This has been a strange year.
Last night, during a lengthy discussion about the fact that I have recently been wrestling with what I believe and wondering if I even still hold to the basic facets of Christian faith, my wife said to me, “You’re a creator, but for the past year it seems like all you’ve been doing is absorbing, not making things. Plus, what you’ve been consuming has mostly been utter bullshit.” Please know that this was not said to be cutting or out of meanness, and I actually found it to be extremely true, revealing and helpful.
Let me give you some context.
As to what I’ve been “absorbing,” there are a lot of very intelligent people in the world right now saying very intelligent (sounding) things about how there could not possibly be a God, Christianity is only for uneducated, conservative, midwestern inbred idiots, and that Christians in general are crazy, terrible, stupid people. Obviously, that is a combined summary of a number of different views, but it is no question that people who believe in Jesus are not popular right now (nor have they ever, nor should they be), and that “the world” seems to be getting louder than ever at expressing their opinions on this matter lately. There is an incredible pressure in the current culture to “accept” everyone for who they are, what they identify as, what they prefer to be referred to as, what they believe, how they were raised, et cetera, however, belief in Jesus seems to be the one thing that no one has any problem universally criticizing, slandering and calling out as foolish.
On the one hand, this general attitude towards Christianity makes perfect sense. Scripture states that these truths will seem like foolishness to those who are perishing. Jesus was hated in his own village, and so forth. But these “worldly” voices got me thinking—quite a lot—over the past year: am I one of these dummies who has just taken what I’ve been fed my entire life, adopting the beliefs of my parents and blindly going along with the traditions of the church, not because I actually know and believe them to be true but just because they are traditions and are what I’ve always known? In a way, yes. Yes, I am one of those people, and that troubled me deeply to recognize.
We seem to live in a time in which one must be ready at any given moment to present a well-documented lecture on what they believe and why and they had better have the research of historical and scientific proof to back it up, or else it is deemed bullshit and the one being quizzed considered an idiot for “actually believing in that stuff.” I’m using hyperbole, but I think there’s an element of truth to this—at least for Christians, I can’t speak to whether this happens with other persons of faith.
What I mean is, as soon as a skeptic finds out that one is a Christian, a pop quiz often begins. “But if God is good and all powerful, why does He let bad things happen? Do you really believe that Jesus died and rose back to life? Don’t you know that there are tons of legends from other religions that predate Christianity about figures coming back to life after three days? Jesus was just one of many archetypes. Do you seriously believe that Adam and Eve were the first people, or that there was an actual Noah’s ark?” There’s the fact that our modern concept of Hell basically came from the fictional work of Dante in The Inferno, not from Scripture itself. There’s the possibility (in my head, at least) that the book of Revelation was just one of many apocalyptic works of the time, merely a piece of genre fiction written by a guy who maybe did some peyote in a cave and “received visions from God,” and that maybe we’re the suckers who actually fell for it.
The quick answer to the above questions, and many others about the Bible itself, are simply that I do not know, and I am quite all right with admitting that. My belief in a God and in the deity-person of Jesus do not hinge on whether the book known as the Bible in its current iteration is 100% infallible and without error at least in a textual sense, because I don’t necessarily think that’s the point or even all that crucial, depending on the context and subject matter. But having gotten questions like this personally and having heard secular interviewers ask similar things to religious guests, a slow, subtle anxiety rose up within me over the past eight months or so.
To succinctly describe how this anxiety manifested itself, I basically thought, all of the sudden, that I was just another dumb Christian who hadn’t done his homework and that I needed to immediately begin researching and reading history books to see whether this whole Christianity thing even held water, because there were sure a lot of folks who were saying it was hogswallow. Part of this urgency, I have since realized, was not out a sincere desire to confirm or reject what I believe, but rather motivated by an enormous fear of other people, what they think of me and a desire to uphold my “status” as a respectable, intelligent person by always being prepared with an educated, able-to-be-backed-up answer to such questions. Another aspect was that I wanted to distance myself from “those” Christians, making sure that the world (as if it cared) had a nice, clear recognition that I was one of the ones with my head on straight.
