To the would-be Christian not quite feeling it

rivercrossingIn the comments section of my last post, To A Gay Anti-Christian Who Suddenly Converted, something beautiful happened. It started when long-time reader (and always awesome commenter) Jill wrote this:

I am trying to understand this in my life, where Christianity isn’t always the most compelling belief system for me, and I don’t know how much more genuine wrestling I can do with it to make it be a true fit for me. … I wish I held a fraction of the clarity that you [John] and others here seem to have, perhaps naturally. I truly respect it, and admit some envy of it. .. I’m attending a church, taking a bible study class… it’s supposed to feel right at some point, right? … At this point, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

Our dear friend Matt responded to this touching honest inquiry with:

Jill, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. But if it helps, “Christian” is something that you are, not something that you do. And to be something, you don’t really have to do anything else other than declare it, even if just to yourself.

Maybe this angle will help, since you know me so well: I’m not a transgender male because I wear certain clothes or act or sound a certain way. I’m male because I say so. I have declared it to be so. And before I told another soul on the planet, I told myself. That was the first step. I did some reading, studying, and reflecting afterwards, of course. But nothing would have happened if I hadn’t taken a leap and actually embraced this thing. I continued because every step along the way felt more natural than the last, always knowing that I could absolutely go back if this was not it.

The motivation always came from inside. And so the same is with Christianity. You already have everything you need, right now.

I next chimed in with:

This is really wise counsel, Matt. I’m not sure I’m capable of adding anything to it. Except maybe this: Jill: It is, I suppose, at some point supposed to feel right. But it’s never going to feel perfectly, wonderfully, enlighteningly right. It’s never going to utterly fulfill you. It’s not that big of a deal, basically. Becoming a Christian doesn’t give you all the answers. It barely gives you any of them. It doesn’t make you feel In Tune or wise or balanced or centered or wonderful or uplifted or anything. It makes you feel–when you put in the effort to feel like it, when you want to feel like it, when you close your eyes and breath deeply and help yourself to feel like it–that God is a real, actual force in the universe, that he/she is on your side and desires what’s best for you, and that once, a long time ago, he/she manifested him/her self as the figure now known to history as Jesus Christ.

That’s it. God once came to earth, and the Bible is the whole of that story. Believing that’s true is all that being a Christian is.

All really being a Christian is is associating the truth we all have inside of us with God–with, more specifically in the case of the Christian experience, with the Holy Spirit. Believe that that inner voice you have–the same one that’s telling you, for instance, not to be duped by any bullshit religion–is GOD talking to you–and boom: You’re a Christian.

That’s God. That’s the holy spirit. That’s the very living essence of Jesus, still hanging out, still talking to you, still … with you.

That’s it. That’s all it is. Believing that the unerring truth within you–the light within you, the voice of impeachable reason within you, the moral compass within you, the thing inside you which has made you survive–is the holy spirit/God, is Christianity.

It’s a great context for understanding/experiencing your life. That’s all. But, you know–and especially when life flips and then body slams you to the floor—that can be everything.

The unflaggingly thoughtful David then wrote this:

I’m a Christian. Full stop. I believe that Christ was God incarnate. I believe that Christ died on the cross to reconcile a sinful world with a holy God.

I’m also married to a Jewish man who pursues God in his own way. I’m good with that. Our understanding of creation/eternity is completely incomplete. Anyone who pretends to have God figured out is either a liar or a fool.

IMHO, (presuming you believe in God), whether or not you pursue Christianity is secondary to whether or not you continue to seek God. There is a universal truth. I think we all know that on an essential level – even atheists.

You are putting yourself in spaces where people support you in your faith life. That’s good. That has tremendous value. My advice: stop feeling like there is a single way God reveals Himself to humanity. Have faith in the way that God has revealed (and continues to reveal) Himself to you; find your peace and your wholeness in that revelation. That’s the water. That’s life-giving.

My prayer is that we can be a cup to one another. I know you’re that to me. I hope to be that to you too.

Lyn, always beneficial to read, then shared this:

I will say, as a longtime Christian that I still have this niggling doubt sometimes because I don’t seem to feel Christianity the way others talk about. It’s not that I’ve never been overtaken with a sense of awe, or a sense of God’s presence, or what have you, but it’s rare. But I think just as we each have our own learning style and tastes, so God speaks to us in different ways.

If God spoke to me only through emotion, I’d find the experience very suspect. It’s taken me a while to accept that the logical/intellectual relationship I have with God is just as valid as the pew jumpers and the mascara runners.

If you’re in an environment where a lot of folks’ experience of the divine has been something you’ve not had, it’s easy to think you’re not doing it right and there’s some ritual or prayer or thing you’ve left undone. We want to complicate it, layer on requirements for being a “real” Christian.

But, really, it’s just a matter of saying “I believe. I do not have absolute proof, but the evidence I have is compelling, so I accept.” And then live your life exploring and carrying out the implications of what that means.

If you need something to make you feel like you’ve made a commitment, find something. Write your commitment down, speak your commitment to God, announce it at your church, be baptized. It’s much like a marriage. Some folks are happy with a common-law commitment, others need the big church wedding with all the trimmings. Do what you need to do to confirm to yourself your new path on your journey.

The redoubtable Lymis next wrote:

At the risk of going entirely too meta, something to consider about the question of “at some point it’s supposed to feel right, right?” idea is that there is the process, and there is the answer. There is the journey and there is the destination.

Many of us never particularly feel that we’ve reached – or even really know – the final destination, and “don’t feel right” about all the details of where we find ourself in the moment, but at the same time are entirely certain that wherever it is leading us, we are most definitely on the right path, and that our process of proceeding along it actually is something that “feels entirely right.” Even during those times when we can’t quite articulate why.

