is a normal part of my life. I manage it, I try to leaven it with self-awareness, I get encouragement from good friends, and I try to work around it. And credit where credit is due – during my latest and most intense bout with impostor syndrome, Grant was the one with the fastest and most valuable advice for me. I never really considered it in a theological context.
At least, I didn’t until a couple of my friends on Facebook shared an article called The Faceless White Giant that dealt with, among other things, the writing of none other than Jack Chick of Dark Dungeons fame. That, combined with me catching up on my COR sermon listening, particularly the one from April 17, and the concept of Christ as a colander, resulted in something that may or may not have actually been an epiphany, but it sure felt like one.
At times in my life, I have done what can be described as “clinging to my faith with bloody fingernails.” My faith is not something I want to give up, but even as a practicing Christian, sometimes I can find it hard to believe. Love and forgiveness for me – knowing what I’ve done in my life and just how it has hurt people – seems a little “out there.” (Although the concept of Hell can be all too easy to accept in my darker moments, in those same moments, the very concept of Heaven can seem absurd.) At least some of the “Angry God Theology” out there (and certainly my own struggles with it) is at least partially a form of spiritual impostor syndrome. Just as I sometimes find it hard to believe that my boss at work is satisfied with or even willing to tolerate my performance, I can run into a similar trap with God. It is hard to imagine (for me) a God who is willing to forgive and embrace, but in Jesus’s character, that’s exactly what we see.
Which is, somewhat ironically, one of the things that enables me to hold onto my faith. The God I believe in is every bit as alien and unknowable in His nature as some of the creations of people like H.P. Lovecraft (stay with me!) – it is so easy for us as humans to envision cosmic forces as being malevolent or callously indifferent to us. God as He is described in scripture is vast and cosmic beyond our ability to perceive or conceptualize. When Moses asked the burning bush who was sending him, God’s reply was to tell them that “I AM” was. One interpretation of that statement is “I am existence itself.” Not everything, not the universe, but the very concept of existence. Talk about cosmic and incomprehensible.
And yet the essential nature of this incomprehensibly vast, powerful being is one of tender love and compassion for the lowly and the broken. We as humans tend to imagine powerful and vast things as nasty and dangerous. Lovecraft and his ilk are popular in part because even though what they write about is awful and terrifying, it feels like it’s probably accurate on some level. The idea that the primal cosmic force out there not only cares about us, but is willing to sacrifice so deeply to show it – that strains the limits of believability. It seems far-fetched, too good to be true. And the fact that it’s so hard to believe is one of many things that convinces me that it’s worth believing. It is not something we humans would come up with – it is outside of our frame of reference.
This will not, I’m sure, convince anyone who has lost their faith to take it up again, and I’m even more certain that it won’t convince those who never had it in the first place to develop it now. But if you’ve struggled to hang onto a faith that can be hard to grasp at times like I have, and particularly if your own guilt has been making your grip falter, it’s my sincere hope that this gives you another handle. We need to accept the good, despite how unlikely it seems.
Truth, as they say, can be stranger than fiction.