5 Main Challenges to Staying Christian, and moving forward anyway (part 2)

In my earlier post today, I summarized the comments I received from my initial question, “What are the one or two biggest challenges you face to staying Christian?”

Now we move to part 2, which is ways in which you have found to move forward. Most of you found it very encouraging to be able to lay out the challenges you face, and I know many readers were encouraged by watching that process. I am hoping that part 2 will continue along those lines.

I’m a little nervous about moving on, though, because “moving on” commonly implies minimizing the challenges–”Oh that’s not really a problem. Here’s the answer, now move on.” I would like us to avoid that common pattern.

I’ve thought quite a bit about “why move forward?” so I’m not just winging it here. However, I do not want you to read my own thoughts below as any sort of mandate for the rest of you, an attempt at an iron-clad defense of Christianity, or an etched-in-stone “here I stand” statement.

These are my present thoughts on addressing and living with the challenges to staying Christian, and you are free to accept, ignore, modify, be bored, whatever. 

I will number them (because I have German blood) as separate items, but these reflexions overlap.

1. I don’t think the life of Christian faith is fundamentally “rational,” by which I mean it cannot be captured fully by our rational faculties. I have long felt that a God who can be comfortably captured in our minds is no God at all. I see our sense of what is rational as often more the problem than the solution. I am not for one minute saying “reason doesn’t matter.” I am using reason as I write this. I read and write books. I mean only that the life of the mind has its place as an aspect of the life of faith, not its dominant component. 

In other words, I belief that faith in a true God is necessarily trans-rational (not anti-rational) and mystical. I try to remember that as I work through intellectual challenges–and I mean “work through,” not avoid.

2. Related to #1, I see the two pillars of the Christian faith as expressing the mystery of faith: incarnation and resurrection. Though conscious of reductionism, I see these two elements as making Christianity what it is, and both dodge our powers of thought and speech. I don’t mind saying I find it strangely comforting that walking the path of Christian faith means being confronted moment by moment with what is counterintuitive and ultimately beyond my comprehension to understand or articulate.

3. In dealing with the various challenges of reading Scripture–especially as a biblical scholar–I try to keep #s 1 and 2 before me. Over the years, I have expressed this process by way of an analogy (not “identification”), often referred to as the incarnational analogy–Scripture is a full and unfettered participant in the ancient cultures in which it was produced (as Christ was a full participant in 1st century culture), thus reminding me to expect Scripture to reflect an ancient, other-worldly, mindset rather than my own categories of thought.

4. I have had my share of “God moments” in my life. I’d like to have more–maybe I’m just not paying attention. I know that any alleged subjective experience of God can be explained otherwise, but I have had some experiences that lead me to question those alternate explanations.

5. “The things I want to do, I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do, I end up doing.” I feel there is something deeply wrong with this picture, and the Gospel story explains me. Let me stress here that this isn’t “proof” of Christianity. In fact, it is my Christianized self that even leads me to phrase my internal struggles by co-opting Paul’s language from Romans. But for me, this is a piece of the puzzle that becomes more evident the older I get.

6. Embedded in some of these points is my growing conviction that “journey” or “pilgrimage” is a powerful metaphor for the Christian life. Hence, I expect at times to be in periods of unsettledness, uncertainty, fear, and other sorts of things that help remind me that who I am, where I am, and what I think do not define the nature of reality. Ironically  I feel exploring my own realities more deeply are a means by which I can learn to relativize them.

7. I have come to believe that periods of struggling and doubt are such common experiences of faith, including in the Bible, that there is something to be learned from such periods, however long in duration they might be. I feel it is part of the mystery of faith that things normally do not line up entirely, and so when they don’t, it is not a signal to me to end the journey.

8. This final thought only occurred to me recently, and I am not sure if I am gaining some insight in the second half of life or if I am missing something. As a brain-oriented person, I have tended in my life to look down on those who say things like, “If I didn’t have my faith, I couldn’t make it through this,” or “If God isn’t real, I don’t know if I can hold it together.” These sorts of sentiments always struck me as irrational, for the weak-minded, those who “needed” a crutch. If Christianity is true it has to be for reasons other than “I need it to be true.”

In recent years, however, I have begun to see this from a different angle–and this ties in very much with #1. I have begun to see that those who cry out to God may be perched at the very point where true communion with God begins, because they are in the unique position of surrendering fully from self to God.

I see this modeled in Job, who is given the choice at the outset of the book of whether he will trust and worship in God because he is well off, etc., or whether he will surrender and trust/worship God because…well…no “because” other than God is God–i.e., for no discernable reason external to the current crisis. (I owe this insight to a guest lecture C. L. Seow gave in a Wisdom Literature class of mine many years ago.)

Those who truly suffer have no where else to go, which means they have fully surrendered–including giving up anything under their control, any “reasons” for holding on. Perhaps it is only in suffering that we can die to ourselves and put our (overactive, western, rationalistic) life of the mind in its proper place. We just cry for help, free of what we have constructed of God.

I know I keep returning to the idea of mystery, but that is where I am (and where I am is what this post is about).

Anyway, this is how I am at present living with the genuine challenges to the Christian faith.  Take all this for what you feel it’s worth. Now it’s your turn–just try not to be as longwinded as me.

  • Owen

    “Faith seeking understanding” (as long as no single word in that phrase dominates the others). I’ve found I’m prone to go to extremes if not careful– allowing faith to preclude understanding; understanding to mean only “full understanding”; or “seeking” to mean continual pursuit with no appreciation of critical realism. Thanks for your posts.

  • Jakeithus

    I appreciate your points on Christian faith being trans-rational. That is something that has really impacted me, both in wrestling with my own faith and in discussing God with people who don’t believe or believe differently than I do.

    It’s been made clear to me that incredibly rational people can and do come to differing conclusions on what is the truth and the nature of the universe. There are a variety of factors other than what is rational that impacts how we all look at the world, Understanding this has allowed me to be better accepting of the intellectual challenges that come with believing in God, as it has helped me live with the mysteries present in my life, and all of our lives.

    I too find power in Paul’s words to the Romans. In my opinion, it is such an accurate understanding of the human condition that shows there is something more at work in Christianity. Not in the sense that it proves Christianity to be true, but in that it provides me with the assurance that even if I’m wrong and God doesn’t exist, that there is some sort of real truth to be found in the Gospel message of our condition and the way to be free from it.

  • Samuel Adam Reese

    I can honestly say, the only good reason that I have for continuing to be a Christian (I have other reasons, but they are either shallow or reek of fear) is Christ Himself. I love Christ like I have never loved another, and just the idea of Him is enough to make me continue to be a Christian. That may sound pat, or perhaps cliche, but it is my only good reason for staying a Christian-because I really truly want to be a “little Christ”, even when it goes against everything I feel inside of me.

  • Jack

    Struggling and doubt ought not to be common experiences in the Christian life. They do ocurr, but usually when sin and unbelief have the upper hand. If you have a relationship with Jesus and faith in His Word, struggling and doubt should be the exception, not the rule.
    Perhaps your I&I paradigm is flawed?

    • Jill

      “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani”…sounds like whoever said that was struggling a little no?

      • Jack

        C’mon, seriously? Perhaps a lesson on the Trinity is in order?

        • peteenns

          Jack, please read my email and my comment to you today. Engage respectfully or be banned. This is your last warning.

      • peteenns

        Jill, I would add his garden experience, too. Not to mention his temptation in the wilderness (if it were not a genuine temptation with the possibility of disobeying, it would not be a temptation.)

      • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

        I always thought Eloi Eloi … etc, was Jesus quoting Psalm 24, as it finishes “It is done”

    • AC

      Pete made it very clear in Part 1 that this sort of comment has no place in the discussion, the point is not for someone to come in with their apologetics.

    • James

      I think, Jack, your view above is shared by many (It’s not bad as it stands). In this forum, however, why don’t you share times in your own experience “when sin and unbelief have the upper hand?” And how your own “relationship with Jesus and faith in his Word” have reduced struggle and doubt–for you. I’m guessing Pete won’t ban you from the conversation if you do.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

      “struggling and doubt should be the exception, not the rule.” Should be but they aren’t which tells you something about the Christian life. If it is all sunshine and rainbows, how are we to recognize the sunshine and rainbows? If even the disciples struggled, why should we be immune to it. Granted, the root of our struggle might be different than there’s was, but it is part and parcel of this faith (take your cross, etc).

  • ajl

    Great summary. it’s all about framework. I love what someone said in the other post about first world problems. For example, the excellent post you just gave is easily shot down by our traditional 21st Century Evangelical worldview. For example:

    1. The Christian faith is not rational: yes it is, John MacArthur says so.

    2. Mystery: no mystery. The bible clearly says who God is

    3. Ancient cultures: no, no, no. The Bible was written so that everyone in every generation can apply it

    …anyway, you said that we shouldn’t be long winded, so I won’t give other examples, but I think you get my point. We have allowed our 21st century american evangelicalistic theology to say what the Bible says, rather than be willing to allow a fresh look at the bible to inform our theology.

    This 21st century evangelical worldview is a bridle in our mouths, forcing our head to turn a specific way and missing so much about who God is. It leaves little room for us to say “wow, I didn’t see that coming..”. Truth be told, I want it to be easy, but because its a mystery, it gives me more opportunity to be surprised.

    I heard someone once say the cry of the scientist is not eureka!, but rather “hmm, I didn’t think that would happen”. In my journey, jettisoning the old wineskin has opened up a new and richer view of God. But, at the same time it leaves me with many unanswered questions to explore. My greatest fear, however, is that while I am figuring all this out, are people going to hell left-and-right?

    But, this mystery has made God more real to me than before, which is weird because my former view thought I had God all figured out.

  • Guest

    In a word, knowing what I know, I still believe, but in a way very different from before. The way I have moved forward has been by trying to take the Bible as it is and to follow the trail it lays. Schematically put, this led to my letting go of the idea of inerrancy, and to seeing Scripture as a collective effort by people to make sense out of their human experience, and so of God. Such a view of Scripture enabled me to rework the underlying assumptions that largely determine my theology. I moved first from classic supernatural theism to open theism, and then to process theology. Yes, I am still a committed Christian who is post-Evangelical, postmodern, emergent, progressive and emergent. All of which satisfies me as being the best meaning I can make out of Scripture, of Christ, of science, and of my experience of life so far.