Be open to the possibility that where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing right now is seeking.

Sometimes, confused, uncertain, vulnerable, and malleable is where we most need to be in order to be who we are becoming.

Finally, our friend Allie had this to say:

Jill, go with what helps you and discard the rest. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that you need a doctorate in theology to get into heaven. Most of the time what we’re supposed to DO is pretty clear—love each other—and that’s what’s important.

Speaking for myself, I’m a Christian rather than just a Theist because I know God, through personal revelation, and when I read the words of Jesus in the Bible I feel like I recognize that voice, just as I can recognize the style of writing of a friend of mine before I read who wrote it. Jesus always surprises me, he is never what I would have imagined on my own, but always perfect. But that’s where I’m coming from, coming out of my experiences, and you may be in a different place. Doesn’t it say knock, and it shall be opened unto you? You are knocking, you’ve already done your part.

Save this post for the next seeker you come across who is asking what Jill asked us. Or for the next time someone complains that Christians are, in the main, insensitive, selfish, unthinking conformists.

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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.

  • Elizabeth

    David and Lyn’s links aren’t working. I know them via Facebook, but you may want to fix it for readers who aren’t so lucky. Awesome post.

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

      Fixed those links. Thanks for the heads-up, E.

  • Kenneth G.Bond

    Jill,

    You’re not alone, Blind Faith was a really good band, but that doesn’t work real well in real life. Remember Thomas? If even one of Christ’s followers had doubts or questions, then how can we not have times of the same.

    I’ll share a quote I like from Miguel de Unamuno:

    “Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not God Himself.”

    • skip johnston

      I love this quote! For me, certainty is the opposite of faith. If I was certain, why would I need God?

  • Jill

    John Shore, where have you been all my life?

    • Nicole

      I know, right??!

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

        Well, I can say that for the last … gosh, I can’t even think of how long it’s been now … I’ve been stalking you both. Sure, that keeps me super busy. But I find that with fastidious scheduling, select outer gear choices, and of course routine maintenance of my surveillance equipment, I can make a real go of it. So that’s what I do. Why? Because I care.

        • Matt

          See, Jill? I told you John liked you! I know this because I help him polish the lenses on his camera. I bet you wondered how I was so sure ;).

        • Jill

          Wow. Funny, yet mildly creepy. That’s why we adore you.

        • Jill

          This is still making me laugh.

          I want to end every inappropriate comment I make from now on with: Why? Because I care.

          I think that’ll go down well at the office.

          • Elizabeth

            I only started on FB to look busy at work. Books: not OK. Computer screens: way OK. All true stories, children.

  • Steven Waling

    I’ll say something of where I am spiritually. I don’t really know what I believe anymore and I’m Ok with that. I became a Quaker after being an Anglican (Episcopalian to you) partly through the peace movement, but what I found was a place where it didn’t matter whether I signed on to a creed, but it mattered that I sought the spirit of God in the other: in people, through acts of love.

    My actual beliefs are uncertain, and sometimes confusing. I don’t actually see the point of some of the doctrines such as original sin because I don’t see how it makes things better in the world. The incarnation is a great metaphor but its literal meaning just seems far-fetched. Etc.

    I’m not sure my theology such as it could ever be classified as orthodox.

    But I’m OK with that because for me God is that force of love that charges everything that exists with beauty and energy. I don’t have to define it.

    Early Quakers were called Seekers and we still gather to seek God – or the Spirit together. We don’t need creeds because everyone is on their own journey – together.

    So tell Jill that it’s fine to be a seeker. I can’t even understand the phrase God exists without going into convoluted theologicl contortions.

    • Elizabeth

      Episcopalians are the best, imho. Not quite the same as Anglicans, but we’ll let that slide. :) Pro-woman, LGBT, drinking, and their St. Francis day is a zoo. Literally. I’ve felt God in an Orthodox cathedral in St. Petersburg, a Catholic chapel in rural Provence, a Shaker trundle bed, and — most importantly, maybe — an empty night train to Budapest, getting shaken down by the Készenléti Rendőrség. Many concepts of the Divine exist. I honor them all. The Christian God works for me.

      • http://Fordswords.net David S.

        …a Shaker trundle bed….

        Did you really think you were going to get away with that? People actually read what you write chaknow.

        It was Arts and Crafts…not Shaker.

        • Elizabeth

          Nope. The ‘rents and I weekended at the Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, Shaker community. There were about two left then. Do I LIE to Christians? ;)

  • Jayne

    “Be open to the possibility that where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing right now is seeking.

    Sometimes, confused, uncertain, vulnerable, and malleable is where we most need to be in order to be who we are becoming.”

    ————

    Lymis,

    You will never know how powerfully those two sentences were to me in this moment. I’ve recently been rethinking much of what I thought I always knew to be true (sort of, kind of) about my Christianity. I’m even taking a break from doing “church” as I’ve done it at the same church for 20 years. I’ve always been a progressive, inclusive, questioning Christian, but now the questions have me rethinking how I want to practice my faith. Thank you so much for these wonderfully succinct sentences which blessed me greatly today.

    Jayne

    • Lymis

      Thank you! That means a lot to me!

  • http://www.violetsandwine.com Barbara Rice

    It doesn’t help when we read Christian authors – who shall go nameless – who write about their never-doubting, always-certain, never-ending faith. They slip out of bed at night to weep their love for Jesus. They claim His Blood as protection against darkness and feel as charged up as an Energizer Bunny when they read the Bible.

