Debating Theology with My Younger Self

I have often wondered what my twenty-year-old self who was a relatively new Christian, but a zealous one, would think about me now. I imagine that girl would think I was a heathen, a back-slider, someone who traded the real Gospel and clear biblical teachings for a social Gospel. Horror of horrors!

Nevertheless, I have a lot of grace for that girl. She was doing the best she could with the information she had, but if I could go back and sit down with her, I would give her advice (that she probably would not take) about how she could lean into growth in her faith over the next couple of decades:

First, I would tell her to throw certainty out the window. Faith and doubt can exist simultaneously. I would especially caution her about the certainty she feels about the Bible, reminding her that it is a series of books written by different authors, most of whom did not know one another. She would shake her head at me and counter with her belief that if there’s no certainty than she is really not interested in pursuing faith–it’s the certainty that drew her in the first place. The belief that in a world full of ambiguity there are truths that are unshakeable. Yes, I would tell her, there are immutable truths but just not the ones that you think, dear. You are going to experience seasons of doubt, which will cause you to question everything you have ever learned about God and the Bible.

Faith and doubt can exist simultaneously.

She would definitely not believe me or listen, so I would move on to other topics. I would try to tell her that what she believes about women and their roles is not true–that even though she had never seen a woman preach, either in the Catholic Church or in the conservative evangelical church she joined later, that not only should women preach and teach but that she would do so one day as well. She would remind me that the Bible clearly says (and she’d cite chapter and verse) that women should not teach men. I would sigh and tell her not to take everything Paul says so literally–he was writing to people in a particular time and place not drawing a line for all of time. And we are not even sure he wrote that letter to Timothy. She would be horrified at that assertion and shut down. Welp.

I would not want to give up on that topic easily though, knowing the years that girl would spend trying to turn herself into some kind of “gentle and quiet spirit” and the damage it would do to her soul. So I would talk to her about Deborah, Esther, and Jael–strong women in the Bible, who loved God but also did not fit the mold of the modern conservative Christian woman. They were leaders, advocates, and fighters. She would give me a bewildered, wistful look, almost as if she felt sorry for me in my self-deceit. Then she would say with confidence that she had been taught that God likely raised up those women because the men were not doing their jobs. When women lead, she would pronounce, men will not. I would feel defeated by the firmness of her conviction, knowing how harmful that belief would be, and move on.

Not all of us are our best selves in romantic relationships.

I would then tell her that she would have a lot of love in her life. A lot. But…not romantic love. She would look at me like I just beat her cat to death with a tire iron. I would try to explain that I meant that in the best sense–not all of us are our best selves in romantic relationships. Romantic love would largely be disappointing, but there would be so many other kinds of love to know. She would be loved by so many people, and I’d remind her to value that love of friends, family members, mentors, and others. Above all I would want her to know how deeply she would experience the love of God through others, and that it would be more than enough. She would probably throw something at me, screaming that she’d be married before she turns thirty.

It wouldn’t go well.

Actually, no part of our conversation would go well.

There would be so little we would understand about each other that it is probably a good thing the conversation could never take place. In the end, perhaps I needed the certainty in the early days of my faith. It set me on a journey, even if it seems like I took the long way to get where I am.

How has your faith evolved since you came to know Christ?


Photo by CloudVisual on Unsplash

Karen González

Karen González

Co-Host at Dovetail Podcast
Karen González is a speaker, writer and immigrant advocate. She is also an immigrant from Guatemala, now living in Baltimore, Maryland, where she enjoys writing, cooking Latin food, traveling, and watching baseball (in that order). Karen is a former public school teacher and attended Fuller Theological Seminary, where she studied theology and missiology. For the last 10 years, she has been a non-profit professional, currently working for an organization that serves immigrants and refugees. Karen writes about spiritual formation, Latinx identity, race, gender, and immigration and is currently writing a book about her family's immigration story.
Karen González

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  • Carolina

    You have this incredible way of writing my heart. Thank you so much. It’s like a permission slip. Sometimes you need mentors, mujeres despiertas, to tell you to just get on with it. You are that for me. Estoy agradecida. xx

    • Karen Gonzalez

      Thank you, amiga. This whole post was prompted by conversations I had with old college friends recently. I’m grateful that faith is not static–that we all change and grow as we pursue God.

  • I was reflecting on my journey recently – of the books that have shaped and formed my faith. I think I’d tell my younger self to lean into the questions. That we all are asking them; that the experts don’t have the answers; that it’s ok to say “I don’t know.”

    • Karen Gonzalez

      Absolutely. I wish I’d been taught earlier that it was ok not to know and not be sure. It was so hard and painful to learn that along the way. Leaning into questions is wise. Thanks for reading, Annie.

  • Jamie

    I would tell my younger self two things. First, like you, I would tell her to let go of the certainty and embrace the doubt. It has strengthened my faith more than anything else. Second, I would tell her not to try to fit herself into what the church expected her to be, but to just be her. Beautiful post, thanks for sharing!

    • Karen Gonzalez

      I definitely relate to just telling her to be herself and forget the molds the church says we should fit into. Yes, yes, yes. If only we could go back and help our younger selves to absorb that knowledge. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Karen Swank Buchanan

    Thank you for this. I feel like you’re describing my journey. Here’s a way I am both helped and discouraged by that: dealing with loved ones who are back on that early part, and trying to figure out how to be loving but also honest with them. Today is an especially painful day for me on that front, so coming across this blog couldn’t be timed better. Thank you.

    • Karen Gonzalez

      Hi Karen, I’m so sorry. You’re in a difficult place. I partly wrote this post because I’m also struggling with people who are where I was in the early days of my faith (and for many years after that). I was trying to be empathetic and impart grace, but the interactions are also painful to me. May God grant you wisdom and guidance as you interact with others. Blessings.