Yesterday I received from a young man the following email:
I was raised in the church, and have always believed in Jesus Christ. I have just returned from a month touring Europe with my two buddies, and since we’ve gotten back I’ve been feeling further from God than I’ve ever felt in my life. A friend told me about your blog, and after reading quite a bit of it, I thought you could possibly help me. John, please: What do I do with this doubt about God and Jesus Christ that’s in my mind? In September I’ll be starting my second year of college. I don’t want to keep having the doubts I have been. Do you have any advice that could help me? Thank you.
First of all, you don’t have anything to worry about. It was during their time in college that at least half the Christians I know went through a long phase of doubting. That’s as it should be; that’s what college is for. A person who at college doesn’t find himself seriously questioning all sorts of core assumptions about himself and the way he thinks is almost certainly receiving an inferior education. Learning new things means questioning the old things. For you, an “old thing” is being a Christian. There’d be something wrong if after your first year of college you weren’t in at least some way calling into question the validity of Christianity. You can’t broaden your mind without some of the stuff that’s already in there getting a little stretched and bent.
So no worries. What you’re experiencing is normal, and even good.
That said, be careful. You can doubt Christ and/or Christianity; you can question the nature of God; you can put the Bible under microscopes you never even knew existed. That’s all cerebral/intellectual stuff. But physically, don’t sell yourself too cheap. Beware of what you do. What people generally and hormone-buzzed young people in particular too often forget (or continue to pretend they never had occasion to learn) is how readily attraction becomes indulgence, becomes habit, becomes custom, becomes character. Don’t get too high too often — and don’t get high at all if you can help it. Don’t allow yourself to fall into that bullshit thing so many college guys do (um … did you see my piece on cursing?), where all of a sudden women become objects to conquer, manipulate, and exploit. I know it sounds Grandpa Canethumper, but don’t too often choose goofing around with your buddies or just being lazy over studying and doing your homework. If done right, a college education is one of the most valuable things any person anywhere can ever get for themselves. Don’t let all the (heady, I know!) social/sensual stuff that happens at college tempt you into wasting the opportunity that college affords you to wonderfully yourself up for virtually the rest of your life. All you have is your mind; college is your one great chance to arm yours for life. Don’t piss it away.
If that’s it, doubt that. Have at it. What do you have to lose? If God/Christ is real, he can take it, and will surely be there for you when you return. If he’s not real — if all the zealous atheists you’ve surely already met at your school are right — than the sooner you know that, the better. So go ahead, mate. Doubt away.
You know what I’d bet, though? I’d bet you’re not doubting Christ at all. I’d bet that if you really felt your way through this, you’d find that what you’re doubting is Christianity. Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuge difference: it’s the difference between a library building, and the actual knowledge contained in all the books within that building. Christians are forever (and naturally enough, it should be said) confusing Christ with Christianity; they mistake its form for its substance, its expression for its essence. They forget the difference between engaging with Christianity and engaging with God.
So do yourself a favor. You’re busy, I know: you’ve got classes, and study and friends and all that. No question: college keeps you moving. But if you’re serious about these doubts you’re experiencing, then be serious enough about them to spend three minutes a day doing something that I promise you is absolutely, 100% guaranteed to resolve for you this problem of being unsure whether or not God exists.
For three minutes, every day — and ideally at the beginning and end of each day — arrange to be perfectly alone. Turn off your cell phone, unplug your iPod; disconnect. Be actually and really in solitude. Get physically comfortable. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly, pulling your breath all the way down into your abdomen. Calm yourself. Take your time. When you’re doing stuff like this, three minutes is an hour.
Just … be there. Look into your heart and soul. See what you find there. See if you don’t find, so close to you that it’s easy to miss it, or to mistake it for you, the spirit of God himself, stripped of all but essence, new to you again.