[A pastor’s confession.]
Often I’ll have a friend from childhood find out that I’m a pastor and they’re downright incredulous; they’re just as surprised as I am that I ever went from atheism to Christianity, much less ministry. “I thought you were too smart for that” or “You were always the wild guy, never thought you’d settle down.” Most of my friends went the other way and fell out of faith like it was a varsity jacket, or an old diaper. They ask, “How do you keep believing in all this faith s–t?” – not because they’re trying to trap me, but because they’re genuinely curious for a coherent explanation. They do want something.
To be truthful: most times, I don’t have a good answer.
I often wonder myself, How do I keep believing in all this faith s–t?
Sometimes, I find the whole thing just crazy. When I reduce Christianity down to one or two sentences, it sounds ridiculous coming out of my mouth. I believe that if I telepathically offer my cognitive affection to a Jewish zombie who tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, then I’ll have immortality and half a better chance to run for political office.
A fellow Christian will tell me, “Oh no, doubt is a good thing, it means you’re at the edge of solidifying a deeper faith by investigating your most foundational beliefs.” Which I guess could be true.
A fellow atheist will tell me, “Oh no, doubt is a good thing, it means you’re at the edge of coming back to reason and shedding a fear-based crutch that’s having less relevance and respect in the world.” Which I guess could also be true.
Both would say, “You’re finally being intellectually honest.” Both say, “You’ll come around.” Both say, “If they could just admit they don’t have everything right.” Both say, “They’re just so blind and have the same boring arguments and the ‘burden of proof‘ is on them.” Both are rude, unthoughtful, unmoving. And of course, they both love to yell ad hominem.
It all just sounds the same to me. I could quit believing. I could keep believing. I could walk away. I could walk harder.
I occasionally binge-read all the atheist classics again, like Hitchens and Russell and Hume (but not Dawkins anymore; like a good friend once said, he’s the Joel Osteen of atheists), and I spend long nights on atheist blogs trying to beat my faith into submission. I watch those debates with that plastic-smiley William Lane Craig who’s supposed to represent the “academic Christian,” and I cringe. I take notes in documentaries like Going Clear, wondering how the Christian church is any different than a two-bit cult. I’m fascinated by guys like Bill Burr, who makes all the sense in the world when he says of his faith, “It’s like that creepy moment in curling, I just let go of it.”
There are days when I decide not to pray. It’s an experiment I don’t recommend. I just want to see what happens. If the sky falls. If my car stops. If lightning strikes. If I suddenly become a baby-eating serial killer. And you know: life goes on. Bills get paid and some things work out and some things don’t. I love to pray, but sometimes I wonder why I keep praying. I know I’m not supposed to say such things: but am I alone here? Am I allowed to dangle at this edge of faith and futility?
It doesn’t help that the last few months, I’ve been looking for a new church with my wife: and the dozen or so we’ve visited have been terribly shallow and fluffy. After each service, we’re completely silent in the car for miles, until one of us exhales a long sigh of disappointment. A few weeks ago, my wife says, “This is why American churches are so screwed up. They don’t preach anything. They just don’t preach.” My guts twist up like a rock; she’s right. My wife, by the way, is less cynical than me. She’s hopeful. I’m less and less so.
Why do you keep believing?
I’m not entirely sure all the time. I have long miserable episodes of doubt where I feel tricked, like I somehow had a greater psychological propensity to be duped by some smooth-talking preacher. I wonder if faith is merely sentimental scaffolding that tickles an emotional chord of nostalgia in my artsy inner-child. I wonder if I’ve bought into a cultural club of insider-acceptance where we all reluctantly agree on the Jesus-stuff because it allows us to have potlucks and socials. I wonder if I’m just a weak-minded wishful thinker and that it’s making me more bigoted, more exclusive, more withdrawn and arrogant and smug, than if I simply just left it all behind.
I wish I had a bow-tie to wrap this all up for you. I don’t. I wish I had a, “And then I realized –” but I don’t. It’s insanely difficult, this believing stuff.
I stand between two cliffs of conflicted opposition, both sides looking for answers and seeking ever deeper, and I think maybe that neither side is so different than the other. I think maybe all of us doubt, and we doubt our doubts, and it will be this way to the end. When I’m asked, “Why do you keep believing?” – I can only say, “Believing is hard. For you, for me, for everyone. But this particular thing, even when I least believe it, I hope it would be true. I can tell you all the evidence, but what it does, it’s a whole universe inside here, man.”
Maybe that’s a cop-out. I don’t know. I just look at the long, twisted road behind me: and I don’t miss who I used to be. It could be psychological trickery. It could be cultural dressing. Or maybe there’s a whole universe in here, and eternity has made its way in. Maybe.
I do want to believe it though. I want to believe that at some point in human history, a perfect God really did break into the turbulent chaos of our world and reversed our inevitable condition, at one place in time, to bring about a healing from the sky to the grave to our hearts. I want to believe that such a boundary-breaking love can exist, that such a person would know the depth of my ugliness and want to draw closer still. It’s a wonderful, brilliant, heart-rending story. I hope, by God, that it really is true. I hope against myself. I hope for you.
14 thoughts on ““How Do You Keep Believing In All This Faith S—t?””
