I distinctly remember the moment in junior year of high school when my faith collapsed. I was talking about the Bible with a skeptical friend, and all of a sudden my whole body went cold. I remember thinking, “wait…do I actually believe this crazy stuff?” It was like I had gone to school without pants on, and I suddenly became aware of the wardrobe malfunction. God’s existence went from certain to doubtful in a shockingly short interval. While I didn’t abandon Christianity as a result of this experience, it profoundly changed how I thought about my faith. In many ways, I’ve been working through that crisis ever since—though unlike many other young people, I’ve chosen to do so from within the church’s walls.
At BioLogos, we constantly hear from people in various forms of spiritual crisis. The faith and science conversation—and especially the topic of evolution—has a way of throwing people’s worldviews in the blender and hitting the smoothie option. Sometimes these folks write to us after the crisis subsides, but quite often they’re reaching out for a way to make sense of God and the world again. Such is the case of our friend Nathan below. Nathan reached out to our Forum community for support in the midst of a profound period of darkness and doubt. Below is a very brief excerpt of the discussion (as this moment, the thread is over 70 responses long). I purposely featured responses that highlighted the personal and communal nature of faith, rather than those that tried to “solve” the questions posed by Nathan. In my experience, this hits closer to what it actually means to follow Christ in a world that often doesn’t make sense. I offer this excerpt in that spirit.
About 3 months ago I went through a crisis of faith, and it feels like I’ve barely been able to keep things together since.
The stupid thing is, I barely understand what caused it. Life has been going fine. I felt like I was growing in my faith. I’m involved in my Church community. I would go on-line at breaks at work and practice my apologetics against skeptics in online forums on random topics. Then one day I read an article on the RNA world hypothesis, and another on the lack of historical verification of much of the Old Testament. I don’t know why—I’ve faced down all kinds of arguments from a range of skeptics before—but for some reason I found my hold on my faith slipping. Suddenly a purely naturalistic explanation for everything seemed somehow plausible, and God seemed to shrink back into the fringes, somehow alien and detached.
I have never been a YEC [young-earth creationist]. I guess I could be described as a concordist, in that I thought the Bible and science would just get along. It never seemed like an inerrant Bible and scientific discovery couldn’t get along. Somehow that has all changed. It suddenly seemed plausible that I could rationalize any of my experiences on the basis of biological programming. Even my capacity for belief might be genetically coded.
I have read the blog entries [and Forum comments] of all sorts of people that have come to BioLogos out of other belief frameworks, YEC or otherwise, and seem to be able to rest in the uncertainties of their positions, but I am clearly having a hard time doing that. I could really use the support of people who have walked this road and come out the other side. Thanks.
Hi Nathan, my prayers go out to you and your family. My own journey has been from acknowledging the plausibility of the Creator towards accepting Christ as my Savior. I myself was not raised in Christian surroundings, but through reflection and conversation with others, I arrived at a point at which I could acknowledge the following:
“If there is a person who lovingly created us, then I would be happy and willing to get to know this person…”
I think this statement is something that agnostics and even atheists can concede. At that point in my life, those who were inspiring to me were those who claimed having a personal relationship with God, especially Christians whom I had met, and who also showed fruits of that in their lives, a certain kindness on a deep level. But while I could acknowledge that what they were speaking of was something truly beautiful, I didn’t want to (and simply couldn’t) fool myself into believing it merely on basis of its appeal. I was thirsty for truth so I didn’t want to settle on some kind of beautiful illusion.
But, at the same time, I knew that I didn’t have much to lose anyway, because nothing truly matters in an atheistic (godless) or a deistic (aloof creator) worldview. At some point, I allowed myself to pray in earnest, because that wouldn’t harm even if God wasn’t there. In stepping across that fear of being mistaken or “wrong”, I started to realize that the thirst in my heart could actually be seen as a sign of God Himself. It could be compared to finding a lock on which no key fits… If none of the keys you’ve tried “fit”, it implies there is another key out there somewhere. Extending this analogy even further, the inner workings of the lock actually tell something important about the shape of that key. In this sense, the emptiness or thirst for God in our own hearts is an important indicator, not only of God’s existence (the missing key), but also of who God is (the “shape” of the missing key). In extension, one could compare all forms of idolatry with using wrongly shaped keys that actually damage the lock. Sometimes, those keys almost fit, in that they reflect some part of God’s nature (e.g., a loving partner), but they are still different on essential points and still result in damage to the lock.
