I started asking a question during my Junior year of high school which would forever change my life, “Why God?”
To clarify, by “why God?” I didn’t mean “why, God?” I wasn’t pleading for God to reveal the hidden meanings of life’s tragedies (although… to be honest, I contended with the absurdity of existence plenty in my adolescent years). Rather, by “why God” what I meant was, why do I believe in God? Why is believing in God even a thing? Does God exist or does he not? If there is a God, what is this God like? Does he really look like Plato and Aristotle like all the pictures? Is God even a “he”? Is this God wrathful or merciful? And finally, outside of floating away to some fairyland called Heaven, does believing in God and obeying God’s rules actually matter in this life? These questions (particularly the final one) wreaked havoc on my already-anxious sixteen-year-old self.
From the way I saw it (and honestly still do), all of these questions are related. After weeks of self-debate, existential crises, and apathetic relapses I came to a conclusion. “Either God exists or God doesn’t… but, if God does exist then God must be the source of all life. Therefore, in order for me to experience the true depth of living, then I must dedicate every fiber of my existence to this phantasmal being.” (Okay, I probably didn’t use all this fancy wordage but humor me.)
Ultimately, I knew I couldn’t definitively prove whether or not God existed, but I could answer it in another way. I could dive as deeply as possible into my Christian faith and hold it to its own promises. If I gave up my life to Christ then by Jesus’ own words, God would not only grant me life but the fullness of life (Lk 9.24, Matt 10.39, Jn 1.4, 10.10, 14.6). This is what I would do. I would give my faith what it demanded – my entire life, but in turn I would demand from it what it promised – the essence of life. This all sounds all nice and well, but the question of life is the weightiest of themes and therefore demands interrogation.
What I mean by this is that I would (and still do) refuse superficial answers to the questions of ultimate reality. I felt as though faith and religion were offering grand promises, and therefore (out of respect for it) I wouldn’t accept simple dogmatic answers from leaders and teachers who were too lazy to put in the intellectual footwork for themselves. I would respect the tradition of my faith, but I would not be the fool who simply believed a thing because someone told me to believe it. I have found too often teachers of the Christian faith contradict the teachings of Jesus himself. While I espouse that we are all walking contradictions I would at least remain suspicious of even my surest of dogmas. Let me give you an example…
My junior year of my undergraduate degree was a crazy one. I was skeptical of every aspect of my faith from the divinity of Jesus to the existence of heaven. I remember I would regularly have these difficult conversations with another buddy of mine, but one day I might have taken it too far. We were in a car somewhere and I was asking serious questions about our faith that I felt needed to be resolved. I don’t remember what the topic was, but I remember that after my questioning he looked at me and asked me why I feel the need to pick at my faith? Why couldn’t I just be happy with my tradition? Why was I questioning everything at every turn? Why can’t I leave well enough alone!?
Honestly, I don’t remember my exact response, but I left that conversation thinking this: The Christian faith proposes that it has an answer to ultimate reality! If it can’t handle the simple questions of a middle-class white boy from Florida than how is it supposed to respond to the far more terrifying questions of the poor and oppressed. If God can’t handle the question “why God?” then God sure as hell isn’t ready for the question “why, God?”
Ultimately, by the end of 2016-2017 academic year I worked through many of these questions, and my faith was transformed. I would continue to call myself a Christian, and I would be surer of my faith than ever. If I am honest, at this point I am tempted to tell you about how I worked through my questions, but that’s not my goal. My goal today is simply to get you to ask yourself “Why (or why not) God?”
Do you believe in God or not? why? If you are of a different religion or of a particular denomination then why? If you are an atheist or agnostic then why? My goal isn’t to convert an atheist to theism or a theist to atheism, but rather my goal is to get people to take the question of God seriously. In the era of “fake news” it seems like everyone is asking where they are getting their sources, and that’s what I am asking. Where are you getting your beliefs about ultimate reality? Too often I have found that a person’s “why” doesn’t actually come from carful considerations about life, but rather from other people who similarly have not asked themselves the tough questions. Today it seems like people want simple answers to complex questions, but that doesn’t work in politics and it doesn’t work for God.
Of course, the typical retort to what I am saying is “well, Nathan, not everyone can study theology like you.” But, I’m not asking you to study theology nor am I asking you to have all the answers. I mean after five years of studying this stuff I still don’t have all the answers! I’m simply asking you to take responsibility for the things that you yourself say that you have answers to. If you don’t have the answers then that’s fine just admit it and move on. Questions are not bad things, in fact they help you grow in your understanding. You can have faith while you doubt, but never stop seeking answers to the biggest question that can be posited, “Why God?” I have much more to say on this, but I better conclude here with a word that is primarily directed toward my Christian friends…
When I was sixteen every Christian seemed boring, and let’s be honest those are the worst kind! I “searched the scriptures” and found that the Christian was supposed to be bubbling abundant life; so naturally I went into the faith to pick at the faith. What I found was not that there was an insufficiency within the faith but rather I found that there was an insufficiency within the supposed “Faithful.” Through my doubt, I found that faith became a thrilling and perilous adventure, but when I turned to my fellow American believers I found that they preferred the safety of certainty.
Let me be clear here as a theologian, faith is not safe certainty. In the spirit of C.S. Lewis, Christ is good, but he is not safe. Christ’s way is not a safe way but rather an adventure through the treacherous waters of doubt. It is upon these forsaken waters that the Son of Man walks; the man who was forsaken by all… even God. This man beckons to all who profess to be Rocks of Faith, “Peter, come follow me… step into the waters of doubt… forsake yourself and find yourself.”
Everyone let’s be honest, this ship has taken us far, but it’s a bit small and kind of boring. We don’t seem to be making any headway, and the waves are getting larger. But, in the distant waves I see what seems to be an apparition of our Lord. He is walking o’er the waters and beckoning us to follow. So, sit your ass on certainty’s ship if it please you, but don’t call it faith. Faith is abandoning ship hoping that you walk on water but trusting that even if you sink Christ will raise you.