Bobby Lee was proud of his Jeep Wrangler, and the fact that having such a vehicle made him the only candidate capable of driving him and his buddies up to their camping spot on the mountain gave a measure of warmth to his ego. Once he checked the fluids, he picked up his friends, then stopped for gas at the small station on the edge of town that still needed to upgrade their pumps to accept cards. His friends purchased a 12-pack of Mountain Dew and other snacks which Bobby made himself believe weren’t going to be eaten inside his vehicle. they were off on their adventure. Sure enough, his friends exploded a bag of Fritos in the freshly-vacuumed backseat. He wanted to explode as well but he grit his teeth to keep up the cheery atmosphere–to keep up “the cool.”
After an hour drive, they came to the mountain. Their ears popped as they ascended a road that hadn’t been paved since spring, adding to the facade of their “wilderness trek,” which was the title they’d given to these outings.
A rocky mound in the road, apparently from a landslide, came into view. This was new. He mentioned going around it but his buddies egged him on, saying something about “off-roading, dude.” He doubted he could clear it without scraping the undercarriage, but he reassured himself because he had a Wrangler after all. Amidst the shouting from his Dewed-out friends, the cracking and scraping sound of rocks rattled the entire vehicle. He cleared the pile, but once he was back on more level ground he violently shifted it into park and thrashed out the door to check for damage.
He knelt down in front and peered underneath. There was a hole in his front differential, which was now leaking fluid. The driver-side front wheel was protruding from its place in the wheel well, indicative of a broken axle.
The tool kit in the back was as extensive as the kind a twelve-year old gets for his coming-of-age present. This was a crisis, and he had no tools or knowledge to get through it.
Suffering from a crisis of faith is not hailed a virtue, but for some Christians a crisis has led to a wellspring of life. It’s commonly called “deconstruction of faith,” and it’s an antidote for someone without anywhere else to go.
When our faith hits the rocks on some unexpected crisis, it’s common to get something fractured. Or sometimes it’s simply exploring new ideas, meeting new people, hearing new stories or just living life with intentionality. Eventually we reach a bump in the road that will cripple what we’ve always believed, and once the wheels that once carried us snap off, we have a dilemma: we obviously can’t drive it anymore, so we can either abandon our faith, or fix it.
Michael and Lisa Gungor, well known for their worship band, Gungor, entered a crisis of faith and caused an uproar with fellow Christians. He had been raised an evangelical, but when he ventured down the rocky road of new ideas, he discovered a problem in his current system. This idealogical shift was a result of what he called “losing his metaphysic,” where the evangelical foundation beneath him crumbled.
He could have left the faith for good and joined another, but he didn’t. He chose to deconstruct his faith because for him, deconstruction is not destructive; it’s about disassembling something to see what’s broken. What was broken was his certainty: his “need to hold on” and to “control his life with his belief.” He also had confused God’s will with his “expectations,” not knowing that trusting God isn’t about assuming he’ll receive what he expects, but resting in the knowledge that God knows what he needs and will give it at the right time.
Bobby Lee could’ve abandoned his precious Wrangler, but he didn’t. He was tempted to call the vehicle a piece of junk, but he knew it was truly a good vehicle even if it was “incomplete” or in need of repair. The task of deconstructing the vehicle was messy, far messier than he expected. Parts he never knew were there, let alone capable of being broken, were torn out and replaced with new, better ones. At some points, when the disassembled parts riddled the ground, he panicked in confusion, for he was unsure if he knew how to put the Jeep back together. Such is the fear that comes with deconstruction.
With a crisis of faith comes the reminder of what is essential. For Michael, faith in Christ is essential. He doesn’t fear intellectual uncertainty anymore because he knows that he is God’s and that whatever the future holds doesn’t matter because God is the one holding the unknown. Whether Michael’s new (peripheral) beliefs are true or not is not the essential question here (it’s about as crucial as whether Bobby Lee should use a C-clip axle or a non C-clip axle for his reconstructed Jeep). Although peripheral beliefs are important, they’re not essential. Like Bobby’s repaired vehicle, Michael reassures us that his current theology is the same as it was before the deconstruction–the same way Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals can worship the same Jesus (what a shocker). Further, he says his period of atheism is not a sore spot in his memory, but a testament of how God can cultivate something good from something broken. He wishes more Christians would view non-Christians with compassion, knowing that God is working with them as much as he is with anyone else.
For Bobby Lee, the crisis changed how he thought of their adventure, but instead of detesting the debacle, he embraced it as part of the story. Although it was a brutal ordeal (at points he could’ve murdered his buddies out of frustration), he can laugh about it now. He also learned what was important: the adventure itself; it was never about the vehicle. He still maintains it, of course, but he doesn’t fret about it anymore because he knows that whatever happens, it’s fixable. Even when mishaps get the upper hand of their adventures, they’re still adventures, and that’s what matters. Their camping “plans” are held loosely now, because something greater than their expectations determines their joy.
Indeed, can an adventure be called such if it goes according to plan?
One must acknowledge that individual faith is merely a vehicle, a tool used in the adventure. One’s personal faith is not Christianity just like Bobby’s Jeep was not the adventure. This is why it’s liberating to acknowledge that a fracture in our individual faith doesn’t put God out of a job.
In times of uncertainty, we may be tempted to call our faith a sham, ready for the scrapyard, but we have good reason to trust that faith identifies something true, even if our apprehension of God is “incomplete” or in need of repair. Perhaps the adventure of Christianity would be simpler, and more enriching, if we forget about keeping our worldview safe and tidy and focus instead on loving God and others. If we want love, we can’t keep our faith on smooth roads because love tests the strength of our intellectual certainty. Indeed, such tests often prove how wrong we are about our doctrinal priorities.
It’s OK to be wrong. It’s OK to be broken.
“So go out and live real good and I promise you’ll get beat up real bad. But, in a little while after you’re dead, you’ll be rotted away anyway. It’s not gonna matter if you have a few scars. It will matter if you didn’t live.”
In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, Alex Aili (B.A. in Biblical Studies) writes short stories and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Redemption in Shadows. He is a novelist-in-progress who lives in northern MN with his wife and two sons. He thrives on coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods. See what he’s up to on Twitter.