    • Mark Farmer

      Sorry for the double post. I tried to delete this one because of a typo, but all that got deleted was my name. Pete, feel free to excise this one.

  • Mark Farmer

    In a word, knowing what I know, I still believe, but in a way very different from before. The way I have moved forward has been by trying to take the Bible as it is and to follow the trail it lays. Schematically put, this led to my letting go of the idea of inerrancy, and to seeing Scripture as a collective effort by people to make sense out of their human experience, and so of God. Such a view of Scripture enabled me to rework the underlying assumptions that largely determine my theology. I moved first from classic supernatural theism to open theism, and then to process theology. Yes, I am still a committed Christian who is post-Evangelical, postmodern, progressive and emergent. All of which satisfies me as being the best meaning I can make out of Scripture, of Christ, of science, and of my experience of life so far.

    • Jack

      But Scripture’s testimony of itself is not that it’s a “collective effort by people to make sense of their human experience, and so of God.”

      It testifies to having been breathed out by God himself. Shall we believe you or Scripture?

      • Mark Farmer

        You’ll just have to figure that one out for yourself, Jack. But you really should respect Pete’s ground rule of not trying to fix others. Tell your own story, and learn what you can from the rest of us.

      • dan

        Adam, an imperfect human, was also breathed out by God

  • Craig Vick

    I’m not sure why I go forward or even what that means. I’m reminded of Camus’ quip that the only question of philosophy is whether or not to commit suicide. I don’t think Camus meant that literally – there are many ways that we in effect destroy ourselves. And yet our Lord declares that we must lose our lives in order to find ourselves. Perhaps that loss of self at times means not having answers, being forced to listen. I think that’s what keeps me going. I find my life more in listening than in having the answers. I also find joy in listening. I hope that makes some sense.

  • J. Stewart

    Pete, I find that often times it is in the discontinuity, or should we say the irrationalities, of Scripture that I most experience or learn something about God. I try to not too quickly pass over these places. Rather I linger for as long as time will allow. I think through these issues and although I often have more questions than answers my faith is rooted in the resurrection. I have come to the conclusion that the difficulties of Scripture are God’s way of encouraging us to experience him. Yes, this is a journey or pilgrimage for me, one in which I attempt to help my students come to terms with. The Christian life isn’t solely about having all the answers about the Bible. Sometime we just have to let the difficulties stand, and visit them often. I love the mystery and at times the irrationality. I have to come to terms with them. I guess more often than not it is best for me to Job’s lead: “I recant and am comforted concerning my humanity” (42.6)

  • Guest

    Sometimes I feel that the very imprecision and mystery of the Christian faith (and Bible) is a designed-in feature. There is just enough to challenge and initiate the relationship (not forgetting grace, of course), but never enough to turn it into an obvious robotic duty. Which gets to the heart of the issue – that the walk of faith is fundamentally a relationship. The whole of life is literally a test – stretching out and exposing the nature of the Creature, differentiating, proving that the Creator’s judgements are worthy. Don’t expect a lifelong test to be easy! In fact, I think the theme of “testing” is very much a golden thread running through Scripture.

  • Anonymous

    Number 7 makes imminent sense to me, especially in light of contemplative traditions in the faith. I’m thinking of reading Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross this summer for precisely that reason. If I had time (or made it), I wonder if a reading group would be worthwhile….

    But–yes, but. Sorry to be skeptical or critical, but this gave me pause:

    “Those who truly suffer have no where else to go, which means they have fully surrendered–including giving up anything under their control, any “reasons” for holding on.”

    A familiar perspective, and perhaps a true one. Is it also, though, a problematic one? Does it risk *lionizing* suffering or suffers? If suffering–alone or in particular–puts you in the place to know God, then *must* you must be reduced to an abject being before you can truly know God? Or, when you are suffering or at a complete loss, it is the opportune time to trust and know God–and if you don’t make the most of it or simply don’t experience or know God, well then, your faith must be wanting.

    I’m not sure I put that the right way, and maybe I’ve misconstrued the point. But I am hesitant to say suffering is a privileged moment or experience, which I think goes beyond saying that suffering *can be* a revelatory moment.

  • John M

    There is a sign at the gym where I work out that says, “If
    you want to know your beliefs, take a look at your actions.” When I did just
    that with my faith, I realized that most of what my evangelical seminary
    education had provided me simply did not have any real impact on how I thought
    or lived. The picture I actually have of God simply did not accord with what I
    was being taught. And so rather than try to keep acting as if I believed things
    I actually didn’t, I now try to look at my beliefs as they manifest themselves
    in my day to day life, and then I see how they stack up against scripture,
    reason, tradition, and of course my own experience. Could I be wrong on things?
    Absolutely! I am undoubtedly wrong about many things. But taking little steps
    to become honest with myself and others about what I actually believed made me
    feel as if I could belong in the greater current of Christianity instead of just
    feeling like an outsider in Evangelicalism.

    Or, as I put it in this blog (in the spirit of Arrested Development) I am no longer a theological never-nude. :) http://onetheology.com/2013/05/24/being-a-theological-never-nude/

  • Susan Gerard

    At this time, my faith is somewhat in crisis. I’ve dealt with this by living with a duality: what I know about God, and what I don’t know about God (everything else). I keep them somewhat at arm’s length apart, hoping the latter, with investigation, will become the former (with faith). If it helps anyone, I will say that what I know about God came from Him, not anyone or anything else, which puts it immediately suspect as “of a dubious nature”. The experiences were drug free and occurred when I was particularly open (that is, in rare moments when I had no preconceived notions about Him). Once it was when I was 15, walking home from school, and having been proven wrong about something fundamental, I simply wondered, “If I was wrong about *that (strongly held opinion)*, I wonder if I am wrong also about God? I wonder if God really exists?” I was not expecting anything, I was just open to the possibility that I might be wrong again. And there, in the most mundane of places, on an overpass in an ugly city, God answered the question in a way so out of my range of experiences that I could never again deny His existence. I will not relate the total experience, just one aspect of it: as He revealed to me what He wanted me to know (which was simple but changed everything), I was covered by “love” as I had never felt love before. It felt physical and sensory, as if (it’s hard to describe) something was wrapped around me, but what it was was love. I can recall the exquisiteness of that experience but I never felt it again in that way, not in my marriage or with my infants/children. That was my love going out to them; their love to me was delightful but not a full body experience. OK, I’m done with that, sorry to be verbose. But that is part of what-I-can’t-deny-about-God. From then on, having been told that the Bible was the written word of God, I began to study it. And I believed what it said, because I believed Him. But I struggled with what I read, particularly His wrath, the problem of Hell, the existence of evil, and why God chose a sacrificial system to relate with us. It took another 14 years of struggling before I was willing to accept Christ as my Savior. And I’m still struggling with the same things. By reading more, by living with not knowing, by hoping to learn some answers, by trying to be intellectually honest with myself and trusting Him, and by trying to live out what I do know – this is how I continue in my faith.

    And here I was hoping you were going to give us the answers!

  • Andrew Dowling

    I come not from an evangelical background but was born and raised Catholic. Ironically (or perhaps not), it was when I began really investigating the beliefs and history of Catholicism that I began to confront the history and different ideas about Christianity (and thus my attraction to this blog).

    That process led me away from the Catholic faith (although there are still things I do love and will always love about the Church) and through more and more study and analysis, also away from what some would consider “basic tenets” of Orthodoxy into what would be called by most “liberal Christianity,” a class of believer stuck between the atheists who claim we are basically just like them but hung up on the faith/”crutch” of our youth, and traditionalists who consider us heretical atheists! :)

    It some ways it was a ‘slippery slope’ process but I consider it a slope towards being a more much informed and engaged Christian than I ever was before, just blindly going to Mass and not investigating these things/knowing the history of my faith.

    At times it’s been hard and is still hard. The journey will never end. But what keeps me here is what attracted me to Christianity as a child. The ministry and example of Jesus. I consider Jesus a Lord worth following and the God of Jesus worth tapping into even if there were never 10 commands given on stone tablets from on high, walks on water, or virgin births. This has coincided with a belief away from the traditional theistic conception of an all powerful God controlling the fate of the universe into a more Wakan Tanka/”Great Mystery” view of God, pretty much one with the Holy Spirit. God was found according to Jesus in acts of love, mercy, and sacrifice. That is powerful enough for me. The rest I’m comfortable (or getting comfortable with) remaining unknowable to me.

  • Ann Gingrow Corbett

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about dealing with the challenges you face.

    As a person tentatively returning to the Christian faith, I find it reassuring to
    read that almost everyone has doubts at some point. Although I know this process has been difficult for many, I think it’s been a valuable and empowering experience.

    I still haven’t decided which church to attend–I’m more disposed to be progressive and wouldn’t do well in a church with rigid views–but wherever I land, I hope that people are as willing to grapple with the difficult issues as everyone here has been.

    • Lise

      Ann – I hope you find a wonderful church home that meets the above stated needs.

  • unkleE

    I think my experience and present beliefs are probably similar to yours, Peter, and to many others here. I agree following Jesus is a mix of reason and mystery, but I find my intellect needs ti be able to understand why something is a mystery.

    So I have continued as a christian for 50 years now for two main reasons.

    1. The encouragement of my wife, who is a very spiritual christian, quite different to me (so we complement).

    2. Advice from CS Lewis (can’t remember exact words) to the effect that when we have doubts we should ask ourselves if anything has changed in our reasons to believe, or is this just an emotional response. I have found every time that my reasons to believe remain far stronger than my reasons to disbelieve.

    Thanks for what you are doing here.

  • glen

    I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful responses. Much to chew on. Unfortunately, my reasons for hanging on aren’t nearly so noble. I hope this doesn’t discourage others or come across as overly negative, but in the interest of honesty, my current top reasons for staying are embarrassment and ease. Embarrassment over having to admit to my older kids that I no longer believe everything we’ve taught them for years. Embarrassment over having to admit to those who financially supported us for over a decade in ministry that I no longer believe what they once paid me to teach others. Embarrassment over having to admit to my unbelieving extended family that I’m no longer the god guy they have long viewed me as. And little appetite to take the difficult path of coming clean, or uprooting my family to a new church that more closely aligns with where I’m at now.

    Terrible reasons, I know. But perhaps if I hang in long enough, I will find better ones. I hope so.