Thanks for this Pastor JS. Sometimes I feel like the only answer I have is: “Sometimes it seems crazy, but I’d rather throw myself into believing in something I WANT to be true, than believing in a universe of chance or of a hard-hearted god.” While there is definitely evidence for Christianity, there’s equal evidence for other views as well. There come a point when we just have to say, “I’m all in despite the holes.” You can stay on the fence forever, but in the end that won’t get you anywhere.
Right on. I think it’s okay to have that tiny shred of “all in,” because I don’t think the amount of our intensity matters as much as putting what we can toward Him.
It sounds like you’ve outgrown the constraints religion attempts to place around God. Some of the best “church” I’ve had is discussing some of the hard questions with my wife and occasionally a friend or two. When I attend traditional services, I’m just so bored or disappointed by the things that are being presented. Maybe God is taking you to a place to experience a more authentic and freeing relationship with him. Though I wouldn’t trade the last couple of years for anything, there’s definitely been growing pains as God’s removed the man-made constructs that my faith was tied up in.
I’m also constantly reading viewpoints both inside and outside of religion and from multiple points of the spectrum of each to try to know these others that God loves so dearly. And to try to love them also right where they’re at in their lives instead of where I insist they should be.
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Thanks for sharing, John. I do want to be fair though, I still absolutely love the church. It’s probably easy-mode to get jaded about it. The word “religion” doesn’t have to be a pejorative, which it understandably has become today, and I still enjoy some traditional services despite the inherent weirdness in some of the liturgy. I definitely agree that authenticity is lacking overall, even as churches scream for it in a counter-intuitive way.
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At the end of my days of doubt, I believe for the same reason the Apostles first believed: because Christ defied humanity, walking away from His death on the cross fully alive after a meager long weekend. We have the proof of this act, both archeologically speaking and logically speaking (i.e., if He hadn’t proven His divinity, He would have been regarded as nothing more than a crackpot by His closest friends and none of His Apostles would have had reason to endure the atrocities and brutal martyrdoms they subsequently endured). Don’t let Satan ensnare you in his lies; test everything, but I promise the truth will prevail. I’m praying for you in the meantime.
Reading your article this morning was amazing. I wrote an article on my blog last night concerning the very same thought. Please visit my blog at smforrestfire.com
Thank you Magdalene. I do trust the historical veracity of the crucifixion and the shock-waves following the resurrection. I find it harder most days to trust the spiritual efficacy and significance of what it means and does. I think the intellectual/academic framework is all there; it’s the existential angle that’s much tougher to enter.
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You’re very welcome; I could use your prayers, as well, if you wouldn’t mind offering them for me, because I struggle with precisely the same situation intermittently. Some days, that tougher aspect comes so easily and feels so natural, I can’t imagine experiencing it any other way; others, not so much. I don’t know about you, but I almost think it’s more difficult to endure those dry periods when I know beyond question on an intellectual level that this is the Truth. I can’t make myself feel filled with the Spirit; I can’t make myself feel like acknowledging, despite my inevitably obscured human understanding, deep within my soul the implications of Christ’s resurrection on my personal life. Even so, I feel as though I must and I wrestle with that seemingly insurmountable discrepancy between where I so desperately long to be and where I am. Who knows why we enter these dry spells, but I suppose it’s just an exercise in faith that God will deliver us from them in His time and an exercise in patience in the meantime. I don’t know; this was a really thought-provoking post for me, in case you can’t tell 🙂 . Thank you so much for sharing!
Thanks. I doubt too. And I believe, too. It’s not like it’s a choice or anything.
That was amazing, I thought I was alone in these doubts, and alone in having my atheist friends commend me for finally being intellectually honest, your article really helped me, thank you.
I admire this clarity and honesty. Big smile!
“I wonder if I’ve bought into a cultural club of insider-acceptance where we all reluctantly agree on the Jesus-stuff because it allows us to have potlucks and socials” – Gosh, that’s nailed a vast number of church-goers right there! How refreshing.
I suspect that I also would suffer the same question, but for me the answer is assiduously granted to me before I can ask it, because as I speak this “psychological trickery”, I witness its tectonic effect on the hearer. I continue to encounter one after another person who starts with no hope, and often is literally suicidal for lack of rational alternatives (admittedly I seek out such people). I journey with them as they appropriate the “universe inside”, and I see their experience of life itself completely transformed from a passive despair to active joy, and I wonder instead, “How could I ever *deny* this faith s__t?”
As you well know, the answer lies not in finding the right church but in *being* it, because… it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Reblogged this on akuaweb.
Thanks for this! =)
It’s very timely to read because I’m asking again for the nth time “God, are you really real?” I always get to this point despite God’s revelations in the past. I used to call the Old Testament Israelites fools for turning to idols, when they had experienced all kinds of miracles that could convince even the most unbelieving atheist of God’s power and reliability. I realize though that I’m like them, always doubting despite the solid proofs laid in front of me. I guess God knows this human nature so He said lean not on our own understanding.
At times like this, I still keep on praying because it feels like that’s the right thing to do and because praying is very comforting . I still keep on hoping that God will again help me overcome my disbelief. After all, He’s my good shepherd; I will always be found. =)