Friday, November 21, 2008

Why I believe

Debby had a good comment on my last post, and it led me to ponder my favorite part of Timothy Keller's book that I read and reviewed.

As I mentioned in the review, I like that Keller came right out and admitted that there's no proof for God. Can faith in God be reasonable in some ways? Sure. But the reasons and evidence hardly pile up to the line of inevitability. It's certainly possible that God doesn't exist, and even the term "faith" implies uncertainty and maybe even some doubt. That's okay.

This concession can be so powerful in forming healthy relationships with agnostics and atheists. I sometimes meet church members who feel that their faith is so sure, so unshakably correct and true, that anyone who doesn't agree just isn't paying attention to the obvious. There is much I admire in that kind of stalwart faith, and while I see the need for those types of followers in the kingdom, I am not one of them. My faith, at its deepest level, shrugs its shoulders and says, "You know what? I might be wrong about all of this."

This doesn't work for everybody. Some may think that this type of faith is too timid, too laced with apathy about solid answers, and too open to the possibility of dissolving altogether. Perhaps they're right... I honestly don't know, but I honestly stay true to where I am and for now I confess that my answers to every single big question (does God exist, why am I here, where do socks go when they disappear from the laundry) is, "I don't know". But even if I don't know, I believe in answers to these questions, and then I live accordingly.

One of my favorite Old Testament passages is when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are facing the fiery furnace, their punishment for refusing to worship a statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. Instead they said they only worshipped God. Before throwing them into the fire, the king gave them one last chance to bow to his image. This was their answer in Daniel 3:16:

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

I hear them saying, "You know what? We could be wrong about this. We could totally burn up into nothingness in ten seconds. But we're sticking with our hearts and our faith. We can't prove we're right. But we go on anyway."

I admire that so much. That's the spirit of doubting Thomas in the New Testament, a guy who gets way too bad a reputation sometimes. Sure, he doubted some of Jesus' decisions and he doubted the resurrection, but he kept on anyway! When Jesus told his followers he would go to see his friend Lazarus, Thomas thought it was a bad plan. This would mean going right back to the people who had earlier tried to kill Jesus. It was dangerous, possibly silly, and there was no evidence Jesus nor his followers would survive. Jesus stood his ground and said he was going. Thomas answered (John 11:16):

"Let us also go, that we may die with him."

What a doubter! He knew there was no guarantee that he would survive, but he went away, because he believed in what Jesus was doing. I love that.

Some of my Christian friends did not grow up in Christian families -- they came to their own faith later in life and from different angles. But each of them came to faith in ways more mysterious than obvious, through feelings as much as logic. Some of them read this blog. For many of them, when I ask about their "conversion" story, it goes something like this: one day I didn't believe, the next day I did.

This gives me courage, because in the end, to answer the title of this post, I believe because I believe. I have no proof that I'm right. I confess my Christian upbringing was a major factor, and in other circumstances I'd be something other than Christian. I confess that there are social pressures to me keeping a Christian label.

I don't use science or archeology to prop up the bible as infallible truth. I don't claim any particular grasp of spiritual wisdom that is better than any other faith, denomination or church member. And yet I believe.

I may not believe the exact same things you do. In fact, we almost assuredly don't agree on many things. This often makes things a little prickly for me at church, as it's hard to find the line between healthy diversity and breaking from the faith. What things can I disagree on openly and still be considered a "brother"? It's under the surface of my mind most Sundays I go to our church.

Confession time:

-- I agree with some of Lee Strobel's conclusions in the "Case for Christ" series of books, but I find his methods faulty and his arguments weak.
-- I believe that the rule of consequences is built into the universe, but I'm highly doubtful of the traditional view of hell.
-- I believe that Jesus is my absolute biggest spiritual influence, yet I doubt some of the Trinitarian doctrines that are supposedly essential to my Christian status.
-- I believe that what we do in this life matters, but I don't fret about my "special purpose" and instead have been focused on living naturally, meeting each day ready for whatever it brings.
-- I believe that the golden rule encompasses the very essence of the most important parts of Christianity, but I admit that other religions have equal, and sometimes superior, focus on that same essence.

And I believe.


Debby said...

Well written, Michael. I had to go back to figure out what it was that tweaked you, but if this is the result of it, then good! The thing is, we spend so much time arguing about God and religion instead of simply living a Godly life. I am expected to live up to what God expects of me. I am not going to be held accountable for the behavior of others, only for my own behavior. The Bible is to judge my own walk, not the walk of others. Why can't people simply do that?

Andrew said...

Great post!

I love that Scripture in Daniel. Good point about Thomas too. He gets such a bad rap, but I think it is a response to retelling rather than an actual study of the text.

There is a scripture similar to the Daniel one in 1 Sam 14. Basically, Jonathon is getting impatient with this Father's delaying strategy and decides to go attack the Philistines himself, just him and his armor bearer. As they are climbing the hillside Jonathon articulates that "perhaps" the Lord will be with us. I love that. In the Charasmatic circles I grew up in that would have been considered a negative confession that would prevent the power of God from moving, but scripture seems to have plenty of folks who leapt over the edge and just hoped that God would meet them on the way.

