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God prompted me to write out my testimony of why I believe in him recently. That was probably so I could have a more sure footing from which to talk about why I doubt him. I usually avoid disclaimers, but for this entry, it’s been as difficult to write out as it has been to live out. So please pray about what you don’t understand or agree with, and also be considerate in your judgments. If I deliver it correctly, you will do some judging.
For all we know
“And help us to be wise in times when we don’t know…”
—from “The Prayer”
For those outside Christendom who are unaware, apostasy, also known as “falling away,” is the act of abandoning the teachings of Christ to become an atheist or agnostic. It is essentially the opposite of conversion to belief in Jesus. This is one of the most feared things that can happen to a Christian. It can get you ostracized from your community of believers, and though some believe in “once saved, always saved,” most believe this loss or rejection of faith results in eternal damnation.
For those inside Christendom who are unaware, where Christians believe Jesus Christ is Lord, and atheists do not believe God exists at all, agnostics say “we don’t know.” Agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist. It does not reject that God exists, but it does not prove him either. It’s like the spiritual embodiment of “I can neither confirm nor deny.”
As un-Christian as this viewpoint is, I can honestly say, I have leaned toward this philosophy for years while professing belief in Christ. It’s not foreign to me. I’ve just never really allowed myself to examine it until now.
Confessions of a heretic
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” —2 Peter 3:9
I’ve never been passionate about missions or evangelism, but when I think of it, I think about India. With over 1.2 billion people, it’s the 2nd most populous country in the world. Only about 2% of that population identifies as Christian. Figuring a crude mortality rate of 8.2 deaths per 1000 people per year, that means that statistically 9.84 million people in India will die this year. If only 2% profess Jesus as their Lord and sole savior, does that mean most of those 9.84 million people will shuttle their way into Hell by the end of this year?
That’s conceivably 189,230 every week, 27,032 every day, 18 people every 60 seconds… going to Hell. The thought grieves me. Yet I’m not likely to move to India and devote my life to telling the mostly Hindu population that Jesus is the way. Instead, I choose to hope God affords a grace to souls of other faiths, even if they do not accept, believe in, and confess Jesus Christ before they die.
It’s at least remotely possible, right? Exodus 33:19 (NIV) says “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV) says “Do not look at his appearance… for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
We can’t see the heart. We can take a good guess and may even be right. But for the sake of approximately 9.6432 million people in India who are knocking on death’s door, I hope some of what I’ve been taught about Jesus being the only way to Heaven is wrong. I really do. I hope we’re wrong.
Heresy (n) opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.
Say it was all a dream
I had a conversation about belief with a friend this month that threw me for a loop. Though he largely retains the values and morals associated with his Christian upbringing in a COGIC church, he is now an agnostic. In the course of our conversation, he explained a lot. He explained that presuming God to be the cause of good things and preventer of bad things is an error of attribution theory. He explained that the development of religion is a spin-off from the neocortex of the triune brain which is responsible for higher functions like language, philosophy, and self-questioning. Fascinating.
Everything he was saying was logical, reasonable, intellectual, and made sense. For so long, all I wanted from Christianity was for it to make sense. Not that faith and intellect can’t play nicely in the sandbox, but much of the faith I’ve been nurtured with has been shrouded in mystery. Mystery isn’t enough for me. I want answers. I want proof. I want something I can do long division on and show my work. The older I get, the less I’ve been able to sit comfortably with hearing “the Lord works in mysterious ways.” Agnosticism seems to offer closure and plausible answers in places where Christianity keeps me in suspense.
“Dear God, don’t let me fall apart,
you’ve held me close to you
But I have turned away and searched for answers I [can] understand.”
—Jars of Clay, “Like a Child”
Perhaps I’ve always wanted someone to tell me it was all a dream, an ecumenical practical joke. If there is no God, then I can rest my questioning. I can finally flip the off-switch on that restless mechanism in me that whirs into overdrive trying to understand him or contain him. I know I can’t. But can’t get myself to stop trying, and I’m tired of failing. I never wanted to do away with God. I just wanted to understand.
