On Faith and Doubt

For January, 2017, we explored my personal struggles with faith and doubt. I examined the things I want people to know the most about struggling with doubt, what Donnie Darko taught me about religious doubt, why my Christian give-a-damn is broken, and how I define Esoteric Christianity. As usual, my readers offered some compelling responses, and I want to take a moment to feature the best ones here.

A regretful side note: I am not able to feature every excellent comment that was left. That would make for too long a post, and some comments don’t make sense when extracted from the discussion. Please don’t despair if your comment wasn’t chosen.

On Three Things I Need You to Know About Struggling with Doubt, DJ wrote of his own faith experience,

I was once deathly afraid of becoming an atheist, largely because of many of the fears and pains that you articulated in #1. I had a bit of an epiphany one day in the shower (which is where 90% of my great epiphanies occur): I don’t HAVE to believe in God–I can be perfectly happy conceiving of a world without one; but I can CHOOSE to believe in God/Christianity. And that’s what I do. I choose to believe (even though much of my mind doesn’t), simply because I think it’s a better story than nihilism (Think “Life of Pi”). One day, I hope you find your own sort of epiphany that makes sense for you. In the meantime, #3 is key for us all.

In contrast to DJ, Naturgesetz offered an alternative experience of faith. His comment is long, but well worth reading and pondering.

Unlike DJ (comment Jan. 9), I do not find that “I can CHOOSE to believe in God/Christianity.” Despite what many writers say, for me it has never felt like a choice. While it’s not quite at the level of “The world exists,” or “I exist,” the proposition “There is a God,” is something that I find so reasonable, so necessary — there must be a first cause — that I can’t dismiss it.

Of course, there are moments of doubt, in the sense that I can see that the proposition, “There is no God,” is not logically self-contradictory. And as I learned from the writings of Eric Voegelin, we have to live in the uncertainty of what he calls the “metaxy;” the condition of tension between the immanent in which we live and the transcendent. It is, he thinks, the psychological discomfort of this tension which many people find intolerable, leading them to demand certainty — a certainty found in forms of Gnosticism, including the totalitarian movements of the 20th Century. I think that same unwillingness to accept the uncertainty of faith is what leads to forms of fundamentalism and other theological rigidities, including an apologetics which assumes that all the doctrines of faith are incontrovertibly proved, so that failure to accept Christianity can only come from stupidity or stubbornness. In other words, he thinks that doubt, or better perhaps, uncertainty, must be part of the mindset of the fully aware believer. In other words, you’re in good company as you endure your struggles with doubt. In fact, now that you’ve arrived at doubt, you’ll never be able to get back to an absolute, childlike certainty. Hang in there, and take all the time you need to deal with your own doubts.

On Nightmares, Agnosticism, and Esoteric Christianity, in which I start to explore the meaning of Esoteric Christianity, lakepastor offered this compelling insight.

As I understand esoteric Christianity, the scriptures contain a message that is far deeper, hidden, and mysterious than most are able to understand (both Hebrew and Christian scriptures). I don’t pretend to know it’s depths but I keep digging. Your journey sounds to be more post-Christianity, having moved beyond a surface level interpretation of the message. I think that’s positive movement in your spirituality. Christ means “anointed.” Jesus was an anointed one. I consider him the (or a) son of God because a son (theoretically) is the image of his father. The New Testament says Jesus revealed the Father God to us. Previous claims about what God was like were not accurate since the New Testament describes God as love. Jesus revealed a God of patience, kindness, tolerance, and unconditional love. Concerning Christ again – St. Paul said to the Corinthians: “Don’t you know that Christ is within you?” Is Jesus within us? No. Christ is. Other NT verses declare that God is within us. We all have been made in the image of God. We all have an anointed one within us. My goal is to give birth to that anointed one so that I can return to the image of God as a “son” (daughter) – revealing the truth about the One who lives in and through me. As I seek to know the Inconceivable, and the anointed one, I look inward now… in meditation.

On My Christian Give-a-Damn is Broken, Erin left this kind, thoughtful message in response to the post.

I grew up in church, too. In fact, I can’t remember a time in my young life when my family was not deeply committed to serving our small body of believers. I can’t remember a time in my formative years when I wasn’t being shown the love of Jesus on a daily basis. But, when I was a teenager, my mother left, and I began struggling with deep depression. Of course, I know I don’t have to tell you that absolutely no one in church was talking about mental illness at the time. Having spent my entire life being viewed as the good girl, the girl that had her shit together, I had no idea where to put that kind of hurt.

When I went to college, I ended up choosing a liberal arts Bible college about an hour away from my hometown. Admittedly, looking back, I took a lot of that time for granted. I wish I had paid more attention, been more appreciative of those opportunities to dive deeper and become more rooted in my Christian faith and it’s history. My parents, while they had raised me in church, were not well versed in the countless intricacies of theology and church history.

There were debates everywhere about the many issues you named in this post. Some friendly, some not so much. Because I had not chosen a Bible major (though every student was required to take enough hours to declare a minor in biblical and theological studies,) and because I have never been much for confrontation or conflict, I shied far away from that scene. But on one particular day, during my junior year of college, a younger group of students was debating at the table next to mine in the library. A friend of mine interrupted and said that truly, none of what they were debating mattered at all if they were not willing to go outside and show real, practical love to the homeless person, the drug addict, the LGBT person, the woman who had chosen abortion, the mentally ill, and the many others who have been cast aside by the church.

The more I get to know Jesus, friend, the more I see how deeply concerned he was about the outsiders, and how readily he turned everything on its head for the people in the Right Crowd. He came to seek and save the ones who were lost, the ones who were messy and bruised and busted up and sick and wayward. He came to love on the people who had tried and tried again and knew that they couldn’t make it on their own. I’ve spent my entire life in the Right Crowd, friend, but the more I see myself in light of Jesus, the more I recognize my own mess and bruises and waywardness. The more I see my desperate need for him.

I, too, am knee deep and sinking in the business of unlearning, relearning, and falling in love. Christianity is nothing, if not a wild love affair with Jesus and the world he came to save. So know this: you are not alone. If no one has ever really said that to you before, or perhaps if you’ve never really believed it — believe it now. You’re not alone.

Faith is a long, barefoot walk. And our kind Father is always turning our feet towards home.

Apologies for the novella, friend. I hope that perhaps you found some hope here.

May we continue to have life-giving conversations about hard topics. Keep leaving comments on the blog – while I don’t always respond, I read and consider every comment that is left. If I find your comment particular thoughtful and compelling, I will feature it in end of month review.

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