When to Know for Sure

8:00 AM


"The 'leap of faith' that springs out of the decision for God...is a leap made not in order to search blindly for an unknown God somewhere on the other side; it is a leap that is made because -- wonderfully enough -- God has already been found. Faith is risk, venture, decision: so it is for us while we are still on this side of the abyss. We must dare the leap if the gulf is ever to be crossed; but once the decision of faith has been made, it is seen that the leap was possible only because the gulf had already been bridged for us from the other side. The reality of the decision remains, but we now see that what we had to decide was whether or not to accept the outstretched hand offered us over the abyss as we stood bewildered, anxious and despairing at the brink."
/// Will Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man

One question has plagued me every since I started caring about God: when do I stop doubting? When do I lay down the books on theology and turn off the sermons and go away from the dissenters and just believe that what I think is true is actually true? When can I close my mind and know for sure?

Two thousand years of Christian theology has brought about almost as many sects, splinter groups, and opinions. I now am familiar with Anglican, Catholic, Christian Scientist, fundamentalist, evangelical, Mormon, Eastern Orthodox, Charismatic, Charismatic-like cult, and Christian agnostic theology. I know and love people in each of these categories. It becomes harder to stand on what I believe when my beliefs directly isolate a loved one. 

I feel the intellectual burden to remain openminded to every belief system, no matter how wrong it seems at the outset. What if I miss something? What if I shut the door on something fundamental to reality? I feel the psychological struggle to evaluate whether I'm basing my beliefs on reason or on some unregulated desire that wants to believe certain things because it's comfortable. 

In my few shorts years, I've come out of fundamentalism and patriarchalism, wandered away from evangelicalism into sacramentalism and back to the Reformed doctrine that still steadies my feet. I know lots of arguments. I can argue for various positions, even if I strongly disagree with them. There's a lot of theology swimming around in my head.

And not just theology -- Christian practice, too. Issues about modesty, music, overprotective parents, marital roles, and feminism just overwhelm me. Even if I find someone likeminded in theology, their attitudes and opinions on gray areas go all over the place. 

Another tricky problem with me and belief is that I like to systematize. My brain is made out of K'nex toys, each piece snapping into place. Everything I believe must fit into an open spot to form a coherent whole. I go into crisis mode when I can't snap in a piece of reality. Everything must find its place in my belief system. Every little thing. Mystery and paradox are hard for me. If a piece doesn't fit, I feel compelled to rethink my entire understanding of reality. 

I don't have answers for when exactly to stop doubting and just believe already. I do have a helpful tip for those of you with K'nex brains: stop trying to figure out reality for everyone else and just figure it out for yourself.

I want to create an airtight argument for my beliefs, something irrefutable by anyone, any time, anywhere. Sure, this argument might make sense for me, but what about my agnostic friend? What about the bitter ex-Christian friend? What about my fundamentalist church member? What about my post-modern hipster buddy? How could this argument convince them? I'm so busy about what other smart and/or opinionated people will think about what I think that I give up thinking what I think. 

Smart people scare me away from faith. I carefully studied out my beliefs over a long period of time, enough that I inductively believe them to be true. In a little vacuum with no resistance and no differing opinions, everything seems great to me. I feel full of faith, ready to believe in God to the ends of hell and back. Then I read something or someone makes a comment or I watch The Theory of Everything, and suddenly my passionate faith dissolves into a stupid whimper. I don't know what I believe. I can't answer that question. I don't know how to deal with that argument. Is God even real, anyway? 

It helps to remember that everyone, even smart people, believes what he believes for reasons besides reason. I don't know why Stephen Hawking finds no argument for God's existence compelling, yet I do. I don't know why my formerly Protestant friend converted to Catholicism, yet I won't. I don't know why my friends interpret evidence that I find obvious in a completely different way. I follow logic to its end, but logic doesn't always explain why someone disbelieves. 

I don't need to put myself in an atheist's or Catholic's or Mormon's shoes to firmly believe what I believe. I don't need to evaluate the ins and outs of their beliefs. I need only evaluate my belief, my tendencies, my reasons, and my faith. I can't make cogent why someone once passionately Christian goes agnostic, and I don't need to. I don't have any idea why there are so many different denominations in Christianity. I don't understand why people believe what they believe. But I can understand what I believe and why I believe it.

Isn't faith about clinging to Christ, accepting that outstretched hand? The older women at my church who never heard of dispensationalism or the hypostatic union yet love Jesus -- they're far ahead of me on this faith journey. I don't know how to convince my agnostic friend of anything, but if I haven't learned to convince myself of any belief, I've missed the point of knowing what to believe. 

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8 impressions

  1. "My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." "If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth."-Dostoevsky
    c.f. Puddleglum's wager

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knight_of_faith#Knight_of_faith_and_the_knight_of_infinite_resignation

    Christianity is impossible. But, even if only by the absurd, it is true. Such is faith, that absolutely certain leap in the dark. But this is not against reason, nor is it unreasonable. It is merely prior to reason, as axioms to conclusions. Credo ut intellegam. I believe so that I might understand. I do not seek to understand so that I might believe.

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    1. It's so hard to believe to understand when I'm not in any particular tradition. :) But yeah, I believe that's how the order of things ought to go.

      I've never heard of the knight of faith and the knight of infinite resignation. That's fascinating.

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  2. I was going to comment on yesterday's post and say I'd be interested in hearing more about what this idea means in your life, and then you beat me to it. :)

    I think there still has to be a tension between just deciding what you believe and sticking to it at all costs and between being open-minded and willing to be shown your errors, because obviously we're never going to have everything right. But I like the way you focus on your own beliefs, not because you're afraid someone's going to contaminate you and force you to change your mind, but because you've decided what you believe.

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    1. You're totally right about the tension. That's why it's important for me to seek to understand whenever I encounter opposition, as opposed to closing my mind or automatically feeling the pressure to change my mind. I'm confident in the Spirit's leading that if I do my part to seek understanding, He'll alert me when I need to change my mind!

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  3. This right here: "It helps to remember that everyone, even smart people, believes what he believes for reasons besides reason."

    I was both disillusioned and, in a way, comforted, when I finally figured that out and accepted it. You got to this understanding much sooner than I did. I was probably in my 30s.

    Adele

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Adele. I learned the hard way that most people aren't always intellectual, logical, or educated...and even if they are, there are always other forces besides pure reason at work.

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  4. I once heard that doubt is necessary for faith. Because if there's no doubt, you don't need to believe through hope or faith. That's what Paul meant when he said "faith is substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen". I hear you so well in this article, because I feel the same way. I don't like judging an entire denomination by saying "they've got it wrong", because who can know a person's heart before God? Doubt for myself has become some kind of weird blessing now, because I realized that it isn't that you dump doubt and close your mind with the bars of belief. Belief exists because doubt exists, therefore you're not an unrepentant sinner for doubting, and you're not a saintly angel for blind faith. It isn't about the proof, it's about the choice: do we doubt, or believe? The feelings of doubt and confusion may continue till the day we die, but what matters is not what we felt, but what we chose.

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    1. Wow. That's such a different perspective on doubt and faith that I've never encountered. There's a lot to process here....I do know, for me, that it really does come down to a choice of doubt or belief every time. People get confused about that, but that's the only way I can believe anything. I've so divorced the process of truth and belief in my mind. :P

      I love how you approach this, Jasmine! Honestly, it's been really great reading all your comments. Please keep it up!

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