If we call the whole thing off
Giving serious thought to whether or not there is a God, two things happened. Initially, I felt pleasantly relieved. Shortly thereafter, I felt alone, stressed out, overwhelmingly sad, and most oddly, cold. Dante’s Inferno describes the lowest circle of Hell as a lake of ice, a place devoid of God’s light and warmth. I hate being cold. I find that more unnerving than the notion of eternal burning. This can’t be good. One set of problems was possibly solved, but the solution caused a new set of problems I was not ready to face.
God and I have had a pretty intimate relationship going on for quite some time now. Even if you don’t believe in God and can’t relate to that, you’ve probably been in a relationship with an inanimate object that you just can’t “give up.” Have you ever realized you misplaced your phone and instantly hit the pause button on your life to go find it? You can probably recall such a terror right now. The thought of not being able to access the comfort of knowing God exists scares me like that.
“Let’s call the whole thing off!
But oh, if we call the whole thing off and we must part,
And oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart…”
—George & Ira Gershwin’s “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”
After attending church every Sunday, it was a big adjustment to stop. But I rose handily to the challenge. I was never really in a committed relationship with church. I kicked that to the curb easy. It wasn’t my life. It was simply a means to an end. But ask me to give up Christ, and that is the end. All entendres fully intended.
Better call the calling-off off
If I could live like there was no God and have the heedless freedoms nonbelievers enjoy, I would. I don’t think I can. I’m ill-equipped even to try. I have had so much invested for so long that I’m compelled to see it through. If there is no God, I can no longer hold the hope of seeing my grandparents again and my dad. If there is no God, then I’ve given away a lot of money in vain. If there is no God, then there is no Holy Spirit. If there is no Holy Spirit, who’s going to guide me when I can’t trust anyone else? As an aside, you should be aware of how often I can’t trust anyone else. We better call the calling-off off.
So my foray into agnosticism has crashed and burned before I could give it a good try. I feel ashamed for even considering it. Angels are probably staring at me right now like they’re Cleveland and I’m LeBron. Will God resent me for turning away in frustration? Will he accept me back indifferently? In my questioning and exploration, have I done irreparable damage? What do I do now?
“Here I am again asking questions,
Waiting to be moved.
I am so unsure of my perception,
What I thought I knew I don’t seem to
Where is the turn so I can get back to what I believe in?
Back to the old me and
God, please hear my call.
I am afraid for me.”
—Jill Scott, “Hear My Call”
My hope is that the draws of agnosticism will reach a crest and subside like any other temptation. I pondered this for a week and it’s already begun to dissipate and lose momentum like a song idea that’s enthralling one night and mostly forgotten the next morning.
I’ve still got questions though. I probably always will. But I don’t think I have what it takes to make a reverse leap of faith. My agnostic friend says some people need to have a belief in God in order to feel okay. I must just be one of those people.
“I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.” ―Albert Camus
- The Darkest Night (junkyardsalvation.com) — Another honest piece about what I don’t believe, why I don’t believe it, and what I hope changes about that.
- Maya Angelou Taught Me Too (junkyardsalvation.com) — Some of the thinking behind this piece came from a little piece of a something Maya Angelou said. And I’m eternally grateful for it.
- The Passion of David Bazan (chicagoreader.com) — At the Cornerstone Christian rock festival, a fallen evangelical returns to sing about why he broke up with God.
- Our Father’s Not in Heaven: The New Black Atheism (gawker.com) — An Atheists argument for why Black people should explore non-religious options
- An Open Letter To Those Who Doubt or Deny God (tworiversblog.com) — “…I think the only people who have not had doubts are either liars or fools. Even now I believe God is calling me out to take a step of faith that I just cannot take…”
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There is nothing wrong with asking questions. David asked questions all the time. I think that’s a part of working out your Salvation instead of always following someone else’s revelation of who God is.
It is tempting to try and co-opt what someone else has learned about God and use it in your own life. But I think he’s capable of giving us our own revelations, specific “marching orders” that though they line up with the principles in the Word of God are individualized for every believer so that their piece of the puzzle gets put into place.