Bob Barbanes said...

Great post, Michael. But just one bone to pick.

"It's certainly possible that God doesn't exist, and even the term "faith" implies uncertainty and maybe even some doubt."

Uhh...beg to differ, but...doesn't the word "faith" imply the exact opposite of doubt? I have faith that God exists; for me there is no doubt that He does.

When Thomas and the others followed Christ to go see Lazarus, it wasn't because they didn't have faith in Him, they only doubted the wisdom of the visit. Seems to me that they had the ultimate faith in Christ!

For prayer to work, you must really, truly believe that it will- not kinda/sorta/hope it will. No room for doubt. This is something that atheists/agnostics don't understand. "Well, I tried praying once, and it didn't work for me." Well, of course not!

As our blog-buddy Hal Johnson says (paraphrasing here): "I don't just believe there's a God, I know He exists."

Steve H. said...


Good post, There is a scene in the Narnia book "The Silver Chair" where the witch is casting a spell which lulls the heros into questioning their faith in Aslan.
Finally Puddleglum sticks his foot in the fire and the pain shakes him out of the spell and he declares something along the lines that maybe Aslan doesn't exist but he would rather live in the world that believed in him than the one the witch is suggesting to them.

C.S. Lewis I believe is not suggesting Christ may not exist but that the very thought of a world without Christ is so dark that the very notion is another block in the construction of "reasonable faith".

BTW, I keep seeing on the blogs lately talk about Trinitarian doctrine and the support or questioning of it. I would like to see more discussion on this. Does questioning it mean you don't believe Jesus is the Son of God? I'm just curious...

Don said...

Kudos for your honesty.If I was in your position, can't say what I would do. Nice post...

Don said...

Steve H.- Just read your comment. If your interested, I wrote a post on "The Trinity" some time ago. Here's the link:

Debby said...

Okay, I really had to ponder on Bob B. comment on faith. He is correct in what he says. Unfortunately, our faith is, like us, flawed. I consider myself a person of faith. I can also tell you that there have been moments of fist shaking, doubt, and second guessing of God. When the dust settles, invariably I find myself ashamed, apologizing, and picking up my tattered faith and continuing on. Faith, as a word, means exactly what Bob B. says. However, my own personal faith ends up (I am ashamed to admit)more fitting Michael's definition.

Redlefty said...

Thank you all for your excellent thoughts thus far.

Sorry, Debby, I meant the post before last! :) When you said you were convinced of God, by God.

Andrew, I agree that the Jonathan reference shows much of the same spirit as Thomas and of Shadrach's boys. Good call!

Bob, you've gone right to the core of my thoughts, for sure! For me, faith does indeed include doubt, like the examples mentioned in the paragraph above. This may not be true for everyone, as I noted in the main blog post. However, I think about how all religions have followers who say they know that they're following truth. Yet they don't agree. Can they all be right? If not, is their knowledge false? And should it have been called knowledge in the first place, or just left at "faith"? Welcome to my brain. :)

To your second point about prayer, we may just have to agree to disagree on that one for now. If I have to know the prayer will come true in order for it to work, that makes me quite the divine string-puller, in my mind. I do recall Jesus' teachings about moving the mountain, but I think he's getting at something different. Another blog for another time, alas!

Steve, I'm probably not ready to jump fully into the Trinitarian topic yet. Raises the ire of some people, in my experience. I'll just say that the "always been three-in-one and always will be" approach is a little too metaphysical for even a geek like me. The idea of Trinity, for some Christians, is absolutely essential and meaningful to their walk of faith. For me it's a distraction from the pure simplicity of God's presence in my life. Once again if there's more to say I'll have to save it for later -- you guys are killing me! :)

Debby, for myself, I'm not ashamed at my current working definition of faith. It helps keep me humble and open to new lessons to sharpen me further. Can't say I was growing back when I knew so much about God.

Debby said...

Redlefty - way to make me feel better about myself. Thanks.

Bob said...

Beautiful. And the discussion that follows is stimulating.

It's all a journey and I am convinced we all get their in different ways.

God gave us brains and sometimes we use those brains to question. I have struggled in my church for quite some time now because, like you, there are some things I am just not comfortable with. So when I think the time is right, I question things. And I think that's healthy.

I suspect my wife wishes I would keep quiet and I further suspect she has asked people to pray for me but I feel a lot better being honest about where I am in the journey.

Thanks for another thoughtful, provocative piece.

Maybe Steve H. can get the ball rolling on the trinitarian discussion! ;-)

Bob said...

OMG I just looked at my comment again . . . please understand that I know the difference between their and there!!!!!

Tit for Tat said...

I have always sensed or have known that I was created. Then one day I tried to name my creator, I quickly learned I could not. I am now comfortably back trusting my intuition and questioning my doubts. This I see as my life.

"But test everything, hold fast to what is good."

