Faith

I came to believe

I’ve been reading a book that a friend wrote called Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help Or Hurt Social Peace (available on Amazon here). It’s about the nature of belief, why we believe the things we do, and how things that seem obviously true to us seem obviously false to others. It’s a challenging and fascinating read. I’ll write more about it in an upcoming post. Reading it has repeatedly reminded me of this post from 2011 in which I explained my faith in God. The friend who wrote the book is one of the bloggers I mention in the first paragraph below.

I’ve been thinking for months about writing a post called, “Why I follow God.” It all started when two bloggers I follow began discussing God’s existence with each other on their blogs. In short, one believes and the other doesn’t. I wanted to add to the discussion, but the more I thought about it the more my faith deconstructed. It created a minor crisis in my faith, until I finally realized that I believe in God because I want to, and that I follow God because I have decided to.

That would be my shortest post ever. So I decided I should explain.

I think we curious humans naturally look for answers to big questions: How does the universe work? How did life begin? Is there a supreme being? We weigh evidence and draw conclusions against the backdrop of our predispositions.

Some end up predisposed toward God and others toward reason and evidence. I came to be predisposed toward God, I think, as a boy when my parents briefly sent me to a church’s Sunday school. They spoke of a loving creator, and I rather liked that idea. Later unsatisfactory encounters with people professing their faith did deter me for a while.

Monon Bridge

I wrote long ago about how, as a young adult, achieving my dreams left me unfulfilled and failed relationships left me sad and lonely. In despair and depression I decided to seek God. My search led me down a winding road that has ultimately left me with faith, which has sustained me through later, even more difficult times.

It’s not that I don’t dig reason. When I was a young student, my best subjects always included math and science. I followed that path to engineering school, where I graduated with a degree in mathematics. So I came to Christ with a good grounding in logic, reasoning, and the scientific method. That knowledge tells me that you can never prove God.

To prove something requires evidence that makes the conclusion certain. Unfortunately, evidence for and against God is incomplete and imperfect. We may weigh it and draw our conclusion; we may even say that, to us, it proves or disproves God. But what we really mean, even if we deny it, is that the evidence resonates so well with us that we are willing to step over the gap of imperfection and incompleteness. For example, some argue that the universe’s intricately balanced design is evidence of an intelligent designer and therefore proof that God exists. Even my brother, who calls himself an atheist, considers our improbable existence in this mean universe and admits to a creating god. He steps that far over the gap. But he is correct when he says that nothing about this evidence points to a personal God, such as the one the Bible describes.

We draw lots of reasonable conclusions every day from the evidence available to us. We’re wired to do it; we have to do it because so much is uncertain or unknowable. I sometimes stop at a donut shop near my office and buy a dozen to share at work. It’s reasonable to conclude I can do this any morning I want. Unfortunately, the shop burned to the ground early one morning last autumn. Good thing I didn’t make a donut run on my way to work that day. So with any reasonable conclusion, we take some step of faith to believe it.

Rainbow Bridge

I think God hasn’t left conclusive evidence of himself lying around because he wants us to take a step of faith if we are to believe in him. My experience with God is that he loves me and wants my love back. In human relationships, love can fail. People you love can betray you, abuse you, or leave you destitute. Even if none of those things happen, someone you love could die before you, leaving you to grieve. Such are the risks you take when you choose to love. In choosing to love God, you risk him not being real. You risk the whole thing having been a sham.

Some won’t take that risk. Some who take that risk end up feeling gypped. If God is real and loves us, why is the world in such a sorry state? Why do so many people suffer? Why do I have to face pain, injustice, and loss? Everybody who contemplates God one day faces these questions; some reach them and turn away. My experience is that patience and determination carries a nascent faith through this crisis.

The worst thing I’ve ever been through was my brutal separation and divorce. I prayed for years that God would heal my marriage, but things just kept getting worse between my wife and me and eventually she hired a lawyer. How could God have ignored my desperate prayers? Doesn’t he hate divorce? I could easily have turned away from God in anger and disgust. I considered it. Yet facing crippling pain and loss, I decided to keep turning to God. I am not entirely sure why. During this time, I repeatedly suffered consequences from destructive choices, sometimes mine and sometimes my estranged wife’s. Each time things could have gone much worse for me than they did. It seemed to me as though somebody was placing soft pillows beneath me each time I fell. And then during this time I had an experience that felt to me like God was loving me directly. Read about it here.

Broad Ripple

I perceived a pattern of intervention too strong for me to write off as a string of coincidences, and I chose to attribute them to God. This time of difficulty actually cemented my faith. I’m God’s; there’s no turning back. Some might argue that I am drawing too heavy of a conclusion from scant evidence. I freely admit that my conclusion involves a big step of faith.