    It doesn’t help when we talk to other Christians who claim they have never questioned anything that happened to them because God always does things for a reason. So when you’re screaming out, “Why did you take this person from me? Why am I losing my job? Why do I have cancer?” those kinds of serene people believe they will be a blessing to you with their faith… and all they do is make it worse because YOU don’t see it that way. What’s wrong with me?

    It makes us feel like maybe we didn’t do this right, like we’re missing something, that we don’t love Jesus ENOUGH, that we aren’t fervent or faithful enough. When we have problems and someone says, “Are you really praying? I mean, REALLY praying?” as though our continued ohplease ohplease ohPLEASE isn’t REALLY praying.

    So I hear totally where Jill is coming from. We hear all about the Joy, the Peace, the Blessed Assurance Jesus Is Mine, but I think the reality is quite different for many people – but they’re afraid to say so in public. Doubts and questioning are not really welcomed in most Bible studies and churches (at least in my experience), making the seeker feel even more removed and alone.

    I am so grateful for this community where we can say these things without a Virtual Church Lady waggling a finger at us.

    • http://terraspiritus.ca Birch

      I loved this response :) In fact I’ve enjoyed reading this whole post and comments, but this really jumped out at me.

      Quote “So when you’re screaming out, “Why did you take this person from me? Why am I losing my job? Why do I have cancer?” those kinds of serene people believe they will be a blessing to you with their faith… and all they do is make it worse because YOU don’t see it that way. What’s wrong with me?” —— yes exactly.

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

        Barbara’s the best.

        • http://www.violetsandwine.com Barbara Rice

          Thanks John. The oatmeal cookies are in the mail.

    • Allie

      I like to read about David as an antidote to those people. David was always bitching and complaining and God loved him. He wrote a whole bunch of psalms in which he asks God what’s the deal, why does everything suck so bad. But my favorite moment is when a guy almost dropped the Ark of the Covenant and some other guy reached out to steady it without, apparently, being of the right social caste, and God blasted him. And David yells, “What the bleep, God, was that really necessary?”

      I looked up the details of this story to refresh my memory, and found this page. Sharing it because to me it’s a really hilarious example of how NOT to benefit from scripture:

      http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/uzzah.htm

      Yeah… okay, so what that writer thinks, pretty sure you can safely discard that. Believing that God is a giant dickhead and you should tremble or be arbitrarily blasted, not helpful. Jesus said we were meant to be children of God, not merely servants, and certainly not cowering, oppressed victims.

      What I get out of the story of Uzzah is that the writers of the Bible noticed that life sometimes seem arbitrary and God sometimes seems unfair. And when that happens it’s okay to get mad and yell about it. God is fine with that. Some of God’s favorite people – David, Job, Ezekiel, did a lot of getting mad and yelling that God isn’t fair.

    • Jill

      Whoa. Barbara, you always slay me with your comments, in the good way of course.

      And that’s exactly it– I had to get out of my own way, out of my own pride, fear, self-doubt, whatever, before I started this journey of reclamation. I literally told myself whatever happens, whatever surfaces– it is ok, it will be ok. It may suck royally sometimes, but I am in this for the right reasons this time.

      Even when I doubt my reasons, I will show up again and stay with it. I’m in it for the long haul– until the day that I either understand that somehow it fits, it feels like I’ve “arrived”, or I hear the intuitive message that I’ve done what was needed and it’s time to move on. If neither ever shows, then I’ll just be in it, and I can say finally to God that I did my very best. And I think that can be enough for me.

      • http://terraspiritus.ca Birch

        When taking Education for Ministry, we started with the Old Testament.. and one thing that finally sort of made sense was… some of those stories really do seem written to explain one basic truth – LIFE AIN’T ALWAYS FAIR – but you’re still loved. Shit happens, but… You are loved.

        • Jill

          Thanks very much for that, and by the way, I clicked into your blog (because I do that kind of thing), and…oh, drool! You just had your Thanksgiving feast!!! (I work in international sales… I know all the other holidays…)

          If you’d just send over a bit of your quince crumble to my attention, yeah that would be appreciated. ;)

  • deb porter

    when i got married i had an idea, some hopes and a lot of expectation as to what marriage was going to be like. sometimes it looked, felt was, all the things i thought it would/should be. and sometimes it was less and sometimes it was more. marriage to me is like my faith in Jesus. i became a christian with expectations, hopes and ideas. based on what i had seen heard and read, what i wanted fixed, what i thought of myself and was bringing to the table. it was and is different and i am glad for that. there is much in me that has restricted intimate knowledge with God, and that very same stuff has at times brought me closer than i could imagine. sometimes it is business as usual, others are mountain top experiences. but no matter what the moment or day is- i was always married, just as i am always a christian. relationship isnt always tangible, measurable or predicatble. that is the nature of relationship. my marriage with my husband will be different from you with yours. neither less valuable or true than the other. just different. unique, so it is with our relationship with Christ. hope this helps. if all else fails. remember the word GRACE. – then remember love’ they help too.

  • charles

    the thrill is in the chase- We dont know the destination, but we are following the most interesting man who ever lived…. For me thats enough, even with being forgiven through the work of Jesus on the Cross.

  • Carol

    Jill! In this world of microwave everything and ‘instant’ coffee we all feel at times we should feel and experience like we think others are. Christianity isn’t like that and probably 1 of the reasons many turn away as they think they have to have this ‘perfect’ buzz straight away.

    Christianity is a journey. It is relational. Our faith grows day by day, week by week and year by year. Just ask God for the willingness to be willing to find out what God wants you too.

