I have a conversation currently still in process that started on Facebook and moved to private messaging with an atheist from Australia. He is very respectful, and to get me talking, that’s all I really need from a person. So his initial comment has stretched into multiple comments spanning everything from how we know what we believe is true, to progressive revelation, to secular morality, and more. We’re not even done yet, but I’m waiting for him to finally say, “All right, Jesus man. That’s enough.”
It’s gotten me thinking again about why I believe what I believe. More than that, why do those reasons work for me and not someone else? I guess we can all chalk it up to the Holy Spirit, but I’m sure we all have our own story here about how we got from no belief to belief, or how we grew up believing and got through the gauntlet of secular culture to the faith we are in now.
I put this out as a question to all of you who write on here – and I guess to anyone else, as well, but mostly to all of you who write here. What did it for you? What brought you to the faith or kept you there when you were teetering on the edge of doubt?
For me, it’s miracle stories. I know that might sound weird, but it’s true. In community college, I took an Intro to Philosophy class and had a crisis of faith. But I reflected on the life of George Muller of Bristol. He was a pastor who was frustrated that all the businessmen in his congregation were cutthroat and unscrupulous in their business practices. Their excuse was that their jobs were cutthroat. Unless you cheated, you would never be able to support yourself and your family.
Muller did not agree and decided to embark on building an orphanage from the ground up solely on prayer. He never asked anyone for money. He never asked for supplies. But by the end of his life, he had taken care of around 10,000 orphans and had established 117 schools that gave Christian education to more than 120,000 children. All on prayer. All on faith.
In his diary are stories of the children never having to wait more than half an hour for their three square meals each day – even when the cupboards were bare. Once, they were out of milk, and a milk truck or carriage broke down right in front of the orphanage. The man who rode it said the milk would go bad anyway, so the orphanage might as well have it. Another time, a baker couldn’t get any sleep because God kept telling him to bake bread for Muller’s children. His life is full of these stories.
Every time my mind would wonder, “Could I be wrong? Could this philosopher be right? Is my faith a sham?” I would immediately think, “But what about George Muller?”
It is his story and other miracle stories from other people’s lives that help keep me in the faith. I know great men and women have argued back and forth about whether God exists or not and whether Christianity has enough historical evidence to back it up. I know those discussions lead many to faith as well. But for me, it’s the direct action of God in the world in ways that cannot be easily explained away that inspire me to keep going.
Well, that and the donuts after Mass.
©2021 Catholic Anonymous.
Bristol also has the Wesleyan connection.
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While this is a cliche and possibly smacks of the Protestant individualist mindset, I would say that our faith ultimately has to be anchored in a personal relationship with God. Community is definitely a blessing and a crucial part of God’s plan. But community can also be a double edged sword.
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For me, that personal relationship is huge. But it’s not something I can explain to others who don’t already experience it themselves. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was the larger part of what keeps me in the church.
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I was born and raised in the church. After confirmation (kiss of death for parents who hope their children will continue in faithful attendance), I was ‘too old’ for church and the folks were ‘too old’ for the weekly argument.
In my thirties, something happened. I say ‘something happened’ not because I don’t want to share it, but because I don’t know what it was. I know what it was but I don’t know how to explain it. One January, my younger sister asked me if I was going to go back to church. I said, yeah; probably. And I did. And something happened. What I’m going to say next is going to make you roll your eyes and stop reading. That’s ok; I guess I expect it. This happened walking into church, not during the service (the Episcopal word; I’m not Episcopal anymore), not during Holy Communion, not listening to the sermon. I walked into church and the Holy Spirit landed on me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know how else to explain it. Lifted. Whatever part of a human is touched by the Holy Spirit got this amazing sensation of being ‘lifted’. I think of that expression about ‘lifted on angels’ wings’.
I spent the next five years re-learning Christianity. People at Bible study (I had never attended one before, if you can believe it) would stop me afterward and tell me they loved my questions – they were questions they wanted to ask but feared the ‘reaction’ from the others. I didn’t care WHAT they thought, those other people. I was on a mission!
In the final analysis, I believe with all my heart that the Holy Spirit called me in out of the world, where we’re supposed to be (in the world but not of the world). I walk in two worlds now – as do you and other Christians.
The other thing Christians never talk about is healings. I’ve had two. Miraculous stuff but we’re always so afraid of that ‘eye roll’. Lets do a ‘healings’ article! The world can’t know what we know if we don’t share it with them. But look at the difficulty we have sharing with each other!
