Recently, a few people have asked me if I always had “such a strong faith.”
No. NO. NOOOOO.
Frankly, I’m not certain that my faith is strong. I know it’s getting stronger, but it’s not very potent right now. I doubt often. Some days are worse than others. For me, believing in God is hard work. I fight to believe every day. My faith seems to grow when I don’t have the luxury of watching it — when I’m focused inward, the movie seems to stop.
I approach God tentatively because I’m neither from a Christian family nor am I a trusting person. Because I’m a well-trained philosopher/historian, I tend to approach God skeptically. I also think and do things, on occasion, that are clearly not good or true which makes me approach God guiltily. These are not faith-building attributes, to say the least.
But they don’t stop me from approaching God, or trying to.
My intellect is a big part of who I am. I think often and deeply about God and have concluded that there’s a role for skepticism within the boundaries of Christian faith. Christians are allowed to question! Most do, in fact. Most of the time, I do not get the answers for which I’m looking. That’s okay. At this point I am resigned to the fact that many of my intellectual problems will never be resolved. I’ve learned to live with the tension of disbelief, doubt and questioning, though it’s uncomfortable to do so.
Christian faith is not only for those who were spoon fed doctrine from infancy but for secular adults who come upon God later in life. This may offend you but as far as I can tell, infant baptism does not do anything to create faith in an adult — baptismal water is not magical, after all: if you were baptized as a kid, don’t count on this to bring you faith today.
Some Christians have told me that their experiences in religious youth organizations were life-changing — these Christians seem to have found youth groups a place in which prayer was treated as normal, basic theological tenets and the bible were taught and behaviour channeled. They had a lot of fun, too.
None of this was a part of my life.
I was “saved” on the beach while reading the Bhagavadgita — this is true! I was deep into it when a man brazenly plopped his towel next to mine saying he wanted to talk about an “alternative” religious text, the Bible. Later, I was baptized in the ocean. My identity as a blonde, tanned beach girl, however, was far stronger than that of a Christian for most of my life.
I didn’t know any doctrine. I didn’t know any Christians. I had never been to church. The bible was as meaningless as the Bhagavadgita (which I found to be bizarrely interesting). Sure I was curious about Christianity, but honestly, not very much. I don’t know why I am a Christian today but am certain my faith has more to do with God’s down-reaching than my up-reaching. Only with His help have I beat the odds and escaped Secularism.
Salvation, it is said, is a dual effort — God reels us in to the degree we permit. He has his role and we have ours. His role is to initiate … ours is to respond. He’s responsible, then, for whatever faith we muster at the same time we’re responsible for rejecting the little bit about Him we know.
God must have reeled me in. There’s no other explanation for someone like me, a thorough-going secularist, to become Christian. I know I’m a Christian even though I doubt AND have never had an emotional “feel-God’s-presence moment.” I have neither experienced God’s “touch” or “voice” nor had power and abilities which upend natural law. These experiences must be for other Christians, not me. I don’t do anything showy like speak in tongues. When I pray, I use the same words, voice and intonation as when speaking to you. Most of the time, my prayers are just thinking. I think about God, life, meaning, love … and the horrible mistakes I’ve made in my past. Increasingly, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about forgiveness.
You may feel, perhaps with pride, that God hasn’t reeled YOU in which is why you aren’t Christian. Fair enough. You may be right. There’s a reasonable chance you weren’t chosen. Most are not. The road is narrow, which means not all people are on it. But give yourself some time. Faith doesn’t necessarily happen suddenly. For some, it’s a slow and incremental growth in knowledge of Him accompanied by a change of thought and behaviour. The fact that you’re reading this text suggests He may be slowly reeling you in.
Don’t be so sure you’ve been left behind.
Faith isn’t a transmittable disease, like chicken pox, that leaves a few scars and not much else. It’s not a one-time shot that protects you against future disbelief. You won’t be inoculated against doubt the moment you have a tiny bit of faith. You’ll still doubt. Wonder. Fight it. In fact, ever tiny step forward in belief, at least in my experience, has been more than met by severe doubt. Every faith-directed change that has occurred within me had to be fought for, not accepted passively and blindly. There’s nothing blind about faith, at least for those who have been reeled out of secularism.
Former secularists will, struggle, doubt … and then believe. They also believe … then doubt.
As a child, one of my teachers(!) told me that having faith in some sort of god or higher power was the natural, default position of all humankind, irrespective of era or location. That seemed ridiculous to me because I didn’t know anyone who was religious. But I had read older National Geographic magazines and noticed that most “primitive” people seemed to have some sort of religion. I put those two ideas together and came up with the rather snobbish idea that faith was something for primitive people all over the world … not me.
As an adult, my thoughts have become even less sophisticated. Now I think that people believe because it feels better and deeply right to believe. It’s that simple. Disbelief may be intellectually easier but takes a huge toll on the whole person. As one’s ethical standards drop and egoism and pride rise, life becomes increasingly screwed up. Life is harder for unbelievers — belief is harder for believers. (Life is hard on believers, too.)
So why believe, right?
C. S. Lewis, in the first book (I think) he wrote after he became a Christian was entitled, “Surprised by Joy.” I admit that I never have been surprised by joy. (I’m eager for such a surprise, however.) I don’t think I’ve been surprised by anything that happened since I decided to pursue Christian faith. It’s been one long slog. Believing is difficult.
There’s no way to compare what my life would have been like had I not believed in God to the life I now live in which I consciously and determinedly believe. After observing the lives of old acquaintances I have seen that some of them have had full and exciting lives while others quickly imploded. I have a hunch that my life would have been a lot “faster” and more successful had I not been a Christian. I may have been happier, too.
I’ll never know. The Christian life, in my experience, has included much suffering. I’m glad C.S. Lewis was surprised by joy — good for him. Quite conversely, if I’ve been surprised by anything, I’ve been surprised by suffering.
I’ve also been surprised by truth.
For those of you contemplating Christian faith, I suggest you think twice, not because God, Christ and the Spirit are not existent and true, but because it’s so personally costly. Taking faith seriously will cost you your life. Your mind will be given up. Your goals upended. Your willingness to make mistakes will slowly diminish.
In my case, as I look to what life may bring, I’m not eager to move on. I see a big empty sheet of parchment where God will sketch my future. He’s not putting MY plans and ideas to paper, but His. So far, His ideas have hurt me deeply. Though I am not surprised by joy, I am also not going to stop nurturing the seed of faith planted within me because, frankly, I know it’s true.
I’m tired of seeing, hearing and reading about the happy-clappy vision of the Christian life that some promulgate. It’s not always easy. It’s not always happy-making. It’s not instantly satisfying. It’s not always understandable. Or always rational.
YET, GOD IS TRUTH. I keep swirling back to this when life is isolating, tear-filled and depressing: God IS. He just is.
You can believe in your own lies and the lies that are told to you, the disinformation and misinformation which surrounds you, or you can live within God’s truth EVEN THOUGH you can easily imagine life-scenarios without faith that would be so much more easy and pleasurable.
For though He slay me …