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When Religion Becomes Idolatry: Part 1

Like Jacob in Genesis 32, I have wrestled recently with God over the politics of my own identity.

From a young age, I had attained to what many around me attested to be “profound maturity” in my Christian faith.

I could quote Bible verses in the proper context with a sound interpretation for the right circumstance.

I had a solid theological answer for every question of faith, and even for those questions I had not yet thought to ask, I could conjure an immediate response based on my finely tuned spiritual reasoning.

And then war broke out in Syria, and my faith was shattered.

Somehow all of my biblical reasoning seemed to be in turmoil. My theological platitudes seemed to fall short. I found that not only did I not have the answers, but I was lost. Drowning in a sea of blood, destruction and despair.

I resented those who could rest assured at night trusting that “this was the will of God.”

I resented those who could pray and weep and find comfort. And somehow amid this pain and suffering, God was still at work.

I remember one Saturday at a food aid distribution for Syrian refugees, a mother presented me with her infant with a brain tumor so grotesque that she looked like a creature from another world.

The infant’s eyes stared up at me unblinking. Her mother lamented that her baby had long ago ceased to even cry from the pain. And the U.N., they would not pay for her surgery.

Reading over the dirty, crumpled prognosis, I didn’t have the heart to tell the mother that it was because there was no hope for this child.

They would not waste their limited resources on certain death. And all I could do was weep with her, standing there shivering in the cold.

I called my friend over and we laid hands on the baby and prayed for her together. I didn’t have the strength to do it alone. That night I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and prayed for that child. I was heartbroken and angry.

Two weeks later, I learned that the U.N. had agreed to pay for the child’s surgery to remove the tumor. She was going to be fine. Life from death.

That’s what God can do amid suffering. But I still don’t understand how or when or why.

What I have learned is that I am so small, and God is bigger than I ever imagined.

There has been a lot of talk over the past decade or so around the idea of Christian worldview.

In 2005, Nancy Pearcey published a widely acclaimed book titled, “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity.”

It outlined the need for Christians to develop a holistic understanding of the world that incorporates our faith into every aspect of our being, rather than compartmentalizing it.

While I support her thesis, I have also recently found an unexpected theological kinship with post-structuralist thinkers Levinas and Derrida.

These fathers of post-modernism warned against the dangers of totalitarian systems of thought.

Though I may not agree fully with all of their premises, I do agree with doing away with neatly packaged discourses that conveniently order the world.

And here’s why: Any system of thought, no matter how complex, that has a humanly obtainable answer for everything is essentially atheist, or at the very least, agnostic.

We’ve essentially taken God out of the equation by making it about the equation.

But while God is a God of order, he is not an equation. He is a person. Or rather, a being of triune existence. And he is by definition, other. He is, by definition, beyond comprehension.

When we attempt to make sense of the world by ordering the mind of God, we are inevitably fashioning him in our own image because the human mind is never free of prejudice. And this is idolatry.

Suzie Lahoud serves with a Lebanese, faith-based nongovernmental organization that has been providing relief assistance in response to the Syrian Crisis since 2011. She is also currently enrolled in the Institute of Middle East Studies’ master of religion in Middle Eastern and North African studies program. A version of this column first appeared on the IMES blog and is used with permission.

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two will appear tomorrow.