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What a beautiful testimony! The thing about experiencing the Holy Spirit and his work in our lives is that we, as Christians, know exactly what we are talking about when we speak of him. We experience his guidance on a daily basis. But I feel your struggle to explain that or express that in a way that makes sense to someone who hasn’t had that experience. So no, that doesn’t make my eyes roll at all. Thank you for sharing that.
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Daniel Roberts said:
I was raised in a non-denominational setting so in a sense I always had it but I frequently struggled with it. The theology was horrendous and I never made much of it. It felt like I was getting fed the same crap every day with some pop songs on the side. I left it temporarily. I discovered the Byzantine Catholics several years ago and kept trying to claw my way in. I wanted to be a Catholic but there seemed to be a road block. I was baptized Anglican. But I always felt more at home in the Catholic faith. But again, it seems like there was road block after road block, mostly from the humans. It was a frustrating experience because I wanted to be a Catholic but I kept being refused and the goal posts kept being pushed. It was this, then another. I write about this on my own blog too. For that, I don’t think I’ll ever be in good terms with the hierarchy.
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I’m sorry you’ve had such a hard time. What road blocks are you talking about? I couldn’t get to your site through the name you put here.
Jock McSporran said:
cath.anon – OK – I’ll bite on this one.
Question: what brought me to faith?
Answer: I don’t know; I have always believed. Of course, ultimately God brought me to faith, but I cannot think of any time `before that I didn’t believe; after that I believed.’
Question: did I ever have any doubts and if so what turned me away?
Answer: yes – there was a two year period when some truly disgusting behaviour was perpetrated against me – lies, slander, character assassination, which basically forced me to leave my Ph.D. studies in England and write my Ph.D. in California instead. Interestingly, the main protagonist was a respectable `Christians’, attending a respectable Anglican church (although – to be honest – it was `charismatic’ Anglican, which is a strong indication of satanic weirdness).
At the same time, I met some exceptionally good people during this period in England, people with a social conscience, committed to doing good for society – and these people were all atheists who never darkened the doors of a church.
By the time I finished my Ph.D. studies, I came to understand that in trying to follow an atheistic path (heavily influenced by John Stuart Mill), I was actually fighting against something that was firmly a part of myself. Since then, I have basically been firmly committed in my faith, while at the same time extremely sceptical of The Church.
When you talk of `miracles’ and put George Muller of Bristol in that category – it doesn’t look so much like a `miracle’, but rather testimony to an innate goodness in human nature. People saw what he was doing, were impressed – and donated generously.
For me, I’d say that miracles have precisely the opposite effect than they do for you. This also, more generally, brings us to large swathes of what goes on in churches which are generally extremely off-putting.
I remember, for example, during my first job after the Ph.D., I taught in one university – and during the non-teaching time spent a lot of time at another university (somewhere in England). In England, I found one where the preaching was excellent, so I attached myself to it when I was visiting England. But then I discovered that the church really was a spiritual home for flat earth society loonies – those who either believe that God made the world in 6 days flat, took the seventh day off, then woke up with a hangover on the eighth day and decided to insert some additional bits and pieces as a practical joke (such as sticking some dinosaur bones into the ground, with correct carbon dating features to make it look as if they were millions of years old, just to give the paleontologists something to talk about). A variant of this is the `Intelligent Design’ lunacy.
These people were intelligent and absolutely serious; they home-schooled their children because they didn’t want their children to encounter the theories of Charles Darwin at school. I thought to myself `oh that’s good – the weirdos are being kept away from the school, thus making the school better for decent people.’
So I found myself going to church on Sundays because I had to (at that time I still believed that it was a duty before God to do so) and the sermons were rather good at that church, but finding myself mightily relieved that during the week I went to work and met rational atheists, who had a social conscience and, with whom it was basically much more pleasant to interact. They were much more my kind of people.
I think that if `The Church’ (all variants of it) wants to attract people and present the faith in a way such that God brings people to faith because of, rather than in spite of the church, then it really ought to get its ideas of `General Revelation’ and `Special Revelation’ sorted out.
By `General Revelation’ I mean the following: if we believe that God is Creator, above and almighty, author of all things, then he is also creator of the laws of nature. We do not believe that he made a botched job of this and that he has to constantly keep intervening; the natural laws are God’s natural laws. Therefore, all this business of `miraculous healing’ (which Audre, above, claims to have happened to her twice) is something that really ought to be treated with extreme scepticism if we do not want the faith to look ridiculous. Nature, governed by the laws of nature, created by God, is something that really ought to bring us to God and would bring us to God if it weren’t for our fallen nature.