Logan said...

Fantastic post Mike! Loved it!

I'd be curious to see more of your thoughts about Lee Strobel...I have his books Case for Christ and Case for Faith, but I've also read the atheistic rebuttals to those books (online) and I have to admit the books utilize a lot of flawed reasoning and "if-then" assertions. The response to the "Blind Men and the Elephant" one of his interviewees gave was absolutely pathetic.

I thought I'd add to on the Trinity, I find value as an expression of an experiential reality about God-as the Creator, an omnipresent Spirit, and expressed in humanity, most clearly in Jesus. The metaphysical doctrine that tries to explain the Trinity and how God relates to himself I find patently absurd, but then that's just me! :)

Debby said...

I'm going to say something here that has been bothering me on the inside for a long long time. It occured to me once, as I was pondering the issues of different faiths, why am I Christian? The simplistic answer is because I do believe that God became man for us, and for our salvation as the liturgy goes. But there is a big part of me that understands that sacrificial mind because I am a mother. (No I'm not trying to equate the two...Christ's sacrifice is beyond any sacrifice I can make) Maybe I'm a Christian because that is the aspect of God that I understand the best. Does that make sense? Am I being stoned?

Logan said...

I think you are on to something Debby. I've always identified with Christianity because of the fact that God could be identified so clearly in humanity (in Jesus) and the pathway to "salvation" could be seen so clearly there (my understanding, I think, is more liberal and unorthodox than yours, so I'm the one in danger of being stone!) Needless to say, I think you're in good company, in seeing what most people through the ages saw in the Nazarene.

MamaRose said...

Somehow, I got BEHIND on reading your GREAT blogs, Bud--sorry!!!!!!

Before reading everyone else's comments here--I'll say what I THINK Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego were 'saying'--I THINK they were 'NOT GOING TO SPEAK FOR GOD & HIS PURPOSE FOR THEM & THAT HE WOULD, FOR SURE, rescue them from a very painful FIREY DEATH--just that HE COULD, IF HE WANTED TO--HAD THE 'POWER' TO--that's what I think they were 'saying'--but, ALL we really HAVE is WHAT they said, isn't it??!

I also don't know, myself, if any/all of us have a 'Special Purpose' for being here--BUT, I DO know that 'LIVING FOR CHRIST' & TRYING to LIVE like HE DID here on Earth, EVERY SINGLE DAY, is HARDER than most folks want to admit--SO, that COULD BE 'IT'!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THAT'S 'SPECIAL' ENOUGH!!!!!!!!!!!

IF we have a 'GOOD HEART' & are OBEDIENT TO OUR GOD & follow the Golden Rule--then, I THINK God is HAPPY WITH US & we are FULFILLING our PURPOSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In fact, in History, the Christians are/STAY in the background & 'do' their influence from there--one of the reasons for the statement, I think, about it 'being HARD for a RICH man to ENTER HEAVEN'--it's HARDER once we/you get rich and/or famous--to TRULY FOLLOW GOD EVERY DAY!!!!!!!!
Mainly because there are SO MANY 'things' that can 'get in the WAY' of just that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I DO AGREE WITH YOU about Thomas--I think he gets a 'bad rap', too, because I THINK he 'returned'/repented, afterwards--but, ONLY HE & GOD know, for sure!

Like Debby said--I LIKE it that GOD is going to JUDGE us & NOT based on what OTHERS DID!!!!!!!!!!

Well, now I HAVE read the other comments here & Logan--I think you're EXACTLY RIGHT--that's HOW I SEE IT, anyway, TOO--that's the MAIN REASON God SENT JESUS to EARTH--was to SHOW HIMSELF TO US, in HUMAN FORM--he had to DEAL WITH the SAME KIND of problems we ALL DO!--YET, WITHOUT SIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Or-frustrating to some, I'm sure, who TRY to be 'PERFECT', which we cannot ever be, here on Earth!!!!!
Even though I THINK we all SHOULD TRY to BE OUR BEST POSSIBLE!!!!!!!

I also BELIEVE in the TRINITY--God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit--just like the Bible talks about!!!!
We'll NEVER THINK like God THINKS or even HAVE AS MANY THOUGHTS as HE HAS--that's a quote from somewhere in the Bible--BUT, having 3 'parts' DOES make the 'parts' of Him MORE understandable, I BELIEVE!!!!!!!!!

BUT, I also BELIEVE that just BECAUSE I HAVE FAITH does NOT mean that I cannot/will not ALSO have doubts, sometimes--that's because I DON'T "KNOW IT ALL", again!!!!!!

GREAT POST, Bud--getting into some DEEPER, ETERNAL THINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!
LOVE YOU BUNCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mom

Roland said...

Hi, Michael. I'm reading it and loving it. But, as usual, I just agree with you.

LisaS said...

maybe you dislike Trinitarian concepts because you learned watered-down Modalism rather than Trinitarian doctrine - just a thought - I could refer you to some MP3s :)

Andrew said...

or maybe not... just a thought...