A reader asks: “How can I believe in God as you do?”

love

John, you’re brilliant. Have you ever written about what gives you faith? Why you actually believe in God? I can’t seem to find any writings on your blog about that. If you have them, do you mind pointing us in that direction? If not…. Please… Give us some hope.

So how does it not look like I just decided to write real quick and jam into the start of this letter the words, “John, you’re brilliant”?

But that’s absurd. John would never do that.

So what this question is asking is, “What sustains your faith in God?” Even more to its point is, “How can I believe in God as you do?”

The writer knows I have faith that God is real. She wants to know what exactly, on a daily if not moment-by-moment basis, gives me that faith. And what she mostly wants to know is how she, too, can have such faith.

She wants to believe in God. She kind of does believe in God—insofar as really, really yearning to believe in something almost makes that something real.

So she’s right at the precipice between wanting and knowing. And she’s wondering how she can leap across it.

Except that she doesn’t really want to leap across that precipice. Because leaping is scary; she might fall in. What she really wants is for the precipice to close up. She wants no crack there at all. She wants to safely and easily step from where she is to where she desires to be.

What she wants is for the earth to move.

Our friend here doesn’t want faith. She wants fact

She wants her faith to be subsumed by her knowledge. She wants faith out of the picture for her.

Which is great. Except for the fact that removing faith means simultaneously removing hope. Faith is hope. Without faith there’s no reason for hope; there’s no basis for it. Faith is necessary for hope: nobody hopes for anything that they don’t have faith can actually happen. Faith is what keeps hope real.

Lose faith, lose hope. That’s the rule of … well, the entire human relationship with the future. And it’s why a person devoid of all hope soon becomes little more than an animal.

Hope is what moves us forward. It’s what gets us up in the morning. It’s what keeps us growing, developing, planning, aspiring. It’s hope that allows for optimism. Hope is optimism.

Well, I have big hopes—hopes that extend right on past the end of my life. I don’t want things to be good just in this life. I want things to be great—for everyone, forever.

Hey. Hope big or go home. That’s my motto.

Well, hoping that on the other side of life everything works out great for everyone means having faith that that can actually happen. Which means that I must have faith in a God who can and will make that happen.

My faith in God is born of my hope for the future. (It’s also what makes all my hopes in this life make sense.) Believing in God creates for me the Really Big Context in which I get to exist as an optimistic person with real hope for a real nice eternity for everyone.

I choose to believe in God because I choose optimism. And the reason I choose optimism is because optimism is absolutely foundational for the giving (and receiving) of unconditional love. That’s what Paul is saying when he writes at the end of 1 Corinthians 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Bottom line: I choose God because I choose love. It really is that simple.

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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. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.steffenhagen?sk=wall Soulmentor

    “God is Love and anyone who lives in Love is living with God and God is living in him” (and her). – 1 John4:16

    If one takes that literally, then there is God. If you have Love in your heart and life, then you have God. What’s not to believe?

  • Kris

    Believing in God does not mean that you abandon believing in facts. Really, it means that you finally want to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But, the question is what facts do you choose to believe? Do you choose to believe the pseudo-facts that inform your five senses or do you choose to believe the real facts that inform your sixth sense, faith?

    Any individual who wants to believe in Jesus, who is God, must first choose to use his or her sixth sense, which is faith. Everyone has been given a measure of faith, so he or she can use that faith to believe that God exists. Once a person knows that God exists, by for example realizing that we did not just spontaneously arise from nothing, contrary to the belief of some, then this person must do the next step. The next step is to DILIGENTLY seek God. The only way to diligently seek God is to find the treasure He left for every human: His Word or the Bible. She must pick up a bible and read it. She must listen or watch anointed sermons from Pastors like Pastor Joseph Prince, Bishop TD Jakes, Pastor Sheryl Brady, Pastor Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Pastor Keith Moore, Benny Hinn and Pastor Charles Stanley, just to name a few. As she seeks Jesus more and more, she will learn of all of he rewards available to her for her seeking, like eternal life, forgiveness of all wrongdoing and sins, healing, prosperity, soundness of mind, protection, deliverance, and preservation.

    “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

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

      ugh.

