Your Faith Is Foolish

9:00 AM

Andrée Seu Peterson wrote an article called "Faith is the thing: believing in the absence of receiving." She said that the psychology of faith means that faith is only exercised, well, in the absence of the receiving. As soon as you receive the object of your faith, you stop believing. You've received. Just go read the article and then come back.


I struggle with faith. I'm an intelligent, college-educated young woman who double-checks facts, pokes holes in arguments, and doubts like the best of cynics. I don't believe. I know. And I know not just from experience, but from rigorously fact-checking my experiences, backing them up with logic. My worst nightmare is the idea of not being able to trust my senses, to live in a world of unknown reality, to be going about my life and suddenly someone says, "Everything you knew is actually a lie."

For me, seeing is believing. I'm obtuse to faith. My spiritual mentors get exasperated with me: "That doesn't make sense. How do you know for sure? What about this? You forgot to mention that. Sure, that seems right according to everything I know, but what if I'm missing an important piece of the puzzle?" I take things in with a dose of skepticism (whether healthy or unhealthy, I have no idea). And it's because I've been wrong. It's because I've changed my mind about things I once thought fundamental. It's because I've trusted people who I later discovered to be wrong. It's because people believe really, really stupid things and run after false gospels and live in delusions, and who am I to say that I am inherently smarter than them? If I could somehow objectively determine that I am not prone to error and emotions, then maybe I'd feel more confident to believe my hunches and my experiences and my inductive reasoning.

That's why I can think through with confidence important theological problems and systematize them: this makes sense, this doesn't, this matches the Bible, this doesn't. If you asked me what is true, I might be able to tell you. If you asked me what I believed, I'd probably say, "I don't know."

"You really don't have faith, do you?" my faithful boyfriend tells me when I lay out all my speculation and doubts. And I really don't. I walk by sight.

I used to teach my elementary kids in children's church that faith was like sitting on a chair even though you don't know for sure if it will hold you. Faith is more complicated than that. If you want to know if the chair will hold you, you can just sit on it. That's a scientific process. It involves your senses. The greatest cost will be a sore bum and an old broken chair. Faith in God, faith in certain ideas about God, cannot be sat on and tested with obvious cause-and-effect. It involves wisdom, truth, and faith itself...not subjective things, but not obvious like a chair. And the greatest cost to getting the object of your faith wrong ranges from nothing to burning in hell for eternity.

If you don't struggle with faith like I do, this article will probably discourage you. You can stop reading now, for your own sake. If you do struggle with faith like I do, the actual act of faith, let me break it to you: the reality is that faith looks stupid, and faith feels foolish. It's nothing like your high school chemistry co-op experiments. It's not like sitting on the chair in Sunday school. It won't feel as solid as your pastor's confident proclamations.

You'll feel dumb. You'll feel presumptuous. You'll feel as uncomfortable as you feel right now. Because faith isn't the kind of deductive objectivity our Western scientism wants applied to everything. It's why so many kids go agnostic -- the presumption of saying no, there isn't a God feels as foolish and subjective as saying yes, there is a God. They admire the confidence of both atheists and Christians. How do you arrive at that conclusion with so much certainty?

It probably starts with acknowledging how scary, precarious, and counter-intuitive faith is. Faith is about the not having, as Peterson points out. Trusting God to complete your faith, to make known to you the answers, to be real and yet a mystery...that's all not having. Believing on promises, living with hope, experiencing's based on not having all the tangible facts.

Knowing that faith feels foolish doesn't mean that the object of your faith is foolish or that what you believe is stupid. (For us Christians, though, Paul did say the cross is foolishness to those who don't don't be surprised when that doubt comes up, either. You were forewarned.)

Believe. It's going to feel weird and crazy and terrifying. It goes against the reductionists you read in class and the smart bloggers on the internet and the snarky agnostics at your school. Get used to it. :) You'll want to be on the agnostics' side, on the side that seems more "logically sound," on the side that seems as sure and noncommittal as possible. Just remember that in the end, no matter how much research you do, now matter how logically you work things out, a step of faith is a step of faith. It operates in the not having. You don't have. So step out.

Friend, if you're struggling with faith, please feel free to reach out.
And if you've struggled with faith and have learned to believe, don't hold back your testimony! Emails, comments...let's grow together, okay?