    • Tre W

      Glen…I have a very very good friend that could have wrote what you described about embarrassment. She has lived and is living through it right now. Its hard for her. But she has decided that in the case of her grown kids that she would show them that she made a mistake and being the teacher still… showing them how to own it by doing the right thing.

    • Jason

      Glen, your brutal honesty is refreshing! Hang in there. Based on what you say, I’m smelling a “come clean” moment somewhere down the road. It just may be a while.

    • Tre W

      Glen said :”….or uprooting my family to a new church that more closely aligns with where I’m at now.”

      This reminds me of a joke: Two gay men were standing on a corner when the most beautiful woman they’d ever seen walked by. The one guys says to the other: “makes you wish you were a lesbian, doesn’t it?”

      Just as the gay guy can’t even think to imagine being straight (perhaps the simplest way to be with the beautiful woman)…that sentence on new church suggest a similar inability to imagine being completely atheist.

      I just think its kind of funny..just like the joke. Glen, you’re going to laugh at it too someday. :-)

      • Tessa

        Sure, Tre, it’s totally that simple: just be a straight guy and every beautiful woman will be spreading her legs for you… ha!

  • Tre W

    The author said: ” I don’t think the life of Christian faith is fundamentally “rational,” by which I mean it cannot be captured fully by our rational faculties.”

    Then a few sentences later wrote: ” I am not for one minute saying “reason doesn’t matter.”

    It seems to me that anything you say that counters the first statement is in fact, every second of every minute, saying reason doesn’t matter. If we don’t have our full rational faculties…we have a word for that: crazy. And crazy has no limits.

    rational means rational. not almost…or nearly…or sort of. Rational means rational….and using reason is being rational. We don’t get to make up new definitions of words and their meanings.

    • Guest

      Google “bounded rationality”…

  • Dan

    I’m going to try and be as respectful and blunt as possible because
    do rather appreciate your blog.

    But what’s the point?

    If these problems keep “showing up” should not that tell us
    something that there might not be answers. These may be contradictions? [I have
    not yet, but] isn’t it time to throw in the towel? If Christianity has no
    standing, what’s the point?

    If we were simply discussing problems without answers, sure
    I could get the “rough patches ahead” speech. But we are not. We are talking
    about direct contradiction of many of these beliefs, and uncertainty within the
    crucial ones.

    Have faith and struggle with god? Why? He didn’t even
    preserve his words for me! He didn’t even give a clear account in his
    revelation for his resurrection! Struggle with what? Isn’t this case closed? And
    if I do not struggle and wrestle with it, depending on what you believe of
    course, I go to hell? Get no “rewards in heaven?” Am separated from god? Or maybe
    I am not considered “blessed” (after all those who believe and don’t see are
    blessed)?

    Furthermore, why are non-believers penalized? Condemned? Whatever
    happens to them? For honest inquiry? Requiring proof for something?

    I just don’t see the point anymore. Why wrestle? Wrestle for
    what? We don’t even have proof that we should deserve to wrestle to begin with,
    or whether we’re wasting our time for something not worthy of our effort.

    That may sound dismal, and I do not mean any disrespect. I don’t
    really expect an answer, I just figured I would fling it out there (a problem
    of mine).

    But this is “where I am at”

  • Stephen W

    I have two things that have helped me hold on to faith in Jesus (though not necessarily Christianity):

    1) Experience. I’ve never experienced a miraculous healing or been “zapped” by the Spirit, but I am aware of a constant change in me on a fundamental level. I’ve seen it in others too and this makes it very hard for me to let go of Jesus despite the doubts.

    2) Jesus. As I have begun to understand what Jesus (particularly on the cross) reveals about the God of the universe, I find the implications absolutely staggering – it’s so counter-intuitive to think that this is what God looks like, so out of tune with everything the world says and does, that it compels me in a way no other philosophy/theology/religion has.

    • anonymousFollower

      Amen!

  • anon

    I would have said at one time, I would stay to avoid going to hell, but now I think the main reason is the “God moments”. I’ve had too many to deny them and many during my most “unholy” times. He has shown Himself to me more in my weaknesses than in religion.

  • Muzi Cindi

    Around 2006 I went through a time of serious questioning; this was after more that 35 years in Evangelicalism – 25 years as a Pastor. I went for Richard Dawkins book; THE GOD DELUSION. On 17 August 2007 I had a mystical experience that conformed Dawkins book. From thereon life became INTERESTING (Biblical Scholarship; Atheism; Agnosticism; searching; doubting; unlearning; relearning; questioning; wondering; dark nights of the soul, etc)

    Today I live my Theological Life in the space between Progressive Christianity and Atheism. I hold the two in an amicable & loving tension. I live my Spiritual Life in NEW THOUGHT Spirituality.

    MY MIND IS OPEN TO EVERYTHING AND ATTACHED TO NOTHING!
    THAT NOTHING IS GOD FOR ME!

  • Mike McKinniss

    First and foremost, Peter, thanks for pushing this project forward. It’s a critical issue for nearly every believer. And you’re to be commended for approaching it in the manner you did.

    I’ve stayed out of the conversation, however, because I can’t recall entering a real crisis of faith that might have concluded with the rejection of my faith. That’s not to say I haven’t wrestled with many of the issues raised in this discussion. I have. But it’s never come to a point for me where I might choose to walk away.

    (I hope it’s OK to put this forward in the midst of this dialogue. I think this side should be heard.)

    I’ll readily admit, I grew up in a Christian home as the son of a pastor. I knew that my parents loved each other; they loved me; and they loved my siblings. That was never in question. Both our family and our church were filled with grace and compassion and, importantly, intellectual integrity. Trite answers were unacceptable in church or at home. Real struggle was permitted and accepted, even while God’s intimate reality remained a given.

    (The issue of inerrancy, for example, was put to the test rather early for me. This led to a rejection of the standard approaches and an embrace of the notion that the Bible was interested in answering different questions than I was asking of it.)

    This has been my pattern throughout life, then. The cognitive dissonance that comes with major paradigm shifts, while unnerving, has become a sign, not of doubt, but of growth. Thankfully, I’ve come to embrace those troubled waters, as it typically means coming through to the other side with a better experience of the Lord, greater confidence, and a more nuanced understanding of the life of faith.

    Anyway, I put this forward not to discount the genuine stories put forward throughout the conversation, nor as an apologetic. Rather, I write it simply to put forward another side to the story.

    • Tre W

      Mike…I appreciate your sincerity here. Respectfully though…when you say:

      “The issue of inerrancy, for example, was put to the test rather early
      for me. This led to a rejection of the standard approaches and an
      embrace of the notion that the Bible was interested in answering
      different questions than I was asking of it.”

      I honestly don’t know what that means. I grew up being taught that the bible was the word of God. Either it is or it isn’t. I just don’t think we get to “make up” alternative perspectives…otherwise. That last sentence in the quote seem to say: “I didn’t get the answer I wanted…so maybe I had better make up another reason”

      • Mike McKinniss

        That’s a fair question, Tre.

        Often, biblical interpretation strikes me the way I imagine the reality of Jesus struck the disciples. While they had books of prophetic words of God foretelling the Christ, the embodiment of the Messiah appeared very different from their expectation. Thus, Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

        I think it’s rather common that my interpretation of God’s word ends up being quite different from the reality of God’s word. Is it possible for God’s word to remain true while I misinterpret it? I should hope so.

        Evolution comes up quite a bit around here, so I’ll use that as an example. I may approach the creation narratives with the question, “What has Genesis to say about evolutionary theory?” Turns out, I believe, the Bible’s not really interested in answering that question. It seems, rather, it’s more interested in answering the questions, “Where did Israel come from? What’s Israel’s purpose? What’s the problem in need of a solution?”

        It’s not a question of whether the Bible is the word of God, but whether I’m approaching the text on its own terms. So what could have been a reason for doubting the text or the Lord, actually becomes a reason for doubting my supposed basis for being the authority.

        • Tre W

          Mike…sorry…I didn’t notice your response until just now. sorry for the late reply.

          I believe that I am coming from this at a deeper level (towards the bottom line) than you. Take your comment here: “It’s not a question of whether the Bible is the word of God, but whether I’m approaching the text on its own terms”

          From where I’m coming from….that statement alone is premature. From my perspective, we have to validate the bible first BEFORE we reference it as significant. When you say “approaching the text on it own terms”…that is giving it some sort of respectability it hasn’t earned yet. I’m not trying to be cruel or mean or anything like that…I’m just pointing out a simple observation and the ramification it presents.

          You (meaning your position) have to defend the bible as being something other than a a collection of stories made up by some humans that lived years ago…who, by the way, was subject to the same human errors as us humans today, thus, filled with errors and contradictions, and with no apparent fail safe influence from the entity (God) that supposedly says its his word. And keep in mind…you don’t even get to use God himself in your defense of the book…since he is a product of the book. Follow me? That’s what I meant when I said “premature” earlier.

          • Mike McKinniss

            OK, yeah. I think I see where you’re coming from now, Tre.

            (Also, it’s weird to carry on a conversation in the comments section of someone else’s blog, no?)

            I believe you’re absolutely right. Arguing for God’s word as *God’s* word simply doesn’t work for one coming from outside the community of faith (and probably not even for one within the community who’s seriously questioning). For those outside the community of faith, an actual experience of that living God must take precedence over the acknowledgement of the Bible as authoritative or inspired or whatever.

            For me, as I’ve moved through times of serious questioning or doubting the validity of the Bible, I’ve rested heavily on former experiences of the life-giving value I had previously encountered in this collection of texts, to say nothing of what I believe to have been significant experiences of the Lord’s presence. Relying on those past encounters, it’s always been worth wrestling through the difficulties to land on a more complicated view of the Bible.

            I suppose it’s not unlike a long marriage. There are times in which things become really difficult and confusing and you may even wish to throw your spouse to the curb. Yet your strong experiences of former happiness and life-giving love compel you to fight through the issues to a stronger and, yes, more complicated relationship, again filled with life.

          • Tre W

            ” Arguing for God’s word as *God’s* word simply doesn’t work for one
            coming from outside the community of faith (and probably not even for
            one within the community who’s seriously questioning).”

            You should have said that it doesn’t work for ANYONE…and end the thought. When you follow it up with a qualifying statement (like “coming outside the community of faith)…you allow for unreasonableness to be a defense. What is, is. and “doesn’t work for anyone” is what is.