Okay, I’m sorry it took me so long to reply! Been busy.
My entire life, I have never believed in ‘god,’ although I was raised in a Christian church until I was 8. I would pray but it was an empty prayer, it was more because it was something I was forced to do. I have never felt god, or that spiritual connection. All I’ve ever known is what I can see/feel. I’ve struggled my entire life to find that kind of connection. But I’ve only ever found it on Earth, in other people. I find love very spiritual, and the connection between two people (I don’t just mean lovers–sisters, brothers, very close friends, anyone you feel that ‘special bond’ with.)
Sometimes I do wonder if there is a god/creator though, so I guess I am not truly Atheist, but agnostic as well.
But even if I did find god, I know that he’s not the Christian god. And I think a lot of people struggle with that. But to me (this is just my opinion!) I know for a fact that if there IS a god (which like I said, sometimes I DO think there is some sort of higher power/being) he is nothing like any of the religious books have described, from any denomination of faith.
I believe there may have been a creator, and an observer, but I think human beings are naturally narcissistic and we assume these deities CARE about what we do in this realm, or that they watch us. And although I know that no one could truly know what a god would think/do (as ‘godly’ thinking would be above our own, if such an entity were to exist), I don’t think that Gods/deities would be interested in us. As in there would be no heaven or hell.
Because no energy can ever be destroyed, I know that the family members I have that passed are still around here somewhere. I like to take comfort in their memories. And knowing that they’re peaceful, wherever they are.
If there is a god, I assure you from my heart, that he would never punish non-believers, he would never punish undeserving people (gay people for instance!) or people who ate pork, or for having sex out of wedlock. I don’t even think he would punish deserving people. I don’t think he’d even be concerned with us.
These are human thoughts in my opinion. And the commandments are human restrictions. That is not a godly way of thinking. A god would be concerned with the universe itself, the energies, etc. The actual physics, creation and destruction… the balance. Again, all just my opinion, because in theology all it can ever be is opinion.
If you need god to feel okay, if you need a spiritual connection, and if you FEEL it, or want to… honestly, that’s great. Just don’t ever let faith blind you, or even compromise your morals. Your morals should always be your own, and when you think about it, god gave them to you if you believe in him.
Also, I think Lucifer is a great guy and people don’t give him enough credit. This might be saved for another rant though, eh?
I’m sorry it took me longer to reply. I don’t have an excuse. I just take long! Here are some responses to some topics you brought up:
– Maybe the fundamental difference between my experience and yourse is that I HAVE felt a spiritual connection with God, through people, through music, and also alone! Often those experiences were accompanied with excited or intense emotions. Maybe even goose bumps. And then they stopped!
I don’t know what happened, but there was a sharp decline in activity among indicators I used to perceive God. My adult life has found me groping around trying to reignite that connection. It’s been very frustrating not being able to access that place as easily as I used to.
– Not only do I find agnosticism interesting, but pantheism also. That’s probably what I hope is true for the people I wrote about in India. Even among Christians there are different denominations in different cultures that call the same God by a different name.
– I wholeheartedly agree though that the God a lot of people (and some of them Christians) have portrayed is probably a flawed bastardization of who he really is. When I pray to God, I normally ask for “the real him” to respond and silence the counterfeits. The others aren’t real, so they shouldn’t be responding anyway!
I’m curious though. Have you ever felt like a “voice from within” spoke to you audibly or inaudibly? And have you ever wanted to believe it was God?
It’s perfectly ok to ask questions. In fact, I encourage it. As for faith, it grows with your relationship with God. It’s not easy, as you know, but your level of faith is a sign of the level of your relationship with God. And should you decided to become agnostic, hold tight to what you know is right. Surround yourself with spiritual people (not religious), and you will see and hear about how God works. But you said one thing that kinda let you know that God is real – when there is no one else to turn to, there’s God.
Thank you for the reminder. I think what I’ve come to know so far about the personhood of God is going to win out. I’ll question, but I think that familiar voice I’ve always responded to in my heart will have the final answer. I know that voice. Maybe I’ve just got to find a way to magnify it!