    As someone else said, don’t try and make it fit. Relax a little. Find what works for you. There are many many Christian book resources too which are lightweight and helpful for exploring your relationship with God. The 1′s I was led to at the beginning of my journey was Phillip Yancey and ‘The Jesus I never knew’ 1st and ‘Where is God when it hurts’ followed by his other books. (Apologies if I am not allowed to mention authors on here. I wasn’t sure so I posted anyway)

    It’s hard but retraining yourself to enjoy the journey takes time. There’s time for us all that we feel put off, disconnected and so on. There are many daily reading books too which give a reading a day with a life connection which are free journals you can find online.

    Praying was explained to me as simply talking to God. I don’t always have to be on my knees to pray. I can do that at anytime of the day to God. This is what Paul means to pray 24/7.

    I hope some of my thoughts help, especially take it easy and keep it simple. Learn how not to try too hard. That is what many of us do, at times.

    I admire you effort and so does God. God is saying ‘let me’ Surrender to him and let him be a channel through you.

    It’s an awesome journey. Not an easy 1. Contrary to what other ‘non-christian’ people say, the life of being a Christian can be hard at times.

    Talk to God about all this. God knows your problems, however he wants to hear you saying them to him. It’s communication like you have with anyone. If it is still going round in your head, write it all down. God speaks to us and allows you to speak to him in anyway that works. He would rather you even have a rant at him than ignore him. I have found out.

    Build your relationship like we build relationships with people. Meaning in the sense that if you meet someone new you get to know them. This is how it works with God.

    Hope this helps.

    • Carolyn

      Absolutely PERFECT, Carol! Jill is a tremendous friend of mine at our mutual workplace–she shared with me all that was being written here. (She really IS as beautiful in person as she represents herself in writing–more beautiful, more amazing, even! And funny and sassy and far more successful in life than she gives herself credit for.)

      After reading all that was here as of about midnight, I was haunted by the lack of mention of Christianity as relational. When you accept God’s offer to adopt you after 30, 40 or more years of life, any adopted child will tell you it doesn’t start out feeling all warm and fuzzy. Time must be spent getting to know your new Father, Lover and Spirit of Love/Energy.

      Despite my affinity for spirituality books, there’s NOTHING like going to the source–God’s Word–to really learn about Him. Romans and Hebrews are a great way to get to know Jesus and the concept of Christianity. Like any endeavor worth embracing, it starts with dedicated learning–a step I know Jill is taking in a bible class.

      At the beginning of my own conversion, when something in the bible didn’t make sense–or pissed me off–I argued with God over it. Again and again, ever so consistently, He gently helped me to understand that sometimes, I had the proverbial log in my own eye. Other times, He opened my mind to the incredible paradox that is His Word.

      For years, it was just me and Him, discovering one another. But I was desperately lonely and in need–definitely ‘hungry.’ That’s the foundation for who you know me to be, Jill–who I was before God answered my prayer for a dear Christian friend who ‘got’ me. In you, He far exceeded my expectations and has, yet again, proven to me that He’s faithful and worthy of my allegiance. Keep searching and asking–yelling, if you need–and in time, it will “feel” right. Most of the time, anyway.

      Special thanks to Matt and John Shore, who’ve been there for my dear Jill. John–the water and the cup: AMAZING and PERFECT! As a searcher who started out Protestant, went Pentecostal (literally) and wound up Catholic (through marriage), I now often interact with Catholics who are upset with The Church. You’ve given me the perfect language to say it’s not about The Church: It’s about GOD and His personal interaction and action in an individual’s life. Gandhi said it well: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” As someone alluded to in all the writings here, the unfortunate reality is that more often than not, you have to look beyond the general population of a church.

      SUPERB work here, in this blog: Keep up the good fight. It is in our weakness that we find strength. May God bless all of you as you’ve blessed my beautiful friend, Jill!

      • Elizabeth

        Jill’s very giving, very brave. And she can drop Beastie Boys lyrics at the drop of a hat. Bless you right back.

        • Matt

          Jill’s and my friendship always reminds me of Matthew 25–”For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in…”

          She has saved my life. This is just me attempting to give back a little. Blessings on you too, Carolyn.

          • Jill

            All of you just blow me away. It’s more than enough that you have each touched my life the ways you have. Whatever I can give comes from what I’ve been given.

            Now I understand why a solitary faith life just wouldn’t always work. Yes God speaks in the silence, but also in the people that were at one time strangers.

  • Nick Nelson

    I just want to pass along a book recommendation: The Benefit of Doubt by Greg Boyd. It is affirming for all those who wrestle with god and challenging for all those who think they don’t need to (or shouldn’t). It is a very thoughtful read on the subject of faith, particularly christian faith.

  • Matt

    And to my dear friend Jill I’ll also add this:

    If you ever think in our conversations (here or elsewhere) that I’m absolutely sure about anything, least of all my faith, then I’ll just let you know that I’m not! Some of the patients I care for in my line of work cause me to seriously question God.

    Did I ever tell you about the alcoholic patient that refused to give up drinking? And he drank so much that he would fall repeatedly and break bones, even while on the way to get another X-ray to examine his latest injuries? He refused any and all help. I had to cajole, flatter, and manipulate him so that I could keep an eye on him at all times while he was under my care. I had to confess to the specialists who called me to ask about his liver function tests that yes, he was definitely still drinking. He lived alone and confessed to me about being raised by an abusive, alcoholic mother. I was in no position either legally or professionally to give him more substantial help.

    It just seemed to have no end. That was one patient that caused me to rail at God. Seriously, Big Spirit in the Sky? You’d just leave one of your children in a place like that? What is the point of such suffering? There’s nothing to be gained, no lesson to be learned. It’s just agony for all involved.

