On Coming to Faith

Note:  A dear friend who has known me for many years asked me to consider writing a post about how I came to a life of faith, in the hope that my story might help someone else who was in the same place I was a number of years ago.  I thought for a few weeks, and decided to give it a try, fully realizing that my experience, while possibly similar to that of others, is purely my own.  Every person’s experience of faith is unique, but perhaps that is what makes it genuine.  Anything worthwhile is worth working for, even fighting for.  You will not find your faith by running from God.  Only by confronting him will you begin to see the glimmers and glimpses of something beyond the mundane.  To those for whom this essay was written, faith will not come to you unbidden.  Seek it.  Question it.  But don’t ignore it.  It can enrich your life more than you can know from your present perspective.    

Faith is not easy. At least for some people. For others, it is as simple as breathing. But for some, it is just hard work.

I know, because I was one who had to work for it. The bad news is that the work can seem so fruitless at times that some people just give up and let go of something that can be so enriching.

The good news is that if you stick with it, faith grows, and for many, it gets easier.

I grew up in a state of confusion. As the son of a preacher, I was raised with absolutes. With absolute certainty of things unseen. With absolute confidence in an invisible faith that I didn’t quite understand. I was bothered by inconsistency and glaring questions that I saw in the Bible as a source of faith and in religion as a state of being. From an early age, I was conflicted by the great disconnect between physical evidence of an old earth with the conventionally accepted Biblical claims of a young one. More directly, I was skeptical of a God who tossed out red herrings to distract truth-seekers, a God who used contradictory evidence to confound empirical reason.

I was angered by a God who seemed to be waiting for someone to make a mistake to send that hapless soul to eternal torment. I was disgusted by the schemes and machinations of piously cruel and heartless church members who seemed to delight in laying a trap in order to spring it, cackling self-righteously at their “gotcha” moment.

I suppose in retrospect, there was a time when I was teetering on agnosticism, if not a full-out rejection of God in favor of a comfortable if ill-fitting academic atheism.

So what made the difference?

If I had to point to one thing, it was love.

Love expressed in altruism makes little sense in purely biological/physical terms. The fundamental selflessness of love as embodied by Jesus of Nazareth is as contradictory to the natural tendency toward selfishness as anything that can be observed. It is that contradictory nature of love that well supports the declaration of Tertullian, “Credo quia absurdum est.” “I believe it because it is absurd,” or “impossible,” or “contrary to reason” as so many of Jesus’ claims may seem to be. Virgin birth and miracles aside, that he would proclaim the greatest commandments to be to love God and to love one’s neighbor seems an ineffable absurdity. That the new command he gave his disciples was to love each other seems irrationally contrary to the better interest of the self. That he would demand a ritual baptism to ratify one’s commitment to discipleship seems utterly against reason. As do the claims of exaltation in servitude. And joy in suffering. And life in death.

Certainly, there have been other morally upright and selfless people across the broad landscape of history. You can name many throughout history like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. But then, they were both strongly influenced by the life and tactics of Jesus. While they are each celebrated for their own selfless achievements, none have the same level of recognition and uniquely deserved celebrity as that one man who lived his simple life in a dusty backwater quarter of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.

When I woke up to see the centrality of love in the call to faith, I knew that so much of what I had seen for 33 years had been distractions preventing me from seeing the reality of God.

But just knowing is far from doing. Understanding is not application. I had to act. I did so in terms of the faith heritage I had known since childhood. While I found belief difficult, the demonstration of that faith was even more so. According to my understanding, the act of baptism is a necessity for anyone professing to be a disciple of this Jesus. The most primitive expression of baptism is immersion in water, which I found to be a little on the odd side. “What good could being dipped in water do?” I wondered over and over. In the Bible, Peter says that baptism is not merely a physical bathing, a washing of the flesh. It is the answer or appeal of a good conscience to God.

Now, I am not here to debate the form of or formula for baptism. I submitted to it because it was a command, and because I wanted to be counted among the true followers, not merely an adherent to the faith, watching from outside the comfort of the warming glow of the knowledge and experience of Jesus. I knew that I was not worthy of any special dispensation of any great exception. Therefore, I submitted, willingly, in full belief, for the right reasons and not just “fire insurance,” and with great relief, I might add.

So, with respect to Jesus, I am what I am because he is who he is. I am a Christian in the most elemental sort of way, realizing and accepting that this is the fundamental defining relationship of my entire experience of faith. That I am considered a part of a church is a consequence of that definitive relationship. To profess a conversion to a particular church is contrary to the teaching of scripture: upon one’s acceptance of, and submission to the rule of God, in essence becoming a citizen of that kingdom of Heaven, one is added to the church in the universal sense. One then joins in fellowship with a congregation of those with a similar faith largely for education, edification, comfort, service, support—in essence to look out for each other, spiritually, as a matter of course, and physically as necessity may dictate.

I know for most people, especially those for whom faith comes easy, my story is not very inspiring. But it is my story. I have seen similar stories from others who were ostensibly skeptics, yet deeper down, honest and sensitive and sensible seekers. The most notable of such, and one responsible for the conversion to Christianity of many thousands of others like him was none other than that great master Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis. His book, Mere Christianity, is a landmark of reason, in which he rationally argues for Christianity in the universal sense, and does not proselytize for any particular denomination. I highly recommend the book for anyone seeking clarification of the validity of the Christian faith on the grand scale. It is worth the investment of time, if indeed you are serious about knowing.

And though knowing is not the same thing as doing, it certainly helps to know what you are doing. Asking the right questions of God and yourself, that is the beginning of your own wonderful journey into a life of faith. But you’ll never reach your destination if you never take the first step. Faith may not come easy, but it can grow. And the possibilities it affords are endless, timeless and eternal.

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