Asking questions: How do I know I’m on the right path?
By Nathan Decker
Ever been afraid to ask the question, because you think you already know the answer? Me, too. I came to faith as a teenager. Like most teens I was developing, going through puberty. Like most teens I was struggling between the childish world of easy wrong/right codes to the more difficult adult world of contexts and relativity. For me at that stage in my life, I was terrified of being on the wrong path.
Jesus spoke of wide and narrow paths. Most of the interpretations I had been fed about faith were quite childish. The narrow path means following a strict rigid book of rules, “the Bible,” where things like sex, drugs, rock-‘n’-roll, dancing, card playing, being lazy or having too much fun was a sin. Basically, I was taught that to be a good Christian meant to be a loyal and moral heterosexual, White, American capitalist who didn’t ask questions: anything outside of that culture was evil. Remember the path to Hell is broad. The interpretation of broad was the ‘anything goes, hippie, gangsta, radical left, atheistic and worldly view.’ Asking questions bad. Following blindly good. Challenging authority bad. Submitting to leaders good. Good guys wear white cowboy hats, and we’re the good guys even when we hate the world and do wrong.
My childish faith was a terrifying experience. I always lived in fear of dying without having asked for forgiveness. God’s wrath was always just looking for an excuse to throw me into Hell. It was a faith of rules and quick easy bumper sticker answers to every problem spoon fed to me by powerful leaders from on high who spoke as if they were a god. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” “Right is Right and every other direction is wrong.” “God hates the sin and loves the sinner.” “It’s all in God’s plan.” “God knows exactly who you are and what you’ve done before you’ve even done it!” Faith was a fragile flower that required a complex system to circle the wagons and build a fortress around it to protect it.
This is so radically different from my faith now, because of Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel teaches us to follow Jesus. More than any other Gospel, Jesus is presented as the teacher, the new Moses, the one sitting on the mountain giving us words to live by. To my faith without questioning, Jesus says “Ask.” To my destination-driven faith without a journey, Jesus says “Seek.” To my fortress-driven faith of closed mindedness, Jesus says “Knock.”
When I read the Bible asking hard questions — I found God in the questions rather than in the easy answers. When I prayed to God seeking difficult dilemmas — I found God in the quest rather than in the bumper sticker theology. When I experienced God as a loving Father waiting for me to knock on the door: I found the God of the Open Door instead of the exclusive club.
We follow Jesus. A disciple questions and has doubts. A disciple seeks out the left behind. A disciple knocks on closed doors to open them. A disciple takes the narrow path — the path of love.
Faith is realizing our greatest understanding of heaven’s love is so far diminished from the love God truly has for us. My adult experience of faith has been an experience in grace and love. I live in a mist of eternal baptismal waters of forgiveness that wash away guilt and shame and fear. God’s love teaches me to love my wife, my kids, my neighbors and is always looking for an excuse to bring heaven on earth. Faith is a journey, a path, and it winds and webs constantly through who I am and who I am becoming. Faith is a community experience, not something that can be packaged or given to me by others, nor is it something I can do all by myself in my recliner at home.
To love is to participate in God. The Bible is a book of stories that inspire and help me understand who God is, who I am, how to be more faithful. God’s love has no boundaries or barriers except the ones I put around my heart. God loves sinners, and I am one. God’s plan is being written by all of us every day. God knows exactly who I am, what I’ve done, and the Lord still loves me.
How do we know if we are on the right path, the narrow one, the one that leads to heaven? Because we are knocking on closed doors demanding they open. Because we are seeking to know Jesus and love as he loved. Because we are asking the question and refuse to accept easy answers. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.
NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.