I have put off writing this post for a long time. I was afraid it might cause some of the religious people in my life to shout, “ADAM WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU HAVE MORE FAITH,” and some of my nonreligious friends to shout, “LET IT GO ADAM BE ENLIGHTENED,” and shouting stresses me out.
That said, this post is an extremely personal one, and I’ll be grateful for sensitivity in the comments. Advice or criticism, however gentle or well-intentioned, probably won’t help today. I’m not asking for any of that.
I’m just telling a story.
I considered leaving my faith last year. I didn’t actually leave it, in case you were wondering. For better or worse, Adam Stück remains a follower of Jesus Christ.
The year 2015 was, all things considered, a memorable one. I quit my old job, started a new one, went on an unexpected adventure, switched job positions, lost a dear friend, grew a scruffy jaw-beard, and got a cat. As I blogged about the turbulent changes of 2015, there was one I didn’t mention.
I have long wrestled with doubts about the existence of God. Of all the posts on this blog, probably the most important to me is the one in which I discussed my uncertain faith. “If I’m a fool,” I wrote long ago, “at least I have the consolation of being God’s fool.”
I’ve been a dedicated Christian since 2004, when I began taking Christ seriously. Faith was effortless in high school, and even college (despite my Thursday Afternoon of the Soul and other rough patches) didn’t dampen my devotion to God. I was convinced he had a plan for my life, and I was following it, and everything would work out if I kept the faith and worked hard.
Then, around the time I started this blog, I realized I didn’t want to follow the career I had studied in college. I panicked, uncertain of where to go next. My plans, which I had always assumed were really God’s plans, suddenly seemed mistaken.
Less than a year later, my most cherished writing project, a little book titled The Trials of Lance Eliot, crashed and burned. I had wondered before whether I had wasted three and a half years of college; now I asked myself whether I had wasted twice that time working on a failed novel.
My career plans had gone awry. My book plans had failed. I was stuck in a really bad job situation. However, I didn’t give up. I assumed my situation was some sort of spiritual desert: a test after which God would lead me to my “real” future. I clung to faith. I endured.
Then, when I finally left that lousy old job last year, I didn’t arrive at my long-sought promised land—I just reached another dead end. (Sure, it was a much nicer dead end, but just as dead.)
It made me question things.
Was there ever a bigger plan?
What if there never was?
Where is God?
Along with these questions came the all of the familiar ones with renewed urgency: Why does Scripture seem so inconsistent and self-contradictory? Why has Christ’s life been followed by two thousand years of empty silence? Why is the world so broken? Why do so many religious people seem hypocritical or out of touch?
As I set aside my long-held religious preconceptions, a naturalistic worldview began to seem more rational than a religious one. I asked myself, “If I give up faith in Christ, what happens?” Do I put in two weeks’ notice? Is there paperwork? Do I sing “Let It Go” on a snowy mountaintop somewhere, or what?
As I pondered who I would become without Christ, an ugly picture emerged: a bitter, self-centered geek wrapped in a cocoon of video games, television, and other anesthetics, reveling in theretofore forbidden pleasures like porn and alcoholism, grieving the death of his faith, and pursuing his own comfort and happiness at any cost.
I didn’t like that picture.
I don’t want to believe in Christianity because it’s convenient or well-intentioned. I want to believe in it because it’s true. Is it? I wish I knew. A lot of evidence supports it, but no conclusive proof. I hope Christianity is true. I choose to believe it is, and I’m trying to live my life according to that belief.
Whatever good I’ve done, I’ve done because of my Christian faith. Whatever good I’ve done, I’ve done for Christ. There’s something in that, even if my beliefs turn out to be mistaken. I would rather live for Christ, and die in hope, than live for myself, and die miserable.
I conclude with a scene from one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. (Spoilers, I guess?) In one of the books, the heroes are trapped deep underground with a beautiful witch. She enchants them into believing the world has no surface. There is no sky, she says, and no sun. There is no land called Narnia, and no king named Aslan. The only world is underground, the only lights are lamps, and the only ruler is the witch herself.
