God, Questions, Faith, and Thinking

God, Questions, Faith, and Thinking August 7, 2023

When People Lose Faith

She does not publish her name, but  Eve_wasframed is her Facebook handle. She has nearly 2,000 followers, and she makes short Facebook videos, called reels, intending to help people shed their Evangelical faith as she has. With a gleam in her eyes and glee in her voice, she argues that her life is better since leaving the faith. It is sad when people lose their faith, it is sadder when they lose it for dubious reasons.

Bible with a ribbon bookmark. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

See her reel here.

She says,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I feel like for the first time in my life I actually do know what I am doing. Because as an evangelical Christian, I was taught to not lean on my own understanding, not even to attempt to comprehend God. I needed to just have blind faith and go along with things, even if I did not know what I was doing because God knew. Right? And evangelicalism depends on people falling into this pattern of thinking, or rather not thinking, because as soon as you start educating yourself, as soon as you start asking questions and digging into your beliefs, so many of them instantly fall apart. And then you might end up like me, where you actually know what you are doing and start making decisions from a place of knowledge instead of a place of blind faith. And my life has never been better since I started doing that.

Does Faith Mean We Cease Thinking?

Someone may very well have taught her to avoid trying to understand God. If so, it was ministerial malpractice. For 2,000 years, Christians have thought about the nature of God and have wrestled with Scriptures trying to understand His nature. If printed, the amount of literature Christians have produced on the nature of God would fill the Mall of America to overflowing. It would take 10,000 scholars a lifetime of steady reading to digest even a small percentage of it. It is not the case that faith requires us to not try to comprehend God. It is not the case that faith requires the cessation of thinking. Faith inspires thinking.

Her teachers may have taught her to have blind faith, but true faith is never blind. We have faith because of the life and witness of Jesus Christ, the testimony of Scripture, and the power of the Spirit. God did not leave us to figure it out on our own or blindly trust what our teachers say. God does not call us to blind faith; He calls us to reasonable trust. When the Bible tells us to believe in Jesus, the word “believe” means trust. We trust Jesus. We trust Jesus based on the evidence of the empty tomb and the witness of the Spirit in our lives.

What About Education?

As a person with multiple graduate degrees, I can promise you that education does not necessarily yield a loss of faith. No, those who study the matter most fully often come to the opposite conclusion. In the last century, then-atheist CS Lewis investigated Jesus’ history and became a believer. In more recent years Anthony Flew, a once militant atheist, became a believer in God.

Do Evangelicals Oppose Questions?

In her reel, Eve_wasframed also expresses her belief that Evangelicals oppose questions. Now, I cannot know her upbringing, and there are some Evangelicals for whom questions are a problem. I, however, welcome questions; I welcome all of them. Most credible Evangelicals do too. Evangelicals and all believers should welcome questions because, at the end of our deepest questions, we find God. To paraphrase Augustine, our minds are restless until they find rest in God. The evangelical faith is a faith of investigation, it is a faith of relentless study, it is a faith working for answers to the great mysteries of life and faith. When one refuses to entertain questions, they have stepped outside the Evangelical faith into a rigid traditionalism. Evangelicals, at their best, are people who love God with all of their minds.

How To Use Questions

To illustrate how questions inform the faith, I think it would be helpful to look at the passage of Scripture she mentions at the beginning of her reel. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” Luke 23:34a (KJV).

When I read this text, I immediately have several questions. First, for whom is Jesus praying? He must be praying, at least in part, for those who caused His execution. He is praying for those who mocked him, who sent him off to Pilate after a caricature of a trial. He is praying for the leaders who helped whip the crowd into a hateful frenzy and even for the mob itself. How could they not know what they were doing? They wanted to kill Jesus, and they got their wish. Even while they mocked him, while they shouted for Him to come down from the cross, Jesus prayed for them.

What Did the Soldiers Know

In another sense, Jesus is praying for the soldiers, but how is it possible that these soldiers did not know what they were doing? Crucifixion was brutal and an offense to human decency. The victims were positioned on a cross in a way that their body weight prevented their diaphragm from working properly. The only way for the victims to breathe was to push up with their legs. Every gasp for air required the victim to put their entire body weight on the nail piercing his feet. Agony accompanied every breath until his quivering legs could push the body up no more. Then the naked, blue-lipped victim suffocated under his own weight while macabre crowds watched.

Crucifixions were seldom quick deaths. It could take days for a victim to finally give in to their body weight and suffocate. If it took too long, the soldiers would break the legs of the victim and death would occur quickly.

The Romans were well-versed in crucifixions, and they practiced them with alarming regularity. One historian writes that in 70 AD the Romans crucified Jews until they ran out of wood. The purpose of crucifixion was twofold. It was to kill the prisoner with maximal suffering and humiliation while intimidating the bystanders.

The soldiers were likely trained killers, as soldiers would have been. They had training and experience in crucifixion. So how is it possible that they did not know what they were doing? What could Jesus mean? His meaning was not that the soldiers were unskilled at killing. He meant that the soldiers had no concept of who they were killing. Jesus was not just another revolutionary like Barabbas. He was the Son of God. The soldiers did not know of His innocence and identity.

Why Give A Pardon?

Lastly, I want to ask why does ignorance matter? In our system of justice, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Surely, an act so vile as crucifixion had to be occasioned with the suffering of conscience. Surely the participants had to know the immorality of such brutality.

What Jesus is doing is modeling exactly what He taught His disciples: praying for His enemies and praying for His persecutors. Instead of a will for vengeance, He prays for forgiveness. His prayer seeks forgiveness where it was not warranted and to people who do not warrant it. The prayer is an act of courage, grace, and compassion.

Asking questions about Jesus’ prayer does not empty it of its power. Quite the contrary. The more the inquisitive mind comes to the text with genuine questions, the more awe-inspiring the prayer becomes. For me, it is the questions about the text that help me know the Christ more fully.

Neither God nor the Evangelical tradition is intimidated by questions. In fact, I think we should ask more questions. They will only lead us to the Truth.

Why Do I Say That?

I have pondered the deepest questions for decades. I have spent most of my adult life reading the works of the greatest Christian thinkers in history. Frequently, I have read the works of atheists, too. I have stared into the abyss of suffering longer than I should. I understand Nietzsche’s maxim, “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss looks back” well. I have asked the hardest questions I can possibly ask. When I have found an easy answer, I immediately have worked to discredit it. I have refused to accept pious cliches or spiritual euphemisms. I have spent my adult life in a relentless pursuit of answers to the most difficult questions I could pose. In doing so, I have not been driven from my faith, I have been drawn to it.

So, when I see Eve_wasframed talking about her loss of faith, her accusation that Christians avoid thinking and questions, and her chiding that education would bring a loss of faith, I mourn for her. I have found faith to be the great treasure of my life. Seeing someone lose it, especially when their objections do not hold up, is truly sad.

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