To give you a window into my sick mind I want to tell you what I originally titled this post:
Christian agnosticism and dialectic faith.
I geek out on phrases like that. But my wife (rightfully) either cusses at me or makes fart noises like they do to Ted on How I Met Your Mother when I use words like that. So here’s why I even share it:
I share this because that phrase actually helps me make sense of my faith. It is a succinct description of how I view my faith.
But it may not be helpful for you at all. The same is true for the rest of this post. I am going to talk about how I view faith (like the other guys have done this week as well). Hopefully these posts are helpful for some. For others it might not be. And that is ok. I have several people I picture as I type this whose faith does not work like what I am about to describe at all. That is ok. Faith is a living, breathing, dynamic, beautiful thing which means it looks different and is unique to each person.
But when we share our stories of faith, we help each other better understand the nature of the constantly moving thing we wrestle with daily. So here, I share mine. And let me unpack my nerdy statement.
Like Allen, my faith is a constant struggle. And like Phil (which if you haven’t read his post and the comments, stop everything you are doing and do that now), I have often encountered really tough issues and questions which affect how I view God, the Bible, and my faith. Which is why I chose these two particular words: “agnosticism” and “dialectic.”
Agnosticism typically gets a bad wrap because we have tied it in somehow with people who do not like God, and these are the people who all die and are stupid in Christian movies.
But agnosticism is simply “not knowing.” A true agnostic does not necessarily deny God, but is just not sure.
Dialectic is not a word we use in everyday language much but I find it to be really helpful. It is technically defined as the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions. But this doesn’t represent the beauty of the word.
Dialectic is about the search for truth. But it is the search for truth through discussion and disagreement. Two ideas which are contradictory come into contact, which creates a conflict or crisis. This now creates a search for truth which takes both contradictory opinions into consideration. And what typically happens is something new comes out of the process. Dialectics get us out of black and white thinking and finds the truth in third ways.
So using these ideas, I define my journey of faith as Christianly agnostic, and dialectical.
The word Christian starts the phrase because I try to root everything in Jesus. The agnostic/dialectical part means I am willing to let a lot of things go, but I hold on to Jesus as tight as I can.
I wrestle with Jesus. I try to understand Jesus better, but I place trust in Jesus as the ultimate revelation of who God is and who human beings are meant to be.
But even then, I have had moments where I have given up on Jesus too.
Faith is hard. Faith is a constant struggle to try to pursue what is true and real.
But I have found that when I have doubts and questions and struggles, in the end, they reinforce my trust. In other words, when I let contradictory opinions interact and disagree, I find new expression of truth (dialectic – insert fart noise, I’ll stop using the word now).
Contradictions, struggles, and doubts are not to be avoided. They are actually what bring more adequate understandings truth. As a matter of fact, they are what help us understand and experience truth in deeper and more meaningful ways.
I am interested in truth. And the more struggles and disagreements with the way I view the world come my way, the more I actually realize the truth of Jesus. Every time I have tested (willingly or not) to see if all this Christian stuff really works in real life and in difficult moments, I have continually found Jesus to be true.
Sometimes that happened quickly.But most times it was only after coming through a tremendously difficult period. But it keeps happening.
And every time Jesus is true in real life, I trust him a bit more.
That trust then leads me to new areas of faith. When Jesus turns out to be true in the most difficult and confusing moments, I have a greater capacity for trust. I am more willing to listen and take risks even when what Jesus says doesn’t connect with my experience.
For example, I may not want to love my enemies. But Jesus says I should. And since I trust him, I can take a step out in faith and attempt to love my enemies because Jesus said so, not because it makes sense.
But I am only willing to take Jesus word for it because of the struggle and doubts I have experienced in the past.
Trust actually gives me room to doubt.
Trust is not about having a reasonable explanation for everything, so trust allows me to hold what I think I know loosely. In other words, I have to realize that most of the time I just don’t know (agnostic!).
But trust is a commitment to a person. It is moving forward even when it is tough or doesn’t make sense.
So I have to keep wrestling and doubting if I want to truly trust God. For me, the only way I can truly trust God is to believe that God is good and working good in the world. So any sort of belief or theology that keeps me from thinking that God is good I have to call into question.
Which is why I have struggles with the Bible and theology and all of those other things we American Christians wrestle with. I’m trying to reconcile a good God who loves us with my experiences, the news, my doubts, my questions, and all of the bad theology I have picked up along the way.
So I wrestle and I struggle. And to me, that’s faith.
I don’t ever really get to satisfying places. Often when I do, they get broken down later. Which can be infuriating. And a willingness to question things makes people uncomfortable.
But I keep going because I trust. Trust moves forward. And every step I take, I fall in love with Jesus just a little bit more.