I grew up in the home of a Christ follower and an agnostic, so my relationship with faith has been interesting to say the least. I have a very agnostic way of approaching life, but I also have decided to follow Christ. That may seem contradictory to you Christian readers, but let me clarify what I mean.
Living without certainty can be liberating when you’re talking about not relying on earthly things to fulfill my eternal desires. Do I always succeed? No, but I do understand that not everything in life is certain, and that God’s specific plan for us isn’t always clear. Just because we don’t know what details of our lives will be like doesn’t mean we automatically have to dismiss the thought of truly knowing who God is, nor of knowing Him like a friend. That’s not to say our understanding is perfect. We are, after all, human, limited. Limitation, though, is not the end of faith, but the beginning.
I’ve said this before: The decision to believe ends where living in faith begins. You make a choice, then you live it out; that’s how it works, and it cannot be circumvented. I don’t really know why I try to do so, but I do.
I knew this atheist once. He asked me a lot of questions, challenged my beliefs on things. I’d never encountered that much… adversity before then. I’d never really had the reason I believe what I believe challenged like that before, and it hurt quite a bit. You know that scripture from the letter to the Romans, in which Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ”? Well, it wasn’t really that I was ashamed of it, but I was ashamed that I didn’t have better answers for the guy. I’d like to be able to have a deeper conversation with a person than what I had, but I was unprepared, and I was embarrassed for that reason.
I tell this story to say that eventually you will have your belief system challenged — and yes, you do have a belief system even if you don’t think you do, because you live your life a certain way and according to a certain code, and you value certain things and therefore treat them a certain way… and you don’t quite value your faith until you’ve been through the wood chipper. You don’t really know what it’s made of, or rather, what you are made of, unless you’ve had what you believe picked apart by someone.
I dare say you don’t even know that you truly believe it until someone else tries to take it apart. Afterward, because of my lack of answers, I began to doubt whether or not I believed what I said, if I practiced what I preached. Over time, the reality of my angosto-Christian state really began to set in. Did that mean I was agnostic? No. Did that make me not a Christian? Uh, no! It simply meant my faith hadn’t grown past my doubts, and believe me when I tell you that I had many.
When I found the congregation with which I currently associate (and this bit came before my encounter with the atheist,) I became friends with this one particular person. Well, she was more my friend than I was hers. Given how standoffish I was toward people in general, being a friend to others wasn’t an active ability of mine. One day, we went to this youth conference — Rebelution it was called. We had a break for lunch, and she started asking me how I was, and I remember responding to her with much negativity towards my life. I didn’t see any light within it, but she did somehow.
Living through that story made me realise how worthless my faith had been until then. It was a name, a nice idea, a good set of ethics and stories, (and I didn’t actually realise this was my condition at the time…) but I didn’t really believe it until that day. It didn’t really become worth it to me to trust fully in Jesus rather than to integrate a collection of stories into the back of my head. Sure, I thought I was a Christian because I believed that the stories were true… but they meant little to my heart, and until then, I didn’t acknowledge them as being relevant to my heart. Once I saw the love of God lived out by my friend, toward me, then I got it. I had been seeking answers, but answers didn’t change me, nor did they love me, nor did they save me. Jesus did.
That is one of the beauties of dismantling your own faith. Despite the agony of the process, you get to know yourself inside faith rather than outside it. Throughout the scriptures of the new covenant, you will find the apostles advising people and churches about working through their faith, their conscience, and settling it in their own minds, and how much their prior faith (or lack thereof) affects their new faith. They knew that the people they were called to guide in the path of a disciple would be thrown in the wood chipper, their faith being split into splinters. Certainly they, especially Paul, experienced this! Did they invent theological seminaries, though? Nah. They showed love during times of doubt and distress.
During those times, it is always helpful to have friends like that, who care enough to listen. Alone, the process can rob one of his sanity. Friends let you know you’re understood, that your crisis of faith wasn’t intentional but rather something that everyone goes through in the maturing of the mind, the calming of the heart. That’s why I believe it was so necessary for that friend I told you about to have been there with me at the conference so that I would have someone to talk to, someone to show me things weren’t as bleak as I thought, and whether she knew it or not, to show me how hollow my faith really was.
It isn’t wrong to grapple with your faith. It just sucks that we must. Whether you struggle with faith on a fundamental level or just one aspect of it or not at all, you’re not doing something wrong, and you’re not being a hypocrite. You are experiencing life, and your faith is being tested by the world around you, to see whether or not it really holds up.
That’s the awesome thing about the Gospel of Jesus: it does!
NEXT — PART 2: THE CRY FOR HELP