      • vj

        Right?! What’s with all the ‘must’?

        Someone commented on a recent post that the Bible doesn’t reveal God to us, it explains to us what our experienced revelation of God means. There is so much more to faith than following someone else’s prescriptions. We are called to love God with our hearts, minds, souls and strength – to me, this means that each person’s faith in and love for God will be experienced/manifested differently, and we shouldn’t try to make our own faith walk look just like someone else’s.

        God will use whatever fragment of faith the letter writer has, she doesn’t have to worry about whether or not her ‘level’ of faith matches yours, or mine. Just as the widow who gave her tiny coin was commended above the rich man who gave just a fraction of his wealth, so God will be faithful to even the tiniest amount of faith that is given, in preference to those who arrogantly proclaim that they have all the answers…

      • Jill H

        Is it just me that real talk of faith, hope, love, compassion, kindness, etc. fills me full of energy and motivation, while the talk of above: rules, demands, musts and shoulds makes me heavy and craving a long nap?

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

          I’ll totally answer that as soon as I get back from myyyyyyyzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

      • Big Earl

        Ugh, indeed. Not to be overly disparaging, but I have to wonder how in the world Kris ended up on this site. Creflo Dollar? Benny Hinn? Are you serious? Yes…the answer to all of your questions about your faith can be answered by just tuning in to your local tele-evangelist. And let’s please throw out another huge UGH for the mere mention of some of these “prosperity prophets”. I usually catch up with John Shore during my lunch break each day to help power me through the rest of my afternoon, but Kris’ post just about cost me my chicken sandwich. Sorry to be so negative.

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

          That didn’t sound negative to me. Just seeing those names on my blog made me step back from my computer in case it suddenly exploded.

          • Elizabeth

            Ha ha ha!

    • mike moore

      Kris, you are fucking hilarious …. seriously, your letter ranks right up there with Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” as a satirical masterpiece.

      (PS everyone, did you notice my italics? Next thing you know I’ll be working the Apple Genius Bar.)

      • Jill H

        genius, baby

      • Don Rappe

        Cool. very cool.

      • vj

        (a bold vision, indeed ;-) )

        • mike moore

          this is so cool, checked with my minions, and now I know how to be BOLD

          • Maria

            BOLD indeed!

          • mike moore

            BOLD and italics … show off.

          • Jill H

            Bold is who you are, dahling.

          • mike moore

            uhthankyouverymuch.

    • Elizabeth

      God ESP. Someone resurrect Philip K. Dick.

    • vj

      Kris, I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past couple of days… I believe you meant your comment sincerely, and I believe that you found the ‘method’ you offered to be helpful in your own faith journey. I don’t mean to disparage whatever you have found to be real in your own life, but please try to understand that for many people, especially the regulars on John’s blog, what you propose sounds like an exercise in legalism, not liberty in the grace of a God who deals uniquely with every individual…

  • Barbara Rice

    What I took away from this young woman’s writing – and I could easily be wrong; I’m cloudy with cold meds – is that she is seeing an intense faith in you, and she herself isn’t feeling that. And I remember from my church-going days that some people seemed to have that, or at least talked like they did. “My faith never waivers!” sort of thing… and at the same time, my personal faith DID waiver. A lot.

    How can she have faith like you do? Well… she can’t. She’ll have her OWN faith, which will see things a bit differently. Her experience is unique to her. And I think she thinks that maybe she should be feeling something more profound and exciting and sparkly and 24/7.

    I don’t know. I could be wrong. Now I gotta go find some more cough syrup.

    • Jill H

      Very true Barbara, and I’d add that no one knows what we don’t know. Sounds ridiculous I know, but we investigate other’s faith and spiritual practice to find out new things we didn’t know before. I never got it before coming here that Christianity is interested in inclusion more than rigid regulations.

      That’s why the stories here are so vital for learning about practicing faith in real time. At the same time, each story of faith is going to be its own unique expression of the Divine, as it should be. Sometimes we don’t yet know that it’s meant to be that way. We support each other, but ultimately we walk our own path alone.

      • David S

        Hiya Jill. I agree and disagree.

