Not long ago, I was browsing through my Google Reader, kind of sorting through and unsubscribing from blogs that had become inactive, and I came across a “good-bye” post from a fellow blogger. He had been struggling with his faith for some time, and I’d tracked with him for awhile because he had expressed such honesty and candor about his doubts and his feelings. This post was several months old (I was admittedly behind in my reading), but he’d written a good-bye post to close out this particular blog because he had finally decided there was no God, and he was now an atheist. Since the blog was about struggling with faith, and for him there was no more faith to struggle with, he’d moved on to write a new blog about atheism.
When I read his words, my heart sank in grief, and I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. I only know this person from his writing–I don’t think we’d ever even commented on one another’s blogs–but I felt this profound sense of loss, and I grieved for my brother who had struggled so long and had come to such a sad conclusion. I say “sad,” because when I look at my own life and struggles, I cannot imagine the amount of sorrow I would feel if I ever came to the conclusion that there had been no divine purpose in it all, that all this time I’d been muddling through on my own, that there was really no One watching out for me. Never mind the implications of the afterlife–even the idea of living in the here-and-now with no belief in God (especially if belief was once there) is a completely devastating thought to me. This is why I grieved so for my brother who had lost his faith.
I am acquainted with another atheist for whom I don’t feel the same sense of grief and loss; in fact, I feel a bit of hope. In hearing him talk about his own struggles with faith, it’s actually apparent that he wants to believe. He’s not a militant atheist, and is friendly to Christians, even admires them; he says that the only thing that really keeps him from crossing the line into faith is that he is so analytical that he can’t get his mind around the idea of the supernatural. In short, his logical mind gets in the way.
From my perspective, the biggest difference between these two atheists is the direction the struggle for faith is taking them. For the latter, I think his path is ultimately toward Christ; he would totally be a Christ-follower if he could just overcome the mental block, and I have hope that one day this will happen for him. For the former, he’s coming from the opposite direction–he once had faith (or at least belief), but got disillusioned, and for one reason or another his doubts were never satisfied. So he walked away from Christ.
But despite this difference, there is also, I think, one main similarity between these two atheists–that the struggle with faith seems to be almost exclusively in the mind. It’s the stuff that we can’t fully explain about God, the parts of Christianity that defy logic, even the apparent contradictions, that throw us for a loop. In our Age of Reason, we we are sort of conditioned to dismiss what we cannot prove, or only to accept what we can reasonably explain. I can understand that, and those who have read this blog for awhile know I spend a lot of time thinking and reasoning and grappling about issues of faith from a logical standpoint.
But here’s where I’m going with all this: by definition God (assuming He exists) must be bigger than our minds. If we could figure Him out, He wouldn’t really be God. Any attempt to fully grasp the divine using only logic and reason will ultimately be foiled; either we’ll settle on the wrong notions and deceive ourselves, or we’ll simply get frustrated and disillusioned when things don’t seem to add up. It isn’t because God doesn’t exist, but because we are finite people trying to discern an infinite Being. There are some camps within the church who realize this and have come to the erroneous conclusion that we should bypass the mind completely–and that’s where a lot of flakiness happens. I’m not suggesting we do that at all; our minds are a great gift, and we shouldn’t despise them. I’m only saying that for anyone to truly embrace God, I think it has to be on a level that goes beyond the scope of our minds. Jesus Himself gives us a clue that this is true when He said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) He also mentioned being “born again”, and specified that we must be born both of water and of the spirit in order to see the kingdom of God. (John 3:5) This thing is more than mind; it is also spirit.
In my own journey, I’ve been disappointed, disillusioned, hurt, discouraged, and even traumatized. Lots of things I assumed to be true weren’t true at all. But one of the reasons I believe so strongly in God despite these struggles is that I guess I have a sense of the spirit beyond what my mind can explain. I have experienced the Person of God in ways that I simply cannot deny, despite my inability to explain it or even to convince others of its reality. I just know. Even this week I’ve had several occasions where I had impressions or insights beyond my ability to know, and I knew it to be the voice of God interacting with me. I couldn’t rationally prove it to you with words here on this blog, but neither do I feel the need to prove it. God, after all, isn’t an idea to be grasped, but a Person to be experienced–not on a flesh-and-blood level (at least this time), but as Spirit. Beyond my own disappointments, I guess I’ve always realized somehow, while I do use my mind to ask questions and grapple with issues of faith, I don’t rely on my mind as the sole litmus test for the legitimacy of God. I trust in the existence of God more than I trust in my own ability to figure Him out.
And that’s ultimately what real faith is all about, isn’t it? Faith is not being able to explain something, but rather it is the ability to trust when we cannot explain it.
If I’m being honest, I think perhaps one of the reasons stories of people losing their faith rattles me is that it makes me wonder if that could ever happen to me. If someone who was once convinced that God was with them and for them somehow found themselves doubting, then denying their faith, could I somehow be convinced at some point that there is no God? It’s a scary thought, indeed. I suppose what it does for me is makes me realize more than ever that my own sense of reason is not to be fully trusted, if for no other reason than that I do not have the big picture. I must always remember that God is bigger than my mind, that I must lean on Him (the Person of Christ) at a level beyond my own understanding.
One final thought to end the morning’s ramblings. I’m reminded of a scene in the film The Count of Monte Cristo where the hero Dantes is in prison holding his fellow prisoner, a former priest, as he is dying. The priest warns him: “God said, ‘Vengeance is mine.'” When Dantes replies, “I don’t believe in God,” the priest’s dying words are, “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”
What a comforting thought, and one that brings me hope for myself, as well as the two atheists I talked about so freely in this post. The Bible puts it this way, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13) I have to believe that even when we struggle with our faith, and even if we reach the wrong conclusions, God doesn’t give up on us–even if we give up on Him. God hasn’t given up on my blogger friend, and never will.