The only way I can explain this is to compare it to the way we bind to our mothers when we’re newly born. Our ability to perceive the world is extremely limited. We don’t even see our mothers as separate from us. Yet as we grow, the love that our mothers hopefully showed us through touch and care seeds in us. We know our mothers love us. And so, through my limited ability to perceive God, I have experienced what I believe to be his loving involvement in my life. I have concluded that God is real and loves me.

And so it goes, I think, for anyone who determines to patiently follow God. Sooner or later they experience God in their lives. At that moment, God starts to become as real to them as their mother.

Unfortunately, you can’t get there without making that step of faith. You have to choose to believe and decide to follow. God can be nothing but elusive, mysterious, and maddening until you make that choice. He becomes less so as your faith grows.

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30 thoughts on “I came to believe

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I might believe in a supreme being, but I don’t believe in commercial organized religion. I am suspicious of people that need to bond together, and create the crutch of a set of arbitrary rules they can follow and tick-off to feel good about themselves, gain reverence among their group; all while comporting themselves in questionable ways in the general public. My brother, who has a degree in comparative religion, and has studied it all, is an agnostic; he’s always said the difference between being a Catholic, Muslim, or Moonie is time and distance.

    When I got down to Indiana, I was glad I was raised Chicago Catholic/Jesuit. I was horrified with the hate filled, and racist diatribe of Pentecostals and other “weird-beard” sects floating around in that area and brought up by the Appalachian migration, clad in the idea of “believers vs. non-believers”. The Jesuits can tell you when the church met in ancient times to change and modify the bible, and what gospels they left out to push the churches political and organizational goals. You can’t talk to a robot that believes a commercial bible printed last week is the exact word of God.

    I’ve spent a lifetime watching the religious reverent, leave the church on Sunday, and treat people like crap the rest of the week. Interesting to note that I met a religious degreed youth minister, that was a Bernie Sanders voter. He said that there is nothing about the way the republican platform treats people that God would agree with. It’s interesting that it seems in America, the more religious you claim to be, the more you embrace the Republican right wing, and the “we’re better than you” philosophy! It’s interesting that my Catholic catechism teacher in grade school, a Jesuit priest, when asked: …what about Jews, what about Muslims, are they all going to hell?”, replied:, “Hey, if your a good person in society, helping all you can, no matter what you believe in, if there’s a place to go, you’re going!” So much more refreshing than weird religious “sects” that promote the idea: “if you don’t believe like us, you’re going to hell.”

    In the end, like the carnival barker says: “…you pays yer money and you takes yer chance.” Believe what you need to believe. I believe that my belief is personal between me and the supreme being. I don’t need a group of people to make me feel good about it.

    • Welp, I wasn’t expecting a screed against organized religion in response to this, but I guess nobody can predict how a post about faith will land.

      • Nancy Stewart says:

        You know the strange thing is , my son-in-law’s ( Tammy’s husband) whole family are Pentecostal ministers including his mother … and there isn’t a “weird beard” among them and they are wonderful people. They have never been racist or “hate filled”. And having come from a family of Appalachian “immigrants” as most of us did coming from Pennsylvania, Ohio and on west in the early days, I’m a little offended by the above comments. Some folks sure look down on others.

        • Yes, Nancy, I’ve met plenty of people from denominations with reputations who don’t fulfill those reputations. Most of them don’t, actually!

        • I’ve known Nancy pretty much all my life, Andy. She’s not limited by not being from someplace outside this experience.

  2. I guess we are all born into a worldview, but at some point we either make a decision to stand pat or we start questioning things. Belief or non-belief in God is one part of that worldview each of us comes into.

    I come at this from a legal perspective. I have some impatience for those who say “there’s no evidence of the existence of God”. In a legal sense we need to distinguish between evidence (like a document or an eyewitness) and whether such evidence can accumulate to meet a standard of proof. And there are varying standards of proof – criminal cases must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt while most civil cases only require a preponderance of the evidence.

    There is plenty of evidence for the existence of God. We have ancient writings, we have eyewitness testimonies of miraculous happenings, and we have other things like the idea of intelligent design. The issue, it seems to me, is what burden of proof standard each individual applies to the question – or how much of that evidence will it take to satisfy someone.

    • There’s plenty of evidence for God. I assert that there’s no proof beyond a reasonable doubt, however. So it goes to your point: how much evidence does it take to satisfy a person?

    • tbm3fan says:

      Now, JP, I am a scientist first and know that there has been a fair amount of written science that either ended up being proven false or started out false. The Bible, to me, is nothing but a bunch of stories written by individuals with their own particular bent on things and their desire to tell you how to live your life. Not saying that “thou shalt not kill” is bad but they find the need to go way beyond the basics. When man can’t explain something many have resorted to God as the answer while others have resorted to science for the proof and found the explanation. So in the end I don’t see any proof that can reach the same standard of me proving gravity by dropping something. A high standard and beyond a shadow of doubt.

