I haven’t been confident about what I believe for a long time.
Is God real? Does he love me? Has he spoken to me? Do I have a divine purpose?
It’s a problem I’ve wrestled with for years. The world pressures us to hold strong opinions about everything under the sun. And admitting I don’t know sucks.
But truth be told, when it comes to faith I just flat out do not know.
Longing for God
I want to believe. Honest. There are days when I long for God. To know there’s something bigger out there in the universe. Something divine. Something eternal.
But I’ve never been able to reconcile that longing.
Is it just residue from my church upbringing? Is it my own ambition – reaching for the unreachable? My pride – leading me to believe that I’m worthy of speaking with God? Is it legitimately the Holy Spirit at work in my life?
I see a peace of mind faith could bring. But blind faith just because it makes me feel better? That’s always felt like a cop out.
If I’m going to believe anything – I want to feel the conviction of its truth in my bones. And that’s where I’ve always struggled.
Evidence vs. Experience
Forget the science. I’ve read books. I’ve looked under all the rocks. There are convincing arguments on both sides.
But every argument misses something huge – the kind of validation that can only come through personal experience.
I can’t say with confidence I’ve ever experienced God.
No matter how bad I want to believe it. A skeptic inside challenges every possible encounter.
I know I’m not the first person to ever doubt my faith. Or fully renounce it for a spell. Even the lead singer of one of my teenage favorite bands recently came out with a startling announcement about his faith.
Maybe doubt is something anyone with faith struggles with from time to time. And maybe that’s part of the point, too. Hell, if it were easy, would it be worth it?
Still. Doubts aside, I’m after the truth. And I have to live on this earth either way.
A long time ago, my boy Blaise Pascal wrestled with the same dilemma. And he came up with a clever coping mechanism.
Pascal made a wager with the universe. I’ll paraphrase for you.
He argued that it makes sense to live like God exists – whether it’s true or not.
If we die to find out we were wrong, well, we sacrificed some material pleasures. Maybe a few good times. And overall, maybe saved ourselves from a lot of immorality.
But if we die to find out we were correct, well, then there’s an infinite gain to be had.
I like this wager. Really. It makes sense to me. Except I take one big issues with it. This wager leaves me wanting more. Here’s why:
I don’t want to live a life based on avoiding consequences. I want a life of abundance – a life in pursuit of purpose and truth. And I don’t want to give up parts of my life I enjoy just to avoid burning in hell some day.
Positive vs. Negative Reinforcement
From a young age most of us are taught good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished.
Real “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” type stuff.
Faith and religion aside – we’re supposed to do good and avoid bad. To follow rules. Keep in line. And do what we’re told. Or else.
But it’s precisely the “or else” that pisses me off. Especially when it comes to faith (as it’s often packaged).
I don’t like fear-based arguments for faith. To me its no different from the life insurance agent who throws your mortality in your face then whispers, “You’d want your family to be taken care of if you died, right?”
It’s predatory. It feels directionally incorrect. And truth be told, if that’s real faith, I’m not interested.
Because here’s why – I know I’m flawed. I will mess up. A lot. And if the expectation for messing up is damnation, then what’s the point? I’m already screwed.
Exploiting fear makes me resent the idea of faith even more. If faith is worth practicing at all then it’s got to be more than fire insurance, yanno? It’s got to be something that offers hope for more – something that offers a promise of rewards far greater than I could ever imagine.
A Game of Endurance
A few notable influences come to mind as I think more about my pursuit of faith.
The first is C.S. Lewis. The way he describes his discovery of faith has stuck with me through the years. His book Surprised By Joy offers what I believe to be an incredible insight. The discovery of a joy so strong, so good, so worthy – that he longed for it.
The second is Kahlil Gibran. In The Prophet he drops a hot take on joy and sorrow. Here it is:
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked…The deeper your sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you contain.”
I remember reading that for the first time and thinking to myself, “Yes! He gets it!” It describes the understanding I’ve developed from my own experience – that joy is a game of endurance. Not suffering for suffering’s sake. But enduring for the sake of unlocking even greater things than we know.
As Paul wrote, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.“
I’m also reminded of Job – which has forever been one of the most meaningful yet challenging passages of scripture for me.
I’ve always wrestled with the why behind Job’s story. Why would God deliberately allow one of his faithful servants to be set up to fail?
Maybe it was a sign of trust. Maybe it was God’s own display of faith. Or maybe God knew that only through enduring could Job fathom even greater joy than he previously knew. Whatever the case, I’ve always thought if faith is real then I want a faith like Job’s: “Shall we accept good from God and not adversity?”
(For another excellent read on the same notion of endurance, check out Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.)
The Chief End of Man
Other influences that come to mind – Christian Hedonism, as popularized by John Piper’s book Desiring God. (I’m thankful someone put this book in my hands at age 17 when I walked out of the church and never looked back.)
The idea of Christian Hedonism captures another fascinating point of view when I think about faith – Piper offers one single word change to a common accepted view about faith. And it’s a radical difference.
Traditional View: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Christian Hedonism: The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
What a stark contrast, right? The traditional view conjures up an image of something entirely undesirable (at least to me)– a bunch of people sitting in church pews listening to sermons and singing hymns for all eternity. In other words, I always interpreted it as a call for self-limitation. That our highest and best exercise of faith is by restraining our impulses – by following rules and sacrificing everything as the cost of admission.
And I’ve always wrestled with that. Because if God is real…and we were made in His image…all entirely unique… then that’s not by accident, right? Maybe our highest and best exercise of faith is by discovering our uniqueness and leaning into it.
My good friend Isaac Morehouse paints it nicely in this post (which was also featured in a chapter of our book, Don’t Do Stuff You Hate):
“Christian’s purpose in life is to take delight in existence, and take delight in God delighting in them for being delighted. God created humans so that he could take pleasure in them, and seeing man take pleasure in life is what most pleased God.
I always associated the idea with a line from the movie Chariots of Fire, where the deeply religious Eric Liddell is chastised by his sister for missing church because he was running. He said, “When I run I feel His pleasure.” Not merely that Liddell was having a pleasurable experience himself, but that he felt the pleasure of God as he ran.”Hedonism As Life Purpose, Isaac Morehouse
There are so many other thoughts I have not catalogued here. But I had to get these words down. I’ve been wrestling with this issue for over a decade – and it’s intensified with age.
I want to know to truth. To understand my purpose. Or at least reach a conclusion I can carry with confidence.
Which brings me full circle. I’ve been reflecting more and more on how to build a life worth living. It’s a topic that constantly pesters me. And the issue of faith has been a constant undertone in my own narrative.
Yes. I’ve been wrestling with all this. It’s an extremely personal issue. But recently I was struck by something new – a thought that has never before occurred to me.
I was standing in my kitchen. Normal day. When a thought came to mind:
“God is not trying to cheat you out of anything.”
It’s so simple it made me laugh. Honestly.
I think my notion of faith has always been at odds with religion. To me, faith has always been about breaking free. An act of liberation. Where religion is about constraint. Following rules. Dutiful sacrifice.
And maybe my views of religion have marred my views on faith. Who knows?
This is a continuous journey. And tough one. But that makes it worth it – regardless what I discover.
To be continued…