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6 impressions

  1. Reading the linked article reminded me strongly of the poem "Love Dogs" by the Sufi poet, Rumi.

    “Love Dogs

    One night a man was crying,
    Allah! Allah!
    His lips grew sweet with the praising,
    until a cynic said,
    "So! I have heard you
    calling out, but have you ever
    gotten any response?"

    The man had no answer to that.
    He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

    He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
    in a thick, green foliage.
    "Why did you stop praising?"
    "Because I've never heard anything back."
    "This longing
    you express is the return message."

    The grief you cry out from
    draws you toward union.

    Your pure sadness
    that wants help
    is the secret cup.

    Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
    That whining is the connection.

    There are love dogs
    no one knows the names of.

    Give your life
    to be one of them.”

    ― Rumi

    Not your preferred symbolic language, I know. I hope you don't mind.


    1. That's a beautiful concept. The Christian tradition talks a lot about moaning and longing for the face of Christ -- there's a lot of spiritual truth there. Thank you for sharing, Adele!

  2. Interesting thoughts. To think that you need to have faith, in order to have faith (duh), was a bit of a light bulb moment for me.

    If you would do me the honor of reading a very recent post I wrote, with questions about faith, I would love to hear your opinion on it:
    (you might have to copy and past this to a new tab to find it)

    Adele, that's an intriguing poem. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Oh, gosh. Hi. I'm exactly like you. I'm pretty sure I asked God about every single thing you asked Him, and then turned around and demanded, "Hey, are you even real?"

      This faith thing is hard.

      Oddly enough, I could give you answers and explanations for almost every single question you least all the most basic Sunday school answers. I'm sure you could too. And I think the more people like us question and seek answers, the more ingrained we become in our lack of faith and our demands for "proof" -- though we're not really sure what proof is??

      My professor once told me that you can't question fundamentals. You can't question whether reality is real, whether we can know things, stuff like that. I mean, you can, but you'll literally go nuts. In some senses we were made for faith. We were made for truth, too, but not all truth can be known with the kind of certainty we want. We have to assume fundamental things just to get the rational process going. Everybody assumes. It's a normal part of being human.

      I think, Jillian, that we've both been exposed to the goodness of God. In some senses we know He's real and we want Him to be real, but since we can't know ABSOLUTELY, we get antsy about faith. Another thing my professor said: inductive reasoning is a thing. Believing the sun will come up today because it's come up every single other day is inductive reasoning. Our culture doesn't like inductive reasoning; we prefer deductive reasoning, where everything's mathematically certain. Even in our Christian circles, apologetics attempts a lot of deductive reasoning, because inductive reasoning, when applied to God, looks a lot more like faith than scientific inquiry.

      It takes guts -- mostly to oneself, but definitely in the world too -- to say, "I believe that God exists and will love me because He did yesterday." Christianity's future hope bases itself a lot on past promises...the inductive reasoning that because God did this way back when, and because God never changes and never has changed, we can trust Him. That's scary for me. That's not how I think at all.

      I loved your post. I related to it so much. Yeah, I really do...especially the part about believing in God because I literally cannot get by without Him. But I'm learning to see that dependency not as a cause for God existing -- that is, I didn't create God out of my dependency -- but as an indication that there is a God: I was made for fellowship with Him.

      Hope these ramblings help you in some way, shape, or form. :) I'll pray for you, friend, and you for me, please?

  3. Hey thanks for reading. Ha, That's what I think when I read pretty much all your posts..."man, this girl thinks just like me."

    While your rambling perhaps did not answer all my anxious questions and give me full peace in God again (if I'm gonna be honest, I'll admit that's what my heart is looking for every time I reach out to others with my questions, despite the fact I know I can't get it from humans. Can you blame me?), It is so, SO nice when I find another person who understands the struggle.

    Everything you said started a few different trains of thought, and I appreciated all of it very much.

    As you might assume, prayer is difficult for me to do right now, you know, what with that, "what kind of a God are you and why should I pray?" question hanging over my head. Along with a new view of this faith thing comes a whole new level of understanding of prayer. Again, to be honest: I am in a really-love/passionately-hate relationship with prayer right now.

    So, thank you for your prayers, I appreciate them immensely. Can I pray for you? Well, I would love to, and I will, to the best of my broken ability.

    1. Yeah, I keep hoping someone will have all of the answers. Which probably explains why it's so hard for us to pray? We want a human, a tangible human with a rational argument to give us the answers....not an invisible God.

      I recommend Timothy Keller's book on prayer, as a side note. It's been helping me, inspiring me, to keep praying.


Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)