This point of view turns the existential thirst of mankind from something gut-wrenching into a wonderful gift, a valuable pointer towards God. I found it guiding me into three main questions or themes. In short, I found myself wanting to know (1) what the truth was, (2) how to live, and (3) how to meet God. Through contemplation of the words and deeds of Jesus Christ and interactions with Christians, I came to accept Him as the fulfilment of those three themes. He boldly claimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus is that perfect “key”, the only one able to quench the thirst. John 4:14: “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” For me, understanding more about the Old and New Testament and the history of the Church came largely after acknowledging Jesus as the Holy One. This echoes the words of Peter when Jesus asked His disciples why they didn’t walk away from Him like the rest of the crowd: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69). Peter spoke those words before he could even remotely fathom the Resurrection or the future Church and its mission.
After that, I still had to grow a lot. But I can definitely say that it is the person of Jesus, as revealed in the Scriptures and Christian testimonies, who connected the dots for me. Without Him, I would not have stepped beyond merely accepting the plausibility of God’s existence.
Hi, Nathan. I guess my main response to you is that it seems you are still investing your hopes in an intellectual arena where you hope you (or somebody on your behalf) will win a decisive debate that vanquishes the enemy of doubt once and for all. It is a dream shared by many and realized by none (while they walk on this side of the vale anyway.) I’m not saying that battles shouldn’t be fought in that arena—or that it hasn’t been used by God to corral his sheep toward some needed direction. But let me suggest that in the end the Christian cannot set up permanent residence there and pretend that it makes a sufficient foundation.
Sooner or later the believer has to leave the womb of intellectual comfort and bring her/his beliefs into the real world of community and work. And in that real world of debased, degraded, changed, and redeemed lives, all the argumentative victories and losses both fade into insignificance.
I don’t speak as some sort of veteran who has successfully navigated all this already. But I’ve listened to enough people who have spent most of their adult lives showing their professed faith by much work and few words, that I have confidence and hope in aligning myself as best I can by the same star [Christ] by which they set their compasses. And after living like that, the need for fool-proof apologetics has significantly receded for me. It would seem you aren’t there—and if not, I’m not trying to say you should be right now. I’m just telling you there is also spiritual life beyond these intellectual ruminations we all love to throw ourselves into.
As a lifelong Christian myself, I still many times hover along these same kinds of edges, needing God’s grace just as much as the next sinner over. And Jesus is the one who I trust as, not only the identity of that foundation, but the one who even chases me when I run away. He is chasing you too—I just pray that you will sense that in times of most desperate need. Even Jesus had those points of desperation of crying out to God from a feeling of despair. So we surely are not immune.
Thanks for sharing of your own tough times here. May you feel blessings in the midst of it to help carry you through.
Happy to answer you, Nathan. I turned slowly from atheism to agnosticism in my 30s and 40s. What happened was I saw that pure materialism did not work in real life (where does art and laughter come from, and neither did it work in science. But religion was not something I could embrace. I was born wearing those lenses you speak of. But I became more and more open to the idea of God, and slowly God began calling me. Very faintly at first. And then finally only a few years ago, Christ called me directly. I was baptized 4 years ago (in my mid 60s) and joined the United Methodist Church, where I am now the lay leader, and very active. I have preached the Gospel, and been welcomed into the body of Christ. For me all of this is nothing short of a miracle.
I too sometimes will find myself thinking, it’s all so beautiful, but is it real? Could a man have truly been raised from the dead? If Heaven is real, where is it? And so on. The questions I used to ask people who tried to convert me in the old days. When those questions come to me now, I take a walk. I look at the trees and the people I pass. There is no proof that God exists. And yes, that woman smiling at her baby might be simply acting out the evolutionary imperative to care for her child in order to pass on her genes. I am a trained biologist, and I fully endorse and support the idea of evolution, which I believe is God’s tool for creation of life in all its splendor, drama and diversity. But I will never think for a moment that the joy in that woman’s eyes, the smile that comes to my face at seeing the baby laugh, and all the other wonders I find around me, are not much more than selfish genes doing their thing. If you pursue pure materialism far enough, it becomes depressing, boring, and not very convincing.
I believe the Holy Spirit is everywhere, but sometimes hard to hear or find. In those times it’s better to stop thinking and debating and just reach out and be touched.
I am convinced that it is our mission to work toward the truth, not to proclaim it. To take as many steps as we can toward finding how our science and our theology can be improved by each other, and ultimately learn all we can about the truth of the natural universe and God’s purpose for us, individually and as a species.
Have courage. Do not despair. Faith, hope and love always win, even when it seems like this time they won’t. In the end they do.