    But mostly I just try to believe that God can be trusted. That I don’t know everything, that in fact billions of books and hearts are full of the things that I don’t know. That people have all the power in their own lives, and doing our best is all that can we do, and it’s enough.

    If you choose to be a Christian, I will be thrilled. If you choose to be something else that brings you peace/joy/fulfillment/belonging/meaning, I will be thrilled. I love you all the same. And as I always tell you, I can’t wait to see what you do, because you’ll be brilliant no matter what!

  • Leslie

    Wonderful advice from all. I would add one thing. This was something I had to learn which made it so I could actually be a Christian. Feelings are messy. Don’t depend on feeling anything. I was always so worried because it seemed like those around me would have these amazing feelings of joy and could feel God’s presence, could feel the Holy Spirit. I don’t feel things the same way I guess. So I gave up counting on feeling anything about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. I went with things I *know* instead. I know God loves me just as I am. I know the Holy Spirit lives in me. I know the voice inside me is good…whether you call it intuition or the Spirit or whatever. For me feelings come and go, therefore, are unreliable. Holding on to what I know when the feelings aren’t there is what helps me.

  • Donald Rappe

    I feel comfortable in my pew here. The center of my faith is expressed very well in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. I have always enjoyed that the RC church on the campus of my undergraduate study at UChicago honors St. Thomas the Apostle. Faith is not the absence of doubt, faith is what overcomes doubt. But, without the love that seeks the fulfillment of the other, it is nothing.

    • Donald Rappe

      Ah, the mysteries of computers.

  • Donald Rappe

    I feel comfortable in my pew here. The center of my faith is expressed very well in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. I have always enjoyed that the RC church on the campus of my undergraduate study at UChicago honors St. Thomas the Apostle. Faith is not the absence of doubt, faith is what overcomes doubt. But, without the love that seeks the fulfillment of the other, it is nothing.

    What Paul describes is not faith, but, a “way”.

    • Jill

      I’d love to share a pew with you one fine day, Don.

  • Christine McQ

    To me, being Christian has merely meant believing Jesus was the Son of God and attempting to always follow His teachings. If He didn’t say it, we don’t need to worry about it.

  • http://jshegyi3rd.tumblr.com Joe Hegyi III

    I want to thank John Shore and all of you who have posted on this thread. I was crismated into the Orthodox Church in 2012. It was only about a week later that my daughter-in-law unexpectedly died leaving three small children behind. It changed my wife and I’s life forever as we began to help our son on a daily basis with the kids.

    At first I was sure that my faith could take it but as time had gone on I’ve sank into a deeper and delete depression and my basic beliefs have all fallen away until there was nothing left. I’ve been trying for the past few weeks to figure out if there was any place for me in Christianity. I’ve contemplated nihilism and atheism as I’ve struggled to find something I could hold onto to keep me from drifting completely away from the Church.

    While it was not this post alone that has given me how, it has certainly played a huge role in making me feel like I should get back in there and try again.

    While I’m not really sure what I believe at this point, I know I hate the idea of being an atheist. You all have given me hope that there is a place out there for me if I look hard enough.

    Thank you all for the first hour I’ve felt since April 2012.

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

      Wow. This is really moving, Joe. I’m so sorry to hear of the tragedy that befell your family. That’s so painful. Thanks so much for here sharing with us what you have. Drop us a line now and then–or always, every day–and tell us how you and your family are doing. (Fwiw, I think that if there’s anyone who has a right to have God really listen to him when he talks, it’s you.)

      • Matt

        I, too, am so sorry for what you and your family have been through, Joe. I’m so glad that we could be of help, even just in this small way. I’ll pray for you and your family if that’s something you would like. If not, then don’t sweat it. Just take it easy and take your time, okay?

    • Jill

      Dear Joe, if I may be so bold, I would guess that rather than hating the idea of being atheist, you might hate the idea of feeling alone in the world and in your life. That all your struggle, and effort, and dedication, and commitments have been for naught. That there is nothing there.

      I’m the one not sure about the Christian part, but I am pretty damn sure that you are not alone–that everything you do, everything your family has endured and continues to push forward through, in spite of it all, makes a WORLD of difference everyday. To your son and your grandchildren, to a world that understands the pain and loss you are feeling now.

      That you are here, fighting for what your soul requires in order to be well, speaks volumes about what you have inside you and the mark you make in the world you live in.

      Perhaps all the beliefs you held that have fallen away, that were once an anchor and a support, had become a barrier to a deep and animated relationship with the Divine. And this time and space now allows God to speak to you through the brokenness.

      Anyway, I’m really glad you shared with us here, hopefully unburdened even a little, and I wish for you all the healing possible.

    • DR

      This makes me teary. We really do find what we seek. Much love to you, thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Raisa

    This post has been very comforting to me in my spiritual searching. However there is one thing that keeps infiltrating my prayers. I want to believe that God truly loves me and cares for me but I can’t stop thinking about the arbitrary nature of suffering and then think what is the point in praying for God to look after me.
    I have been finding it difficult to understand how an all knowing, all powerful and all loving God could have created this universe with the rampant existence of pain and suffering. Whenever I read Apologetics arguments, I don’t feel convinced. I would really appreciate if you could share how you reconcile this issue with your faith in God.

    • BarbaraR

      Excellent questions, and ones that have been asked ever since people started questioning why bad things happen. Unfortunately, no one has ever come up with a really good answer. (There are people who have an answer that works for them, but this isn’t a one-size-fits-all dilemma.)

