What made me change my mind? Christians always want to know. Forget this blog where I regularly seek out new ways to put into words how faith escaped me. The short answer is that I simply allowed myself to doubt. I know that means nothing to the person who hasn’t experienced it; I can’t explain the freedom of doubt to a person who sees it as a one way trip to eternal hellfire.
These Christians are not asking out of curiosity. They’ve solved the puzzle. So my apologies to those readers who have never believed in god, or who have not recently had one too many conversations with Christians who ask this question only for the opportunity to give me the “correct” answer. Because I am once again going to talk about that puzzle.
Finding god is, after all, very much like putting a giant puzzle together without ever seeing what the final picture should look like. As a Christian I had a pretty good idea of what the picture was supposed to look like. There were plenty of rough sketches with rules I could use as a guide. As I found pieces that made sense I filled in the spaces according to that idea. And I was good at it. The closer I got to creating that image, the more faith I had that I was on the right track. There was never a time when those pieces stopped fitting together.
But every once in a while I was struck with the thought that my pieces could also fit in a different puzzle. Sometimes I stumbled across pieces that did not fit at all, and I grouped the misfits together off to the side in hopes of finding a place for them later. Every time I set another piece to the side I would look at them and think for a moment, “What if I am solving the wrong puzzle? What if I am missing more pieces because I am not looking for them?”
I wasn’t convinced, and I wasn’t about to start over. But I did begin to focus a little more on getting those odd pieces to fit. I looked for new pieces that might connect them to the bigger picture. As I began to easily find those new pieces and fill out larger sections, I realized that the picture could not possibly be exactly what I had first imagined.
So I took every piece off the table that I was not 100% sure about. This left me with very few scattered interlocking pieces across my puzzle. I stepped back and looked at the results. And I only knew one thing: I had no idea what this damn puzzle was supposed to look like. I never did. I was overwhelmed by how far I was from solving it, and I had come to the conclusion that I may never solve it in my lifetime.
I continue to work on it anyway.
Does the concept of god make perfect sense? No. But it is a popular belief that has been handed down for generations. For many of us it is familiar and comforting. For most of us it is an idea that has at the very least always been an option, even if we have continually rejected that option. It is no surprise that we look for god.
The human brain is inclined to look for patterns and to make the pieces fit. We pick our theory and then search for the path. What else can we do? Sometimes we get it wrong, but that is a natural side effect of our ability to figure things out. We can reason our way into or out of anything. We can reason ourselves right into a circle. And we have been known to declare victory over the entire puzzle when in fact we have only solved a tiny but difficult four-piece section of it.
Sometimes we connect the dots perfectly and are not even inside the puzzle anymore. People who really love to complete the sequence, like me, often enjoy philosophical arguments. But, have you ever followed a philosophical argument and thought, “That makes perfect sense…. except when I step back a bit, it has no meaning at all?”
We are limited by the same trait that offers us no limits. Is that reasonable? I think it is. Because we can always overcome an obstacle eventually. Look at me. I don’t even believe in god anymore.
Christians may see me as the least sympathetic character: a person who denies the possibility of their god entirely. But understanding their perspective, I know that isn’t fair. While so many others go about their lives with little interest in god, I have given their specific god my full interest and consideration. I have cared deeply about the idea of god.
So here’s another puzzle:
I believed in the Christian god. I believed with all my heart that Jesus was Lord and raised from the dead. I knew I could never be swayed. I changed my life for god. Not so that I could live forever, or because I needed comfort. I followed god because I believed the story was true. And if you believe it, you will take it seriously. I held myself to the standards in the Bible, even when those around me did not. I believed that once I committed my life to god his spirit would change me and I would no longer desire sin; I would stumble within the confines of my human nature to sin, but I would always move forward with a desire to do better. Because I would detest the things that were not of god. And all of those things happened to me. I felt god in my life and I felt a relationship with him.
Christians would like to think that I could not have ever known god. Not really. I only thought I knew him. I have been told that once you truly know god and have an actual relationship with him, you cannot go back. Which means they are saying that I imagined my relationship with god.
But if I imagined all of that, then it must be very easy for anyone to imagine god vividly. Why then should we believe anyone who says god is real? And how could god have looked at someone like me, clearly desperate to know him and live according to his word…. and remain hidden? Even after I faithfully asked again and again for his help when I began to doubt. He still remained silent.
He didn’t look at me at all. Why? Because he was never there. The same way every other god imagined by man isn’t really there. And yet we are a species that is infinitely able to believe it could be true. Another puzzle. But some puzzles can be solved.
To solve the ultimate puzzle we must first solve a series of smaller ones. When Christians try to fit the pieces together by assuming I am a liar, deceived, or even by adjusting their views to believe in some form of predestination; they are protecting the whole puzzle rather than solving one speck of it. A common mistake. Meanwhile I have closed the book on the specific question of whether or not Christians have correctly defined how god works in our lives.
That tiny detail about Christianity is one example of the easier questions I have been able to answer by taking other pieces off the board until I am more certain about how or if they fit. I find that otherwise they get in the way of what is staring me in the face. Sending me in the wrong direction.
Did solving that one puzzle unravel god or even Christianity? No. But it connected to other pieces and sections of the puzzle that did, eventually, unravel the concept completely.
So what changed my mind about god, you ask? I stopped looking for the face of god in puzzle pieces so I would not be tempted to create him. I went back to the beginning and focused on the smaller mysteries I had to reason out first. I became skeptical of my own logical pattern-seeking and began also searching for patterns that would reveal my own biased assumptions.
It will always be a work in progress. I still make mistakes and have to go back. But do I still come across pieces that resemble god? Not a god I have ever understood, or that has yet to be defined by man. And until that changes, I cannot in good faith find god on the puzzle board at all.
And if that doesn’t make sense to you, then maybe you should clear the board and solve this tiny puzzle for yourself.