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O Me of Little Faith

2010 July 9
by Mike

They sit in every congregation. They listen to all the confident language. They squirm. And they hide.

They (we) are those who love God, who believe (most of the time) in the story of Jesus, but who struggle with doubt. And they listen to those who narrate God’s divine moments almost as if it’s a foreign language. In some ways, that confident play-by-play makes them feel second class. “What’s wrong with me?”
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I’m reading Jason Boyett’s O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling, and I’m welcoming it as a gift for all those doubters.

After describing his embarrassment as a twelve year old at how little he could lift in gym (just the barbell with no weights!), he writes:

“Now a couple of decades later, I wonder if that weakness transferred from the outside to the inside. Some days, when it comes to faith, I can’t bench press much more than the bar. I’m spiritually scrawny. I don’t measure up to the power-lifters in the weight room.

“When you live and work within the American Christian subculture — especially the less liturgical, more conservative, evangelical, megachurch sub-subculture — you hear a lot of people talking casually about the intimacy of their relationship with God. The way they tell it, they get frequent, distinct impressions from the Holy Spirit. They get personal promptings from Jesus. They get very specific answers to prayer and detailed directions about even the most trivial aspects of their lives.

“I’ve heard someone tell a friend, ‘I woke up in the middle of the night and thought of you, and it was definitely the Holy Spirit wanting me to pray for you right then and there.’ I’ve overheard a middle-aged woman say, ‘It was totally a God thing that my flight got cancelled, because I got to share my faith with the lady next to me. Talk about a divine appointment!’

“I’ve heard musicians credit God with having written their song lyrics. I’ve heard businessmen give God credit for finally coming through with the promotions for which they’d been praying. I know a few people who don’t hesitate to reveal that God told them to quit their jobs and go into full-time ministry.

“One Sunday I overheard someone give this breathless recap of a worship service: ‘The Lord totally showed up in church this morning. When we got to that key change in “Breathe,” you just knew God was moving.’

“You’ve heard this kind of talk too, maybe coming out of your own mouth. Please understand me: I’m not telling you — or them — to stop. I’m pretty sure most of those kinds of statements express a sincere and real faith in a personal God who is intimately involved in our lives. That people talk this way is not what bothers me.

“The problem is that I can’t describe my own faith that way. It doesn’t feel right. It makes me uncomfortable. When I’ma round people who do talk that way, it’s seventh grade all over again.”

At this point, I pause to remember Randy Harris saying, “I’m not upset at them. I’m just upset that I can’t get in on any of that.” Boyett is trying to be generous, but it’s clear that this whole “I’m plotting God’s course” language feels unattainable and foreign.

“But the God-whispering-in-my-ear thing doesn’t seem to happen for me. If I hear my conscience, I’m pretty sure that’s because I’m familiar enough with the teachings of Jesus that I feel guilty when I’ve failed in some way. If I wake up in the night, I’m more likely to believe it’s because my dog made a noise than to assume God wants me to pray for someone. (And why does God need me to pray for something so badly that he has to wake me up, anyway? Can’t he just wait until morning? Or, you know, answer the prayer without me? Am I a soulless twit to even ask?)
O Me
“If my flight gets canceled, perhaps it’s just the result of a backlog of delayed flights thanks to a major storm somewhere. I’m seriously hesitant to assume a master evangelistic plan behind flight delays, but many well-meaning Christians really do place so much value on a single soul that they have no problem believing that God whipped up a thunderstorm over the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, piled stress on airline employees, and inconvenienced hundreds of travelers for the purpose of engineering a conversation of eternal significance. My honest assessment of most ‘divine appointment’ language is that it is self-centered. Especially if your divinely appointed evangelism is at the expense of a bunch of other people who just want to get home in time to tuck in their kids. (Right: I’m a soulless twit.)”

But there’s more in this rant:

“If I feel an optimistic swell of ‘the Spirit’ during a specific song at church, maybe it’s just that music has a powerful pull on my emotion — a well-timed minor 7th tends to have that effect. Or maybe it’s the sound of hundreds of voices singing in unison that gives me chills. Is there any chance that I’ve been conditioned, in the subtle Pavlovian anticipation of what happens at church, to view this feeling as the presence of God — as God ‘showing up’? (Anyway, isn’t God omnipresent? Can an omnipresent deity ever really ‘show up’ anywhere?)”

Ok, enough.

If this quote is making you angry, then the book probably isn’t for you.

But if you’re smiling, nodding, and feeling like someone has recorded your most secret thoughts . . . if you have grown weary with play-by-play narrations of God’s healings and promptings and with language of “God put it on my heart” and “God showed up” . . . well, you might want to check it out.

56 Responses leave one →
  1. July 15, 2010

    I’m honestly trying to understand the position:
    Was the exodus, the wilderness, the trek into and battle to obtain the Promised Land (all of which included massive amounts of death and destruction) just attributed to God by the Jews and had nothing to do with God’s promise to Abraham? God said, “you are my chosen ones and I will give you this land” but was against the way they obtained it? Instead, did not God punish them for being merciful to those (“the other”) whom He ordered to be destroyed?

    I’m with you completely about Jesus, but the immanent reality of Jesus does not give us a complete picture of the transcendent God. To claim to know God completely (beyond what has been revealed in Scripture and in Jesus) is to claim more than we have ability.

    Experiment with this: Read Isaiah 6 (it’s just 13 verses), then read John 12:37-41. In brief, God sends Isaiah with a message of judicial hardening and impending destruction. John then reveals to us that when Isaiah looked up (Isaiah 6:1) that the glory He saw was Jesus. So then, Isaiah saw Jesus as God’s glory, and the message from God was one of judicial hardening and impending destruction. You are correct, Jesus is the lens. The question is, can we really handle that?

    In the words of Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

    I’m only begging a perspective that makes God much bigger and mysterious than perhaps we make Him out to be (or even, perhaps, want Him to be).

    I appreciate your grace in dialogue.

    Grace to you –

  2. Ryan Porche permalink
    July 16, 2010

    I like the quote, Mike. I resonate with it.

  3. DoOrDoNot permalink
    July 16, 2010

    My reaction to the OT is much the same as yours. I agree with Jason that some of scripture is more human than divine. In terms of understanding OT scripture and God’s character, there was a conference hosted by Notre Dame’s Philosophy of Religion Dept. and there is video available for every paper presented. I briefly summarized one video and linked to it at my blog. I recently began my blog b/c I needed a place to express the struggle of my faith journey. I’m glad to have found this thread.

    Jr, you certainly bring up important points about about the connectedness of the OT and NT texts. I think Christians as a whole are quite good at picking and choosing the verses they want to follow and ignoring the rest. I know I am guilty. The verses you brought up in Isaiah and John are a good example of the connectedness. However, being one who does not hold to an inerrant view of scripture, I come to the text asking different questions perhaps. For example, Isaiah, of course, never explicitly mentions Jesus by name. So, is the verse in John merely a midrashic interpretation of Isaiah by a believer in Jesus? I’m no Biblical scholar, so I really don’t know.

  4. July 19, 2010

    I could have written it….I am about to order it!

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