By `Special Revelation’, I mean the once and for all event, `Crucified under Pontius Pilate’, a specific point in history (the lowest point in history) where, due to our fallen nature something extraordinary had to happen and something that was a real event and not simply a myth; the crucifixion under Pontius Pilate and the resurrection. The sign miracles all point to this – proving that Jesus was precisely whom he claimed to be (the Messiah).
I have been wondering what is behind the `Intelligent Design’ lunacy. These people explicitly take the view that the laws of nature do not explain everything that we see in nature and that there has to be a supernatural component on top of this – which stands in flat contradiction to the way I understand `General Revelation’.
If you want to understand the difficulties that people have coming to faith, I think a good place to start would be to look at much of the rubbish that seems to be passed off in some circles as part of the faith.
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Thank you for biting on this one. 🙂 I find these stories fascinating and encouraging, honestly, including yours.
“in trying to follow an atheistic path (heavily influenced by John Stuart Mill), I was actually fighting against something that was firmly a part of myself”
I relate to that. Though for me, it was more mystical and had to do with what Nicholas mentioned in a post about how Jesus is at the heart of all our faith traditions. I could never shake the closeness and realness of Jesus himself. Many times, while I found myself doubting a lot of other things, for some reason the reality of his existence was something that stuck with me. From that center, the rest of my faith could take shape. It wasn’t something I could prove. It was just there.
It seems interesting that you disparage miracle stories but then hold up THE miracle story of the resurrection as being the one we should believe. At least it seems that way. I was just interacting with an atheist over on my site a couple weeks ago who didn’t take the resurrection seriously at all. It’s shrouded in time, 2000 years ago, and, to her, could be explained away as easily as you explained away George Muller. (I don’t agree with her)
I see what you are saying with Muller. I agree there can be a very natural explanation for his life, but I mention him because he’s what did it for me in college. To me, following Jesus is all those small moments of deciding to step out in faith and trusting he will catch you. That was what Muller did his whole life and God kept catching him, one way or another.
But there are other recent miracles that are much more unexplainable. I don’t want to go into a list here, but I mention a couple in my video series on why I am Catholic if you are really that interested. (That’s not a plug. I just don’t want to make this comment long.)
I think what’s fascinating is the way God draws people to himself. He doesn’t use the same method because none of us are the same.
Jock McSporran said:
cath.anon – you (of course) raise a very good question – which is not so much why I disparage latter day miracle stories, but rather why I don’t disparage the once-for-all event of the crucifixion and resurrection, which is the only important miracle.
I can’t recall any time in my life where I did not believe in the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus, but I suppose there must have been. Right now, I have a 5 year old son. I haven’t introduced anything concerning the Christian faith to him yet, because he is frankly not ready for it. He still seems to be in the Garden of Eden and bad things don’t happen in his world. Long may it continue. One can categorise three aspects of Christianity; Creation, Fall, Redemption ……
I *could* give the `intellectual’ answer, which would be to refer you to Emil Brunner’s book `The Mediator’, where he beautifully explains the significance of the once-for-all event and points out with great clarity that if miracles become ten-a-penny then (a) they are no longer super natural but rather, by definition (the fact that they recur) part of nature and hence governed by laws of nature (even if these laws of nature have not been understood by scientists and (b) they lessen the impact of the once-for-all event.
But – even though I recommend you to get hold of and read this book – that would be putting the cart before the horse. The truth is that this is a position I always took, right from the beginning: fascination with science, learning a bit about relativity at a reasonably early age, how relativity together with the red shift led to the `big bang’ – a creative event which, at least to my mind, seemed to support, rather than detract from the idea of a creator God.
Somehow I have always held this: (a) the miracle of the resurrection, the once for all event and (b) disparaging the latter day `miracles’.
I can give you an example of a perfectly natural miracle, which does follow well understood laws of nature. About 13 years ago, my dad had a stent inserted into one of his arteries close to the heart. He is now close to 90 and going strong. Neither his mother nor any of his uncles on his mother’s side lived beyond the age of 70; the technology to deal with their heart problems was not available back then. The fact that he is still with us and in full health looks to me (a) like a miracle and (b) something that is understood rather well. I’d also say that just because something isn’t understood doesn’t make it a miracle.
So the dichotomy that you point out is there and has always been there – but I can’t explain how it came to be.
