Saturday, October 01, 2005

An impasse

I read one of many great, eloquent points in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity last night:

When you come to know God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others -- not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.
This resonates with me. I think that some people would disagree with this, but it sounds right to be that God will not -- or possibly cannot within the system he chose to create -- show himself to people who do not want to find him. For example: I know for a fact that loudmouth atheist Bill Maher is not going to have any glimpses of God any time soon. It could be because there is no God. Or perhaps it's because people like Mr. Maher have closed themselves to the possibility. To borrow Lewis' example, the likelihood of experiencing God as a cynical, anti-theistic person is about the same as the likelihood of learning about the stars while observing them with nothing more than reading glasses. You are your own instrument for seeing God. Whether you have the power of reading glasses or a massive telescope is up to you.

So this all sounds plausible to me. As I've mentioned, I've been frustrated lately that I've still never "felt" God's presence, even since I've been pursuing it in earnest. I'd slowly started to start to explain this to myself as, "I guess there isn't a God. Question answered." But then I came across this idea above. I believe now that I cannot rule out the existence of God until I have tried making myself the type of person to whom God can reveal himself by a) going to church regularly and becoming a part of the Christian community and b) trying to act Christ-like, even if I'm not sure I believe in him.

This sounds like a good plan. But here's the problem. When I hear that in order to discover God I need to make a leap of faith and sort of force myself to be convinced by assuming he exists and acting like he exists, it starts to sound sort of cult-like. It seems like I'm hearing, "Yeah, that's ok that you personally see no evidence of the God described in the Bible and don't feel on a gut level that he exists. Just force yourself to believe and then you'll see him!" While the C.S. Lewis quote above does ring true, so does this counter-argument that it's just an eloquent case for brain-washing.

I mean, don't Sciento1ogists and other shady "religions" use a similar argument? There is probably some person out in L.A. right now struggling to believe in Sciento1ogy and being told, "Just open your mind and act like all this is true and you'll eventually believe it."

So I'm at an impasse. I don't want to feel like I'm brainwashing myself into religion, that I'm so desperate for some sort of God to exist that I'm just going to act like he does until I believe it to be true.

So I turn to you readers: any insights here? Any suggestions? I'm excited to hear your thoughts.


At October 01, 2005 4:43 PM, Blogger The Dawn Treader said...

Hi Jennifer,

I found your post thanks to a Google blog search I set up for "C.S. Lewis". Since you referenced Mere Christianity in your post, up you popped.

First, I am glad you are reading Mere Christianity. It was a very helpful book in my own Christian walk. I had intellectual issues that I wrestled with -- and Lewis was quite helpful.

re: "to discover God I need to make a leap of faith"

Let me make a suggestion. Don't leap. True biblical faith is not a leap into the dark -- it is a reasoned step into the light. Not that God gives us answers to every question in life -- but he gives us enough reasons to warrant our trust in him. That is what faith is -- it is a confident trust -- not a blind leap.

There are good reasons to feel squirmy about forcing yourself to believe something -- it is a great way to find yourself in a cult (as you stated). Trusting feelings is also a dangerous way to lose direction in life.

Your best bet is pursue truth. Knowing what truth is ... is the best place to get started. Truth, simply stated, is that which corresponds to reality. The worldview which is true, will best correspond to reality as we know it through the human experience. Worldviews which are self-contradictory can be eliminated. Those which are left, which are primarily theistic worldviews, can be compared in terms of which best correspond to reality. They can't all be true -- because they have conflicting truth claims.

What you find, is that the truth claims of Christianity best correspond to reality. What is particularly neat, is that Christianity is rooted in history. Its claims can be verified in the same way that any historical event can be studied. What you find, is that one event in history defines whether Christianity is true or false. That event, is the resurrection of Christ. If it happened, then Christ was the Son of God. If it didn't, then Christianity is no better than a cult.

If you study the resurrection, and many have, you will find strong evidence to support that a miracle really did take place. Jesus of Nazareth, did indeed rise from the dead as he said he would. Therefore, that makes his claims and his understanding of himself and who he was credibility. We can also trust in scripture because Christ clearly believed the Bible (which was the Old Testament scriptures in his day).

