Losing My Religion

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”

―TheFellowship of the Ring

I’m not gonna lie.  Life was easier when I had all the answers.  It was a point of pride with me really, since I was that kid.  Maybe you’ve met her.  The one who got all the prizes for memorizing the most Bible verses.  The one who endured the mockery of the other kids as she defiantly read her Bible during recess.  The obnoxious little punk who had a compulsive need to correct the Sunday School teachers if they misremembered even the most minute detail of a Bible story.  That girl was me.

 
That’s me on top–the holiest in the land.

Looking back now, it’s kind of hard to believe.  The person with all the conviction of an Inquisitor–that’s not someone I recognize anymore.  And despite my choice of metaphors, I don’t want to belittle her.  She had her good points.  The most interesting and, from my current perspective, most alien virtue she had was faith.  She really believed.  In all of it.  In seven day creation and a God who loved mankind as His own children.  In an imminent rapture and water turned to wine.  She was certain that asking Jesus into her heart would preserve her soul from a literal torture chamber of eternal flames.  That girl didn’t doubt, and she didn’t waver. Her faith pointed true north.  And I’m sure if she could see what I’ve made of her, she would be so disappointed.

I don’t think I’ve read my Bible–really read it–in a decade or so.  My “relationship” with God, if it even comes close to deserving the term, is…troubled.  I attend church when it’s convenient for me, and I pray when I need something or get guilted into it.  If you asked me what happened to turn a good, solid Christian into a functional agnostic, I couldn’t tell you.  Doubtless, I have my reasons.  I find I usually do.  But they’re opaque to me.

Don’t get me wrong.  God’s still a huge part of my life.  I think about Him a lot.  I put Him under a microscope and peruse Him for flaws.  I spread Him out on a table to dissect His parts, maybe try out a few different permutations–tinker with His omniscience, reconfigure His justice.  He’s the ultimate cosmic puzzle, and pondering Him takes up a lot of my time.

But loving God is hard.  He is inscrutable.  He is hidden.  And in a world like this I just can’t make sense of it.  Why the big secret?  How can I have faith in the face of all those scientists with their big brains and fancy words who tell me they’ve uncovered the truth about everything, and at the bottom of it there is no magic at all?  The sun rises and sets because it has to, not because some god pulls it across the sky in his chariot.  Life is no miracle; it’s an inevitability when we are one of billions and billions of worlds in the multiverse.  How do I take comfort from stories of seas parting and people rising from the dead when everywhere I look nature runs its predictable course and death ultimately claims everything–the young and the old, the faithful and the wicked?  What do the promises of God mean next to the inexorable monotony of life?

I feel alone.  I feel afraid.  I feel as though I’m hanging on to faith by my fingernails.  And I don’t know if there’s a happy ending in this for me.  I was raised to believe in things, and somehow I’ve just lost the ability.  Like Peter Pan, I think I was supposed to stay a child, but while I wasn’t paying attention I must have accidentally grown up.  Let me tell you, the view from up here sucks.

Older but no wiser

For years I’ve been in a holding pattern with God–a standoff, a war of the wills.  And now I’m exhausted and ready to blink.  The way I see it, either the questions of God (i.e., does He exist?  What is He like?  What does He want from us?) are the most important questions or else nothing matters at all.  So I want to figure this thing out.  I want to see if the frayed strands of my erstwhile religion can be rewoven into something new–a parachute I can cling to so I don’t dash myself on the jagged rocks of hopeless, atheistic existentialism.  I want to believe, and as C. S. Lewis once averred, I hope that desire alone holds some meaning.  For years I’ve been angry at God and almost pathologically suspicious of every earthly institution supposedly dedicated to His cause, but maybe all that time being torn from my religious foundations was time well spent after all.  Maybe the creation of all that negative space was necessary so that I can be filled with better things, truer things.  Maybe it’s time for me to leave the spiritual desert.  Maybe I’m being led, at long last, to a mountain top.  At least, if this were a story that’s how I would write it.  I guess we’ll see if God’s artistic vision and mine overlap.

I think I’m finally ready to seek the Most High, wherever He may lurk.  Even if I can’t commit to the doctrine of inerrancy or original sin or any kind of eschatology at all, I intend to commit myself to this pilgrimage.  If He is willing to be found, I am willing to find Him.  And…that’s all I’ve got.  But hopefully it’s enough.

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3 thoughts on “Losing My Religion

  1. I once hit a similar spot. When I did, these verses stuck out to me, hardcore:

    2 Peter 3:4-7, “and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

    But, the question inevitably comes, how do I know God even exists? Here is an excellent article by Dr. William Lane Craig on that exact issue. It is a little long, but he attempts to cover multiple facets of the reasoning for why God does, in fact, exist. It should be very helpful to you: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/does-god-exist-1 I highly recommend Dr. Craig, as he is a well studied, well reasoned individual who has discussed many topics from the existence of God, to the problem of evil, to comparative religions. Others I would point you to are Platinga, Charlie Campbell, and JP Moreland, to name a few. However, Platinga and Craig are the two I know of that are available on places like YouTube in civilized debates with atheists and such, which may seem more balanced for your quest.

    Lastly, don’t go back to religion. It’s not worth it. While I know you’ve heard this because of our common upbringings, there is truth in the statement that a relationship with God is far superior, and is directly in-line with God’s desires, than religion.

