Long Journey Ahead
I was thinking about last week’s post, “Sometimes I don’t believe it“, and realized shortly after that my life has been a journey toward believing more deeply. I still have those struggles, like I mentioned, but I don’t actually have them as often as I used to, nor do they last as long as they used to. I also got a couple of comments from people who either shared similar struggles or were close to people who did, so I thought it might be helpful to share a couple of general approaches that helped change things and a few resources that I’ve found helpful on the journey so far.
Life with God is a long road
This probably sounds like a cliché at this point but the nice thing is, it relieves the urgency of having to have all the right answers now. Like marriage or any other long-term relationship, I can be content to get to know God better over time if I’m not just trying to wring answers out of it. I can let the relationship shape me and see what happens and be content with the idea that some benefits are just subjective, and the other objective benefits come as a result of close relationship, over time.
I have an enemy out to destroy me, and he doesn’t care how he does it
I’ve figured out over time that Satan actually knows me pretty well, and he knows how to get under my skin. He can act like my best friend if he needs to, or he can be a bully if he thinks that will get him what he wants. Consider this excerpt from “Perelandra” (affiliate link) by C.S. Lewis, book two from the Space Trilogy. To set up the story, the protagonist, Ransom, has been sent to another planet to prevent the same type of fall that occurred with Adam & Eve on our planet. Satan has sent his own representative, possessing the body of another man. Consider their interaction:
“Ransom!” This time he made no reply. Another minute and it uttered his name again; and then, like a minute gun, “Ransom . . . Ransom . . . Ransom,” perhaps a hundred times. “What the Hell do you want?” he roared at last. “Nothing,” said the voice. Next time he determined not to answer, but when it had called on him about a thousand times he found himself answering whether he would or no, and “Nothing,” came the reply. He taught himself to keep silent in the end: not that the torture of resisting his impulse to speak was less than the torture of response but because something with him rose up to combat the tormentor’s assurance that he must yield in the end. If the attack had been of some more violent kind it might have been easier to resist. What chilled and almost cowed him was the union of malice with something nearly childish. For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he was in some sort prepared: but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at a preparatory school.
Notice the pettiness of the attack. Previously, the demon tried to reason with Ransom, to win him over using the best logic he knew. When that doesn’t work, he resorts to intimidation and childish behavior. In another section of the story, Ransom finds the creature tearing apart small animals with its fingernails, for the same petty love of destruction. My point is, the arguments brought by others may sometimes need answering, but often enough, at the bottom, they don’t come down to a true interest in finding the right answer, but down to intimidation, and I think Satan is usually right at the bottom. All he cares about is your destruction, pure and simple.
There is always someone smarter
This is something my Dad taught me years ago. I guess it’s something that seems clearer with age, but for every intellectual out there that will tell you you’re a fool for believing in God at all, much less claiming to have a relationship with him, there are at least as many that are every bit as smart but actually love God as much as you do. You just need to take the time to seek them out. Please remember though, in the end, knowledge is finite, no matter what anyone tells you. Much of the knowledge, especially in the scientific community, considered cutting edge today will likely be considered nonsense in a matter of decades.
This is a very small and incomplete list, but I hope it’s enough to take with you to get started. Now on to a few materials that I have found helpful over the years.
I will say first, this is only one resource, and I wouldn’t agree with everything they have to say, but their audio & video commentaries, especially on Genesis, will help at least get you thinking. Their sources are well referenced and I think they do a great job tying the story of creation to modern physics, or at least give you some food for thought. They also offer audio packages on how we got the Bible, and more than anyone I’ve ever met, defend the integrity of the Bible as a whole, and I think do so very well, though again, some may not agree.
His book “The Divine Conspiracy” (affiliate link), does a very thorough job getting to the heart of the matter with what Jesus was setting out to do with people. The best part is, he puts some legs under the idea that Jesus, being God made flesh, is actually the smartest man the world has ever seen. If you don’t believe that about him, there’s not much point in listening to what he asks you to do. I give the warning that Willard can be dry reading unless you like very thorough books.
I think Lewis might be the go-to writer for Christians looking for a basic level of intellectual reason for their faith. “Mere Christianity” is the go-to, I suppose, but honestly, what I appreciate most is how his ideas make their way into his fiction. I referred to the “Space Trilogy” earlier, and I love those books. I think one of his best arguments for belief beyond your natural senses come from his last novel, “Til We Have Faces“, which is a re-telling of the classical Greek myth of Cupid & Psyche. It took me longer to appreciate the depth of this one, but in the end, it’s one of the best.
The Tolkien Professor
This might seem a little off the beaten path, but I’ve found The Tolkien Professor’s podcast to be extremely helpful for one simple reason: historical perspective. If you listen from the beginning of the podcast episodes, you’ll get a great introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien’s ways of thinking, but you’ll also get a great intro to Medieval literature, which will help you learn how people from a very different time thought about things. Contrary to what you may hear, there were plenty of very smart people in the Middle Ages, who weren’t ruled by the same cultural assumptions that we are, with all their biases and blind-spots. I think one of the best things you can do to broaden your thinking is to learn to get see things from the point of view of a different culture, separated by physical distance and / or time. You’ll be surprised what kinds of assumptions you make about your world that other people don’t / didn’t.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch and I hope it’s a help.