There is no need to take a blind leap ... instead, you can place your trust confidently in him.

Read the New Testament book of John to get to know about about Christ and how he interacted with people -- and continue to read Lewis. Lewis has an effective way of communicating truth -- often through story.

Let me know if you have further questions -- and feel free to pay a visit to my blog anytime.


(named after, The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis).

At October 06, 2005 7:44 AM, Anonymous Steve G said...

Read the latest entry on ChezJoel's blog. It's wonderful and it addresses some of what you raise here.

At October 06, 2005 9:47 AM, Blogger Colleen said...

I heard about your quest so I came to visit. Your experience so resonates with me!! I hope some of what I can say will be helpful to you.

I did visit Chez Joel as Steve G suggested and liked very much what he wrote. It may very well help, if you haven't read it already.

When I was first struggling as a young women with these questions (I was 25 when I converted), a couple of things happened. First I read a guy who claimed that if I would act as though Christianity were completely true for a week, I would be convinced. Now this is not forcing yourself to believe. That would be absurd, even if you could do it.

I don't remember coming out convinced but the exercise did teach me a lot. It started me off in a small chunk with the discipline of reading the Bible, praying and trying not to lose my temper ever again (sort of like aiming to lose only 2 pounds and not thinking beyond that to the other 28 you have to lose, lest you lose hope at the sheer size of the task). So don't try to force yourself, allow yourself to experiment rationally with Bible reading, praying (even if you do feel foolish. But remember, prayer is conversation. Don't feel like you have to manufacture the right feelings. Just tell God: "I had a lousy day. I still don't believe in you, completely. Thanks for my life, friends and family." In other words talk to him like the friend he is.

The other thing I would recommend is actually asking God to make you a believer. The final step on the road for me was when I went out one Easter Sunday in the late night, looked up at the amazing starry sky, and said, "God, I want to believe but I don't. If you are there please tell me". Over the next 8 months a most amazing series of events (in retrospect they are amazing. At the time they didn't seem to be) took place that led to my sitting down and saying to myself, Huh? I believe. I actually do!

The other thing I want to assure you is that you don't have to go around grinning all day long, nor do you have to be able to buttonhole people on the street and prosletize, nor do you have to "feel" different or have a change of personality to be a real Christian. I used to be driven nuts in the evangelical church by being told to smile all the time, to feel joyful all the time and made to feel that if I were sad or ever visited by doubt that I was not a good Christian. Balderdash!

Nor do you have to give up a taste for good music, wine, etc. I hate kitsch. I cringe at the kinds of stuff some of us fill our homes with... John 3:16 shaving mugs, Jan Caron (Karon? Can't remember) novels, posters of little children with big eyes telling us that "God is not through with me yet". I am definitely not a fan of this sort of stuff and you do not need to be either, if it is not something you already enjoy.

In other words, you were born an individual and you will always be one and you don't have to turn into some other kind of person to be a Christian. (Now this may not apply to you at all, I am definitely relating my own issues here in the hope that some of it helps and resonates).

If I can help in any way or answer any questions feel free to contact me:


At August 31, 2009 8:43 PM, Blogger V said...

It is so amazing to read these posts from the beginning.

When I was 11, my parents were seperated, they got back together when I was 12. My dad was an alcoholic and was ruining our lives. I was Catholic and an altar server. I was 15 and I didn't believe. I thought everyone in the "audience" was an idiot. I was unhappy.
I would sit on the altar thinking that all I wanted in life was to be happy. Those idiots were happy, believing in their fake God who could make life wonderful, but I was so unhappy and just wanted to be happy.
So I pretended I believed in God.
I don't remember intermediary steps, but now I am 27 and I can't imagine life without God. I don't care if I am an idiot anymore. I am happy. Even when I am sad, miserable, and being destroyed by life, I have God. That makes all the difference.
Reading your post, it looks like I did the right thing.


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