Being a graduate student of theology means I’ve been encountering questions that directly challenge the solid faith I’ve come to grow into over the years.
In my studies I’ve learned that the Church has changed and developed drastically over time, even in just the last century. What we consider to be a long-standing tradition may not have always been. Popes used to be married. Bishops’ roles today are far different than they were in the early Church. The two-natured fullness of Jesus’ humanity and divinity was not settled until 451.
Then there are the questions of Christology, which disturb me even more. The Jesus of history is not necessarily the Jesus of faith. Many of his sayings in the Gospels were likely said by him, but others may have been literary additions. Some scholars say that it was unlikely Jesus publicly rebuked the Pharisees. Those stories may have been added by the Gospel authors because the early Christians experienced conflict with the Pharisees. And what about Jesus’ miracles and other acts? Some are plausible and some may have been created by the early Christian community. (Gasp!) Learning all this turned things upside down for me.
What is true is that not everything in the Scriptures is verifiable. But ought one have a crisis of faith? No. The Jesus of our faith and our tradition offers us much in the way of truth. Jesus redefined community and gave new shape to social and personal ways of following God. The parables and other Gospel stories lay out for us timeless messages. Historically verifiable or not, they’re effective means of building faith. St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, uses many of these stories to invite us to personal conversion. And I don’t think Ignatius has us shy away from a faith that disturbs. The questions that keep us up at night only further our faith journey.
As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.” The hard questions are not necessarily meant to have answers, but they are meant to rile us up and have us engage with our faith. If we claim to have a faith that’s all put together, well-explained, and perfectly straight, there’s something wrong.