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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In Which I Go Ahead and Admit It...I'd Rather Be Agnostic

I’ve tried a thousand times to bring words to this place over the last few months, and inevitably I give up, dissatisfied with attempts at authoritative writing in what is proving to be a wide and hazy place of quiet but intense spiritual growth for me.

But here’s the thing.

I spent some time on the mountaintop, in solitude, last week. I sought silence and the presence of God and had my fill of both in more abundance than I ever knew was possible. I heard in the rustle of leaves and footsteps of speckled fawn on wet grass an enormous, wild dream that is so outside of myself, so contrary to anything I could conjure or even imagine, that it bound me to the heart of God in absolute surrender.

It was life changing, and it’s hard to know how to return to regular life after an experience like that—a closeness with God I would do anything or go anywhere or give everything to sustain. I understand the oaths of monks and saints now, how one’s entire life could possibly be full with only the infinite fullness of God, to a devotion to Him that leaves little room for temporal distraction.

What I don’t yet know, what I am only now learning with each passing hour, is how to live a life infused, how to make spaghetti or answer email when I am bursting wide with all I am learning how to see and hear and experience.  

I have more clarity than I’ve ever had in all my life, more faith and footing in solid places, but it’s time for me to say three words out loud, in surrender, from the heart of this state of growth and depth and transparency.

I. Don't. Know.

There are just so many things I don’t know, things I’m not willing to pretend I do know because a denomination or pastor or theory or tradition or text tells me it’s true. There is so much of God I don’t understand—so much He has not made clear in this world. There is so much more to Scripture than taking its life-infused words without the aid of context or serious, open-hearted, prayer-infused contemplation.

I don’t know how to reconcile the angry, destructive God of the Old Testament with the absolute consuming warmth and love I have experienced of Him. I don’t know how to balance the stories of Scripture with the science that claims to counter their truth. I don’t know the answer for every question under the sun, and I’m aware, more than ever before, that I am not meant to, that we are not meant to.

Scripture does not tell us that He came to answer our questions, that He came to make us puppets, or that He came to give us the tools for effective evangelism. He did not come to make us healthy or smart or strong or wise. He did not come to give us logical satisfaction of His ways.

He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

Abundant life is so much deeper than whether or not we read the Bible in a year or how many church-approved best-sellers sit on our bookshelves. Abundant life is not the absolute knowledge and understanding of God; rather, it’s the abandonment of yourself into His abundance, forsaking everything else with the potential to captivate your heart. 

My study of spirituality and the sacred truth of Scripture is for the purpose of drawing my heart nearer to His, not to memorize canned and shallow apologetic responses to complex matters of life and faith. Nothing on earth or in the heavens is as easy as it seems. No verse in the Word of Life stands on its own or means a thing without the breath of holy wisdom within it. So why, friends, are we so afraid of embracing His mystery?  

I know just enough to know that I know God’s heart deeply and intimately only because He knows mine, because He actually, actively dwells there. Yet I do not know His mind or His purposes for everything under heaven because I am not Him. Everything I know about God confirms only one thing: I know Him and I need to know nothing more under heaven but that which drives me further into seeking more of Him. This includes a surrender to the deep unknowing, a sobering awareness of the orchestrated Divine that is far too large to be condensed into either a single mind or an entire galaxy.

The only thing big enough to contain the mystery of God is the heart of the human spirit which has stopped seeking to solve an equation of God in order to make way for all of Him—even, no, especially the parts of Him that challenge our finite minds.

Knowing Him means letting go of my attempts to shape the universe to my understanding, to answer all my questions and linger instead in the holy mystery that is bigger than me and bigger than humanity and bigger than all the forces of nature together.

I have enough faith to tell you I don’t know, and to tell God right to His face that I just don’t know. And I’m grateful for that.

I don’t know if I’m a mystic or a Lutheran or a Methodist or a Baptist or if I will touch earthly dirt during the Tribulation or if all dogs go to heaven or why God made mosquitoes. I don’t know if any particular thing is right given the circumstances or if any particular wrong is wrong without any regard to the heart of the person engaging in it. I don’t know what happens in the hearts and souls of those who have not yet seen God as He really is and not merely the biased and blurry portrait we paint of Him as a Church. And mostly, I don’t know why we’re all so afraid of all we do not yet know about God, why it is shameful not to know something which has not been revealed clearly to us directly by Him.

I read earlier today that the word agnostic means “not knowing.” And friends, even if you have the Bible memorized, even if you’ve graduated seminary, even if you prayed a sinner’s prayer at the age of four…you are…all of us are…not knowing. We are all agnostic when it comes to the Divine.

I am a Christian with all my heart and soul—more now than I’ve ever been. I claim the life and teachings of Christ and the all-consuming power of God in Father, Son, and Spirit. And I feel no shame in telling you that I am agnostic with all my heart, too. I hold loosely to my earthly understanding of all things eternal with the certainty that there is much I cannot yet know, things that man cannot teach me, with the knowledge that I am not privy to the Secret Things of God.

I don’t know what will happen with this online space as I consider all the directions it could go, as I consider even whether to altogether let it go.

Right now, I just don’t know

To borrow the words of Ian Morgan Cron in Chasing Francis, when one of his characters is asked about the differences in beliefs between evangelicalism and Catholicism... "I'd rather be a reverent agnostic. [...] There are countless mysteries that I have to stand before reverently and humbly while saying, 'I don't know.'" 