    I hope this all helps!

  2. I’m actually a big fan of Bill Craig and of Plantinga. I’ve read a lot of Craig’s work in particular, and I appreciate his reasoned defense of Christianity. Intellectually, I know that there are some strong positive reasons for faith, but my experience of an imminent and actively magisterial God is lacking. Or maybe I’m blind to it. I don’t know. I find it difficult to engage with an invisible Being who doesn’t seem keen on talking back to me in a way I understand. I don’t mean to sound bitter; I’m still working through all of this stuff. That others like you have struggled with these things and found a way through gives me a lot of hope.

    • You know, the intellectual assent to Christianity is the first step and seems to be the hardest for most. For me, it is my starting point, in many ways. When all else falls out, if everything I have were gone in the next instant, I would still hold to my faith because of what I know.

      But is that the fullest extent of my faith? By no means! If it were, my faith would be as passionate as a love affair where the man KNEW the woman existed, and that she so desired him. wow. passionate! LOL!

      I can’t speak for anyone else, so I’ll speak for myself, and we can work from there to understand whatever is unclear or doesn’t seem to apply in your case. Also, I have a tendency to use the phrase “we.” I do not mean to be insulting by speaking for others. I just hate using the term I, as it seems so isolated.

      Starting with the intellectual assent, I would say that my next step is to let it sink in; once I conclude that there is an all-powerful, personal God who made me, once I understand that the Bible is truth, it becomes reasonable that my next step be the realization of the love this God has for me. God gave His only begotten Son for me. (I place the begotten in there to remind myself, more than anyone, that Jesus is not just a son, He is God of God, the Only Equal of God, not separate but distinct.) What would it take for me to give my son (if I only had one) to be so brutally tortured and to die? Frankly, I can’t imagine enduring that. That is a love that I can only barely fathom.

      This begins the process, for me, as such a love overwhelms me and compels me to praise the One who gives it. And then, I think of the fact that it is my Creator who does this; for a second I think that maybe I am entitled. After all, He has to love me! He made me!

      “And while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Shortening of Romans 5:8)

      And sinners is a term one can quickly run over. But think about it. In the midst of my absolute rebellion against God, when I would have more happily beaten the loving crud out of Him rather than even look at Him, He gave His life because of love for us. You know, I honestly believe, the more I know Him, that even if no one ever believed in Him, that Jesus would have still died because He loved us THAT much! Is He all-knowing? Yes! But He loves so deeply too! He is so multi-faceted, it is hard for us to fathom; in fact, it is beyond our ability to grasp.

      So, here I know that He exists. I know He gave His only begotten Son to have a relationship with me. I know that He loves in a way I can’t grap and that there is more to Him than I can fully comprehend. First response? For me, it is absolutely worship! Putting myself into that perspective, I can’t possibly make a demand. Such love overwhelms me with to thankfulness!

      As you said, I’ve been through some tough stuff, far more than I ever desired. The only reason I’m alive is because of God; His existence, the truth of the Scriptures, anyone who cares about me THAT MUCH…who am I to tell Him to go float a boat? The One who created me, while I was flippin’ Him the bird and spittin’ in His eye gave Himself/His only begotten Son to have a relationship with me. Ok. I’ll take the next step forward; guide my steps, Lord!

      I guess all this is to say, I understand the difficulty engaging the Lord when He doesn’t just respond, most times, with “Mm-hm. I understand, but here’s the plan.” But, over the last 2.5 years (which have, arguably, been the most difficult of my entire life), it has dawned on me. He is the perfect one that I’m supposed to be like, but I’m the one who sinned. So it stands to reason that I would be the one who needs to learn from Him, which requires trust and some amount of mystery (for lack of a better word). It’s similar to how I teach my children. Sometimes, trying to explain to them the why behind a request is more complex than the simple trust of following the request. Even more important, sometimes the lesson can only be learned if you don’t know what you’re supposed to learn. Further, there are times when that trust needs to be tight enough that a quick command can be given to prevent impending danger, e.g. hollering “STOP!” to keep your kid from running into the street and being hit by a car.

      These help me pursue when God doesn’t answer the way I wanted Him to. When I think I’m not hearing, it usually means I’m not listening or I need to be patient. And I think the later is the one that most of us struggle with the most. When there is a person in front of me, I can accurately observe the fact that he/she is not responding to me audibly but is still making some response such as simple eye contact. Without that visual cue, it becomes more difficult, like on IM. But again, I refer back to the above discussion on needing that trust. If we can’t wait for His response, then we are still lacking in our trust of Him; typically, we have forgotten our place (as my dad would have put it) and believe that we know better than the God of the Universe.

      And no worries. I would be absolutely lying if I said I didn’t have my times (some I think you and others have witnessed!) where I screamed myself horse at God. I have had my times where I have begged God for a sign. Further, there are times I have not been given a direct response. Sometimes, I needed to just rest and wait for God to work. Other times, I got a response. At the end of the day, I think you can find many examples of people in the Bible that God used who went in and out of “trusting”. Further, Jesus was always open to honest questions, so I don’t think there’s a problem there either! =)

      Last of all, please! PLEASE! Do not let me come across as having all the answers. I do not! As I said when I started, this is just me relaying what I do know, and how I’ve come to know it.

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