Everyone falls under the witch’s spell, except an old grump named Puddleglum, who has this to say:
One word, Ma’am. One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so.
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.
We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.
I’m less certain of my faith than ever before, but I’m going to stand by it. I’m on Christ’s side even if Christ doesn’t live to lead it. I’m going to live as a Christian even if Christianity isn’t true—and I believe it is.
Either way, for better or worse, I’ll stand by Jesus Christ.
You’ve given a beautiful voice to your unspoken struggles, my friend, and many of mine as well. Thanks for your courage. I’ve been strengthened by it many times. Struggle on, struggle well!
Thank you, O bearded one. I’m glad my experiences have been of some use to you.
Loving the realness, Adam. You inspire me to be a better Christian, whether this whole thing is one big Narnian fantasy or especially if it is.
You should know, Tom, that this post was inspired partly by your vulnerability in your book and blog. I admire your courage and honesty.
The darkest time of my life was my stint as an atheist, so I know your concerns very well. Years later I’m grateful for that time, though my future-knowledge sure doesn’t/didn’t do much good for my past self in that awful pit. I really think there’s some sort of Final Boss of sorts between leveling up spiritually. It seems to be a gauntlet all must go through to reach beyond previous limits. It’s a crappy gauntlet, but, at least for me, necessary. Can’t much speak for anyone else.
On my own journey, the shoddy god I had built on a foundation of sand had to be knocked down so I could look past it. So I could see the towering, infinite structure beyond, which was not of my own construction, but is more solid and true than anything I could have imagined myself. I had to let the “me” of it go so I could see beyond me.
Good luck on your journey. Let me know if you ever want to chat, I’m more than happy to. Not to convince you of anything in particular, but to simply be there. Whether Christianity is or is not, we’re all here together so we don’t have to do this life thing alone.
You’re always so kind, JK. Thank you.
Sorry to hear about your trials; glad to hear you’ve come through with your faith intact. Just found your blog again after losing it after a computer crash, mini-stroke, and prolonged health crisis during which I lost my job. I’m afraid that, like the lady in “A Wrinkle in Time,” I communicate things best in quotations. Here are a few that have helped me:
“Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”
–C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
As [Teresa of Avila] founded and visited convents, [she] often traveled the rugged roads of Spain. One time her saddle slipped, and she found herself head down under the belly of a donkey as she crossed a stream. Complaining to the Lord of her treatment, she heard him reply, “Teresa, whom the Lord loves, he chastises. This is how I treat all my friends.” She replied tartly, “No wonder you have so few!”
Good luck with your writing; consider how long it was until Tolkien published!
I’m so sorry to hear of your recent troubles, Bryan… it sounds like you’ve been through hell. I hope things look up for you very soon.
Thanks for the quotations. They were well chosen. 🙂
Adam, thank you for your transparency and bravery. I often return to that same thought, that I would rather be the me who believes in Christ than the me without him, since the me without him is a horrendous monster and destructive mess of a person. And I think that there is a special place for the sceptical curmudgeon.
In another C.S. Lewis book, That Hideous Strength, there is yet another sceptical curmudgeon named Mr. MacPhee. Ransom says “MacPhee takes the line that if you hear things talked of, you will cary ideas of them into your sleep and that will destroy the evidential value of your dreams. And it’s not very easy to refute him. He is our sceptic; a very important office.”…”I want you to like him if you can. He’s one of my oldest friends. And he’ll be about our best man if we’re going to be defeated. You couldn’t have a better man at your side in a losing battle. What he’ll do if we win, I can’t image.”
I think about those words a lot. Sceptics often stay with the truth out of loyalty which is fine in the end if it is all for not. Loyalty is admirable. But if all of this is true, how much more for a sceptic to still follow truth through the scepticism. There is something really important and special about that. You, sir, hold a very important office, and if (SINCE) Christ is truth, what He will do with you in that truth, I can’t image. I think, possibly, my imagination is not big enough to dream up what plans are ahead of you.