      I think that many people see God and prayer as a means to getting what they want, i.e. an end to pain, suffering, crisis, etc. If things are going well, we say that “we have been blessed.” if terrible things happen, we say “it’s God’s will” or “God has a plan” or – worse – “God is testing you” or “”you have unresolved sin in your life.” How many times have we seen some evangelist on TV saying “That tornado is God’s punishment for sin” or some other mindless and worthless recitation? “God will punish this country for —- (fill in whatever it is that person thinks God hates – feminists, gays, environmentalists, whatever).”. Suffering people are asked by “well-meaning” Christians, “are you really praying hard?” as though endless prayer is enough to make Grandma come back to life or cure cancer or make the bank give the repossessed house back.

      Job went through terrible suffering even though he was righteous. His faith did not protect him from pain and loss. He cried out for answers, but the misery continued.

      If God prevented all misery and suffering, would that make Him more benevolent and loving? Or would it take away our free will? Would it end disease and death and pain? What kind of world would that look like?

      We pray (again, my opinion) as part of a conversation and communion with another person. It isn’t about – or perhaps should not be about – asking for protection from pain. To continually ask for a pain-free life will inevitably end in disappointment. Viewing God as someone who could do this for us if He just wanted to – that makes God into something of a bi-polar Santa Claus, who seems to favor some people over others.

      We are created fully human, and included in that package is the capacity for great joy and also for great pain. Humans are capable of great love, but our limited life span means the people they love get sick and die. And humans are capable of inflicting terrible suffering on people they know and on people they will never know.

      My personal feeling is “it rains on the just and the unjust.” Belief and faith does not prevent unhappiness any more than lack of faith engenders unhappiness. It’s part of being human in an imperfect world. Not a great answer, I know, but that’s my take on it.

      • Raisa

        Thanks for your response Barbara. You say many people see prayer as a way to getting what they want. In my experience of Christians praying, I see it has been a way of asking God to help us. I suppose prayer should be conducted more in a way where we ask for God’s strength to get through the hard times rather than stop them from happening or make them go away. However, apart from praying for God’s love to work individually through us, it seems pointless for this to work on other people, physical healing, or to influence events to help ourselves or others. This is what Christians pray for at my Bible study. If God cannot influence these then what’s the point. Or can He only influence some of these. Then you get into the territory of “God’s will” or “plan”. But then why are some people in His plan and others not, as you so well put, that would make God a “bipolar Santa Claus”. How do you find your prayers answered? And if it just to engage in communion with God then why pray for ourselves and others?

        Jesus certainly believes that our prayers should be answered if we have faith in Him. In John 16:23, he says, “Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in my name, He will give it to you”.

        I struggle with the argument of of evil existing in this world because God gave us free will. God has the power to create a morality where we do not choose evil. What benefit do we derive from our capacity for cruelty, brutality, and murder? If God had created us without these, we wouldn’t even know it. We wouldn’t ask, “Why can’t we rape and murder?” We would simply live moral, decent, loving lives, and never trouble ourselves over the absence of evil.

        If He is is omniscient then He would have been able to foresee the outcome of His creation. If He is so loving then He would not have made the choice for us to be created the way we are.

        The argument that this is not our only life and all will be solved in our heaven is not enough, because I don’t see what the point of this creation is. Why create this universe and subject it’s creatures to suffering, what is the greater goal? And then going back to what I mentioned before, if you are an omnibenevolent, why carry it out in such a horrible way? It does not make sense.

        The capacity for humans to cause suffering seems to me to be a product of evolution. If we didn’t have the capacity to protect ourselves from our enemies then we wouldn’t be here today. This is why animals cause suffering to other animals. To sustain themselves and protect.

        However then the issue of our morality comes in. We know what is right and wrong, we don’t want to do bad, but sometimes we do it anyway. This is something I agree with in the teachings of Christianity. The origin of morality is a complex issue. However to cover it very superficially, I believe our capacity for empathy, upbringing and socialisation lead to our morality. Also If we went around killing and raping people, no one would want know us. Being ‘good’ also seems to enable group harmony so that this group can stand against a threat. Most animals live in numbers. I know there is a lot more to it than this but it’s not something I have delved into deeply and don’t believe it all that relevant now.

        Before this search for truth began, my spirituality comprised of connecting with people and nature. That was my truth. Honest, open connections. I didn’t need answers for the origin of the universe. I was living in the here and now, doing my best to love the world.

        Yet through this exploration I have found this spiritual world being amplified with the belief that the natural world is created by God and this has been an amazing experience.

        However, I am struggling to see the Christian God as the Truth because there are too many contradictions. Now I have started thinking that my spiritual awakening was caused by suddenly everything having meaning and that’s what I was so excited about.

        I keep thinking that if the Bible is true about what Jesus said and did, then you could come to terms with these questions as something to be aware of but not have that pressing need to have answered straight away. I suppose I am weighing up God’s impact in my life since I started to connect with Him with the evidence of the life and work of Jesus which seems like 50/50 for me.

        • BarbaraR

          You have beautifully articulated what many Christians wrestle with. In a lot of churches, this kind of questioning is actively discouraged – people who are struggling with these questions are given very pat answers like “It will all be revealed” or “There are no contradictions in the Bible” or “Just keep reading your Bible and praying.”

          It gets even worse when someone self-righteously proclaims, “I have never doubted the Word of God.” If someone asks that person the kind of questions you have posed here, they’ll likely be told that “Satan is planting doubts in your mind.” Could it get any less helpful?

          I don’t believe that a healthy spiritual life is static. Sometimes you’ll read of someone whose “faith was shaken to the core” due to some calamity and it caused them to have to reassess everything they believed, or (more likely) that they had been taught to believe.

          Many people do believe that prayer has a direct influence on outcomes. I personally have my doubts about this, but if it makes them feel that they are accomplishing something, who am I to say, “You’re wasting your time”?

