To channel Dr. Murray Haar, I’ve been wrestling recently.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of taking a class with him, Dr. Haar places a strong emphasis on the idea of our relationship with God as one in which we wrestle, an act that he calls both conflict-filled and intimate. And there’s truth in that.
Recently, I’ve been wrestling à la Thomas. Yes, doubting Thomas. That’s the one. I’ve been wrestling with the rather frightening discovery that, from what I can tell, our religions are based heavily on speculation.
Lutherans, for instance, take many of their traditions and beliefs from the teachings of Martin Luther (shocker) and the writings of Paul (who is, himself, speculating on the teachings of Jesus). We don’t like to call it speculation, though. We prefer to call it “interpretation,” and to be fair, it is. The observations of Luther especially are based on the scriptural authority of the Bible.
Which is actually half interpretation itself.
It’s not the most comforting idea, is it? It’s not a particularly pleasant thing to think about. And it’s left me asking myself why the idea of interpretation bothers me. It’s not like I’m a math major, after all. As an English student, everything I do is based on interpretation. Ever written an explication? You understand.
Dr. Haar has provided another nugget of wisdom for us to consider as we wonder about these things. He says that when we argue about religion, or even just think about what our own faith means, we are searching for what the truth is.
We have these arguments and these doubts because people are scared that maybe they haven’t discovered the truth, after all.
Feel free to take a scream break here.
How do we decide what the truth is, then? How do we decide what to believe? If my beliefs are based on less-than-fact, how do I decide what theory is the one closest to the truth?
I was raised Lutheran, but suddenly, it didn’t seem enough anymore to believe in something because, well, because I always had. Like everyone else in the history of organized religion, I wanted to find the truth.
It would be easiest here to attempt to custom-order a religion, to pick and choose what I like and to ignore the things I don’t. Except that’s not satisfying for me. I don’t want to base my beliefs on what I like.
Just because I like it doesn’t make it the truth. And, to be honest, that feels a little like plugging my ears and yelling, “LA LA LA LA” as I move through life and attempt to encounter as little difficulty as possible. From what I do know about God, He isn’t made-to-order.
I’m a journalist, so I love questions. But, because I‘m a journalist, I love questions with answers. And I was about fed up with unanswerable questions at this point. So I did what any good journalist would do: I went looking for a source. And I found one in a midnight conversation with my brother’s fiancée, a seminary student in Chicago.
So I asked a question I knew I could get a definitive answer to: how did you, personally, decide what you believe?
“Every time I learn about what it means to be a Lutheran, it rings true to me,” she said.
For her, these topics included things like openness, human dignity and the way Lutherans treat mission work.
And for me, it means grace. It means an unmatchable love and a dedication to seeking God. And it means that I can no longer separate my heart and my head. The doubts and the questions will never go away, but I know that they are cerebral, not spiritual, because I knew what she said to be true. While my head was doing its own thing, my heart was never doubting.
So yes. Maybe some of what I believe has been influenced by the traditions with which I was raised. And maybe a lot of what I believe is in an attempt to answer a question that can never fully be answered by humankind. And maybe what I believe doesn’t always make sense. Does that make it any less true?
I’ll let you wrestle with that.
Sarah Kocher is a sophomore English and journalism major from Lincoln, Neb. She enjoys sidewalk chalk and muffins with craisins in them.