There is a difference between what you know, what you want to believe, and what you actually do believe. The stormy, swirling grey area in between those three things is probably where I’ve spent the majority of my adult life.
Recently, I have come to the conclusion that having the knowledge and information does not necessarily imbue those facts with belief. The opposite is also, quite painfully at times, true – facts and knowledge do not have to be present for belief to exist. This is probably the seemingly ever widening chasm between people who ascribe to a spiritual belief system and those who are adamantly athiestic.
Recently my friend and pastor, Marc Alan Shelske, posted a writing prompt based on this article, Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity. As I read through the article, I found myself identifying on a deeply personal level with the stories of the young Athiests in the article. Like many of them, I had attended church, however briefly and sporadically, in my youth. Like them, the superficial lessons of childhood didn’t transition well into my teen and young adult years and by the time I was in my early 20’s, I was adamantly opposed to religion, church attendance, and being evangelized – so much so that I even was skeptical and resistant to the most earnest and sincere of secular marketing and networking efforts and attempts. I turned into a modern, female version of Frank Sinatra, determined to do it and have things, “My Way.”
The thing that I came to understand and believe about myself, very early on, was that I wasn’t enough. Despite my intelligence, my ambition, and the potential that I thought I had, which others seemed to also see, I wasn’t enough. Or, to be more accurate, I was too much. I was too overwhelmed with an inability to handle my own thoughts, emotions, and physiological responses to stress, obstacles, other people’s stuff, and the consequences of my own wrong choices. No matter how hard I danced, regardless of how much information and knowledge I accumulated, in spite of learning correct and appropriate behavior, I just continued making one wrong choice after another, for all the right, and wrong, reasons, digging myself ever and ever deeper into depression, despair, isolation, and dysfunction.
Religious platitudes only alienated me and triggered shame, anger, and denial. Spiritual and Secular attitudes of judgment and superiority just put me on the defensive and caused me to isolate, withdraw, and keep moving in search of compassion instead of pity, guidance instead of rules, acceptance instead of criticism, validation instead of being constantly questioned and told how misguided, mistaken, and misaligned I was.
Somehow, somewhere, in the midst of it all, the childhood refrain that “Jesus loves me,” and that:
Jesus calls the children dear,
“Come to me and never fear,
For I love the little children of the world;
I will take you by the hand,
Lead you to the better land,
For I love the little children of the world.”
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
reached through all the chaos, conflict, confusion, and pain inside of me and outside to keep me coming back, like a stray cat needing care but too sketchy to trust touch, time after time.
Last weekend, Marc taught on the book of Ephesians and what “church” means. Check it out on YouTube. As I was sitting there and listening to what he was saying, I was reminded that someone once taught that the early Christian church of believers didn’t have an understanding or belief in what we now accept as part and parcel of Christianity – the eternal afterlife of heaven and hell. I could be wrong, but I personally believe more in the Eastern Orthodox take on it, “The Eastern Orthodox church teaches that heaven and hell are being in God’s presencewhich is being with God and seeing God, and that there no such place as where God is not, nor is hell taught in the East as separation from God. One expression of the Eastern teaching is that hell and heaven are being in God’s presence, as this presence is punishment and paradise depending on the person’s spiritual state in that presence. For one who hates God, to be in the presence of God eternally would be the gravest suffering..”
This belief, my own life experiences, and the teaching from Marc, leads me to believe that walking out my belief in God and Jesus, means that each moment, of each day, I do my best to operate out of the knowledge and belief in grace, love, compassion, empathy, hope, grace, mercy, and forgiveness in spite of, and sometimes even because of, things that are painful, hurtful, heinous, unjust, criminal, and devastating. Especially in response to those whose words, actions, thoughts, and beliefs drive those things. I have been such a person and if I have received all those things, I must do my very best to offer the gifts I have received.
Offering prayer is nice, but being present, engaged, invested, and even sacrificing personal comfort and desire for the sake of another’s need speaks louder than me chosing to debate whether someone else’s beliefs are right or wrong as compared to my own.
- Confession of Cyril Lucaris: Patriarch of Constantinople (1629) (gospelfororthodox.wordpress.com)
- Another conversation with an athiest (4simpsons.wordpress.com)
- Belief and Heaven (chuckinterview.wordpress.com)
- Why the Apostle’s Creed isn’t Enough (theologicalarsenal.wordpress.com)
- The Religiously Confused Teen by Geof McNiel II (thewwfwwev2.wordpress.com)
- A King and a Kingdom (christianoramerican.wordpress.com)
- On what basis? (bennasmith.wordpress.com)
- Preaching the gospel with words (andrewkentjohnston.wordpress.com)