Interaction and questions with someone else on a Rocky Road...


Posted: Aug 28/2k


Below is an email exchange I had with a person (a year or two ago), struggling (nobly and with good intent) with their faith and spiritual experience...I though others might identify with aspects of it:

 

 

 

He begins (his remarks in bold, mine in regular) :

 

Glenn,

 

I have visited your site very often the past 6 months . . . I have recommended it to others as well . . . you even posted some feedback comments I made on your site.  But to the real reason I am writing you . . . I need help.  I really don't know who else to turn to right now.  I am finding it increasingly difficult to embrace faith.  By "faith" I am referring to Biblical Christianity.  It is primarily an intellectual dilemma. 

 

Make sure you work through the last thing i posted on the relation between faith and understanding...MOST of what you describe below is NOT an intellectual issue, but an 'emotional' one that is ASSOCIATED with intellectual issues...

 

 

 

I guess a little background info would help.  Let's just say I was "saved" at age 9.  I didn't really start to embrace or practice my faith though until high school . . . by the time I was a senior in high school I had decided to fully live my life for the Lord (to the best of my ability at least). 

 

 

why did you make this decision? what criteria did you use, and are those criteria STILL VALID?--in spite of any 'new issues' that you have discovered?

 

 

 

I went off to college . . .XYZ University . . . and from a growth standpoint it was quite possibly the best year of my life. I grew so much as a person and as a Christian.  Looking back on it, I think the two biggest contributing factors were being away from home for the first time and being blessed with an awesome support group . . . a great group of guys sold-out for Christ.  It was awesome.  The first semester we had DAILY prayer meetings.  It was incredible.  During my second semester I felt that God was calling me elsewhere . . . something to do with full-time ministry . . . I was going to do the Air Force ROTC thing and become a fighter pilot . . . but apparently God had other plans.  So I transferred to ZYX College.  God opened up a lot of doors very quickly for me to be able to attend ZYX . . . but that's another story altogether. 

 

maybe its NOT 'another story'...would these providential 'openings' constitute evidence for God in your life? (in other words, how would you 'explain away' these if you adopted some non-theistic position?)...decisions like yours need to consider ALL the evidence--and evidence that is accepted by YOU--not necessarily to other people...in other words, you may never convince an 'impartial observer' that God 'did something' in your life, but if YOU are convinced of this interpretation, then you would be dishonest to disallow this as evidence because of its non-public character...this is a bit terse, i realize, but i hope you know what i mean...evidence can be a very, very personal thing--with FULL evidential force to an individual WITHOUT in ANY way being 'sharable' or 'demonstrable' to others)

 

 

 

So I transferred to ZYX . . . my love for Philosophy lead me to choose Philosophy and Religion as my major. 

 

not a bad choice, actually...it appears that God is using this track to 'shake you up a bit' (2 Chr 32.31?)...(smile)

 

 

Well, to make a long story short, it was a very difficult year for me . . . not academically, but spiritually and emotionally.  Part of it had to do with the nature of the classes I was taking, but in my opinion they (the classes) only played a small part . . . I had a lot of personal circumstances and situations . . .

 

this is part of why i think the issue is less intellectual, and more some kind of 'shaking up' or 'balancing' kind of movements by our Lord...

 

 

to put it mildly, I became very depressed. 

 

depression is not an intellectual thing, when it starts affecting the emotions...if you (in my experience) have long-standing UN-resolved and nagging doubts, the stress with eventually produce depression, and the 'depressed affect' that goes with it...if you don't deal with doubts head on, they fester in the background and produce EXACTLY the 'emotional' symptoms you describe (at least some of them)...>

 

 

 

Whatever faith I once had seemed to slowly deteriorate. 

 

this is an interesting sentence...what specifically is the content of 'faith' in that sentence? a feeling of confidence? a sense of 'adequate warrant' for accepting as true some propositional stances? this is worth you analyzing, in light of that article i wrote on 'faith and understanding'...what SPECIFIC step in the process is apparently 'softening'?>

 

 

 

A strange thing happened this summer though.  I was blessed with a pretty cool summer job, working support staff for a missions camp here at the college.  This summer was awesome, and I found myself "rediscovering" the faith I once so strongly embraced. 

 

 

sounds awesome! but it also demonstrates you strong need for community...God built us to need each other, and creates a hunger (that turns into dryness/fatigue if it is not addressed) for such experiences as your summer...if you are not getting SOME of that during the school year, then part of you is 'weakened' and you will not be able to holistically address either personal questions, nor the questions of others...

