Where do I get my confidence about God?

Lately I’ve received a few emails asking me in essence (or … directly, actually) why, when it comes to my beliefs about God, I’m so confident.

The answer is that I have no idea why. I can’t even really answer that, because to me it’s like asking a bird why it thinks it knows so much about air. What else can it know? What else do I know, beyond the same core stuff that I think everybody knows? For all sorts of (usually not good) reasons, people like to sort of pretend that they aren’t positively loaded with hardcore convictions about pretty much everything having to do with God, nature, and man. But that’s just an act they’ve learned as (generally speaking) a means of avoiding having to actually commit to firm conclusions. (Which … is really a whole other conversation we really must have sometime.)

But they know. You know. I know. We all know. Everyone knows who they’re supposed to be, and how they’re supposed to act. We all know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, light and dark. We know what really matters in life. We know love is the most awesome human power in the world.

If I’m more confident about God than the next person, that’s because the next person is thinking more than I do. I’m not more confident; I’m just less industrious. (Except … it’s also true that I’ve spent my whole life purposefully thinking about exactly this sort of stuff. It’s all I do; it’s all I’ve ever done.)  I don’t fight the Good, or The Force, or The Divine, or whatever anyone might want to call The Giant Overarching Presence. I accept it. I accept the reality and enduring truth of a universal source, power, structure, morality.

I call it God—and think of/feel it as the Christian God, because the simple, undiluted story of Jesus is 100%, absolutely perfect. In this sense, I know God. I know Jesus. I know human nature. I know myself.

I don’t think life is complicated. I think it seems complicated, until you get okay with all the stuff about it that you can’t possibly know. Which is basically all of it.

Life isn’t about knowing; it’s about being okay with not knowing. And since that’s impossible—since no one can really be okay with being as fundamentally ignorant as we all are about pretty much everything we most care about—it’s about living into your ignorance with a kind of knowing that above all holds itself lightly.

Except when anyone is being victimized. Then it’s time to get real sure about shit.

I dunno. I thought I’d be able to answer this a lot more quickly than apparently (at this moment anyway) I’m able.

I’m confident because I’m alive. And that gives me certain rights. And one of those rights is to know God. And the key to doing that is to constantly and consciously get out of the way, so that God can tell me who he/she/it is.

I’m not wise. I just know how to be quiet and listen.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Kathleen Smith-Jones via Facebook

    Right there with you…since 1958

  • Grant

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

    • vj

      Amen!

  • Katrina

    Love this. Especially this: “I don’t think life is complicated. I think it seems complicated, until you get okay with all the stuff about it that you can’t possibly know. Which is basically all of it.”

    Just imagine the peace everyone on earth would feel once we all accept that.

  • Tim

    Amen to that, John.

    I have thought it through a bit more. I know God, and I know how I know God and what God has presented Himself to be. I can dissect it, and I often do (far too much so) but that is ok, I guess. That is part of being human as well. I want to know what I can, understand and feel as deeply as possible, love as unconditionally as my wretched heart will allow, and let the rest fall slowly away.

  • Nicole

    *gives John a big giant hug*

  • Dianne Mc

    *Gives John a big hug and a great big ‘ol AMEN!

  • Richard W. Fitch

    Mystery is not a problem to be solved but an experience in which to enter.

    • Melody

      LOVE this!

  • Joseph Parker

    Those who have ears can hear.

  • http://www.sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

    That’s my problem – I overthink life. Yet, somehow, I think that’s okay, too.

    Liked the part about how when “someone’s victimized, that’s the time to get sure about shit.” If there’s a time to be brave about anything, that’s it.

  • vj

    “Life isn’t about knowing; it’s about being okay with not knowing. And since that’s impossible—since no one can really be okay with being as fundamentally ignorant as we all are about pretty much everything we most care about—it’s about living into your ignorance with a kind of knowing that above all holds itself lightly.”