        I agree that God is so big that no human could possibly get their arms around Him. I have a problem with Anyone who says for certain that they know God’s will about everything. How could they possibly?! How very ignorant. This is my beef with conservative Christians in general and self-proclaimed “bible believing” Christians in particular. How fragile is their faith that it cannot withstand a little disagreement or a little uncertainty.

        I understand God a certain way; but I do not believe that the way I understand Him is the only way that He can be understood. If you look at Paul’s writings chronologically, he came to the same conclusion: (paraphrasing) Now we see only dimly. Then (in eternity) we will know fully. Any other perspective is childish.

        I disagree that we are alone on our journey. As a person who is middle aged, I can say that I am increasingly blown away by how interconnected we all are. Not just with people with whom we agree, but also with those who believe differently than we do. That idea is both amazing and frightening at the same time. We are all created in the image of God and reflect such huge differences. We may take a certain solice in the idea that we are alone, but I don’t believe that’s true. I think we are all on this spiritual journey together. This is

        • David S

          Sorry. Unfinished thought. Don’t know what happened… Anyway… For me, I would love to be on this journey alone and figuring it out. Unfortunately for me, that is not the reality of the world.

          • Jill H

            Would you be comfortable saying generally why you’d love to be alone on the journey? Is there an obstacle on your path?

          • David S

            It would be so much easier – so much less messy – if we were unchallenged in our understanding of God. But that’d just not the way it works. If I were truly alone and figuring my relationship with God out, that would be great. But I’m not the only one crested in God’s image. So is the fundy who berates me as an unrepentant sinner. So is the jerk who I work with who talks about people of color as “those people [who are financially irresponsible]” who represent a business opportunity. So is the person who I pass begging on the street.

            We are simply not alone on our journey. We meet people along the way. We may not feel connected to them; but that does not make them irrelevant. We are connected whether we like it or not. You, thankfully, are someone I met as a fellow traveller who empowers me [thank you much!].

          • Jill H

            Yes, wow do I understand what you’re saying David. I too have to acknowledge on a cerebral level that those that have harmed me are created the same way I was. Can’t say I internalize that fact much, but I accept it as it is.

            And yet while they are not irrelevant (awesome way to put it!), they are reminders along my path that there is no pain great enough, no physical joy encompassing enough to separate me from my truest nature. All of it moves and moves away.

            On a continuum, we are all connected. I just prefer to keep those people close on my end who empower me. As in you too. :)

        • Jill H

          David, I’m thinking we’re not actually disagreeing, and may I clarify my point, as I’m remembering a post here in recent weeks about the reality of ‘aloneness’. Actually I’m referring to this:

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2012/10/13/the-entire-human-experience-in-900-words/

          There’s an inherent duality of life that makes us both connected and separate. I will have my personal and unique journey that will decidedly look different than yours– that’s my meaning behind walking our path alone.

          I have faith that truly, as I’m hearing you saying, that I (you, we) am never alone. Did I make sense this time around? :)

  • Maria

    “Well, I have big hopes—hopes that extend right on past the end of my life. I don’t want things to be good just in this life. I want things to be great—for everyone, forever.”

    “Well, hoping that on the other side of life everything works out great for everyone means having faith that that can actually happen”

    Thank you John. I really needed to hear that just now… feeling rather fragile today… nice post.

    • Jill H

      I understand fragile, Maria. Hugs to you.

      • Maria

        Thank you Jill, Hugs right back at you.

  • Terri Antonovich

    For me it’s in the looking back and seeing how He has been working in my life …for my friends who ask , I tell em to ask Him to show Himself to them, that is one prayer that has Never gone unanswered .

  • http://small-letters.com Mindy M.

    To offer another perspective, as respectfully as possible (not intended to critique or change John’s or anyone else’s decision about their faith/belief):

    I have come to a place where I reject any human-defined deity. I do not know what happens to us — what will happen to me — when we die. I think there may be echoes of knowing in various belief systems, including Christianity. But I don’t credit any of them with getting it right. Individual ideas and feelings and belief about what may happen when we die might be spot on (for that person, or for some or even all of us), but I’m not going to know for sure until I get there. And I have seen far too much damage caused by the desire to believe in eternity. So I have stopped being certain. I have released my faith.