 

on the other hand, this MIGHT indicate the need to be 'alone with God' a bit more...to make sure that your relationship with Him is personal and NOT dependent on sub-cultural elements...sometimes He will drive us into the 'wilderness' to build a stronger one-on-one relationship.

 

 

I must be boring you with all of this. 

 

not at all...i just recognize the same experiences in my life...once a year i go into the blue funk over the POE, and it tears at my soul for a week or two, until i back up and look at the big picture again...so these periods of radical torn-soul are to be expected in life...after all, He is trying to teach us to trust Him in the areas that He cannot explain to us...

 

 

 

 

I still had "issues" I was dealing with though . . . primarily intellectual (the problem of evil being the major one).  But alas, the summer is over (at least my summer break is), which brings me to my problem.  You see, the more I reflect on my faith (or lack thereof) and Christianity in general, the more absurd it seems.  It seems so intellectually dishonest to embrace Christianity, not only in light of the problem of evil,

 

there are a number of points i want to make briefly here; most of these

are developed in more detail in the several articles on the POE in the

Tank, so i will only summarize here:

 

1. from a technical point of view (in philosophy) there is NOT even close to a CONSENSUS that EITHER formulation of the POE can be admitted as evidence against God's existence, neither the LOGICAL version, NOR the Evidential version. The weight of the data currently is against the force of the POE...but new arguments continually arise...

 

2. as a matter of fact, the POE only makes any sense at all WITHIN the context of an existing and good God (the problem is much, much worse  without God...in that case we cannot account for even the reality of  'evil' and especially why we respond so strongly to it (e.g., imago dei)

 

3. however, if the POE didn't EMOTIONALLY rip your guts out at least a couple of times a year, i would really doubt that you were a Christian! In my personal experience and conversations with others, Innocent suffering, gratuitous evil, and natural evil sometimes do not have the same gut-wrenching force on "normal people" (even adjusting to the dissonance it creates within our belief system), like it does on true followers of Jesus...its difficult to put my finger on this, but they somehow 'feel' the issue differently...we are growing into the image of Christ, with all the sensitivity of Him to this issue (e.g., social violence in the OT drove God into a rage frequently).

 

4. practically speaking, i find that i have slightly more confidence in human historical conclusions than in philosophical/theological ones (generally speaking)...in other words, i have more confidence in my judgment that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and said the things he did, than i have in the adequacy of my logic when dealing with God-things (e.g., POE, sovereignty-freewill, providence/miracles). if my philosophical syllogisms lead me to believe that the notion of God is somehow self-contradictory, and at the same time my historical research leads me to believe that Jesus believed in a God, claimed to be that God, did god-like things, rose from the dead, transformed history, etc., etc....then i will have to side with the historical side--and side with Jesus (smile)...its simply an evaluation of how much confidence i have in the human intellect to 'probe into ultimates' (and i don't have a lot of confidence in that area at all)

 

5. also on this topic of 'more confidence in the more concrete': i look at the trouble God went to to deal with the issue of Evil--the Cross. I see something very 'real' and very 'big' there--right in the middle of history. I cannot deny what went on there, and that gives me great confidence that God 'knows all about this problem' and has taken it into consideration in His grand and gracious work in history...in other words, i have concrete reason to give Him the benefit of the doubt...

 

 

6. for most serious Christians, one aspect of the POE is NOT the existence of God, but (1) what is He like; and/or (2) can we trust such a God? But this is not an intellectual issue per se; it is more a personal one-on-one issue...i recommend you look at the new book by John G. Stackhouse Jr, _Can God be Trusted: Faith and the Challenge of Evil_  (Oxford:1998). he is a professor in Canada.

 

 

in short, you SHOULD be feeling distress, but you SHOULDNT be drawing unwarranted conclusions about God's heart (and correspondingly, you should be responding appropriately to a heart that is infinitely more sensitive to the problem of suffering and evil that you or I could EVER be).>

 

 

 

but also in light of the reasons for embracing Christianity.  If someone where to ask me why I was a Christian, I wouldn't know what to say to them.  Honestly, I don't know why I am a Christian other than the fact that I was brought up that way.  I am a product of my environment. 

 

make sure you differentiate between 'how you BECAME' a Christian in your youth, and 'why you would become a Christian now'...the reasons could be very, very different...at sub-10 years of age, you probably didn't have a sense that the resurrection had such a strong grounding in history, you probably didn't have a knowledge of fulfilled prophecy that demonstrates a supernatural character of the Bible; you probably had not had experiences of 'doors opening up'...but your reasons then (e.g., trust in a good-hearted friend/pastor/parent) could be just as valid a warrant then, as more historical/classical apologetics could be today for you...

