Today I was at a meeting with some of the men from my church, and we were talking about life, and living – just regular stuff. Because it is a group of Christian men who are all working on our personal journeys of faith, I found myself analyzing quickly “Why I believe”. Specifically in God, but also in the universe and seeing it as God’s craftwork, and in humanity and our ability to think and believe in things.
Some people would just say that “I just believe” and that they have no reasons and perhaps do because its been passed down through the generations to them. Some people say “I feel that God is real” and base their belief in emotional experiences where God met them and changed their life in an impacting way. Some people are skeptics and believe despite their obvious struggles, and they challenge other believers when their faith is stagnant. There are obviously many different ways to believe, and many probably not mentioned here.
I thought, at this moment, “Why do I believe?” It caught me off guard for a second, because I live my life now under the assumption that God exists, is in control, and that I work for God as a vocation but also as one small part in the community of Christ. I am a believer. If I could freeze that moment in time though (and it was only a few seconds), I had to rediscover why I believed.
At times in my life I have believed on an emotional premise, as I poured my heart to God not at first by desire, but by necessity. I had an innate need to realize I was not the center of the universe in my teen years, and that everything I was trying to control and in the middle of emotional turmoil I found great healing through the Spirit of God emptying me of despair and filling me with hope. It wasn’t really weakness that brought me to my knees, but something mysterious within that led me to pour out my soul and decentralize my understanding of self.
Throughout the college years I continually tested my faith and the faiths of the world in a rigorous Religion/Philosophy degree. I dealt with the question “Is this true?” and played the skeptic, while simultaneously believing. During this period I was at odds with just about everyone in the community of faith. I put aside my parents faith as I discovered my own identity. I was in contention with the views of my professors despite their brilliance, and I was always side stepping what was presented and in a perpetual “What if?” kind of state. My peers were much more skeptical than I, and studied religion more for its sociological significance. I did too, but it was deeper for me. I wasn’t looking at other people, rather, I was looking at myself and asking “Why?” In college that seems to be the main thing that we learned. The ability to ask a question and seek out the answer, though I think more questions were presented than answers would ever come. I desired to discover more.
Seminary was about knowledge. I determined that my feelings and beliefs were for one reason or another close to the evangelical in spectrum. Not in its most conservative or most liberal branches, but I wanted to know orthodox (as in the faith of Christianity through the ages, not actual Orthodox church) Christianity, and since I didn’t believe in transubstantiation or the application of celibacy in the priesthood among a few other things, I would seek out Protestant Evangelicalism. I wanted to KNOW my faith, and to KNOW it well. Four years of seminary prepared me to find answers to my questions. It also prepared me to know that there is mystery in faith, and some things are beyond our own experiences. I learned why the scriptures are reliable in their sources, and when seen through good lenses, we can find truth about humankind’s relationship with God. I learned Greek and Hebrew, and translated from old and new testaments that had been put together rigorously from various codices, scrolls, and cross checked sources from antiquity. I began to trust the texts more and more and saw how the Trinity, though seemingly fabulous beyond my understanding, is attested to by imagery in the scriptures at the Baptism of Christ. The father, the son, and the Holy Spirit are together – but are one in the Heavens, the skies, and the earth. I studied the faith, and realized how much one can know (and still feeling like I know nothing at all). I continue this study of the faith today.
So where does that bring me now? In the moment I mentioned previously, how do I relate to my faith now? It is still emotional like in the beginning, it is passed down from my parents (but not my parent’s faith), it is a tested faith with a hint of skepticism that keeps me searching for real truth, and grounded in solid methods of finding answers through ancient and modern sources including people living the faith today. I have all that behind me, and yet I am at a different step than I once was. At that moment I realized that my faith is the mish mash of all these things. All encompassing of who I am. My understanding of God underpins my understanding of self – and self worth comes not from my own success or failure but from God – who has no failures, and whose activity is always successful.
My faith is about deep thinking while feeling – it is about searching and holding onto something that is beyond what pop culture and consumption can bring us. This deep within me is beyond the questions that distract us from what seems to me to be evidence that God created all things, that God wished to create a people who would take care of the created universe, and that despite the imperfections of us as a people, God is constantly reaching out and asking people to come back and trust in goodness – in a positive view of him – and in the wholehearted, wholeminded, and wholehanded devotion that goes where God goes, sees what God sees, and seeks to help all people realize that they have dignity not just because they are a wonderful creation, but because God loves them so much that we are each allowed to exist (rather than to not exist at all). To me that is a beautiful start to the faith. Existence is a chance to be with God through challenge and prosperity, pain and pleasure, all through our lives.
I am a rational being, not tricked by a shaman, or trying to trick others into believing something I know isn’t true. I have read about humankind’s experience with God, how He destroyed the fake gods that people make with their own hands and minds, and how those who have faith in him in past and the present have a great future, when their trust isn’t just in our abilities to change the world, but in the One who made us to change the world.