Exploring Doubt

I need to stay away from the IMDb message boards.

One minute, I’m on the page for the movie “End of the Spear”; the next, I’m reading “You Know You’re a Fundamentalist Christian When…”

Debates about religion and especially Christianity rage in message boards and the comments sections of articles, YouTube videos, blogs. And probably Facebook posts too, but I lead a sheltered Facebook life.

In these mostly anonymous arenas, atheists and agnostics whip out their arsenal of “reasons why Christianity is absurd.”

Those debates trouble me, and not just because I’m saddened for those who don’t understand who God is.

They trouble me because my arsenal of “reasons why Christianity is the answer to everything” is smaller, and I hold it with less confidence. In those moments of attack, I cling to it with shaking hands, hoping, hoping, that it doesn’t turn to dust in my weak arms.

I wish I were stronger. I wish I had all the answers to every question raised. I wish I knew more with my head. And I wish I knew more with my heart, to fill in the holes that head knowledge never could. I wish I could stand undisturbed when the arrows rain down around me.

Books like “Mere Christianity” and “Reason for the Hope Within” are faith-bolstering, encouraging, inspiring. But when I read the persuasive counterarguments, I remember that kernel of doubt in my heart.

It’s hard being in the minority. It’s hard knowing that there are so many people smarter than I am who reject Christianity.

This summer, I wrote an editorial about illegal immigration. It was an agonizing experience. I spent hours researching the issue, but made little progress in formulating an opinion.

How do you choose a side? You pick the one with the most evidence, of course. But how do you do that when both sides use facts and statistics and precedents to argue their case, and your knowledge of all those things — of the lengthy legal and historical documents, the raw data, the scientific experiments — is all based on the analyses and interpretations of biased intermediaries?

Yes, biased. We all bring our own biases to the table when examining evidence. Ultimately, though, we have to decide whose interpretations to trust, since we can’t all be experts in everything. But those experts have biases too. Science can only go so far in explaining how the world works. History can only go so far. And with these imperfect resources, our imperfect minds can only go so far as well.

In the end, it all comes down to faith and belief. Yes, I want to strengthen my intellectual “arsenal,” but my prayer is that what I wrote a few weeks ago would remain at the forefront of all my pursuits:

The Christian’s surest reason for belief is experiential knowledge of God, above and beyond all the intellectual reasons.

Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

Dreaming in Red

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” —Luke 18:29-30

Before I went to bed a couple nights ago, I read Luke 18.

That night, I dreamed that I did a YWAM DTS (or something similar) this year. Or at least, I started one. I returned to college shortly after it began, troubled that I was putting off graduation still further. I didn’t want to wait another year to get my degree. YWAM could wait a couple months.

Someone in my dream confronted me about my reasons for leaving. Was I sure God didn’t want me to be there at that time? I hemmed and hawed about wanting to be done with college. After all, five years is already a long time.

I don’t remember exactly what the response was, but it was something that challenged me and made me uncomfortable … something that reminded me that God can and does interrupt our best-laid plans, and that that’s okay … and awesome.

It wasn’t until I woke up that I made the Luke 18:29-30 connection, and found it incredibly thought-provoking (and cool) … and consequently sat down at my computer to write down a slightly extended version of what you’re reading now.

Would I be willing to change my plans in response to a call from God? Would I be willing to forgo my spring break Colorado road trip, or stay in Indiana after I graduate, or do a DTS in the States, or even delay my last semester of college?

I’m not saying that God is calling me to do any of these things, but this dream definitely brought that Scripture home in a new way. Some of the above things are things I have long taken for granted: Of course I’m moving back west after I graduate. Of course I’m graduating in May 2011. Of course, of course, of course. I say I want to do whatever God calls me to do, but if I’m setting limitations, even small ones, on my future … am I?

With God, All Things Are Possible

When I started college four years ago, I expected the new place and the new circumstances to change me. I also thought I knew what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

My last blog described my recent academic upheavals. Now I want to write about the spiritual ones. 2010 has been a landmark year in so many ways, the most important of which revolve around my relationship with God. I’ve wanted to write about this topic, really write about it, ever since last spring, but back then I was too busy and over the summer I was too lazy. Now is the time.

On September 1, 2006, my first Friday as an undergraduate, I started a journal. Over the last four years, I’ve written over 100 pages in it, mostly in times of emotional highs and lows. This evening, I read through all 100 of those pages. It was a very revealing experience. The main thing I came away with was that I spent most of the first three-and-a-half years of college wanting to be closer to God, wanting to have a “faith of my own,” but never really doing anything about it other than writing in my journal every few weeks or months. And so I stagnated.

My mom would encourage me to read my Bible and pray. It seemed like a Sunday School answer to me then, and I virtually ignored the counsel, thinking cynically that it wouldn’t “do anything.”

And yet, I wanted to make my faith my own. I wanted to change and grow and be real with people. But as the years passed and my journal writing became more repetitious, I started to wonder if I would ever change.

I would get fixated on all the little things I didn’t like about myself. I could see cracks and holes and inadequacies in almost every area of my life. How could I possibly go from this chronically broken person to someone who was at least on the right trajectory?

I wanted a big, life-changing moment to jolt me out of my aimlessness and into a purposeful faith that was my own. Oh, there would be blips in the flatline that was my life – a challenging chapel speaker, an excellent sermon, a desperate prayer during a time of discouragement – but I wasn’t pursuing God, not really. I was pursuing an image, an end to insecurities, more friends, the approval of my peers and my professors. I sure didn’t like where I was at spiritually, but I didn’t do anything about it – namely, fix my eyes on Jesus.

That was then.