            That being the case…when you say: ” Relying on those past encounters, it’s always been worth wrestling
            through the difficulties to land on a more complicated view of the Bible.” …..you should end that statement with: “…land on a more complicated view of the the unproven, unreasonable, illogical, superstitious thing called the bible., that makes me not apparently see the false circular logic I’m desperately trying to hold on to.

            I’m being blunt and a bit crass…but allow that from me to make my point…because my point is that without the bible…your whole way of thinking need to change.

            That is simply the way it is, Marc.

          • Mike McKinniss

            I’m going to respectfully disagree with you, Tre.

            First, it is perfectly reasonable *within the community of faith* to speak of Scripture as authoritative where that is a mutually accepted presupposition.

            Second, my personal experience will not allow me to call the Bible “unproven, unreasonable, illogical, or superstitious.” I’ve simply had too many experiences that seem to confirm the kind of reality described in the biblical texts. I have no other means for explaining the total strangers (but also ministers of God) who knew things about me no one else knew – things from my past, my deepest hopes or dreams – and spoke encouraging words of life over me. I have no other means to explain how it is that I’ve met people for the first time and been able to articulate their dreams and passions just because I saw it in my mind’s eye. I have no other explanation than to align it with the types of prophetic words of Jesus or his apostles or even of the Old Testament prophets.

            I have no other means for explaining how I was able to pray for a young girl in severe pain with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome and see over night her debilitating pain disappear and then to hear from her father six months later that she remained free of any symptoms of the horrible disorder. I have no other means to explain how just two weeks ago I was suffering from a sinus infection with a pounding headache, to then have a friend do nothing more than pray for my condition, and to then have all the pressure and other symptoms immediately vanish. I have no other way of explaining that sort of immediate change than to identify it with the kinds of healing accredited to Jesus in the gospels or to the first Christians in the book of Acts.

            I cannot expect someone without those kinds of life experiences to approach the Bible precisely the way I do. Neither could I fault someone for their skepticism. But I cannot the things I’ve seen and heard and experienced that mirror, especially, the accounts of the New Testament.

            I don’t disagree that there are things in the Bible that seem unreasonable, impossible, or even appear to contradict external sources. But it’s the kind of experiences described above that have made it worthwhile for me to seek alternative explanations for the odd discrepancy in the Bible while still holding on to the bulk of its worldview.

            At any rate, I hope that at least helps explain where I’m coming from. I appreciate the honest challenges, though. They’ve been helpful to think through.

          • Tre W

            “I believe you’re absolutely right. Arguing for God’s word as *God’s*
            word simply doesn’t work for one coming from outside the community of
            faith (and probably not even for one within the community who’s
            seriously questioning).”

            It doesn’t work for any human..coming from outside..inside or anyway around. No further qualification is…regardless if they admit to it or not.

            Mike…you say you absolutely believe me…but then immediately violate that statement by sharing thoughts that indicate you don’t believe me. (with my critique added, you wrote):

            ” I’ve rested heavily on former experiences of the life-giving value I
            had previously encountered in this collection of texts (what text…the bible?..that you just said isn’t relevant?) , to say nothing
            of what I believe to have been significant experiences of the Lord’s (what Lord? The Lord of the book you just said is not valid?)
            presence.”

            Can’t you see that without a bible…you wouldn’t even know the concept of God (proper name). Now..you can believe in a deity…but that deity doesn’t have to be (and probably isn’t) related to any idea of the “bible”…sense the bible doesn’t exist as a true document. It is as important to the truth as the story of Rudolph and his red nose.

    • Jason

      Mike, I want to go to your church (at least the one your dad pastored when you were a kid). Sounds awesome!

  • Lise

    When reflecting on what keeps me attuned to the Christian faith, I realize it is the God moments that anchor me yet nothing about these are inherently “Christian”. Call me a pantheist but I feel God in the sun’s warmth, the breeze caressing my cheek and when I take in a flower’s beauty. I see God in the depth of my cat’s eyes and in the smile of a child. Likewise, I have felt God’s presence in the heart of suffering.

    I am already hearing the more doctrinal devotees of the faith saying, “But how is that Christian? We can’t rely on our feelings to inform us. To be Christian we need to be affirming the trinity or talking about justification and sanctification…. I get that. Yet at the end of the day, these things pale in significance to the sense of ruach flowing through me when I take in a deep breath.

    However, the incarnation and resurrection are what awakened me to Christianity and why I identify myself with our religion. The power and beauty of these are beyond verbal articulation. What initiates us into these profundities is unique and deeply mysterious. I do believe Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” but it is not my place to say that those who don’t aren’t nonetheless walking in “the way, the truth and the life” in some context. I have met many Christ-like non-Christians who seem to know Him.

    As for the inerrancy of the bible, I grew up thinking the bible was a book of literature but that God speaks through art so I hold some of these related issues with far less tension than most. Yet one when I learned Greek and first read John 1-5 in the original language, I felt my heart quicken. It still makes me go weak in the knees with awe.

    1Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. 2οὗτοςἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. 3πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετοοὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν 4ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων: 5καὶτὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.

    And it is that light shining in the dark that keeps me hanging on.

    • Ann Gingrow Corbett

      What does the second-to-last paragraph say?

      • Seeker

        In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God…etc. etc. It is John 1:1-5 as Lise mentioned above in her post…

        • Ann Gingrow Corbett

          Thanks! I see the reference in her post now too.

        • Lise

          Thanks!

      • Lise

        Hi Ann – That is John 1:1-5. I realize I just typed John 1-5. And it is beautiful in all languages. :) Oh – thanks, Seeker. I’m just seeing your reply now.

  • E

    What keeps me going? I had a radical encounter with Jesus when I was 19 – He transformed my life. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was Jesus who met me then and Jesus who has walked with me for the past 14 years. At times it’s difficult to reconcile all of the various facets of life and understanding. But, at the end of the day, I do know this: Jesus the Christ is King. And there is nothing that will change that.

  • Canadian gamer

    I’d like to bring a different opinion. If you feel it strays off what you think belongs on the thread, just tell me.

    Most of your post is stuff people can relate with, it feels human and real. Yet, it ultimately rests on the validity of point number 1. If faith is a valid path to truth, then it’s worth the effort to struggle. If faith doesn’t lead to truth, struggle becomes a force for alienation.

    And that’s where facts and evidence come in. Jesus’s speeches and paraboles are often powerful. Paul, too, can speak to us even almost 2000 years after. All that can be the case without God existing or Jesus really being his son. But Christianity requires more, lest the Bible be just another book that enrich our vision of human life. It needs its factual affirmations to be true.

    Whether God exists or not is a matter of fact, not of feeling. Same for Jesus being his son, same for the miracles, same for the afterlife. These are factual affirmations about the world with clear implications for behavior. Would you praise the Lord in song every Sunday if you thought he probably doesn’t exist? Would you pray to him for help? Would you try and avoid going to hell if you thought there is no evidence for an afterlife, never mind one with a hell and a heaven? Faith can’t answer those questions, yet it should.

    All I sought to do with this comment was to bring an outsider’s view to the idea of struggling in faith. I also think it’s important for Christians to understand the position I’ve outlined, all the more so given that Christianity is not a private matter, but something people live together and share with and to others.

    Yours,

    J.L.

    • Tre W

      “Whether God exists or not is a matter of fact, not of feeling. Same for
      Jesus being his son, same for the miracles, same for the afterlife.
      These are factual affirmations about the world with clear implications
      for behavior. Would you praise the Lord in song every Sunday if you
      thought he probably doesn’t exist? Would you pray to him for help? Would
      you try and avoid going to hell if you thought there is no evidence for
      an afterlife, never mind one with a hell and a heaven? Faith can’t
      answer those questions, yet it should.”

      nothing to add…it was so spot on…I felt like putting it out there again.

    • Andrew Dowling

      I strongly disagree when you say “it needs its factual affirmations to be true” which is a completely 21st century way of reading 1st century (and earlier) texts. Metaphors can impart truth without being actual historic events (and I’m not saying there aren’t historic events in the Bible). Curiously, ancient Jews understood this but post-Enlightenment Westerners seem to struggle with it.

      And many “factual affirmations” you are claiming such as heaven and hell (in the traditional Orthodox sense) and Jesus being a literal son of God via a paternal relationship are not biblical ideas at all, they were construed from the seepage of Greek ideas about Gods having literal sons and daughters and going directly into another “place” (Hades) after dying. When one actually delves into the history of Christianity and what became the established theology, one sees how things developed over time and how ideas were established via various other influences and events. For me, it was quite a liberating experience. Knowing that original sin was something concocted hundreds of years after Christ, or that the first generation of Christians didn’t believe in a virgin birth, helps clear the way for the essentials (it creates a completely different way of reading the Bible) And one doesn’t have to affirm those things to believe that God exists or that God was spiritually manifested and reflected in Jesus I find that worthy of praise. Feeling like you have to affirm that Jesus literally rose a man named Lazarus from the dead to believe in any of it is an elementary school version of Christianity.

      • Canadian gamer

        Although your reply contains interesting insights about the evolution of theology, I think it is wrong on two things.

        First, literal belief may be a simplistic way of being a Christian, but it isn’t rare at all.

        Second, it’s hard to draw the line effectively between truth and metaphor when refering to the Bible. You can’t really push away all matters of belief. You say, for instance, that it is not necessary to believe in all that was told about Jesus to believe he was the reflection of God. Yet you believe (and I really don’t want to push this too far, I know this isn’t the place for it) that God exists and was spiritually manifested. That is a factual affirmation. If you remove all factual affirmations from Christianity, it becomes a sort of artistic, perhaps beautiful way of feeling about life, a more religious-sounding philosophy. Entering or leaving Christianity would carry no consequence, apart from the way you enjoy life. However much you strip away the layers of literalist theology, you still need a core of actual truth.

        • Andrew Dowling

          1) ? Did I ever say literal belief was rare? On the contrary, I’d agree it’s commonplace.

          2) It is hard to discern truth from metaphor, but being well versed in history and biblical scholarship, in my opinion, can get you a long way.

