When you believe in God with all your heart and mind, you cannot doubt him. When you first question the actions and words coming from your own flock; or even the words of the Bible—still, the question of God’s existence is never on the table. Even during those fleeting moments when you catch a glimpse of what it means if all of it is made up…. your instinct will be to find your way back. To seek God first.
If God is real, our interpretation of God is not perfect. There is a wide range of beliefs among those who are certain a God exists, and no shortage of disagreement among those who worship the same God. Even within smaller, like-minded Christian denominations we find churches split over things like politics and what would Jesus really do?
When a believer begins to lose faith, it is rarely about God’s existence. When you are starting from a place where God is clearly defined for you, first you must unravel the rule book to discover if the definition is correct. Because the evidence of people being wrong about God is overwhelming; and if you are truly seeking him, it is important to know whether or not people are standing in the way of you knowing him better.
This is where Christians want to share their memes about how “it’s people who disappointed you, not God.” Because they don’t get it. A good Christian who understands how to love the way Jesus taught them to love is wonderful; but it holds no answer for the believer who is wondering if Christianity knows everything it claims to know.
If the crisis is that you no longer trust man’s interpretation of God, what use is someone who can only offer answers from that limited box of man-made interpretation? How can your pastor, family, or well-meaning friends help you find your way back? If they are firmly planted inside the interpretation they know, they can’t help you at all. They may even scold you for asking any question which doesn’t fit neatly inside the very box you are questioning– and they will be unable to recognize the conflict in that.
Where Are You Now?
If you find yourself reading this blog, that may be where you are now. Not questioning God, but questioning what we know about God. I’ll bet you have sought out advice, or at the very least have read every word of apologetics and religious history you can get your hands on. Maybe you are in the midst of trying to sort out which things we know for sure and which are simply guesses that have become tradition– and that box of “what we know for sure” isn’t filling up as fast as you thought it would. In fact, it might be empty.
Suddenly the words of scripture, which used to be a source of great comfort and encouragement, are revealing red flags you never noticed before. The arguments for Christianity which once seemed like perfect logic have now become a confirmation of what you had hoped wasn’t true. You’ve been brought down a peg or two, and you are feeling more open to finding out what else you might not know.
You have arrived at a point of no return. You are searching for someone who has been where you are standing now and has asked the questions you are asking. And as the God you once knew begins to slip from your grip, you are desperate for anything that will take you back to a time when the blanks were filled in and you didn’t wonder if there were mistakes. It’s difficult to go from knowing something for sure to knowing nothing at all. And yet here you are, starting from scratch—and attempting to find a new truth.
You won’t find it.
What you will find is a greater appreciation for not having all the answers. Eventually you may even fall in love with the unknown and all of its possibilities. It is one thing to have never known the feeling of faith in God, but there is something unique among those who have loved God deeply only to decide they never knew him at all. Even if you do not agree with my beliefs, it is an undeniably rare and desirable ability to be able to change our minds about something we fought so hard to defend. And the believer who can let go of God is often the person who discovers that uncertainty and mystery suits them far more than they ever imagined possible.
Helping Christians to Understand the Difference
It’s impossible for me to explain to Christians what it means to lose that theology. They cannot easily separate the concept of a creator God with the rules of their specific interpretation of God. My rejection of their interpretation is concrete and often stirs up passion. The divide between us has nothing to do with whether or not God exists, and everything to do with the rules they have assigned to their God concept. It is not belief itself, but rather the specific ways we choose to define our Gods which leads to hatred and even war. It is also what leads us toward doubt.
My rejection of whatever else God might be is less passionate. I won’t believe in the idea until it sounds convincing—but it doesn’t matter if I am right or wrong about an undefined God’s existence. In the absence of theology, what would make it right or wrong? And why should anyone lose sleep over a disagreement about something so mysterious? Much to my surprise, losing faith in God was the easy part.
I have a close family member who is committed to defending the existence of a creator through examination of mathematics and science. And he knows what he’s talking about. He attempts to dismantle various scientific theories and presents concepts which support intelligent design; all the while he is assuming any proof of a creator is proof of each detail Christians have assigned to their creator. But there is no such connection.
If he could somehow prove intelligent design, I would simply shift my interests toward wondering what that creator was all about. It wouldn’t turn my world upside down, and it definitely would not turn me back toward Christianity. After all, I still believed in God long after I stopped believing in the Bible. If the holes I found in Christianity could not be filled by God’s existence then, why would it be different now?
These misunderstandings are why Christians do not understand a true faith crisis among their own. Once a believer no longer trusts the Bible, Christian apologists are the last line of defense—but from experience, I can tell you there comes a point when it all sounds incredibly silly. And then to be told your reaction is only because the Bible says the word of God appears as foolishness to unbelievers? Or that you are “doing it wrong?” Well, that doesn’t exactly send us back into the arms of Christian certainty.
When you still have faith in God but are doubting Christianity’s interpretation of him, these are the words which drive you to believe your relationship with God actually depends on doubting your theology. Now you know their best answers are wrong—because you used to think those things, too.
Until it happened to you.
The best thing a Christian can do to help a doubting friend is to embrace their doubt, and to offer a less-defined concept of God. Maybe we aren’t right about everything. Maybe it’s okay to question what we have been told. Keep seeking God for the answers and stop worrying about the details. Just be the best person you can be and follow where God leads your heart. You know—throw out the rule book.
Maybe if more Christians took that approach, relationships could be mended. But it doesn’t satisfy the rules of the Bible, so here we are. Another day, another email from someone asking me how to move forward among a sea of friends and family who cannot accept their lost faith. Another blogger breaking down my words, line by line, to “expose” my stupidity and arrogance. Another friend who will not acknowledge my existence because I couldn’t hold onto faith and I have the nerve to say it out loud.
And not one of these things has anything to do with the existence of God.