Last spring, I found my new major classes helpful and informative and interesting, but it was Contemporary Christian Belief that changed my life.

Contemporary Christian Belief (Contemp for short) is a class every student at Taylor has to take. But I was excited for the class, especially after I found out what we would be reading.

In a nutshell, it was a philosophy class that centered on apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith. Our main textbooks were two excellent books – The Reason for God by Tim Keller, and Reason for the Hope Within by a collaboration of Christian philosophers, edited by Michael J. Murray. I read many intellectual arguments for Christianity and probed many of the hard questions.

As much as these readings stirred my mind and my heart, what made the biggest difference in my life wasn’t an argument at all. It was something very simple, something that I had always been told but hadn’t really pursued.

I learned that the Christian’s surest reason for belief is experiential knowledge of God, above and beyond all the intellectual reasons. I learned that the more I seek after God, the more I pursue Him and desire to know Him, the more I will know Him. Here’s what I wrote in my journal on April 9:

Instead of worrying and thinking about all the things in your life you don’t like, and how to change them (or despair that they will never change), lean on God. Talk to Him about everything. Get to know Him. Essentially, that is what prayer and Bible reading are – a sincere heart seeking after God. Anyway, by knowing God, the burden of all those worrisome things is transferred to Him, and He will begin to mold me.

This realization began a gradual process of growth that was different from all the transient spiritual highs that had preceded it. Instead of focusing on changing myself, I was focusing on deepening my relationship with God … or at least starting to focus on deepening my relationship with God. Since then, I’ve sought to “live my life as a prayer,” to dig deep into the Word, to earnestly seek after what – and Who – really matters.

It hasn’t been overnight change. There is still so much room for growth. But now I know the secret. I’m trying to seek God not as a means to an end, but as an end in Himself. I have a lot to learn, but now, at long last, I know I’m facing the right direction.

Where am I now? I’m in the second month of what’s looking to be my best school year yet. (Okay, I should probably remove that “yet,” since this actually is my last year). I don’t know what I’m going to do in the long-term, but I’ve discovered a heart for missions and a discontent for living the typical suburban middle-class life with a 9-5 office job and all the trappings. I want to live for God wholeheartedly.

I have a lot of decisions coming up, some rather soon, but above and beyond future concerns, I’m so grateful for what God has done in my life this year. It’s amazing, knowing what can happen when you put God at the center of your life. It’s going to be quite the adventure.

The Learning Curve

… [“The bends in the road”] captures my outlook on life at this time.  I’m nearing the end of my college career, and as that clear, defined end draws closer, so new beginnings approach as well… beginnings undefined and unclear, yet full of promise… a series of ‘bends in the road.’

When I wrote that, almost a year ago now, I had no idea how fitting the title “the bends in the road” would be even before “the end of my college career.” Then, I looked forward to May 22, 2010 — graduation day — as the day I would round that first bend.

But I was wrong; it happened much sooner.

One late night last August, hours before flying back to Indiana, I happened to browse through the course requirements for the media communication major. It struck me that this was the major I’d been searching for, two years ago, when I bumbled into (and quickly out of) the computer science — new media major, and I mused about what could have been.

I became a history major as a sophomore because of interest and necessity. History was the safe choice and, thanks to a good U.S. history class, an attractive one too.  But over the next year and a half, it didn’t go much further than that. I liked my classes (some of them, at least), I learned things, I met professors who cared about us students and were passionate about what they did, but I didn’t have that passion.

And so I coasted through the rest of my sophomore and junior years, often feeling like I wasn’t learning anything. I was accruing some knowledge of history and foreign cultures, yes, but I didn’t feel as if I were learning anything that was preparing me for the real world. But it was too late to change my major again, so I approached my senior year with the mindset of just getting through it as quickly as possible and getting on to the real world.

But then, hunched over my laptop computer that late August night, what could have been became a very faint what if…?

It was so incredulous an idea, especially to someone like me who so anxiously wanted to be done with school, that I hardly took that whisper seriously. All the same, though, I couldn’t deny that media communication was much more closely aligned with my interests and skills than history or, really, any other major I had dabbled in.

That whisper soon grew louder, but it still wasn’t an easy decision. I didn’t want to watch my closest friends graduate and leave while I lingered on. I was afraid that my senioritis and procrastination and lack of motivation that had been steadily worsening each semester would staunchly follow the law of entropy and infect this new path.

It took months to decide, months of weighing pros and cons, of discussion, of prayer. But I’ve made my decision: to stay an extra year and graduate with a double major in media communication and history, plus a minor in creative writing. I’m so glad that my parents convinced me to take last summer’s internship for credit — a requirement for my new major!

Already, I’ve learned so much — namely, about media writing. Four months ago, I didn’t know there was such a thing as AP style. Now, I’ve worked as copy editor for the school newspaper and have written several articles. I don’t want to be a journalist, but learning these useful skills and gaining actual experience has helped make this semester one of my best yet, and I’m excited (and a little nervous) about my year of straight media communication classes coming up.

I still don’t know what I want to do after I graduate. I don’t know where the happy medium is between this new media writing and my old friend, creative writing, nor how that will jibe with next year’s inundation into video, audio and web. But my outlook on school has already changed so much, and I’m excited to learn, and to have another year to “redeem my time at Taylor” … time that was lost in apathy.

May 22, 2010 — nine days ago — I watched my old class graduate. It was a bittersweet experience, sitting in the audience writing congratulatory cards and watching instead of being one of the 470 strong bidding the school adieu. And yet, I know I’m supposed to be here one more year.

Last June, I anticipated “bends in the road,” but I also anticipated my college career coming to a “clear, defined end” in 2010. So much can change in a year. It makes me smile.