          3) I agree you need a “core of truth.” I guess I maybe didn’t reflect that enough in my post. I think the core of truth is the eternal truth imparted in Jesus’s teachings and message (along with the fact that he was an actual person, was considered a healer, his followers somehow perceived him to have risen from death) On the latter two statements, I’m fine with leaving the details to mystery. Do I doubt a literal bodily Resurrection? Yes. But do I think something extremely powerful and even “other wordly” occurred in the Resurrection experiences . . .yes. But the ‘meat’ of my discipleship is the overall message that Jesus preached, and not the soteriological/cosmic ramifications adopted by Orthodox Christianity which were never preached by Jesus and have been particularly strongly adopted by post-Reformation Protestant churches, of which sprang forth the American evangelical tradition

    • http://www.facebook.com/dan.ortiz.54 Dan Ortiz

      “All I sought to do with this comment was to bring an outsider’s view to the idea of struggling in faith.” Struggle not abandon…. which is what your posts indicates.

      “Whether God exists or not is a matter of fact, not of feeling. Same for Jesus being his son, same for the miracles, same for the afterlife. These are factual affirmations about the world with clear implications for behavior. Would you praise the Lord in song every Sunday if you thought he probably doesn’t exist? Would you pray to him for help? Would you try and avoid going to hell if you thought there is no evidence for an afterlife, never mind one with a hell and a heaven? Faith can’t answer those questions, yet it should” I think you miss the point that a progressive Christianity does not necessitate certainty, which is what you seem to say is what is needed. Facts are certain, so for Christianity to be certain it needs to be factual (in all accounts). This sort of reasoning is one caught in the fundamentalist mindset.

  • Ron Taska

    Four challenges:

    1. The theodicy problem of why God allows so much suffering.

    2. The evil often done by Christians.

    3. The many discrepancies and contradictions in the Gospels and the refusal of churches to discuss and examine these.
    4. The nastiness and dogmatism of the religious right.

    Way out:
    1. Concentrate on following the Golden Rule the best that I can do so

    • thirtysomething

      I am curious – do you still go to church? I ask because I feel similarly to you, but I don’t know that believing in the golden rule is necessarily being a Christian. For me it is not enough to feel comfortable in church. Someone of any, or no, faith can follow the golden rule. I’m looking for more of the absolute truth that Canadian gamer is talking about.

      On a side note, my current favorite book is Cloud Atlas. I love the idea that you should help others not just for their sake, but because you are literally helping yourself at the same time. And conversely, when you harm someone else you are literally harming yourself. I find this idea to be very in sync with the NT, but also valid whether or not you have a Christian viewpoint.

    • Ron Taska

      No, I do not still attend church. I spent several years extensively visiting many different churches and fit in with Unitarians best because of their commitment to the environment and other social issues. I am now really disillusioned with churches for their refusal to really discuss historical and textual Biblical criticism. Thanks for the suggestion about Cloud Atlas. With regard to the Golden rule, I think Confucius stated it way before Jesus did. I am an advocate of the Thomas Jefferson Bible containing just the teachings of Jesus.

  • plectrophenax

    I really like your point about surrendering from self to God. I think this has always happened to me in a relatively spontaneous way, and it always takes me by surprise. I sometimes call it self-abandonment, but maybe that is a bit too precious.

    When I was younger, I faced the apparent challenge of doubts and absences, or barren spells, but now I am older, I have learned to just accept them, and not fight them. Inevitably they turn round, and change back to the surrender and the God moment. I don’t understand this process, but again, I am less concerned about that now. For me, understanding takes second prize.

    As the hymn says, it is being lifted up, and I can’t do that myself. So for me there has been a process of giving up, letting go, accepting the barren places. All is well.

  • secretdoubts

    I am grateful for this post and the comments as I have been wrestling with this issue since reading …ahem…Incarnation and Inspiration.

    The struggle is oftentimes complex and I do not alway trust my conclusions. One day I may be ready to dump it all but the next day I find myself in harmony with being a Christian. I am fearful the most of losing Jesus. He has been immensely important in my walk and cannot turn my back on him despite nagging questions that pop up. I find that taking the long and slow approach is perhaps the wisest path as I am not the first person to wrestle with these issues and will not be the last. Many saints have held onto Christ through the ages so why should I let go?

    On the more philosophical/intellectual side, one problem that keeps me in the faith is the problem beauty. I cannot fathom any other source other a good and gracious God. When I see magnificent landscapes or Hubble telescope images, profoundly intimate music such as that found with Patti Griffin or Adam Again or Carlo Gesualdo, or the sound of my wife and daughters singing with each other in the back of the house; the kind of beauty that makes your heart ache and you cannot describe it are articulate as the very essence is ineffable. This is part of what keeps me.

  • Dustin Linn

    Wow, this is all real good stuff. This subject is, currently, very close to my heart and mind. I have been going through a lot of personal struggles for a long time and in March/April of 2013 many of those things seemed to be washing away. Then, as happens a lot, I trip up and the past 5-6 weeks have been brutual. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. As to what keeps me going? I am stubborn! Haha! In all seriousness, I can’t accept all of this (“this” being all things that exists) as mere happenstance. There is too much beauty in the world. Whether the beauty is a clear summer night sky filled with stars or piece of music that touches you so deeply that it moves you to tears or seeing strangers run to help each other in times of tragedy. I believe there is something hard wired in all of us to find the good and to help each other. And I believe that something comes from the christian God. I believe that the love and devotion that Jesus displayed dying on the cross is the clearest example of beatuy that could ever be thought of and when I feel lost, hopeless or confused (sometimes all three at once) I remember that Jesus loves every one of us (as corny as that may sound). This doesn’t make the trials and frustration go away but it does keeping me going. I will see the face of Jesus one day, with unveiled eyes, and I will know love.

    • Lise

      That is very beautiful.

  • Pofarmer

    I have always considered myself a Christian. Mainly non denominational protestant. I married a woman who is/has become VERY fundamentalist catholic. After a time I simply could not accept the million and five rules of the catholic church. When your catechism is longer than the bible, you may have a problem. Anyway, this set me to searching, through Bart Ehrman, Robert M Price, Richard Carrier, John Loftus, and many others. At this point, I’m stuck somewhere around agnosticsm. I don’t necesarily have a problem with the general Christian message, but I want my kids to understand the fundamental nonsense of much of what Catholics and fundamentalists try t teach. This is creating some conflict………….

  • Chuck Sigler

    With your first point, I think of Anselm of Canterbury, who said: “WHAT art thou, then, Lord God, than whom nothing greater can be conceived?”

  • Marshall

    PE: If Christianity is true it has to be for reasons other than “I need it to be true.” … In recent years, however, I have begun to see this from a different angle …

    I also think this is worth thinking about more. For one thing, it’s a lot about where I’m coming from. Since we are “made in the image”, it isn’t surprising to discover a “God-shaped hole” in my life.

    And the point I really want to make, the need to have the Gospel true “for other reasons” smacks of inerrancy of a different, Richard-Dawkins, kind. Seems to me Faith is about commitment more than epistemology.

  • PlainSkeptic

    This is an amazing discussion, but I agree with Dan Ortiz’s question, “What is the point?” An all knowing, eternal, creator produces a book that upon closer scrutiny appears to have lots of issues that come up over and over. Something is wrong. What could it be? Is it the writer? Is it bad editing? No! It’s the fault of the readers.

    • Tre W

      “Something is wrong. What could it be? Is it the writer? Is it bad editing? No! It’s the fault of the readers.”

      PlainSkeptic – I’m not sure I’m understanding where you stand with this quote. Are you saying that there MUST be something wrong with the writer? Because in the absence of a writer (No God)…it makes sense. And with the addition of bad editing (contradictions)…it makes sense…and when you finally throw in the fallacy of humans (the reader) in general…it makes sense. “It” being what’s really going on.

      To me…what doesn’t make sense is to simply dismiss those things and say I “feel” the truth.

  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colon DeLay

    Appreciating these insights.

    “God cannot be captured by merely a rational mind”…and I think plenty of other things hold true for this as well. Think of any ideal and I think we’ve ended at the same point.

    Love
    Beauty
    Truth
    Joy
    Justice

    (all hard to truly grasp)

  • Tiffani Fussner Cappello

    For me as well, the experience of God in my life has kept me in the faith. 15 years ago my 16yo cousin was diagnosed with an inoperable cancerous tumor that was near her heart and lungs. I remember when I heard of her condition and ominous prognosis. The family was devastated.

    She was supposed to start chemo and the night before the onset of her treatment, she prayed to God and asked him to hear her. She was not even a particularly religious young lady. She felt a strong burning in her chest and she felt God had healed her. The next day when she had her pretreatment testing, the tumor was GONE – completely. She became a very strong believer after that, as did some of my family members.

    Incidentally she did get cancer again 13 years later and has been battling it by traditional allopathic means. She did not receive a miraculous healing this time. I don’t know why, but I do know that everyone in our family knew of her cancer and we were all in awe when she was healed. I don’t think any of us deny the existence of God, although I do question the character of God that is promoted in most fundamentalist circles.

  • Donna

    I had found myself in the questions, doubts and comments posted here. There’s a saying in Maine, “You can’t get “there” from here.” But, I’ve been thinking all day about how I did and just how that happened. I don’t have “pat” answers. I only have my experience. I accepted the Lord at 7 but grew up, through poor teaching, thinking that God was mean and angry. I developed a default setting of religion, independence and reliance upon my intellect. Life over the years became arduous and empty as I struggled to find meaning and hope. I began to function during the day and flatline in depression when I got home. Depression had one redeeming factor for me. I didn’t feel much like praying so I ended up having a lot of time to listen. That’s when I found out something that changed my life. He talks to us! He was talking to me! When I could no longer sustain the fortress walls I erected demanded that God make sense before I would concede to really believe in Him – He came in and sat with me in the rubble of my heart. Everything that I knew before through scripture had always been viewed through mental ascent to truth. My understanding began to go from a 2D experience to a 3D when my heart ‘saw’ Him. It was the difference between reading a biography and knowing the person of whom the biography was written. Walking with Him for 47 years now has not been just a journey it has been an odyssey and an expedition. I look back and see areas where He has “fleshed Himself out” in me resulting in”resurrection” of new life in me. He is both enigmatic and transparent and beautifully captivating. Above all He is a true Friend. My heart goes out to everyone conflicted or doubtful. I know what that feels like. I hope my story offers you hope.