I’m going through this thing right now where I read through the whole Bible in a year. There is some really confusing stuff in there. I wish I knew the original language or the customs of that time. I keep thinking that would help. I’m questioning a lot too. But my reasons to doubt are not as strong as my reasons to believe.
@Greg. The only way to “understanding”. It is written in Proverbs 4:7 – Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010)
Wisdom is the summit; get wisdom, and with all your possessions purchase understanding. In other words, wisdom without understanding does not amount to much. It is written that Jesus left The Holy Spirit to teach us everything yet we attempt to understand the scriptures and God’s word on our own. The biggest problem with t5he “modern Church” is it has changed since Jesus left it to His disciples. It was co-opted by the Greeks and Romans. They used it as a model of world dominion. The teachings of Paul were instrumental in this transformation. The church (Jesus teachings) became the Eastern Orthodox or Greek church and the western Roman church became the Roman Catholic church. The two churches merged
doctrines and from this merger we now have more than 41,000
denominations. The problem with “religion” like “race” is that both were
created by Europeans (Greeks and Romans) as tools of enslavement. It is
written that the enemy came – Aramaic Bible in Plain English (©2010)
“But a thief does not come except to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have whatever is abundant.” John 10:10. This scripture describes perfectly the European and his relationship to the world and the rest of the world’s people who have been enslaved, murdered and raped all in the name of “Christianity” and progress…His In Service
The story of my life! Oddly enough I find that I’m experiencing more of God in the “heresy” I come across, coupled with readings from Skeptics, Agnostics and even Atheists than in the “orthodox”… I really don’t know man (no pun intended)
I just watched a really interesting documentary called Questioning Faith that examines how people of various faiths react when faced with tragedy or misfortune. I can see pieces of the truth resounding throughout each story. And you know they’re not lying because they’re all pushed to the point where there’s nothing more to prove!
I can imagine! I’ll definitely check it out.
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Thus is not only well written, but well thought out. As a former believer myself, I applaud your honesty but feel you have stopped one step short of where I am. It saddens me that so many people know something is off about the account that the Bible gives, but fear the wrath of a supposedly gracious god when asked to consider logic and reason. You mention that some people NEED faith to be comfortable with life, but is a good that exists only in your need for him to one that is deserving of worship? Worship. Think about the hole that faith then creates. Torespond to Camus, I would say this; we do not need to settle with the either or mentality Seek truth. It’s out there.
If I have to sum up my spirituality as a Christian at the moment, it’s simply that I’m seeking truth. Whether it is closer to the traditions I’ve been taught, or farther away from it, I want to know what is TRUE.
Thank you for taking a moment to walk with me in that. I appreciate it.
My retort is a composite based on the context of your post (here) and the conversation we initiated 2 days prior. It is late so I won’t be on long.
It is one thing to say “Due to circumstances, I am hurt, mad or disappointed with God”. It is Quite another to say “Due to circumstances, I no longer believe in God or the idea of a god”. Whether or not you realize it or were ever aware of it, based on this premise alone, mind you, you are revealing a significant portion of your belief is based on circumstances or your experiences. It needs to be said here that to some degree this is true for all believers but you would do well to reflect on this point.
Now, what to do with those 9.8 million Indian souls hanging in the balance. I hate to use scripture to prove or explain scripture (it seems so circular) but based on your more than cursory knowledge, it will work here. Romans tells us, God’s reality is evident to all men through the evidence of his creation. Now obviously it (nature/creation) doesn’t give us all of the specifics of Jesus, name, dates, location etc. but it (scripture) does indicate there is enough to go on for all men to reasonably conclude there was a greater being. Romans goes on to say that ultimately, we will be responsible for responding to the amount of light we were exposed to. Is that helpful?
There is so much more rich evidence for the validity of the Bible and the person of Jesus and therefore of God that I want to touch on, when presented with the evidence it won’t solve your problem but it will offer you points of traction to move from the position of disbelief because of x, to I am mad at you (God) because of x.
For now, I gotta get some sleep.