    PERFECT description! I am sure of pretty much nothing – even though Christ is a solid rock to me, I accept the possibility that my faith experience has been a massive figment of my imagination. I have believed since before I ever set foot in a church, since before I bought my first Bible – I don’t know the origins of my faith, only that it has been part of me for more than 30 years…. The only thing I really ever think about in relation to what happens when I die is that I will FINALLY actually KNOW. I just don’t understand people who are [pretending to be?] so sure about anything here and now that they are willing to poke their noses into other people’s business all the time.

  • Lymis

    ” But they know. You know. I know. We all know. Everyone knows who they’re supposed to be, and how they’re supposed to act. We all know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, light and dark.”

    I know you only have so much space to use, and this was a central point of this essay, but I hope we can recognize that it’s too sweeping. Because some people don’t know these things.

    What’s true is that the vast majority of us know these things, and when someone doesn’t, it usually causes them huge amounts of pain and confusion, because they instinctively feel that they ought to know them. And many times, it isn’t because they are depraved or evil or “given over to sin” but like someone who is colorblind or loses their sense of balance, it’s something beyond their control that they know they need, and when everyone around them goes about life with what appears to be these things sorted out, it can be a living hell.

    It’s the same point, really – that we all know we have the capacity for knowing this kind of thing, and when it is absent, it’s debilitating. And that this sort of thing doesn’t automatically line up with any particular flavor of orthodox belief.

    But there are people out there, often good people, who suffer from some sort of damage or deficiency in this.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      It’s true: I didn’t take the time/space/verbiage to incorporate into my statement a reasonably comprehensive consideration of the .0001 percent of the people out there who are actually, clinically amoral.

  • Kate

    well said.

  • N

    This may be one of the first things you’ve written that I actually categorically disagree with. (I mean, besides the Jesus=historical stuff, because really, I don’t care that much when people differ with me on that part. it doesn’t seem to do them any harm.) But this, this I disagree with. Some of the things people “just know” are wrong. Many are things you rail against all the time. Homophobia is informed by people who “just innately know” that gay people are ucky. Most racism, again, is fueled by a hatred of outsiders that the bearer “just knows.” Knowing is dangerous. And it is also a learned behavior. A dangerous learned behavior. So think, struggle, introduce healthy doubt into your faith. I’ll bet you come out stronger for it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      “Knowing is dangerous” depends upon what you “know.” What I know isn’t dangerous, and is in fact beyond doubt. It is for me, anyway. And that’s all I was talking about; I was just answering the question of how I personally am so confident about what I believe. And the basis for my answer to that question won’t change; it cannot. I’m set like that. Call it willful ignorance, “learned behavior,” or anything else you think it is, of course. No worries there. But I’m … good, thanks.

  • Christine McQueen

    You said, “I’m not wise. I just know how to be quiet and listen.”

    In my opinion, that IS wisdom.

    • giddiup

      not doing either

  • Brian Hager

    John – I can relate to your “knowing.” For me it came with the gift of my faith. Back in the Fall of ’93 (when I was at UF), I suddenly – and without explanation – lost all of the personal beliefs I used to think was my faith. Looking back I can see they were the Golden Calf I fashioned to make sense of my life and the world. The only problem was that it didn’t work.

    For three weeks after it all fell away, I lived through a continual spiritual earthquake that left me feeling constantly anxious and suffering from major uncertainty about anything. Most especially, I had no idea if there was a God or who He was. I honestly had no idea about any of it. Three weeks passed in agonizing slow motion. One afternoon the Lord spoke His name and it exploded just inches from my chest. In that millisecond, I “knew” there was a God; I “knew” Jesus was God; and I “knew” my life would never be the same again.

    The interesting thing about it was that I had only “experienced” His name. Nothing else was communicated (knowledge wise), but I also “knew” that I would never be able to doubt His existence, ever again. It’s odd, because I still can’t really explain what any of it means beyond a personal level, nor can I prove anything I also “know” as a result of that gift of Faith.

    I just KNOW it.

    Brian


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