  • toddh

    1. I still think the Christian story is the best way of explaining the world, even with all its warts. I know that you just can’t avoid incomplete explanations of the world and how it works, no matter what you may believe.
    2. I still hold out hope that God is doing something in my life and leading me. I am still on the journey though it is sometimes rocky or uncertain.
    3. It would also be super-difficult to navigate the practicalities of embracing unbelief, given the years of commitment in many ways to Christianity. Not that that will ultimately be the determining factor, but I’d be lying if I didn’t mention it.

    • toddh

      I should add, (4) the really intelligent Christians who remain believers and give good answers after staring these questions in the face for years. They give me hope.

  • Westcoastlife

    I resonate with almost all of these, but number 6 especially. Years ago, I boarded with a wonderful Christian lady who was extremely prophetic (more than any big-name conference prophet was) and just full of the Holy Spirit. She said to me something that has always kept me moving forward, when I get back on track, which I fall from often. It was: “I don’t want to be where I am spiritually today ten years from now, nor do you.” It could have been taken the wrong way, but she was right. I always come back to: it’s a relationship that is being formed as I journey toward Him. He reaches out, and would even move mountains to help me get to him. But, ultimately, it is up to me to keep wanting to move on.

    I get off the road and sit in the rose bushes quite a bit (the thorns are prickly) and I nurse my wounds (God’s not fair, Christians don’t act like the Christians in the book of Acts – are there any “real” Christians left?, Controlling neo-calvinist types get all the attention and appreciation, woe is me to follow God apart from the madding crowd, I wish God would lower that person’s assurance a million notches or two, I have the chronic condition so everyone suspects my faith when theirs is just as weak or immature, etc., etc.). Those rose bushes draw me off the path with their lovely scent and smell, and sweet promise of rest but then scratch or even rip my tender, sun-burnt, windswept travel-weary skin and hurt more than heal.

    I wonder, more than ten years on, if I am a more mature, loving, patient person than back then. Wiser, yes, very much so, but, like you, I am growing to suspect the major signs of a powerful faith are less about experiencing the Holy Spirit’s power/God’s presence and having others experience His presence through me. I may be wiser and more discerning, and, back in those days, those were the fruits I yearned and prayed for (because they would help me marry the “right” spouse and, well, Solomon prayed for them and God was pleased). Now, however, I think it would have been better if I had cultivated a more Christ-like love for others. More patience, more kindness, less impatience and judgment. Much of my defences around certain popular segments of the evangelical church stem from seeing them focused on things Jesus was not concerned with (authority, control, needing to be right), but my response has been to throw up my arms when I can’t make others see that is a wrong turn and go lay in the rose beds – taking a break from everyone/thing Christian, because, well, I’m not yet where I want to be in my walk with Christ.

    Of course, the answer is to “just keep going”, but my response is “why”, I don’t feel closer to Him nor do I feel more transformed into His image. Oh, those lovely red roses, I think I’ll rest here a while… until I can find a church that is more in line with my journey, or, I can’t find a passage in the Bible that I trust anyone’s insight on anymore (including mine, Ha!), I will just pick rose buds until something inspires me that is clearly divine… and always, “I’ll pray later” look at those Pink Blush rose blooms…

    • Jazmin

      Holy crap! You just wrote my heart. My journey. What makes not lose heart all together is that sometimes I hear a gentle reminder that He has brought me through all this. I try not to put a time table on it. It has been a slow process, but I know it has not been in vain. Please believe me, you are where you are supposed to be.

  • Luke D

    Thanks Pete! this was encouraging…great wisdom as I personally wrestle with faith and questions!

  • Tre W

    I wonder what the proportional percentage of Atheists that struggle with being pulled towards God, is. In the absence of sites or blogs to support them…I bet there aren’t many at all.

    If Atheism doesn’t lend itself to make those that subscribe to it to have doubt (doubt being what this article is about)….yet the other perspective does….it appears to me that common sense is yelling at us.

    I think this article is about all those areas of humanity as we all know it, experience it, observe it…yelling at us to stop abandoning what we are. To abandon reason…to abandon all those things we do to know what “is” in favor of a “feeling” will never offer you comfort. You will always be drawn to articles such as this blog to try to ease the discomfort…but ultimately will never find comfort…because the reality is that you are hopelessly human…and your humanity will always protest against you, in the form of doubt, until you listen….or die.

    • Andrew Dowling

      So there aren’t atheists who have doubts about there not being a God?? Ha!

      • Tre W

        I did not say that at all. In fact I specifically said “….the proportional percentage…”…which implies that there may be some.

        My point is that, in general (compared to theists), atheists do not struggle with their position the way theists do. And theists struggle in a great many ways…just look at these comments on this blog.

        The internet is HUGE!!!! Show me some sites where you see atheists struggling. And if you can find one…I’ll show you 10 that shows theists struggling.

        • Andrew Dowling

          “And if you can find one…I’ll show you 10 that shows theists struggling.”

          Considering that true atheists are less than 5% of the population (based on a wide variety of respected polls), I wouldn’t be surprised of that either. Doesn’t mean much.

          • Tre W

            about 7 billion humans …so 5% atheist would be 350 million…about the population of the entire US. Now here’s the most important part (for the third time): Take the same proportion of doubters compared to the SAME proportion as theist and you will find much much less doubt on the atheist side. Proportional: a math term.

          • Nancy R.

            Tre and Andrew: I think there are some simple reasons why there is more evidence of Christians than atheists struggling with their beliefs. Christians have more to work with. A holy text that is interpreted in a variety of ways, denominations with some contradictory beliefs, church practices that alienate some believers, and so on. There are no corollaries for atheists, who have far fewer sources of conflict and difficulty. That in itself does not attest to the truthfulness of either side, I think. And you might be aware – some of the most ardent apologists for Christianity are former atheists – C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath, and, currently featured on this blog, Denis Lamoureux, to name a few obvious examples. Having been on both sides can really widen and enrich one’s perspective.

          • Tre W

            Thanks, Nancy.

            Two counters, if you will:

            1) The fact that theists (better than “Christians”. To me…its all the same) have so many things to wrestle with IS THE RESULT of being “in the wrong” That logic applies to EVERY debate on EVERY topic of anything when one side is wrong. You expect them to struggle from every angle possible…after all they are in the wrong. That is what you expect to find. The only “struggle” atheist have is repeating the same words over and over and over and over again in response to all the challenges from any angle: reason and scientific method. Two words that theism can not defeat…from any angle.

            2) On former Atheists turning to God…I have not done much research into that phenomenon…not surprising. However, from the little I’ve done…I have not come across a “statistically significant” amount of them for your (and Andrew’s) point on this to be a factor.

            Andrew; towards my comment on statistically significant amount…MY POINT to you in my last comment to you was that a population the size of the United States is large enough to be significant.

          • Nancy R.

            “I am right and you are wrong” isn’t a counter argument, just an expression of arrogance.

          • Tre W

            Respectfully, Nancy… your reply is just an expression of ad hominem.

          • Nancy R.

            “The reason your group has all these struggles is because you are all wrong about everything. The only problem my group has is the constant headaches we get from beating our heads against the wall, trying to get the truth through your thick skulls” – I rephrased, hoping I’ve caught the essence of your remarks. Sorry, not arrogance at all.

          • Tre W

            my point is that in this particular debate…that a side has to be wrong. That’s simply the case. It just is. And that being the reality…the side that is wrong would be expected to demonstrate a certain behavior. I’m merely pointing out what the logical manifestation of that behavior is and who’s doing it.

            Its not personal. It’s not arrogance…its fact.

          • Nancy R.

            I just want to make sure I understand your point, Tre. Are you saying that a point of view is more likely to be factually correct if its adherents are relatively doubt-free and show few variations in their beliefs, as opposed to a group which may be largely agreed on some foundations but disagree considerably in the details? Is group certainty (which you allege is a characteristic of atheists) an objective indicator of truth?

            If your beliefs are true, you will know that they are because of the strength of your belief. If you have serious questions, or disagree with others who share some aspects of your beliefs, then that is evidence that your beliefs are wrong. Have I missed something here?

            I could be wrong, but I have not heard that strong doubts and disagreements are nearly as prevalent among adherents to Islam than in Christians (and I am hesitant to lump all theists together as you have). Does that mean, then, that there is a far greater chance that the Islamic worldview and faith is correct, as opposed to Christianity. If Muslims are in greater agreement than even atheists are, then are they correct?

            I suspect that many of us have had personal experience with people who were absolutely certain of something, and absolutely wrong. Zealotry and uniformity in belief is not necessarily an indicator of objective truth.

          • Tre W

            Nancy… I’m not speaking in absolutes …which is what your last response is implying..or even NEED to do. I’m not even speaking specifically towards the debate on God vs. no God. What I’m speaking towards is common sense and reasoning. We as humans have a way of analyzing what is true or not based on COMMON world views. We are all born with those sense of “proof” requirements. We do it all the time in areas such as credit worthiness…in fact…all areas of money…things that result in immediate physical harm if we get it wrong…and so on. The point I’m making is that when it comes to the specific topic of God….theists abandon that human proof or common world view requirement because to follow reason would prove their perspective wrong. Perhaps theist have it right…but my point is that they are being disingenuous when they come off as saying: “what? what do you mean we are being unreasonable?” When if you were honest with yourself you would admit it. But the very nature of believing in God tells you to turn your brain off to that reasoning. THAT in itself makes look guilty…or “uncredit worthy” in the case of wanting to borrow money (to use the analogy again).

            But if you do have it wrong, as a group, the expectation is the very behavior theist as a group are demonstrating…through out history. I guess I’m asking you to critically think your position..if you are allowed or can, Nancy…and if you did…you would describe the very behavior you’re (and other theist) doing as an indication of something being wrong.

            Finally…from my perspective…and assuming that I’m right….”theist” is the proper word to use. There is only one kind of theist…further description isn’t required for my point…it would only add a layer of complexity to be exploited, thereby wasting time and keeping us away from relevant facts.

          • Tre W

            another way to capture what I just said: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

            The proof is understood to mean within “common human world view of proof.” Theists HAVE TO…NEED TO abandon that human world view, to show extraordinary proof…but in the end…that proof will be extraordinary superstitious proof and violate common world view of things. That is the source of the conflict this blog is about….human world view of proof we’re born with, that theist abandons…versus having to believe in superstition.

          • Nancy R.

