Faith, Doubt and Love
There have been a number of times in the last year or two when I’ve very, very seriously contemplated throwing my faith away entirely. Just deciding that there is no God and chalking all my prior spiritual experiences up to indigestion and an over active imagination. Decide that my fixation on religion was really an unhealthy obsession which had come to cause me more anxiety than comfort. That I should free myself from the idea that there’s something bigger going on with my life so I can make better, more practical and more profitable choices about how to live it. Given the silence of God and the way my life has gone, why not just accept that there is no God and we’re just here by happenstance?
And then there is someone close to me who keeps telling me that he has no doubt that God is real. But he’s also quite certain that God isn’t good. He doesn’t care what happens to us. He’s just as petty and demanding and selfish as the human beings who are supposed to bear the image of God in this world. God made us to be pets, he says. That’s all we are to him – pets created for his own amusement who got out of hand. Now he’s just sick of us. Which isn’t the nicest thought in the world but perhaps it lines up more closely with reality than my high fa-luting ideas about redemption.
I have this thing I do all the time which helps me figure things out. It’s very simple; I just ask myself, “what if this were true?” So any number of times in the last year or two, I have walked right up to these ideas – that there is no God or that he isn’t good and asked, “what if this is true?” In doing so, I’ve learned something important which has kept me from tossing my faith. It’s that even if there is no God or he isn’t good, I still want to live in a world that is being redeemed through love. If it came down to it, I could let almost everything else I believe go, but not that.
Christians often speak about bringing our lives into line with God’s will. And then they parse through scripture or try to read the tea leaves during prayer time to figure out what that will is. But what I’ve learned from walking right up to the line of abandoning the idea of a loving God is that the real question isn’t what God’s will is. What really matters is what my will is. If there is a God or if there isn’t a God, I’m still faced with a choice of how to live my life. What to give my heart to. Whether the world will be better for me having been here or not. And if God isn’t good and doesn’t care what happens to us, too bad. I care. I can’t make God exist or not exist or be good or not be good, but I exist and I can be good.
A lot of Christians believe that there will come a time when Jesus comes back and sets everything right and are just waiting for it. But I decided a while ago that I’m done waiting. I don’t care what God might be waiting for; for my part, I’ve decided that enough’s enough. This world isn’t good enough. Not by a long shot. If God’s not going to come set everything right, then I’ll go right ahead and do what I can to get the ball rolling. If my standards are higher than God’s, then so be it.
Of course, once we get down to it, I don’t actually believe that my standards are higher than God’s. In fact, I believe that this part of me that isn’t willing to settle for the crap we have going on is a reflection of God. Even more than that, I’ve learned that my real devotion isn’t to some old man in the sky who is benevolently poking and prodding his creation in the direction he wants it to go. My devotion is to love. Which as luck would have it, is actually what my faith teaches me God is anyways. At the end of the day, this is what keeps me from chucking my faith. As long as I am devoted to the idea of a world being redeemed by love, I’m devoted to exactly what Christianity teaches me God is and is about.
Sometimes people will read things I write and challenge me with the idea that we don’t need God or Christianity or religion for the things I write to be true. We can be good and loving without God. Which is like a fish saying it can swim without water. Whether fish know they are in water or not, that’s what they are swimming through. And whether we know it or not, our goodness and love exist in and through God. It’s something you can be willfully unaware of, but its not something you can escape from anyways.
And I can talk fiercely about love and a redeemed creation, but I’m one person out of 7 billion. I’m like one skin cell trying to move an entire body out here. But through Christianity, there’s this whole body of people who are seeking the same thing that I am – a world being redeemed through love. So if I can understand what that looks like or how that works and share it with others, then one in 7 billion little me might actually be able to start something. Jesus left behind a couple dozen followers. So we have an example that a small movement, grounded in love of God, neighbor and self can change the world.
When it’s too hard to go on, when I feel like I’m being ground up into dust, there’s always the cross and the resurrection. Maybe other people can stick it out and suffer greatly to live a life of love all on their own. But I depend on that cross and resurrection. I need to know that even the greatest suffering can be a prelude to joy. Without that, frankly, I would have quit many times over by now. I’d be a bundle of angry, bitter, unforgiving selfishness. I might want to live in a world redeemed by love, but I’d be pretty hard pressed to get myself to actually do my part to make that happen without the assurance offered by that empty grave.
I suppose if you wanted you could devote yourself to doing your part to create a world redeemed through love without being devoted to Christianity. But the funny thing is that even if somehow we’ve got it all wrong and there is no God or he’s not good, the Christian message and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus still offers the way, the truth and the life of a world which is being redeemed by love. And whatever else I could let go of, I just can’t let go of that.