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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…”