When I was in college, I was confronted with the idea that religious faith was dark, absurd, backward and superstitious. The basis for this accusation was that there was simply no evidence for God. That centuries of inquiry had turned up not a trace of evidence for His existence, and any person with an ounce of intellectual honesty would have to face up to this fact.
As a young Christian, this idea rattled me. The result was that I found myself longing for God to show Himself in a manner that His existence would be undeniable. “If you only would rend the heavens in two and say, ‘Here I am,’ then I would know,” I prayed. I agonized over what seemed to be a compelling argument that if God really existed, it would be obvious to everyone; but since it was not, God must not exist.
But as compelling the arguments against my faith seemed, there existed a question that remained unanswered in my struggle: If God’s existence was so undeniably false, why was it necessary for me to believe in Him in the first place? It is one thing to be accused of superstition and intellectual dishonestly; it is quite another to thoughtfully examine why it is one believes.
If God’s existence was so undeniably false, why was it necessary for me to believe in Him in the first place? It is one thing to be accused of superstition and intellectual dishonesty; it is quite another to thoughtfully examine why it is one believes.
The answers provided by those who claimed religious belief was absurd did not seem to apply in my case. They claimed for example that people believed in God because of their upbringing and because of social pressure. True, I had been raised to believe in God, and that may have explained why I presently believed, or perhaps was more likely to believe. But it did not explain why I needed to continue to believe.
As far as social pressure goes, it simply did not exist in my family. Turning away from faith carried little stigma and involved no excommunication. And unlike in past generations, abandoning one’s faith in my generation was almost seen as a rite of passage.
Others claimed people cling to faith in God out of emotional insecurity: They need to believe there is a God because it would too difficult to cope with the idea that there wasn’t one. I am sure that is true for some people. But many seem to make the transition from faith to doubt with little trauma, and often a sense of relief. In my case, this would have applied. At the time my faith was being challenged, I was also going through a horrible experience involving a campus church ministry. Abandoning my faith would have solved two problems, not just one.
Many claim people cling to faith in God out of emotional insecurity: They need to believe there is a God because it would be too difficult to cope otherwise. But many seem to make the transition from faith to doubt with little trauma, and often a sense of relief.
Others quoted Marx and Freud, that religion was the opiate of the masses and mere wish fulfillment, or Nietzsche who claimed the Judeo-Christian religion was merely the natural result of an oppressed people. This was compelling if you wished to view the world this way. But those arguments only held water if one assumed there was no God in the first place. Sure, if God was an invention of mankind, then religious faith served a false an unproductive purpose. But if mankind was an invention of God, we would expect there to be a correspondence between God and mankind’s aspirations.
Of course, it was always possible that I simply did not know myself very well and the reasons for clinging to my faith went deeper than my intellectual and emotional capacity would permit. But on the other hand, what compelling reason was there for me to believe someone else’s opinion about why I believed over my own? Were others in a position to know me better than I knew myself? Unless we were to presuppose the truthfulness of their position, the answer was clearly no.
Of course it is possible my reasons for faith went deeper than my intellectual and emotional capacity would permit. On the other hand, what compelling reason was there for me to believe someone else’s opinion about why I believed over my own?
Why then did I feel it necessary to continue to believe? The answer in my opinion is simple yet profound: It is because I had bumped up against a Reality greater than myself, something not only superior to my own understanding but worth giving up my life for.
Contrary to what many believe, the quality of faith in the life of a Christian is not a mere act or commitment to a creed, occupying space in a relatively small and specific compartment of the mind. Rather, it informs the whole of life. As C.S. Lewis eloquently states, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: Not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else” –C.S. Lewis
Or as Scripture says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Faith is neither socially-induced pressure, a desire for social conformity nor emotional insecurity. It is an apprehension of a Reality beyond our own, which informs our own reality by the understanding it brings. It is both intellectual and personal. This may not be the faith of the timid pew-dweller too worried about what others might think, but it most certainly is the faith of Christendom’s first believers, and also its saints throughout history, who considered preservation of their own lives of little consequence in view of a greater Kingdom. Faith is the evidence for God in a darkened world.
That is when I realized my crisis of faith was actually much smaller than I had originally thought. It was really no crisis of faith at all: It was a struggle to provide a rational basis for my faith, which through my college experience had come under attack. In other words, the accusation in my own mind was not whether there was a God but whether my belief in God was sufficient: Was it merely a superstitious hang-up of my own upbringing — consisting of no more than social pressure, emotional insecurity, and wish-fulfillment — or was it something much deeper and transcendent?
I came to realize my crisis of faith was actually much smaller than I had originally thought. It was really no crisis at all: It was a struggle to provide a rational basis for my faith, which through my college experience had come under attack.
When I saw faith for what it was, there really was no crisis. I no longer needed God to rend the heaves or perform any miraculous sign on the outside; on the inside, He has already given me all the proof I need.
It is difficult to explain this metaphysical component of the Christian faith to others without it being misunderstood and — in the skeptic’s case — quickly reduced to a category that preserves their own view of the world. Which I understand. But this isn’t because faith is irrational; it is just inconvenient.
Centuries of scientific inquiry have not failed to find evidence for God; they have simply attempted to discount or deny the manner in which God has chosen to be found. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World,” and it is by this Light we come to find Him. When we do, we discover that evidence for God, both in the world and strikingly in our lives, was never lacking, but there all along. God was not absent; He was merely hidden in plain sight.