          You said, “I keep thinking that if the Bible is true about what Jesus said and did.” Is it true, every tiny bit of it? Was Jesus quoted accurately? We don’t know, but there is certainly a lot of room for questioning. The gospels were written well after the crucifixion and since then have been translated and re-interpreted by imperfect people in assorted cultures and places. I personally don’t see the Bible as absolutely infallible and without error.

          We don’t know any more about those big questions than anyone else. No matter how many degrees someone has and how many translations of the Bible they’ve studied, their experience and their interpretation isn’t valid for everyone. Faith is deeply personal and what your Bible study group concludes may well not agree with your take on it. It doesn’t mean one’s right and one’s wrong.

          Spirituality needs to be a journey like the one you’re on. To find a set of answers that fits one’s worldview and be utterly convinced of its inherent eternal truth for everyone is vacuous and fatuous. There’s always more to learn, to question, to accept or to reject.

          • Raisa

            BarbaraR and Guy Nerrod, thank you for these thought provoking responses.

            These issues have been going around and around inside me and have not been adequately addressed until now. I am so grateful for the openness and acceptance of different points of view on this site.

            BarbaraR, could I ask what do your prayers consist of, if they do not also include asking God to help you in particular matters in your life and others? Do you still pray for these things and don’t expect them to be answered or do you have a different style of prayer that is conventionally found at Church.

            Initially what I really appreciated about Christianity was the focus off yourself in prayer for other people and external issues. I really like this shift off yourself. It felt like it helps me me think about the people in my life that need help and prioritise what is important. I believe we have strong energies and the investment of thought and prayer into people may have some direct influence on outcomes in their lives. Even if all this does is influence us to act and support those in need.

            Guy Norred, thank you for this. I think I am going through a time where I am ready to give it up on it all if something doesn’t fit. You are right, the search for Truth may lead you to a faith which doesn’t have all the answers. But as you say you say the resolution of these questions is not where your faith rests.

          • BarbaraR

            Hi Raisa,

            I don’t pray in a formal sense. I fell out of the habit years ago when it became apparent to me that I was reciting a laundry list of wants and needs, and really wasn’t feeling it. All that, ‘Dear Lord, we come to thou in prayer and lift up our brother Frank, beseeching that he might be healed with the faith of a mustard seed” – I am pretty sure God doesn’t speak King James English.

            Instead – and I know this sounds all New-Agey-touchy-feely – mostly I listen and watch and observe. I check in now and then – “Hey, I’m still here. Good day. Thanks” – but mostly I am focused on “hearing” what God is saying/doing, if that makes sense. Someone once said to me that you can’t learn anything when you’re talking, and it’s true in any relationship – listening is more important than talking.

            I think that asking for very specific things is setting ourselves up for disappointment and a “be careful what you wish for” scenario. Instead, I might say, “I feel really bad for Sam. He is having a really tough time at work and he is stressed out. I don’t know what the best thing is for him but I know there’s got to be a better way for him.”

            I do believe God is working constantly all around me and I see the results – if I take the time to step back and look at my life. Praying specifically, I think, can close us off to other ways of looking at a situation.

            I wouldn’t ever say that prayer isn’t effective or doesn’t work: many people cite instances in which they believe that interceding with prayer changed everything, and I cannot discount that or dismiss it. But for me personally – it’s more of a communing thing than a formal conversation.

          • Raisa

            Hi Barbara, these are very wise words thank you. I got very excited reading this post! This way of praying, especially the listening part really fits for me.

            I have always trusted my intuition to guide me. I am beginning to see a parallel between my intuition and God’s voice. Maybe He was always there and I thought it was me speaking. I can really relate to the idea of God guiding me to be ‘good’ in my consciousness. But would that mean that I always had the Holy Spirit inside me and it didn’t enter me when I told God I would commit to Him? And if you are trusting YOUR intuition then your faith is actually in yourself and not in God so what is the point of it all? This seems more like a Buddhist way of thinking. I am very confused.

            Another topic that we discussed a bit was the truth of the Jesus story in the Bible. I do not trust humans and I am finding it hard to accept that Jesus was really God incarnate, performed miracles, died for our sins on the cross and then rose from the dead. I have read so much information for and against the event, I feel like I am going to explode.

            What is it in your life that sways you to believe it probably happened? (I know you cannot have certainty). Is it God’s work in your life or the teaching of Jesus?

            Thank you again for all this advice. This blog is helping me so much!

          • BarbaraR

            Oh gosh. I wrote a response this morning and Disqus apparently lost it.

            I would say that it isn’t intuition so much as it is learning to rely on one’s own store of knowledge and discernment. Two things people have told me: “You’re where you’re supposed to be” and “you know more than you think you do” have helped me enormously. Those may indeed be Buddhist ways of thinking. I do know that I got fed up with the atmosphere of most organized religious settings, which is that ordinary Christians should depend and call upon the leaders – the pastors, elders, deacons, etc., because they allegedly know more and are wiser. I call BS on that: my experience, my knowledge, my own research are every bit as valuable as theirs.

            I have felt God working in my life and know (in my own experience) that Jesus did live and die for us. But telling that to someone who doesn’t believe it makes as much difference as handing them a cauliflower and saying, “Here! Believe in this and you will be healed!” It means zero.

            Ten years ago, when I first met my husband – who is agnostic – I was attempting to tell him what I believed. And even as I spoke, parroting the phrases I had been taught in church – all you have to do is believe and you’ll go to heaven, it doesn’t matter if you’re a good person, without Jesus you aren’t saved – I suddenly realized, I don’t believe this. Why am I saying these things? It forced me to step back and do some serious re-thinking.