            Your premise in all your remarks, Tre, appears to be that belief in a deity – which I would define as an ultimate, universal intelligence, a first cause of all that exists – is by its very nature anti-rational. I reject that premise. And as a result I have to reject much of what you assert to be undeniably true – that “believing in God makes you turn your brain off to that reasoning.” You imply that theists are either incapable of rational thought, or too dishonest to admit that our beliefs are irrational and demonstrably false. I find these premises to be quite condescending (“I’m asking you to critically think your position…if you are allowed or can, Nancy”), and quite frankly oblivious to the clear evidence of critical thought among believers. In short, you’re assuming, Tre, that theists are stupid, dishonest, or both, and I don’t see much point in continuing a discussion with someone who shows no sign of wavering from these (dare I say it? Yes I dare) arrogant assumptions. So, I’m done, and thanks for your time and consideration in this now-ended discussion.

          • Tre W

            The idea of a deity has nothing to do with God…a make believe deity.

            Nancy said: “A first cause of all that exists is by its very nature anti rational”

            That is nonsense. Whats not rational about the idea of a deity? My point is that the particular idea put forth call God, is weak and not rational. Another idea, though, might not be. Logic.

            yes…I was being condescending. There was nothing else to do. Its what will happen with anyone pointing out reason with theists time and time again.Arrogance or not…My words ring true.

            And that’s the bottom line. Struggle on.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Another “math term” is understanding you can’t get any basis of proportional comparison when one side so outnumbers the other. If you had 100 blogs on Christianity and 5 on atheism, yes you will find more struggles of doubt on Christian blogs. You won’t (and don’t) have near the amount of diversity in the atheist universe that’s found in the Christian blogosphere, for the main simple reason that you have a LOT more Christians.

  • Nancy R.

    Pete, I’ve found your posts and all the heartfelt comments on doubt and belief over the past several days to be quite compelling. I did go through many of these familiar struggles as a young believer, and by the time I was an adult I was an atheist. It was quite a liberating point of view, and I was quite satisfied with it for a number of years.

    Eventually, though, I grew dissatisfied – to be an atheist meant that, as far as we knew, human beings were the pinnacle of intelligence in the universe, and frankly I didn’t think well enough of us to imagine that we were, essentially, all there is.

    I found my way back to faith slowly, over a number of years, and found ways to calm my doubts while assuming that they would never actually go away. Of course I didn’t brush them aside – I read a lot, wrestled with various arguments, took part in an active worship life, but I figured I would remain, at heart, an agnostic – a faithful Christian who nevertheless accepted that all of this could be fantasy.

    Then, about 12 years ago, during an episode that stretched my faith as far as it would go, I had an experience that was undeniably orchestrated by God – clearly a direct communication from him, confirming his existence. And in some ways I resented him for it. I had accepted my skepticism as an essential part of my nature, and God took it from me. The event was so disturbing in some ways that I almost completely forgot it for years. “God moments” aren’t necessarily benign events.

    I am certain that if that hadn’t happened, I could join in the majority of the comments you’ve received – and although I have to admit that I have been inoculated against atheism, I still have many of the same issues. I just can no longer doubt that God exists – and that doesn’t necessarily make anything else easier.

    • plectrophenax

      I resonate with that. God moments can be very annoying and disturbing. I have often resisted them as much as I could, but I see this process of resistance and acceptance as OK now. In some ways, I am bound to resist, and be annoyed. Otherwise, I would be faking surrender, not good. I know then when the surrender is real.

    • Susan Gerard

      Nancy, I too had a God moment, but resisted giving myself over to him – for 14 years – for many reasons. But while it disturbed my world-view, it was an entirely beautiful experience. Was yours of a malign nature?

      • Nancy R.

        Thanks for your question, Susan; I’ve appreciated your comments on the blog. Unfortunately it’s a very long story and not appropriate to share in this setting. No, it wasn’t malign – it was an absolute confirmation of God’s existence at a time when I sorely needed it. But it left me with disturbing questions – if God was so involved in earthly events as to do something quite elaborate in order to communicate with me, then why was he allowing horrendous things to happen to a particular family? The more I thought about it, the angrier and more perplexed I became with God. I’ve become more at peace over the years, and have come to see the wisdom of Job’s acceptance of God’s communication with him. God did not attempt to explain all the terrible things that had happened to him, but he listened to him. If that’s what we get, that’s what we get.

        The other difficult issue I had was in the realization that I could no longer be on the fence – now that I know God is real, what am I going to do about it? I had to let go of my rather comforting doubts – as in, maybe all this is real, maybe it isn’t, and I’ll behave as though it is, but it may be of no consequence after all. No, this revelation forced a genuine commitment from me. Sometimes certainty is more difficult than doubt.

        • Susan Gerard

          ok, Nancy, I understand; thanks for your reply. I had pretty much the same reaction and better understand your situation. The only difference (perhaps) is that I was also convinced of His love for us. How it manifests itself is a problem, but not it’s existence.

  • RenaissanceMan

    Pete, I expected more from you. Most of your points boil down to: “It doesn’t make sense, but I like wrestling through a story about my life with God in it.” I don’t say that to be mean. I’m just truly disappointed. You are one of the ruggedly honest and ballsy scholars, though I do wonder if your honest reasons would also include social place among Christians, job opportunities and what your wife and family would think if you didn’t believe in some way.

    I applaud you for putting your reasons out in public, but your remarks and the bulk of the comments are like fodder in the hands of Feuerbach, Marx, or modern-day neuro-scientists. No God moment, prophetic insight or miraculous healing leads one to the incarnation and resurrection. Experiences are all explained using limited neural pathways that deceive as easily as they perceive. You know that. It’s all culturally conditioned interpretive paradigms. In so far as faith is helpful for you to cope with feeling like “you do what you don’t want to do,” that’s good. That is the opiate of religion. In so far as God is the help in times of suffering, great. God has always been the wish-projection of human beings who want a stronger sense of security in the world. Faith produces reality. And if you like the “journey” of chasing the mystery, believe it. But make sure to be honest that you believe because you want to make more sense out of the world; you want some type of mastery or all encompassing insight because its hard for us to live without a godlike understanding of experiences, actions and purposes. When neuroscientists explain how meaning, love, beauty and experiences are created electro-chemically, it is depressing because we know more than is helpful to existentially live. And we know we are doing our best to fabricate value out of life, though doing so at some level arbitrarily. If you want to find God in the unexplainable experiences, great. That’s human. Before we knew what stars were, humans thought they were gods. Before we understood weather patterns, people thought there were storm gods. Before we understood germs, people thought all sickness was spiritual cursing. And before you learn more about the experiences, cultural assumptions, social pressure and neural processes that drive your faith, just keep believing. If it feels right, do it.

    • Marc B.

      “When neuroscientists explain how meaning, love, beauty and experiences are created electro-chemically, it is depressing because we know more than is helpful to existentially live.”

      RenaissanceMan – your view is very skillfully presented and they are things I have often thought about. However, IMHO re: your attempt to show that belief in God is due to a persons “wish projections”, the same could easily be said for the atheist. In fact something like this has already been illustrated in the book of Genesis (story of the tower of Babel). Some people have a need for religion and god, some people have a need for there to be no god, and some may want to be like god (self-sufficiency, the need to have control, etc). Anyone’s interpretation of “reality” can come from their own needs (including yours and mine). I don’t believe any human can claim absolute objectivity. Also, explaining the “how” of things (neuroscience), still doesn’t remove god from the picture. You have yet to explain the “why”, as in “why then do things work electo-chemically”? Understanding stars, weather patterns, and germs may give us a correct understanding of what they truly are, but that still falls short of removing god from the picture. I’m not claiming a perfect rebuttal to your argument, but I do think the ‘human” angle works both ways.

      • Tre W

        ” IMHO re: your attempt to show that belief in God is due to a persons
        “wish projections”, the same could easily be said for the atheist.”

        Marc – you have interesting perspectives, thanks. However, your statement I’ve quoted here, isn’t accurate, from my perspective as an atheist. I would counter that atheist isn’t wishing anything. We are simply trying to find out what is. I OFTEN see theists NEEDING to make “atheism” a tool for “refuse to follow God” people (the perspective theists have of atheists)….however, atheist see ourselves as “call it as we see it” people.

        I would also like to point out that from my personal inquiry to these matters, as an atheist, I still believe that there might be a deity that would explain things….but I DON’T believe in the God of any bible, book, writing, etc that has any kind of “moral” directives for us and was involved in all the super far out stories I’ve heard. Just because I don’t believe in those stories doesn’t mean I’m not open to some other intelligence being involved. An atheist’s position allows for that. Theist often try to phrase it as God or nothing…and that’s simplistic.

        • Marc B.

          Tre,

          Thank you for the reply. I actually wasn’t attempting to make a blanket statement. I was simply saying that the way the OP was framing the argument COULD also be framed in the other direction. He seemed to imply that every religious person believes in God out of “need”. That too would be inaccurate. And correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there is one single type of atheist. In your statement “atheist see ourselves as “call it as we see it” people.” you seem to be speaking for all atheists, and I don’t know if that’s possible. The real gist of my reply was that it seems (from my own limited perspective) that atheists claim objectivity by being exactly what you said (call it as you see it). IMHO, humans are subjective by nature (and even subconsciously so…I recognize this often in myself).

          • Tre W

            Marc..its late so this reply is a quick response. Perhaps I’ll try again in the morning. However, if I’m understanding you correctly about the “wish projection” thing….I’m saying that you might find (in a sea of 7 billion humans) some example of exceptions to make your statement true. But my point is that when you take atheists as a whole…in general..etc…we do not struggle with where we stand.

            Also while on generalizing about atheist….I’ve found that as a group we are very similarly minded on how we view the evidence of why there is no God…with very few that has some struggle.

            Actually…allow me to share with you a recent discovery as it generalizing about atheist as a group. I recently started learning about the discussion of stories similar to Christ being told repeatedly in one form or another in mythology hundreds of year earlier. There is a woman atheist that is supposed to be an authority on the subject…yet others in the atheist community rejects her premise. My point is that having a discussion about differences amongst atheists with you …when having just discovered this intradebate is a weird coincidence. Its kind of funny.