But my prayer, in this space of my life and all the others, is this:

Let God alone be the source of all I know or claim to know or need to know. Let my mind be clear and discerning of Truth, let my humanity not reject anything the Lord would show or teach me, either temporally or eternally. Let my not-knowing be an honest seeking after the heart of God, and let me never allow any religious teaching, logical response, or crafted defense corrupt my awareness of the scope of God’s hugeness and holiness. Let me never choose the wisdom of humanity over the wonder of God. Let me never be satisfied with the boxes of logic and reason which seek to contain the Great and Holy Lord into matchboxes fit for modern human pockets, flints with which to strike religious fires that keep our egos warm. Keep me not knowing the things which will always keep me seeking the face of Him alone. Keep me captivated and consumed by the God I don't understand, and collectively consumed in unity with His whole Church, and all the people in need of His love, which is to say, every person on this planet. 

And let me never be afraid of I don’t know, perhaps the only space where I am truly teachable, where only in emptiness can I be made whole. 


  1. Tara_pohlkottepressJuly 30, 2013 at 8:42 PM

    as you well know, I don't at all feel comfortable in the labels in the short answer way to describe a life-long journey and relationship. and one of the things I am most learning and leaning onto is that in all actuality, I don't much care to define it. to make it easier for myself or others to understand. I know that this is a messy, battered world with death and violence and unspeakable acts, and yet, I see those sun rises. I hear those trees, and they speak right too me, and I know I belong. no one can tell me that I am not apart of this rhythm and mystery. I let all of this be ok with me. i'm not interested in being right. i'm interested in being love. no strings attached. hugging you hard here in this beautiful wide open space of yours. I feel your heart expanding here, and I don' t think you can ever go wrong by soaking it all in. xo

  2. Your post here so resonates with the current location of my spiritual journey. As a pastor for nearly a generation, I never thought I had all the answers; But, I never dreamt that today I would discover I have practically none of them...and have grown to detest the posturing of my fellow "shepherds" thinking their opinions are the "biblical/scriptural" ones. Yet, at the same time, I've never felt more at peace with my relationship with God. Go figure. Anyway...I deeply appreciate the transparency of your writing.

  3. AMEN, dear Cara. Beautifully expressed, and so, so true. THIS is the place where the Spirit can move in mighty and mysterious ways. . . when we're brave enough to say (regularly) - I don't know; I'm not sure. Thanks so much for this lovely work.

  4. Dear Cara
    Let me tell you, dear one, those who claim to know, are very much deceived! There is no way our little pea sized brain can ever understand the majesty, glory, beauty, love, etc, etc, et. of our Pappa God, and guess what; we don't need to. Cara, there is a little book of Wayne Jacobson that you can download for free from the web called, He Loves Me. It changed my mind about many things; also about our Pappa being a vengeful God in the Old Testament! I think you will enjoy this very much.
    Lots of love XX

  5. Such a big Amen! to this part of your journey. The high won't last but the understandings will...and never mind if people who aren't there yet think you've lost the faith. You've simply moved into a different layer that they can't see yet. If there's a mantra, it may be "Patience." Keep going in your honesty and openness (as if you could do otherwise!); the cloud of witnesses is all around you.
    I hope you will keep writing this blog, however infrequently. It would be sad to lose your voice.
    Nan Evans Bush

  6. Amanda Johnston HillJuly 31, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    Amen. But don't be too stressed about the writing absence. I don't know one soul who does not need space sometimes, and needs to refuel, and no one is out there judging. Please keep writing, and telling truths, and being open with your heart.

  7. " No verse in the Word of Life stands on its own or means a thing without the breath of holy wisdom within it. So why, friends, are we so afraid of embracing His mystery? "

    my. thoughts. exactly.

    Thank you for sharing this agnostic, honest place with us, Cara. I wonder if *trust* grows in soil such as this ... Oh, and you remind me of something I read recently from Augustine of Hippo, "If you think you understand, it isn't God."

  8. always. your words. they touch me. ((hugs))

  9. I'm not interested in being right. I'm interested in being love.
    Oh, Tara, this.
    Always. This.

  10. "And let me never be afraid of I don’t know, perhaps the only space where I am truly teachable, where only in emptiness can I be made whole."

    I want to take this to the top of the world, invite the Holy Spirit to swoop down and blow this into the hearts and minds of the world because this? This is exactly it. When we are no longer open we can no longer receive and where does that land us in the eyes of a God who wants nothing more than to lavish us with His love and grace?

    I am rejoicing with you that you had such a life changing experience in your time away. I can feel a holy tremor emanating from these words of yours, friend, and I believe the Lord is moving in you.

    Keep writing. Keep thinking. But, above all, keep admitting how little you know.

  11. The healthy place for the Christian is right where you are. When we are honest with our doubts, speak of our inconsistent heart, and cry out to God -- it is then he speaks the loudest. And although the world demands answers and proof, you have all you need right in your heart.

  12. I love this in many ways.Thank you for sharing your journey.

  13. So great to read your words again, Cara. And these words were well worth the wait, a spiritual breath of fresh air. I love and applaud your honestly and ability to not admit that we do not have all the answers. There is a beauty in the unknown.

  14. Brilliant. Thank you for sharing this with us all.

  15. Karissa Knox SorrellAugust 3, 2013 at 5:42 AM

    Wow. This is exactly what I have been going through lately. I have always been surrounded by religious culture and all the "right answers." I recently wrote a blog post on how I want to walk away from it all and find God on my own. I don't want to know him or love him or find him just because the church says I'm supposed to. I have to know that he is real and exists outside of all the institutions. I love that you are approaching him with that "not knowing" - very humble and real. I love it!

  16. Cara,

    Apologies for the duplicate comment here. (Somehow succeeded in writing my first comment to me. Blonde moment.) I love your authenticity here. Thank you.

    Can you send me your email address? Mine is kristinarobbdover@gmail.com. The publisher (Cascade) for GRACE STICKS would like to send you an official letter regarding your endorsement of the book!


Your comments are such an encouragement. Thank you for sharing your valuable words.