I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.–1 Corinthians 3:2.
Thoughtful readers of Paul can’t help but wonder what food they’re missing out on. In the past, I read the verse and imagined a meager piece of bread. Now, though, it is a feast of the mind.
A too-smooth church upbringing.
For months, I wrestled with a ministry calling from God. It resulted in a desert of spiritual dissatisfaction and haunting questions. Alone and afraid, I sat up for nights wondering why I believe what I believe and thinking I can’t do ministry without answers.
A pitfall of growing up in the church is that the transition from childhood faith to adulthood faith can be a little too smooth; I accepted what I believed simply because it was all I knew. I scratched my head at teenaged church friends who doubted. Now I scratch my head at my past self for not questioning alongside them.
Recently, Mom reminded me that I was raised to think for myself. That’s true, but I didn’t apply critical thinking to my faith. I suppressed challenging questions because I didn’t want to lose my faith and feel out of place in my favorite community on earth — church.
An invitation to feast.
I didn’t really know God intimitely until I almost died in 2016. Other than that recent spiritual desert, I’ve since blown through life in His peace, my spirit experiencing Him in ways indescribable and overwhelming.
Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.1 Peter 2:2-3
For four years, I’ve craved more and more in my relationship with God. I’ve had a good idea of how Jesus wants me to live and I’ve been doing better at breaking sin patterns, but I realized I’ve only had elementary understanding of and faith in God — milk faith. I need to explore many questions if I am to mature in ministry. How do I teach if I have not learned wisdom?
Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.Hebrews 5:14
The mind-heart connection was murky until recently. When mentoring youth, I performed mental aerobics to explain what I had no grasp of, without really realizing I was doing so. I had scripts with classic “Gotcha!” answers but those “answers” morphed into the questions that buzzed through my mind in my aforementioned spiritual desert.
When I was a kid, others would ask hard questions at church camp about genocide or atonement and the response would often be a shrug and the implication that “that’s just how it is.” That’s not feeding milk or food, it’s uncomfortable avoidance. I don’t want to do ministry that way.
So, I began “deconstructing” my faith, prayerfully picking apart each idea that feeds into my ideas of God’s character and the Christian walk. My intensive faith examination has led me to more intimate communion with Christ. Doubt, for me, became catalyst to matured, intensified faith.
Reconstructing my Christianity.
Solid food manifested through the metaphysical first: Asking God to help me understand Him. He answered, restoring in me an intense, unquenchable desire to read the Bible.
I’d read the New Testament in autumn but I didn’t feel ready to touch the Old. My beloved prayer partner said she feels God wants to “personally mentor” me in discernment. That sounded pretty … cool … so I opened up ol’ Genesis. And I read and read and read, first in horror and then in beautiful realization.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.James 1:5
During this time, I prayed for wisdom more than ever before, and I read analyses by linguists, and I studied anthropological articles, and I watched sermons by theologians of many views, and I listened to podcasts by Bible scholars, and I learned fancy words like Christus victor, and I practiced various methods of liturgy, and I examined how ancient Israelites and early church fathers read the Bible.
(I’ll take a break here to address people who have been wondering why I’ve disappeared from the face of the earth in the past months: I’ve been doing this!)
I once received scripture as piece meal and through a modern-Western lens, but I am now seeing the greater narrative as something that must be read in its entirety.
I learned that contradicting verses are not questions begging justification aerobics but are instead invitations to wisdom-forming debate, that ancient idioms say one thing and mean another, that literary genre must be understood before interpreting a book, that linguists don’t always agree on translations, that ancient Israelite rhetoric is nothing like mine, that the Bible speaks in metaphor just as often as Jesus speaks in parables.
I learned that Jesus is the Word from the beginning, the ultimate teaching authority and lens through which to view the Old Testament. He corrected religious scholars’ interpretations, and would correct our interpretations, too.
I can’t get enough of this feast.
For months, I’ve been excitably digging through this feast and adding meat to my faith, praying for Christ to correct my discernment just as He guided many others who ate at His table. Sometimes, I find I simply cannot read a page or listen to a podcast. I can tell that what is being discussed is engaging, as is the language used, yet there’s a block on my mind preventing me from consuming the offered knowledge despite repeated attempts. Maybe my prayer partner was right and Abba really is mentoring me through this all.
I have found the courage to admit I don’t know many things and I have found the confidence to respond to questions once mystery to me. I have cast away some views and adopted others. At times, I’m afraid I will disappoint others with new views but other times I’ve found surprising solidarity. At times, I bemoan the divisions in the Church and other times I wipe away tears while reflecting on its unity.
I often hear the word “deconstruction” used negatively in church popular culture but I realize now that if I had never stripped down my faith and interrogated it, I could not have reconstructed it to be as beautiful as it is today.
Now, when mentored high schoolers tell me they’re doubting, I tell them I love that they admit that to me. I don’t want them to feel alone. I’m not happy they doubt, because it is a grueling and alienating experience. I know that because many “greats” — Job, Jeremiah, Abraham, others — in the Bible wrestled with God, too, and it tore at their hearts. But guess what? They left this earth even more intimate with Him.