Even as I type this, it all sounds ridiculous to me for how swelled with pride and motivated by a deep fear it is. I didn’t want peace and security in my faith, I wanted to be regarded well in the eyes of my fellow man. Another major issue in all of this is that in this desire to deep-dive into research and “unbiased historical accounts,” I was completely setting aside all relational and truly spiritual experiences that I have ever had, forgetting them altogether in favor of facts and logic that would hopefully hold up against future argument.
So, listen—if you know me personally, I hope you would agree that I am not the sort of person who has a deep need to always be correct. I’m not an arguer by nature and I don’t need to be right, so any of the above wasn’t from a desire to be THE MOST CORRECT, ALWAYS, or to win every argument and become this incredible Christian apologist. There are other, wiser men who have already done an excellent job at that, and it isn’t my gifting. Again, this was all out of fear, pure and simple.
I do think the idea of educating oneself and weighing their own beliefs can be an incredibly healthy and beneficial practice, so to some degree I would like to further my knowledge and awareness of the roots of this faith that I hold. “Testing the spirits,” as Paul put it, could probably be applied here. But the fact of the matter is, I have too much personal history with this Being whom I happen to believe to be the God of the Bible to set aside so easily and essentially demand that every facet of Him be explained to me… through books… written by other men… who probably weren’t too sure about things themselves.
There is research that can and should be done, but things seem to always come back to the basic concept of faith. Hoping in what is not seen, believing in that which cannot be touched, and relying on the undeniable, often unexplainable experiences
That sounds like a cop-out, as if I am instead setting aside intelligence itself and human, scientific logic in order to go back to feeling comfortable and satisfied in my own brain. Well, two things:
1) I am not comfortable and satisfied in my own brain. These thoughts and a thousand others are in a constant push-and-pull of weighing and considering, pondering and questioning. I still believe but am more often than not a terrible skeptic. I may call myself a Christian, but am a poor one. That’s not false humility—I freaking suck at this and constantly doubt it, and wonder if any part of me resembles any inkling of what Jesus intended.
2) Damn it dude, if God is real, who He is and what He does just isn’t always going to fit within human science and logic and provability—in fact, most the time it won’t—and the world will call that foolishness. If we could sum the Guy up and explain Him away, He would probably cease to be God and cease to be of any interest to us at all. There are just some very gargantuan concepts surrounding Him that we can either call out as bullshit or embrace them and find them to be beautiful and deeply true.
The point of all this is that I just don’t know, but I’m trying to get somewhere level. Horrible things have been done in the name of God or Jesus throughout history, even to this day, and I am not down with that. There are some truly whacked out of their minds psychos who claim the name of this same god and I wish that with the title “Christian” I was not paired together with them. At this point in life, I am honestly not sure I even believe in heaven or hell because the Biblical references for both of those places are pretty damn slender and have little to do with our modern ideas of what they entail. And yeah, I’m not sure I buy how the Bible came together, how it is currently translated, whether we even chose to keep the right parts of it in there, whether or not some of that old testament stuff was legend or literal, and whether or not the Bible swiped some stories from older books. I just don’t know, so I can’t and won’t die on any of those hills or try to pretend to argue that Scripture is infallible. But people have been asking these questions and more for centuries and “definitive” answers have been supposedly given on both sides of the argument, so I am not about to be the one who discovers some age old secret that no one else has ever unearthed before.
I do, however, personally think that Jesus is a real guy and while I’ve never heard his voice, I have heard from him, and that’s pretty much all I’ve got. On some level, I have got to come to a place where I am okay with the fact that I will be labeled a fool for this by those who have never encountered God because their minds are closed to that even being a possibility. I am not special and I’m not talking about any epic, burning bush or knocked off my donkey experiences, all I’m saying is that I believe He’s there because I’ve seen the evidence, but the evidence can’t be measured on scales defined by man.