Deconstruction? Why not just Doubt?

“I am weak, frail, sinful and ignorant.”  I wonder if that confession might save a lot of grief.  It isn’t an easy series of predicates, to be sure.  Few things in my upbringing (and our culture) promoted such an outlook on life.  But surely those things are true even if few admit it.

What a 23 year old can do at the gym, a 53 year old can’t.  What lingers in our genetic history only needs a certain provocation before its ugliness is revealed.  And is there a moment when I’m not either swimming in sin or drying off from it?  And, what do I really know?  I’ve been a life-long student even attaining to a doctorate but do I know the end from the beginning, the “alpha and the omega” of my life to say nothing of a stranger’s?  No.  Like it or not I am weak, frail, sinful and ignorant—and so is every single person who ever lived (save one).

But then what happens?  If we’re paying attention to the instruction God gave Noah—to build ordered societies out of families—then people like me make associations, organizations or denominations with others.  And, in those associations good things do happen.  Yet even with the best of intentions, we still cannot shake the things that will always be true of us: weakness, frailty, sinfulness and ignorance.  

Here’s why I think a confession like the one above will save us a lot of grief: institutional failure in inevitable.  By that I mean, we will fail to be who we are supposed to be and others will fail us as well.  Our churches, our schools, our parents, our mentors, our heroes—each will reveal its flaw(s).  And how will we deal with it then?  Do we give grace as we hope to receive in our moment of failure? 

These days not really.  Enter into common parlance, “deconstruction.”  An insidious once-literary conception has now been adopted culturally to guide us when we are let down, sinned against or offended.  You see, instead of holding fast to inherent human weakness, frailty, sinfulness and ignorance, we presume that all institutions should be flawless.  Or worse, that I deserve to have nothing arrayed against me.  

So then, when a pastor preaches something we don’t understand or don’t agree with or a spiritual mentor reveals he drinks to excess at times or the traditional marriage we grew up in seems “bigoted” or “stifling” instead of questioning our own perspective, we “deconstruct.”  We assume we’ve been duped or hoodwinked and we work to tear the whole thing down—we become cultural Marxists in our own souls!

It’s actually quite arrogant when we stop and think about it.  In some of its forms, we mock and scoff and demean the preacher, church or institution thinking we know best,  “I must cast off the bigoted notions of the Bible: how could a loving God condemn to hell?  Bah!  I’m done with God.”  In other forms, we were wrongly taught, erroneous (or sinfully led) and so we automatically assume it’s all wrong.  But the response is still the same, “I will not give charity or investigate; I will simply assume it is shot through with corruption and burn it down.”

Whatever happen to doubt?  I don’t mean skepticism or cynicism but rather the humble acknowledgement that I am weak, frail, sinful and arrogant.  We assume we don’t know.  We recognize bias is possible.  We leave room for (unfortunately) sin.  We adopt a real and abiding recognition that things just are not what they are supposed to be—including me.  

Sinners do sinful and destructive things, it’s true.  We cannot be naïve and expect all is always well.  We must doubt or, rather, question.  But deconstruction is predicated upon omniscience, right?  “I know what’s best and this isn’t it.”  That is as sad as it is arrogant.  Life is hard and we aren’t the Lord.  It’s high time those who claim to follow Christ act like it.

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