            Someone on this blog mentioned a person – a Hindu, I think – who said, “Do you really believe that God only revealed himself at that one time to a very small group of people?” I had to agree: no, I don’t believe that. I cannot discount the myriad experiences of people of faith very different from mine. I think God constantly is revealed to many people in many ways, and that is fine with me. It isn’t my business how God wants to work.

          • Raisa

            Wow yeah I see God in everything and that He communicates to people differently. What your saying is so liberating to me because it rings true to my heart.

            Just one more question, how do you view the concept of repentance?

            I think being aware that we are not perfect and being aware of our actions through reflection is enough to make me try to change if I have acted in a detrimental way to myself or others. Aren’t we already forgiven because God knows we are imperfect? I don’t know how much the process of repentance has been invented by humans or did Jesus talk about it? Sorry I have not read that much of the Bible.

          • BarbaraR

            I’ll turn it over to Garrison Keillor in this bit from his 1987 book “Leaving Home:”

            “Larry the Sad Boy was there, who was saved twelve times in the Lutheran church, an all-time record. Between 1953 and 1961, he threw himself weeping and contrite on God’s throne of grace on twelve separate occasions—and this in a Lutheran church that wasn’t evangelical, had no altar call, no organist playing “Just As I Am Without One Plea” while a choir hummed and a guy with shiny hair took hold of your heartstrings and played you like a cheap guitar— this is the Lutheran church, not a bunch of hillbillies—these are Scandinavians, and they repent in the same way that they sin: discreetfully, tastefully, at the proper time, and bring a Jell-O for salad afterward. Larry Sorenson came forward weeping buckets and crumpled up at the communion rail, to the amazement of the minister, who had delivered a dry sermon about stewardship, and who now had to put his arm around this limp soggy individual and pray with him and see if he had a ride home. Twelve times. Even we fundamentalists got tired of him. Granted, we’re born in original sin and are worthless and vile, but twelve conversions is too many. God didn’t mean us to feel guilt all our lives. There comes a point when you should dry your tears and join the building committee and start grappling with the problems of the church furnace and the church roof and making church coffee and be of use, but Larry kept on repenting and repenting. He came up for Christmas and got drunk and knocked over the Christmas tree. That was before 2:00 PM. He spent the next eight hours apologizing for it, and the penance was worse than the crime.”

            There’s a huge list out there of things we should repent of. Everything on the Ten Commandments, of course, but people add their own personal ideas about what constitutes repent-worthy sins. Playing cards. Listening to secular music. Drinking anything stronger than a milkshake. Holding hands with someone you aren’t married to. Swimming with someone of the opposite sex. (Seriously. Google “Is mixed swimming a sin?”) Hollywood movies.

            Personally? I think when we meet God, he isn’t going to focus on our misbegotten nights or our gluttony or parking tickets. He’s going to ask, “How did you treat My people?” We should stop worrying about every tiny thing we might have done wrong, and instead start being the person we would like to help us when we’re in need.

          • Raisa

            Yes! Thank you, thank you! Your words have been such a blessing! Your so cool :) That’s what I’m going to focus on, caring for people and can deal with everything else with time.

        • Guy Norred

          I read your post a few hours ago and knew I wanted to respond when I had a chance. I now see BarbaraR has, beautifully as always, said some of what I was going to say, but I want to add:

          The part of all of what you said that struck me the most was your last paragraph. I honestly see it as a beautiful statement of faith (OK–much more than your last paragraph fits this, but it is so elegant). As someone around here said recently (sorry, I can’t remember who or in what context), the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. I think too many predicate their faith on the idea that with it they have a system in which to find all answers. Unfortunately this often leads to either ossification or the complete collapse of faith if any part of the system is challenged or found wanting. I think faith though is what we have when, though we may desire and seek answers, we don’t require them. This is not the flippant “all will be revealed” to which Barbara refers, but the deep and quiet knowledge that the question itself is important–too important to not give adequate inquiry–but not that on which one’s faith rests.

          • Andy

            You touched on one of the things I talked about in my previous comment to Raisa before I decided I’d gone off on a long-winded tangent and started over. I went through a period where I was doing a lot of questioning and I wanted answers. I wanted proof, and I thought that if I didn’t find it, then I was basically a non-believer. Eventually I realized that all of that was wrong. While I’m far less certain of what I believe now, I feel my faith is more honest and grounded in reality. And though I still struggle with it at times, I definitely prefer it that way.

    • Andy

      I had a long post written here, but I’ll try to make this shorter: it’s fine to have doubts. Attempting to reconcile theodicy is a difficult matter, indeed.

  • BarbaraR

    Hi Raisa,
    I don’t know if I would call it intuition so much as I would call it learning to trust oneself and one’s own judgement, and learning to hear what God is saying. Our own discernment certainly plays into that.

    Not every Christian believes that we have to have the exact salvation experience that many churches talk about ; indeed, some of them say you cannot possibly be a Christian until you’ve “asked Jesus into your heart.” The “ye must be born again” of the gospels has somehow become a make-or-break event; if a person didn’t do that, then they’re not “saved.” I disagree with that stance; though I did go through that and it sticks with me to this day – and that is what convinces me of the reality of Jesus and his sacrifice & resurrection – I don’t think it’s a necessity.

    Everyone’s personal experience in finding God is different. It has to be: people around the world live in wildly different cultures and have very different perspectives; God meets them where they are. Did God only appear to a very small number of people in the Holy Land two thousand years ago and expect everyone in the world to be convicted by that story? I don’t think so. I think God continually appears to people in forms they can understand and grasp, not just as Jesus. God is too big to only assume one persona.


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