 

make sure you phrase the question correctly: is it:

 

1. what evidence do i have for the veracity of the Christian claims?

2. what external evidence is there? (e.g. apologetics)

3. what internal evidence is there? (e.g., 'feeling', answered prayer,

'open doors', desire to believe, desire to know God, a sense/intuition of

his existence)

4. how have the relative 'force' of the different kinds of evidence

changed over the past?>

 

notice also (VERY IMPORTANTLY) that the reasons YOU believe would not often be the same reasons you would advance to SOMEONE ELSE to believe--so much depends on what they would count as 'evidence' In other words, your personal experiences of God in worship--of the 'numinous' quality, let's say--might not be accepted as evidence by them, but it CAN/DOES count as evidence to YOU. The arguments/evidence/warrants you advance to others will typically be a sub-set of the arguments/evidences you 'use' on yourself...

 

 

I want so badly to embrace Christianity . . . to embrace faith in God . . .

 

why? why? why? is this not evidence ITSELF of your faith in such a wondrous God, who 'rewards those who seek Him' (Heb 11)?...you probably HAVE embraced Him, but have allowed a narrow-view (e.g., only allowing the POE or personal circumstances to count as evidence) to keep you from a more balanced assessment of ALL the relevant data (e.g., to include your personal experience of prayer, fellowship, and 'standard' historical/classical apologetics in the range of evidence)...you just need to take a relaxing breath, back up, and 'make a list' of ALL the relevant data...and this may help you sort though this more easily...>

 

 

but the more I "learn" and the more I reflect on it, the more difficult it becomes to do so.  I want to believe but I have yet to find satisfactory reasons to do so. 

 

like i suggested above, make sure you include ALL the possible 'reasons', esp. the more concrete ones (e.g., theories of the resurrection, inspiration of the bible) as well as the personal ones (e.g., answered prayer, opened doors, etc.)...for me, the mix of these--esp. in a cumulative case argument--are so overpowering.

 

 

In a sense I do still believe, but is my faith adequate enough? 

 

adequate enough for what? what does 'faith' mean in that sentence? is it confidence? or your life? or the belief-system? i get the impression (mostly from the next sentence) that it is a 'feeling'--not your actual commitment or cognitive orientation toward the belief system...

 

 

Plus I feel like the little faith I have is diminishing each passing day.  Understand that I'm at a point in my life where I am very turned off by all things religious.  I'm looking for something real, tangible and honest, and the Christianity I see being offered by most is none of those things. 

 

i am a little confused here...the experiences you describe with the missions group and the 'sold out' folks at school seem as "real and tangible" as it gets...so what is missing, in that arena? Were those folks somehow phonies or dishonest? It has been my experience that the experiences of worship and prayer, among  a pure community of His disciples is 'as real and as good as it gets'!

 

forget the Christianity 'offered by most'...dig it out of the Word yourself...find those who live it purely and ferociously and ask them...hash it out with Him, one-on-one...

 

 

 

Why are there so few Christians out there who are willing to be intellectually honest and truly examine why they believe the things that they do? 

 

careful here...these two things (honesty and willing to examine) are two DIFFERENT things...many, many people are called on by God to simply 'get something done' without having to 'examine why they believe' ever...they have their reasons to believe and don't have to consistently go over and over them, and experience enough of God's interaction with them and others that their confidence simply continues to grow WITHOUT the need for large chucks of self-examination and introspection...that is NOT being 'intellectually dishonest' at all, as i am sure you can see...

 

on the other hand, there are no doubt Christians that ARE intellectually dishonest in your sense, if they are called on by God to examine their faith--and yet they don't do so, or do so dishonestly...and, although you personally will run into a lot of these--given  your questions--this does not make them the majority of Christians, and certainly does not impugn the character of those OTHER Christians (above) who are not tasked by God with the more cognitive 'work' in this life...

 

 

 

 

I am very confused right now.  I want to keep my faith in Christ

 

again, why do you want to 'keep your faith in Christ'? Check your motives here, friend--I know God wants folks to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth--John 4...My sense is that some of this crisis is 'designed' by God to get you to think through this specific issue--WHY do you want to keep the faith? comfort zone? historical tradition? social culture issues? or because the tomb was empty, the disciples transformed, the risen God-man seen, and your life intersected on occasion by His working? See what i mean? maybe God wants you to 'agonize' over this at this point in your life, so it is truly YOUR faith and YOUR heart that responds to His kindness and acceptance of you...

