I took the summer off church. The last few weeks of my time in church in late June and early July were becoming increasingly painful. At the root of my discomfort in church was a deepening questioning of the vaildity of the idea of Fruits of the Holy Spirit and in turn the actual concept of the Holy Spirit, and therefore the trinity and so on.
I grew up in the church. Not from a super young age but starting at the very impressionable age of 11. Early on I realized that following the acceptance of Christ you were inbued with the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit, the third member of the Holy Trinity, sent to us after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to help guide Christians once the physical person of Christ was no longer amoung mankind. In Romans 8 the role of the Spirit is outlined as:
As Christ has set us free from a life served in bondage to the law, we now walk according to the Spirit. And the Spirit of God dwells in us, the believers. And anyone who does not have the Spirit does not belong to Him (vs 9). The chapter ends celebrating the adoption into the family of God by through the redemption of our bodies and displaying the Fruits of the Spirit. Displaying the Fruits of the Spirit are central the demonstration of a changed life in Christ, The thing the sets us apart from non-believers and the sign for the hope of things to come. At the core of my current spiritual crisis is my doubt in the existence of Fruits of the Spirit within the Chrisitian community.
The Fruits of the Holy Spirit are outlined in the episitle to the Galatians in Chapter 5 ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.’ (vs 22).
I look around me, at the many many Christians I know, some displaying the fruits of the Spirit more prominently than others. Many, many, myself included, barely displaying most of the fruits, even some of the time. That would be okay, as we are all a work in process. But where my doubts really begin to break down is when I examine the many non Christian friends I have. Many of them don’t display all the fruits of the Spirit either, or at least not most them, but many they do display some of them. And some of these friends display these attributes far more strongly than many of the people who profess a life in Christ and are purportedly given over to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
So my mind began to ponder this and I racked my brain for those among me who displayed a life changed, a life evident of a transformation into living according to the Spirit and not by the law. And when I examine those Christians around me; my lovely and amazing sister with kindness beyond measure, the elderly spiritual giants at my church, displaying wisdom beyond years lived, my father transformed from a life of drugs and other temptations, transformed to a man of God, and lastly my amazing life partner, who displays the entire list everyday of his life. But when I look more closely at these individuals, and others, what I really see are personalilty traits that leads them to be kinder, more patient, less forceful people. And when I look at the the non Christians in my life who also display what looks like Fruits of the Spirit and I see the same thing, personality types, not a decision or a life changing event that sets them apart.
So then the true test should be a display of Fruits of the Spirit in those who do not already have a personality that lends itself to kindness, and goodness and self control. To peace and patience, to love and joy. And I turn my gaze to myself. I have a text book type A personality; driven, outspoken, critical, opinionated, fearless and prone to taking over. I have spent my entire adult life trying hard, very hard, with all my might, to fight this person inside me, in order to display the Fruits of the Spirit. And to my great sadness, try as I might to beat down my type A self, it always comes roaring back with a vengance, stomping all over the poor struggling vines of the Fruits of Spirit. And not just me, so very many Christians display deeds of the flesh. Described as ‘immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissessions, factions, envying, drunkness, carousing, and things like these.’ (vs 19 – 21) Capital letter ‘C’ Church loves to focus on the items at the beginning and the end of this list, immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, drunkeness, and carousing. But so rarely do we hear much on the items in the middle of the list, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions and envying. In fact judging by the daily deluge to my email inbox from my family members that love to rail against anything democratic, supporting Obama, worring about the socialization of our society by promoting any form of welfare or caring for those less fortunate. Judging from my Christian friends who are quick to judge and rail against types of people, they don’t know. It is evident that there are many Christians who are exceling at this list at a much higher rate than the Fruits of the Spirit.
I think the genesis of this doubt started with the display of fear and mistrust as our church went through a building campaign. Watching so many people being afraid to step out in faith, unable to imagine a facility that would serve people other than ourselves. Lastly not even willing to be incovienced to park elsewhere during construction phases even at the expense of visitors curious about the changes in action but never to return and the lack of parking was a sure sign of a closed door to them. So many of the people I church with every Sunday have a laundry list of complaints about any and every little thing, a spirit much more similar to mine, one of judging and criticism, instead of kindness and gentleness.
The media has been ripe with hints of this from the blog post on CNN about how Christians can be so mean online. Just google the phrase ‘Why are Christians so Mean’ you will be sadden and amazed at the amount written on this very topic.
Another example is the recent decision by Anne Rice to ‘leave’ Christianity.
So my mind wonders, maybe, just maybe there is no such thing as the Spirit of God, or at least a Spirit that leads us to the Fruits of the Spirit. But so very much of the New Testament centers around a life with the Holy Spirit, transformed for the rest of the world to see. But if I can’t see this in the world around me, perhaps it isn’t really there. And if that isn’t true, then what else isn’t true? Jesus, the body of Christ, God the Father? And as you can guess the whole house of cards that is Christianity starts to come down around me. And since I have spent my whole life trying to live under these beliefs, you have no idea how disorienting and scary it is on the other side of these beliefs.
So sitting in church or among other Christians where it is inevitable that the topic will turn to how Christians should behave has become painful, so I have taken a break. Rarely do I get a chance to think through the deep complexities of what I am truly pondering but maybe getting this in writing will help me continue the journey to find out what is up with the Fruits of the Spirit.