    What I want you to know is this: I have a tremendous amount of hope in my life, in my heart, in my home, in my living. I, too, choose love.

    • Jill H

      I also released my need to be right about what I’ve come to along my path. My only test, if you will, is that whatever I elect to believe or disbelieve, I am willing to stand for it at the end of my life. I will accept whatever ‘punishment’ deemed necessary for my choices. I will always choose to err on the side of love and compassion, and damn the rest.

      Mindy M, you are beautiful!

      • http://small-letters.com Mindy M.

        May you be willing to move gracefully in the breeze at the end, my dear. And if we (collectively) do indeed meet at the end, I hope that understanding is born.

        Beauty sees beauty. Thank you, Jill H :)

  • Eva

    BUT…..

    You did have a transformational experience, didn’t you John? ( if I’m remembering that incorrectly then ill give up my John Shore Groupie t- shirt).

    So, you did have a basis for belief that’s grounded in ‘something’ more than a desire to believe. The letter writer, and myself, may seriously want to believe, but, if she’s anything like me, she might feel like its conjuring out of thin air.

    Sorry- one handed typing while feeding baby.

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

      I did have my conversion experience, yes. And it was real. But that was an emotional experience, which, by its very nature (if you’re me, anyway) makes it automatically pretty fleeting. So right after it happened I got right to work checking it intellectually, rationally: seeing if the theology and philosophy of Christianity was, in fact, valid. And in pretty short order Christianity proved to be so rationally supportable that I ended up feeling like a fool for how much of my life I’d spent being really condescending toward Christianity. Anyway, the Rationally Supportable aspect of the faith is what I then very much wanted to focus on: it’s why I wrote my book “Penguins.” And it’s still what I prefer to bring to the fore, because that does, or certainly can, work for anybody.

      • Elizabeth

        Rationality and faith aren’t mutually exclusive. The proportions differ from person to person and over time, but a literate Christian has both. Just one more reason you’re brilliant, John.

      • vj

        Yup. I too have had several varied ‘experiences’, which are deeply meaningful to me, but I am also willing to allow that they may have been accidents of brain chemistry, or whatever… Hence, I walk by faith. However, when I look to empirical evidence of changed lives, healed and healthy relationships, forgiveness of self and others, I see that practices informed by the ‘theology and philosophy of Christianity’ seem to offer the most comprehensive explanations/solutions to life, love and the human condition. So, as much as I do believe that God is Who He Is (in the Judeo-Christian narrative), if it turns out in the end that there really is nothing out there but sub-atomic particles, I still want to live according to the example set by Jesus. I believe with every fiber of my heart, mind, soul and strength that this is the best for me (and for the world around me, but everyone has to come to their own conclusions).

        I guess I can sum up my position in the words of one of my favorite worship songs:

        Your blood

        speaks a better Word

        than all the empty claims

        I’ve heard upon this Earth

        [sorry, no clue who wrote this...]

  • John (not McCain)

    Suggested new blog slogan:

    “John Shore – making cynics cry one at a time.”

  • http://findingthebliss.wordpress.com Mike Wise

    The WORST lie that anyone can believe is that faith = certainty. It doesn’t, it just doesn’t. No Christian knows anymore than the Atheist whether or not there is truly a God nor do we know for certain what will or won’t happen after we die. But the Atheist is on the same level playing field, if we are all intellectually honest we’re all Agnostics. I don’t know but I believe, because believing, to me, make more sense in how I see the world. The biblical story resonates with things I’ve noticed in my life, my truest identity can be found in Christ, my place is in his kingdom, it’s the only place where I’ve felt I’ve truly belonged. I believe that God loves me, no matter how messed up I am. I think Dostoyevsky said it best when he wrote

    “As for myself, I confess that I am a child of my age, a child of unbelief and doubt up to this moment, and I am certain that I shall remain so to the grave. What terrible torments this thirst to believe has cost me and continues to cost me, burning ever more strongly in my soul the more contrary arguments there are. Nevertheless, God sometimes sends me moments of complete tranquility. In such moments I love and find that I am loved by others, and in such moments I have nurtured in myself a symbol of truth, in which everything is clear and holy for me. This symbol is very simple: it is the belief that there is nothing finer, profounder, more attractive, more reasonable, more courageous and more perfect than Christ, and not only is there not, but I tell myself with jealous love that there cannot be. Even if someone were to prove to me that the truth lay outside Christ, I should choose to remain with Christ rather than with the truth.”

