Sometimes when I find myself fading out during small group discussion, I look around the room and observe the people around me. It hasn’t been a full year since I started attending this church, and I’m just now starting to remember people’s names. Talks about theology tend to go from zero to sixty in terms of getting to know someone, though, and in the process of learning the basics – what they do for a living, where they’re from – I’ve also picked up a few things that give me pause before accepting an invitation to hang out outside of church.
In my mind, I seem to have separated people into three categories. The first is Safe Christians: a category reserved for those whom I deem “safe” to be honest with about my doubts and questions. They are people I trust will listen and show empathy, rather than judge me and condemn me with, “A true Christian would never feel that way.”
Then there are Neutral Christians: people whose theology I don’t always agree with (which is fine), and sometimes they say things during stressful situations that aren’t very helpful (“God won’t give you more than you can handle”; “Everything happens for a reason”), but I know them well enough to know their intentions are pure. People in this group may not end up being my best friends, but can still be great conversation buddies.
And finally, the Unsafe Christians: a category that has yet to be filled, though I have some concerns. Last week, when discussing evidence of God’s existence, someone next to me quipped that atheists “reject” the evidence of God because, apparently, they lack intelligence.
That’s new to me: I’ve heard “in rebellion” as the most common excuse, but lack of intelligence?
I mean, come on. We’re a people who turn for guidance to a book with talking snakes…
I realize these categories stem from lingering paranoia and anxiety from past painful church experiences. I can recall plenty of times when I discussed theology with people who divided Christians into On Fire and Lukewarm categories, and I no longer believe that anyone fits neatly in either one.
In many ways, my relationship with Jesus is a lot like the one I have with my husband. I don’t fully understand either man, and I doubt I’m really supposed to. In a marital relationship, I’ve signed a contract and made public vows of commitment. I keep these vows even if I don’t feel in love all the time. The relationship can be strained, certainly, but the contract – the covenant – remains. I can no easily walk away from Jesus for being difficult any more than I can walk away from a husband who leaves dirty clothes next to the hamper, rarely in it, despite knowing full well how much it irritates me.
If there’s such a category as Christian Skeptic – someone who understands Jesus, but not much else – feel free to place me in that one.