      • RenaissanceMan

        Marc – I agree we are all driven by the pragmatism formed within us from the family, culture, language, experiences, rewards, etc. in our personal histories, regardless of one’s current opinion about god(s). Yes, there is no universal object or starting point from which we can build a universally recognized argument for the isness, whatness, or whyness of anything (sorry Descartes!). Absolute objectivity eludes us. So I think it’s great to settle down as a pragmatist and consequentialist who appreciates the value add of a god or puts the pieces together differently. I’m a Christian even though I’m well aware I don’t have nothing but the truth in my religion. I don’t believe anything I said removes god from the picture once for all. I simply recited a few of the many examples from human history where pure manifestations of the divine turned out to have alternate explanations.

        Your push beyond the “how” to the “why” question seems a bit misguided. I understand that it is a helpful distinction for investigative discovery insofar as it prevents stopping one’s curiosity too soon. However, pursuing the “why” question is a game of infinite regression. I would not suppose I could provide an exhaustive or thoroughly satisfactory question to anyone’s “why” question unless I knew their expectations. All of us can run each other around in circles asking and answering the next why question just like a 3-year old child does to his parents. You might try to stop the infinite regression with some kind of “because god” reply, but any thoughtful listener can point out your underlying assumption that the infinite regression must stop. Thomas Aquinas codified such Aristotelian logic with arguments for God’s existence as the Prime Mover and the First Cause. The logic that there must be a foundational starting point to the movements and events of our world reflects a debatable assumption not a universal truth. This conundrum within the human condition does not rule out god from anything but it does chasten any notion that god should be ruled in. The recognition of our epistemological limitations is freeing for those who don’t need to mentally organize everything but troublesome for those (as I mentioned in my original comments) who pursue a godlike understanding of their experiences, actions, and purposes.

    • plectrophenax

      I think that’s the neurological fallacy. You can apply that to the whole of human experience, can’t you? Thus, if I fall in love, should I just go for a brain scan, just to make sure? Absurd.

      The neurological explanations themselves are just neural patterns, aren’t they?

    • Nancy R.

      When my daughter was three, she learned a little about the human brain, and for quite a while instead of saying “I think…” she would say “my brain thinks.” She was becoming a junior reductionist – having learned that since there was a physical entity involved in her thoughts, that that was all that was involved – “nothing but-ism.” I see a similar perspective in your arguments – since people used to use gods to explain weather, and we now know understand the physical processes involved in creating weather, then there are no gods. Since we understand physical processes, the universe is “nothing but” those processes. Getting to “nothing but” is a conscious choice, a metaphysical leap, one that is not an inescapable necessity.

      • RenaissanceMan

        Is there any conclusion one can make without someone else labeling it “reductionistic”? Hence, at each moment in my response where you would expect a “nothing but” final statement, I attempt to positively affirm the goodness and openness of people doing whatever they would choose or enjoy. Phenomena all have innumerable explanations corresponding to the unique perspectives involved. I’d be careful injecting the “reductionism” argument because on the one hand (1) humans pragmatically have to reduce more complex realities to simple ones for basic navigation of life and (2) the argument turns right back around and exposes the inherent pragmatic shortsightedness of any angle you are arguing.

  • rvs

    I think this is something of a defense of fideism, sort of, which is a position I joyfully embrace. Is P. Enns a fideist? Then again, this post has nothing to do with finding labels, etc.

  • Elizabeth_the_Traveller

    How and why I move forward (and since you only asked for what helps us to move forward, I haven’t written about the challenges themselves or how I mess up):

    1) staying in the Bible and exploring good theology, not shying away from questions –

    As I read Scripture I recall what I’ve read about it, think and pray through it, apply it to my life, to other’s lives and to situations around me — and it frequently seems that I’m in the right passage at the right time (despite reading through the Bible chronologically each year for the past several years), or that the right book falls into my lap just as I’m starting to struggle with something. (For example, Inspiration and Incarnation helped me with issues that I was wrestling with recently, and now as I read the OT I’m reflecting on the possible answers/ways of interpreting brought up in that book.)

    2) living out my theology –

    I currently work in holistic ministry in Haiti and live out, through our ministry tools and relationship with my Haitian co-workers and friends, my hope for the future. As I read about the Kingdom of God I relate it to my daily life and work. I see people as God’s image-bearers and learn from them (perhaps easier to do when in a foreign country, since observation comes more naturally? Also when faced with extreme poverty questions of orthopraxy perhaps arise more frequently?).

    3) focusing on Jesus –

    I had some challenging work issues this past year with a colleague. I worked on acting out Jesus’ love and truth-telling and lack of defensiveness despite false accusations. Then I started reading Walter Wink and Martin Luther King, Jr. and others to help me put words to ideas and get even more ideas that I then also put into practice. This has been a huge witness to me about how I will never fully plumb the depths of the amazingness of Jesus and what it is like to be transformed to be more like him.

    4) continuing to worship with others in a church building but really embracing the concept of church being the faithful all around me –

    I move frequently and have therefore been involved with lots of churches in various states of health and orthodoxy. When I am part of the institutional church (even on staff) without seeing it as “the church” I am able to weep over flaws and sins but they do not destroy my faith. I have lived in several different US states as well as several foreign countries and love to see the different ways that God speaks to different people all over the world. That helps me to recognize a wild God that refuses to conform to my expectations.

  • boe hadden

    Excellent post! Thanks for sharing. I can relate to so much of this. Perhaps you’ve been told this before: many of your experiences/thoughts line up with the Orthodox Church’s view: salvation and faith are not primarily rational, Christ’s incarnation is just as salvific as his death and resurrection, apophatic theological language, emphasis on mystery & not asking the Scriptures to be more than they were meant to be, etc, etc… I have found a faith that is much deeper than I ever expected there–which includes the doubts and fears.

    Again thanks! I loved reading this.

    • Tre W

      These are empty meaningless words. If you were asked to actually explain them and the implications of what you wrote…you would find it difficult to do. Have you ever considered that faith is but a scapegoat for ignorance?

      Have you ever considered that maybe God wants you to have faith after you’ve been shown with reason that he exists…and that faith is in what he promised? Instead what I hear is having faith in God and not validate his existence but to use it as an excuse to not have to explain obvious contradictions.

      If I’m wrong…then God has hidden himself too well and is playing a cruel game to make us believe in things, on the word of shaky people and processes and ignore our natural senses (he gave us).

  • Chris

    Being a true Christian seems to be a very difficult goal. Many of us are Christians by name only, yet the acts we do and the words we say reflect how very ignorant we are of the faith which we are very proud of.

    Being a Christian does not mean you pray and read the Bible, or you go to church, give your tithes, and express that you believe in God. Being a Christian is more than these things. You have to be show love and respect to yourself and to the people around you, and to God above all.

  • http://www.janaleemiller.com/ Jana @333 Days Hand Lettering

    Through suffering I think I see God more-like a small hole in a big white wall. Through questioning what I believe, I have realized I worshiped the bible and unknowingly equated the bible to all that God is. It’s freeing to have that brought to light.

  • Iconoclast

    Sometimes I think the only reason I stay Christian is because it would ruin my marriage if I didn’t. And then I wonder if this is how a husband is saved through his wife–if this familial institution is God’s way of keeping me at His side. Of course, then I wonder if I’m just deluding myself so that I won’t go AWOL from this perplexing “pilgrimage.”

  • Charlie Payne

    Regarding Job: Elihu says in 36:15: But by means of their suffering, He rescues those who suffer. This fits with the ‘die to self’ idea you mention above.

  • Marcus

    Peter, I take your thoughts, as if they were my own. Thank you for expressing, what I’ve experienced in a very similar way. Especially helpful to me was your German listing, though. So I felt at home, right from the start.

  • generation4Him

    When I was a teen, I heard all these people talk about hearing God’s voice and at some point decided I needed to experience this. I locked myself in my bedroom every day after school and cried out to Jesus to help me know Him better and to know His voice. My mom thought I was losing my mind. Maybe I was.
    After months of doing this, I started hearing and seeing things. It wasn’t from God. If that isn’t enough to make someone have a faith crisis, I don’t know what is – months and months of seeking God, only to experience a bunch of voices and lights that weren’t even from Him? Some might think I had a psychotic break, or became schizophrenic, and I suppose I can’t really prove I wasn’t… in my world however, I identified what I had started to experience as demons. This was unthinkable – I sought God and got demons. So I quit. Yet the demons stuck around, and I couldn’t get them to leave me alone.
    In the midst of all this struggle, as I felt abandoned by God and wondering what went wrong, I discovered another type of spiritual experience – this time it wasn’t whisperings and lights around me, but it was a gentle warming love rising up within me, and it spoke to me too. Once I tuned into this inner experience, when I said His name, it grew more intense. And everytime He said anything to me, it came true or it bore out as being truth.
    The demons kept harrassing me on the outside, but what was happening on the inside was utterly different. Years later, the demons were gone, but the indwelling Spirit – the one that answers to the name “Lord Jesus” was and is still here.
    I can’t prove my experience to anyone, but I can say that this is what has grounded me in believing in the supernatural and in Jesus no matter what else has come my way – discovering the Bible isn’t inerrant (although I still find the Bible intensely valuable) or that Christians can be some of the nastiest people ever, or that evolution is true, or whatever. Or that demons show up when well-meaning Christians seek spiritual experiences. No matter what, I know He’s real. I don’t always know what to do with that – for instance, how do I give wings to this faith with people that think I’m a heretic for believing in evolution and where do I find others to walk with, etc. But whatever else I don’t know, I still have Him and He still has me.

    • Susan_G1

      g4H,

      This comment gave me goosebumps. I experienced God at a time I wasn’t a believer, when I wasn’t asking at all for His words, yet He did speak to me. And what I felt was literally an overwhelming sense of love (and awe). I was, in those moments and forever after, convinced not only of His existence, but His deep and unconditional love for us.

      I am so very sorry you experienced demonic attack (or what I might want to call stress-induced psychosis, but it was not me who experienced it, so who am I to presume?) Asking for God, and being sent demons… I would have quit, too, especially since I thought ill of God to begin with. You are on the right blog site if you believe in both God and evolution. I hope you find a company of like-minded believers.

      Thank you for sharing this very powerful experience. May God bless others through your trial, as the God of all Comfort. I do not say this at all lightly, as I know what suffering is. But that has been the case for me.

  • Todd Mangum

    Great piece here, Pete (though I’m a month late getting to it). Still a great piece to read right before I go on my vacation for a spiritual, mental, psychological, familial, etc. refresher. Thanks for the pastoral thoughts and suggestions here; really well put and helpful.


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