    • vj

      Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing :-)

    • http://www.ledtolove.wordpress.com Paula

      Mike, thanks so much for posting this! I didn’t see it before I posted my comment – wow. That’s all I can say. Talk about affirmation. I will treasure this always!

    • Jill H

      And the only point that God felt like anything real to me was when it didn’t really matter to me anymore whether or not he was. When I realized I no longer wanted a clearly defined God as a crutch and scapegoat for my life, I let go of my pretenses that I even knew a thing about it.

      Choosing agnosticism after fundamentalism literally reclaimed my ability to feel anything resembling faith. Thanks Mike, it’s great to hear from you again!

  • http://www.ledtolove.wordpress.com Paula

    John, thanks for this. It means so much to us. And I stand by my statement: you ARE a brilliant gift. Thanks for proving it once again.

    I wanted to write to you and say thank you because this is one of those times that I can certainly say I sense that God really used you. I’m sure you get that all the time :)

    How could you have known our conversation? It’s like you were sitting in the room with us the other night when I posted that. My husband, my friend and I were sharing a bottle of wine and some of our deepest, most honest thoughts. Our friend in particular has been really searching for God lately in a very tangible way. The three of us have been on a pretty interesting journey the last few years in which we feel we have been basically unlearning almost everything that we were ever taught or thought we knew about Christianity, the bible, and God. (You’ve been a fabulous source for us!!)

    Personally, when I start to really question it all, I find myself clinging to hope. I, like you, am also an optomist :) I choose faith because I HAVE to believe in something. If there is nothing more than this, then I might as well end it all now. I have to believe that my life has some sort of lasting purpose. When I start to think of the fact that I will one day, return to dust, I must hope for more. In my darkest, that’s what keeps me going.

    But my friend – I listen to him as he sincerely seeks God. To know the Living God. To experience and hear from Him for himself. So many times I’ve seen him take the steps which he truly felt God leading him to take, only for life to hand him one big fat disappointment after another.

    “Doesn’t God WANT to be found by us?” He asks.

    “Did God not answer Gideon with his faithless fleeces?”

    “Doesn’t God WANT to lead his people? I know it’s not a formula, and I’m done trying to manipulate God to get something from Him. I believe he loves me; but I don’t really KNOW that he does. Or is it the other way around? I don’t know. It’s all on the table for me right now. I haven’t lost my faith, I’m just sort of… I don’t know…”

    Me: “A skeptical agnostic?”

    Are not all sincerely seeking God-chasers, Jesus followers and honest believers agnostics?

    Agnostic: “a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.” (dictionary.com)

    But when someone is looking for fact, you can’t give them faith. And convincing my friend isn’t my job, loving him is. Listening is.

    “Let’s see what gives our old pal Mr. Shore hope and faith” I said. But we couldn’t find anything really about it on your blog. So I asked. You responded.

    (so I guess my “job” is also to ask you, Dear John)

    He was pretty thrilled when he called me to tell me that you wrote back. And he emailed us and said, “Do I ever feel like I’m getting my ass kicked right now. But in a good way. Faith, hope, optimism, love, faith not fact, etc. Geez, God….. “

    And for the times to come when we feel our faith is blurred and we seek more fact than faith in the love of God – we have this to read again and again. You know, for a good ass-kicking.

    Thanks John.

    Thanks for responding to this post everyone. It was neat to read your thoughts.

  • BonnyAnne

    John, you and your fellow commenters are wonderful. I wish I’d known back when I was younger that Christianity and belief could encompass such a broad, varied spectrum, and hold so much doubt. It would have made many years of my life feel less alone. I’m definitely a Christian now, and an agnostic, and I’m slowly learning that it’s ok to be both these things at once. Thank you all!

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

      Well, thanks for this, BonnyAnne. Welcome to our community.

      • Matt

        Yes, welcome! Always good to have another in the tribe :).


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