If you don’t mind, would you mind elaborating on what you said here: “big bang’ – a creative event which, at least to my mind, seemed to support, rather than detract from the idea of a creator God.”
How does the Big Bang support the idea of a creator for you? Do you take, like, an “unmoved mover” kind of view of it?
Jock McSporran said:
Well, I can try. I don’t really go in much for concepts such as `unmoved mover’, since that begins to look like `empty philosophies of men’ (although at some stage I did read – and thoroughly enjoy – Bertrand Russell’s `History of Western Philosophy’ with some excellent memorable lines such as `In 353 AD, Jerome went to Rome, where he studied rhetoric and sinned.’ I can’t remember if it was Jerome …)
I did hear one series of lectures which became more `metaphysical’ than the sorts of things I feel comfortable with back in 1985 – Jurgen Moltmann gave the `Gifford Lectures’ and he started with God is perfect, one attribute of the perfect God is that He should be omnipresent, so where did he put His creation? And Moltmann came up with the idea that, in an act of self humiliation, he first created a God forsaken space.
Somehow there were interesting and attractive ideas there, but I didn’t go down that route because, interesting though it was, it looked like precisely the sort of thing that *could* degenerate into `empty philosophies of men.’
I’d put `unmoved mover’ firmly in that category – not my cup of tea.
At the same time, Scripture starts `In the beginning, God created …..’ I don’t believe for one minute that Scripture was ever intended, either by the person who wrote it down, or by God Himself as a scientific text book – that is not its purpose. The idea of a single creative act, whereby God creates a universe which has a point in time where it starts and which evolves according to very beautiful laws of nature (created by God) seems firmly to fit all the principles that the author of Genesis is trying to communicate.
We’re all well aware of where religion goes horribly wrong; it is precisely when people with very clever legalistic minds try to draw a hard an fast set of Pharisaical rules from scriptural texts. This is what the Pharisees, the group about whom Jesus never had a good word to say, were doing – and as far as I can see, this is what the flat-earthers who try to take Genesis 1 – 11 as a historical document are doing.
We all know where that led – it was The Church (i.e. The Church that God Himself had ordained) which was overwhelmed by the Pharisaical element at the time of Jesus and who were responsible for the crucifixion.
So – um – that’s all. Nothing fancy at the base of it – it just seems to fit the description of God as ultimate author of all things, a creative act at a point in time, which fits beautifully what Genesis 1 is trying to communicate. I don’t really follow / understand philosophical ideas such as unmoved mover (although perhaps I should spend more time on this).
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Jock McSporran said:
cath.anon – It might be a good idea to turn this around and ask ourselves – which aspects of the `Christian’ witness can be repulsive to decent people – so that if they come to faith, it is despite of rather than because of the witness of `Christians’?
I tried posting something this morning, but it was eaten up (and may now be lying in some sort of spam filter).
I outlined one thing earlier in this thread, which does it for me – things that I’d categorise as `flat earth society’ thinking. For these people, the opening of Genesis goes way above and beyond the moral principle – that God is the ultimate author of everything, God is the creator of everything – and they insist that the minutiae provide a text book of how he did it. The `Intelligent Design’ loonies are not content with the idea that God created the laws of nature; for them it is somehow vital that there is a `supernatural’ component.
But I’m much more concerned with other things that I see – and I’ve come up with the term `autistic Christian’ to describe it. By `autistic Christian’ I mean someone who may be very intelligent and is certainly very committed, who thinks that they know and love the Lord as personal saviour. They use Scripture for prognostication (even though Leviticus and Deuteronomy teach us that prognostication is a heinous sin), are very eager to see the prophecies of Scripture (as they understand them), particularly pertaining to the State of Israel fulfilled and seem very able to turn a blind eye to all sorts of moral atrocities on the way.
I’d encourage you to look up Jonathan Cook, who is a very important journalist. I’m thinking of a very good article he wrote on 7th January this year ‘Is the UAE plotting with Israel against Palestinian refugees?’ I won’t post the link, because perhaps that is what put the original post into the spam filter.
There are, however, an awful lot of `Christians’ (who believe that they know and love the Lord, but who are, in fact headed for the eternal fire) supportive of the state of Israel and turn a blind eye to all the atrocities against the Palestinians.
I could go on – but I think the point is clear. What sort of witness is this? Would a decent person from the Middle East be brought to Christ when they see the UK/USA military in action in illegal wars, propping up apartheid regimes (which is what Israel is)?