    • Michael says:

      I could write quite a bit about this topic, but will just comment that you and J P may enjoy reading Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace.

      As for TBM3FAN people have had a couple thousand years to prove the Scriptures false. How much more time do we need to wait?

  3. DougD says:

    Good post Jim. I guess I went from knowledge to faith once I became comfortable with not knowing everything, which can be a stretch for an engineer. Why has God revealed himself in this way? I don’t know, but I do know accepting it allows me to step across that gap in faith and respond.

    The best explanation for organized religion I’ve heard is that it’s like a bottle. You’ve got your spirituality, which is your water, or wine. It’s not much good on it’s own, you can hold it in your hand for a while but it’s going to leak out and won’t be there if you need it later. The bottle on it’s own is useless (and some do make a big deal out of showing off their religiosity bottle but you can’t see it’s empty and there’s really nothing there. But if you’ve got a full bottle, the bottle gives the spirituality form and purpose. You can bring it on a long journey and it can sustain you, and you can offer it to someone who is thirsty.

    • All I know is that a faith not shared is so much more likely to wither away. When we do it together, we can keep encouraging each other, and together we can all grow in our faith.

  4. I consider myself “religiously indifferent” at best, but your posts about your faith are some of my favorite. It’s always interesting to see your views on the matter. I like reading about how your faith informs your world view and how it’s about your personal relationship with your God.

    • I’m pleased that you like them. I’m staunch in my faith, but I never want to preach to anyone who isn’t interested. So I try to be careful in these posts so I don’t alienate anyone.

  5. Nancy Stewart says:

    The religion that I was brought up with has always sustained me through the ups and downs of a long life … especially the loss of two children. As I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten away from big organized religion and more into God’s creations in nature. I have become a combination of Methodist / Catholic / old Celtic and Native American spiritualism. I can say the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and then go out and worship a beautiful tree … very strange I guess, but it’s what I’m comfortable with. I do believe that Jesus died for us, and I hope as long as I have lived a decent life, that I’ll be there with my loved ones when that time comes.

    • That’s fascinating, Nancy! In the end, those of us who confess Jesus as savior and follow him are Christians, and it’s as simple as that.

  6. A well thought out explanation of your faith, which to me, points to its true sincerity. I am glad you had the courage to present it and did so. I am a believer in “knowledge ,-science” and have a very strong and personal faith! There is no contradiction between the two for me! Very happy to start my week with this post!

  7. -N- says:

    Your article hits a lot of “truths” for me. We have to choose to believe, or not believe, and I really think that is all it takes. How you believe, ie in a benevolent God or an angry Cotton Mather God, is also a matter of choice, although both need some thought if choices are made and are not just based on emotional or childhood experiences.

  8. tbm3fan says:

    Being of a strong scientific background I do not believe in God as I am all about reason, and proof. Now I did go to Catholic School,, as per my parents choice, and that had a strong bearing on my outlook especially as I moved up in the grades and my ability to reason. By the time of high school it was apparent to me that the Catholic Church had their own particular agenda while denominations had their own particular agenda despite all supposedly believing in the SAME God. If I were to choose a belief system, outside of my own, it would most likely be Buddhism.

    • The organized church has done a great deal to repel people by creating their agendas and allowing the faith to be seen as a belief system. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that people come to follow God at all, despite the church.

      • tbm3fan says:

        The problem in the end of any organized religion, or anything else for that matter, is that the organization is run by man. As long as man oversees such then there will always be the introduction of self-interest and self-bias that almost no man can avoid. Being religion the self-interest and self-bias is extremely strong. Throw in the strong interest in wanting to spread said faith and consequently one’s interests makes them ripe for all kinds of abuse.

        • Doesn’t your reply assume that the Church is a purely man-made and man-determined organization like, say, the Chamber of Commerce or a political party? Speaking as a Catholic, I see the fact that every indisputably man-made institution from the time of Christ has vanished while the Church remains – despite the too-high percentage of fools and charlatans who have populated and tried to control it. It is hard to see stronger proof of the Church’s divine origins than this.

        • tbm3fan says:

          Oh, not divine just a bureaucracy, a perpetual motion bureaucracy with a faithful base, money and a decentralized leadership. The decentralized leadership is how the Church could survive fools and charlatans over the ages. There may be a Pope but there are also lots of Cardinals, Bishops, and Priests who at many times in past history can operate on their own ignoring Rome if need be. Who would say anything when a message could take weeks or months to travel. Much like a president, governor, and mayors who can ignore the man above them, and have, if the need arises since you did mention charlatans.

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