I remember MacPhee. The last time I read the book, around six years ago, I regarded him a little warily. I now have more in common with him, and it’s an odd feeling.
I’m touched by your kind words, Maia. Thank you.
I happened to visit your blog today and was glad to read this latest post. It’s true that we are only acquaintances as of now, but I do feel for you in your spiritual challenges. I think I speak for many when I say that Adam, we believe in you!
Your story reminded me of what I heard once about a young mother who also had a choice whether to stick with her faith in a time of questioning. So I looked up the talk where the story is told in full, and here is the section that seems somewhat relevant.
“In spite of her substantial support system, she became less active. She said, “I did not separate myself from the Church because of bad behavior, spiritual apathy, looking for an excuse not to live the commandments, or searching for an easy out. I felt I needed the answer to the question ‘What do I really believe?’”
About this time she read a book of the writings of Mother Teresa, who had shared similar feelings. In a 1953 letter, Mother Teresa wrote: “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself—for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.’ Ask Our Lord to give me courage.”
Archbishop Périer responded: “God guides you, dear Mother; you are not so much in the dark as you think. The path to be followed may not always be clear at once. Pray for light; do not decide too quickly, listen to what others have to say, consider their reasons. You will always find something to help you. … Guided by faith, by prayer, and by reason with a right intention, you have enough.”
My friend thought if Mother Teresa could live her religion without all the answers and without a feeling of clarity in all things, maybe she could too. She could take one simple step forward in faith—and then another. She could focus on the truths she did believe and let those truths fill her mind and heart.”
(The rest of the talk probably has more of an LDS emphasis and vocab use, but if you happen to want to hear the rest of the story, it’s called “Returning to Faith,” at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/returning-to-faith?lang=eng .)
It is certainly encouraging to consider Mother Teresa’s example, realizing how much she struggled, and to remember how much good she accomplished!
”A lot of evidence supports it, but no conclusive proof. I hope Christianity is true. I choose to believe it is, and I’m trying to live my life according to that belief.”
I think that what you are talking about is,in a way,similar to certain ”mechanics” present in an argument called Pascal’s Wager.
Now,before I continue,I’m aware of the fact Pascal’s Wager sounds like it gives a reason to believe based on fear.
But I don’t think it does that.
I’ve read on another blog about what Pascal’s Wager truly is,and I think I might help you by telling you about it as I have read it.
Now,Pascal’s Wager is not about believing in God because of fear.
Pascal’s Wager comes into play after a person has looked at the evidence and then starts considering the question ”What if I’m wrong though?”
The Wager is not meant to give us intellectual certainty,nor is it supposed to be an argument that can be ”valid” or ”invalid”.
It is supposed to tell us whether or not a choice is wise.And the Wager shows that it is wiser to ”wage” on Christianity than on atheism.
Keep in mind that the Wager is supposed to be used after someone considers the evidence,which I think might be your case.
You admit there is evidence,but you are having doubts because you do not have conclusive proof to give you intellectual certainty .
And the Wager is a response to the question ”What if I’m wrong?”
So your choice to continue believing in Christianity might be,in a way,an acceptance of Pascal’s Wager and a wager on Christianity rather than atheism.
And if I may say it as a necessary consequence of the Wager,you have therefore made the wiser choice of the two:Christianity or Atheism.
I’m familiar with the argument of Pascal’s Wager; it was one of the things that convinced me to hold on to my faith. A worst-case scenario for Christianity, God not existing, is basically the best-case scenario for atheism. In that light, Christianity is indeed the sensible choice.
Another thing I wish to add here is that,if you want to,you could do some more research and uncover more evidence for Christianity.
There is a certain field out there called apologetics,which deals with intellectual doubts and some authors even try to answer emotional doubts.
I think that you should try to research that topic if you would like to strengthen your faith.