This week marked the end of my first semester at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. I am having a hard time reflecting on it, mostly because I am overwhelmed thinking about the experience. The intensity ramped up about half-way through the semester, and I think it will take a week or two of decompression before my mind will be willing to sort through it.
Also, I am tired! I took a lighter load this first semester while working full-time, but it took a toll on me, physically and mentally.
My main thought, bubbling at the surface, is that my faith in God and in people increased significantly over the past few months. I am not aware of units for faith (millibelievs?), but whatever it might be, the magnitude of mine went up.
Some of the books that I read before applying—and a few of the people with whom I spoke—warned me that some people lose their faith in seminary and my type is particularly susceptible. I am an analytical person, and I like to look closely at questions and get down to the heart of the matter.
Why do some lose their faith in seminary? I think it is because seminary examines the hard questions, looks intently at the negatives that can arise with religious people, and makes the seminarian think for himself or herself and challenge ideas instead of just relying on the preacher, parent, or parishioner in their lives.
“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.” This is a quote from one of most respected scientists of the 20th century, Werner Heisenberg. He is most famous for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics; I learned about this in engineering school.
Heisenberg’s point was that when one first learns of scientific matters like evolution and DNA transcription errors, one might doubt God’s existence—they give rise to questions about the need for or the presence of God—but when one goes further and studies and learns deeply about science, one can see and have a better appreciation of God (if one does not avoid looking at the bottom of the glass!).
The same concept applies to drinking from the glass of seminary. The first gulp can be a blow to the foundation for some. The authorship and construction of the Bible is not as simple as fundamentalist preachers insist. The archaeological evidence for the Biblical story is thin-to-nonexistent until around King Omri of Israel (around 884 B.C.E., after the flood, the exodus, King David, King Solomon, …). The Old Testament reports that God killed an awful lot of people in ancient times. The Crusades happened.
Today, some Christians can be mean, hypocritical, and mis-users of scripture, all the while touting their Christianity. Some religious leaders use the desire of their followers to have a closer relationship with God to enhance that leader’s political position rather than to bring them closer to Christ. Some Christians readily impose their religious views on others. The list goes on.
Most people know of these things, at least vaguely, but seminary puts it all in your face in a largely unvarnished way. Drink! Gulp!
Through all such things this semester, my faith was encouraged by my professors and fellow students as worked through such issues for ourselves. They showed that the actions of “some” do not represent all or the ideal.
The professors encouraged us not to be afraid. Fear freezes the faith of many Christians. The professors encouraged us to shed the fear and dive in, ask questions, and think—God is there, go ahead.
My classmates are an incredibly admirable group of people. They are not gunning for money or fame or the highest-paying job or social standing or prestige or similar things. They are gunning to do the most good for God and other people, and they are gunning to understand what God’s will for them might be. They have big hearts.
My classmates are impressively authentic and honest. They question. They debate. They study. They are shedding fear. They seek to see and follow Christ’s teachings unfiltered. They are an encouragement to me and my faith.
In closing, I enjoyed writing my weekly blog post this semester. Thank you to everyone who read them. I appreciate the Facebook comments, WordPress comments, e-mails, texts, calls, and in-person discussions about the posts. I welcome those, so please keep it up.
I am going to take a break from blogging over the holidays. I plan to start again in January.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas! I hope you have a nice break.
(Picture at the top: Tracey took this picture of some of the first-year students at the Divinity School’s Christmas party last week. I think this picture was during conflicting messages from Tracey and others taking pictures at the same time: “smile,” “do something funny,” and “go over the Syro-Ephraimitic War in your head” (Paul)).