 

 

 

but I want to be intellectually honest at the same time.  I know that there are many examples (yourself included) of very intelligent and intellectually honest men and women out there who embrace whole-heartedly Christianity

 

absolutely--there are tons and tons and tons of wonderfully gifted thinkers out there...i think of the autobiogs in "Philosophers who Believe"[Clark, IVP] and in "God and the Philosophers" [Morris, Oxford]...(have you read these? you definitely should!!! so many of your issues have been faced by these men and women, and they share how they approached and worked though them)...

 

i think of the Society of Christian Philosophers and Evangelical Philosophical Society...i can think of active Christian scholars' groups in every major academic field...

 

there are many, many, many that have faced these same issues, friend--remember I Cor 10.13 <smile>...and although you will need to work through this yourself (with God), their experiences can both encourage you and in some cases, make your task a bit easier, by providing important insights...(remember, one aspect of the Body is that we are taught by each other--we can always profit from someone else's experience, so we don't have to reinvent the wheel each generation!)...read these folk, draw from them, learn from their histories, as you face your lions in these areas.

 

 

. . . and don't think it ignorant or unreasonable to do so.  History is full of intellectually gifted individuals who embraced Christianity. 

 

and i personally believe that many/most of them did so 'honestly' and have 'real and tangible' results and experiences and lives to show for it...

 

 

Yet why am I finding it so hard to do so?  What has happened to me? 

 

it could be that you need to face the issues more 'aggressively'...in other words, when someone is bothered by a problem, it generally needs to be dealt with before it festers/ferments/grows...perhaps you need to start reading more in these areas (perhaps the three books i recommend above, plus RRB also)...maybe this is the shake-up call to you, to get you emerge to new levels of confidence in His working in your live and His actions in history...

 

 

 

I don't claim to be very intelligent . . . on the contrary I recognize how ignorant I am and I have experienced first hand that the more you "learn", the more you do indeed realize just how little you know.  Maybe I'm expecting reason and logic to carry me all the way to God. 

 

don't forget to check out the discussion i posted on faith/understanding on the Tank recently...reason and logic has its place, but they are only tools on a toolbelt, with other tools to work with as well...

 

 

Or perhaps my crisis of belief has been fueled by examples of Christianity I see all around me. 

 

good grief, i know THIS problem!!! I wince almost every time i cut on the TV, or at many Christian spam things i get...uggh...

 

but if this a major contributing factor, you can isolate this variable...recognize that the 'institutional church' has ALWAYS had 'bad examples' from day one (e.g., Judas? the Ephesian wolves of Acts 20.29, etc.)...and don't judge the Lord or His followers by those...

 

 

I find myself becoming very skeptical to all things religious (miracles in particular).  I don't believe it is a healthy skepticism either . . . I fear it is a faith-destroying skepticism.  

 

 

make sure you distinguish between skeptical and cynical! Some of the charlatan claims i see around me REQUIRE skepticism...remember, skeptical thought is not bad per se, and is actually required by God throughout the bible--'think critically' remember...

 

but skepticism need not be faith-destroying at all--it can be very good for you, if your faith is grounded on a wide range of evidence and experience...make sure you 'use' your skepticism to weed out arguments that you have no confidence in (or rank the arguments in terms of 'force' for you)...just don't put off dealing with it--it will slowly 'sink into' your subconscious, and become a tacit 'operating assumption', that wields its power implicitly...(like a presupposition)...make sure you subject, however, any skeptical positions to the SAME LEVEL of scrutiny you use on non-skeptical positions...after all, honest is honesty, and needs to be applied everywhere consistently....

 

 

 

I don't know if you can help me (especially with what little information about my predicament I have given you).  I trust you will at least pray for me.  I understand you are a very busy individual, but it would mean so much to me if you could e-mail me a response to this letter.  I think I am finished rambling on for now.  Thank you for your time and any feedback you can give me would be greatly appreciated.  I have so many questions and the answers seem so few . . .

 

 

i will certainly pray for you friend--if you do the same for me and MY questions (warm smile)...we all have them and God deals with us over time according to our real and tangible needs first...His priority scheme is generally best, so don't expect all of the questions to get resolved quickly...but notice as each one does get resolved (and notice that previous questions may have been resolved already) it gives you additional warrant to TRUST HIM FURTHER and additional warrant to have confidence that He will meet your intellectual needs in His own 'estimate' of the best timing in your life...

 

i have seen Him answer questions in my life THIS year, that i raised 15 years ago...

 

i hope this helps, friend, and be SURE and stay honest about your struggles--especially in your one-to-one conversations with the Living and Loving Lord...

 

warmly,

glenn miller

 


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