Another Letter to Max Doubt
Max, I forgot to warn you – you are not just looking at stuff, you are embarking on an experiment in which you are a part.
You can survey the zones of evidence for faith. One or another zone will grab you and some of it will not. Your neighbour will be different. But please take it all in, if you possibly can, for someone else’s sake. It will help those of us who might believe but just don’t quite. It will help those of us who yearn to introduce others to Christ. It may be a good challenge to atheists and agnostics and the apathetic majority. These letters will not go into all of it in detail. It may stimulate further reading.
BUT FIRST I need to pause first and remember what actually leads a person to believe?
First, persons need to have no large obvious reasons why NOT to consider this as a serious option. Due to anti-Christian propaganda in the public media and opposing cultural values, people don’t give it a second thought. The bird has flown before the seed has hit the ground.
In Islamic countries, for instance, it is repeatedly stated that Christians worship three gods, when in fact we worship only one God. In Western countries, it is often said that Christians believe in a 7 day complete creation, condemn all other views to Hell, and look for spooky spiritual explanations where natural ones will do. That is not our belief. Yet these commonly repeated ideas stop many from even pausing to consider. So we need public dialogue and respectful debate, but that dialogue does not of itself make a person believe. These letters, Max, tries to make a change to that environment, to make a conversation possible.
Second, a person needs friendship, not as a manipulative device, but because we are all human and cannot understand each other outside of relationship.
Thirdly, a person needs their major issues answered personally. The big four are: Why is there no proof, why is there so much suffering, why are Christians so hypocritical, why is discipleship so costly to Jesus and to us? Preaching and books don’t cut it. A Christian must equip themselves for a meaningful personal conversation on any or all of these four issues. I have merely started.
Fourthly, though it may have already occurred in this sequence, the Spirit of God must touch them. A wondrous sense of his beauty in nature, a strong compulsion to find God, a deep echo of mystery basso profundo in a song or painting, the ring of truth in a conversation, a miracle of healing or a dream in the darkness – anything will do – they are all direct nudges from the Holy Spirit. It turns a thought into an experience. Or vice versa, there is no set sequence, and not everyone has go through everything.
These four things may, at best, make a person believeTHAT God exists (the devil believes that too), but still not believeIN Jesus. As I said already, you are not just observing your investigations, you are IN an experiment. The next step makes all the world of difference.
Belief IN Jesus comes when a person chooses to speak a beginning, to decide to love Jesus, to decide to make him the motivation and model of their identity, to act in his way and in his name. God then grafts them into the Holy Spirit, as permanent resident – or to put more individually, sends the Holy Spirit into them, as permanent president. And Jesus says: “none shall pluck them out of my hand” though many of us wriggle a lot. Simply put, as distinct from ‘believe in’, people who ‘believe that’ are easily swayed politically and intellectually, usually a received faith that is held because of tradition and not because of any understanding. These are those who are easily manipulated politically. But the rationalists have the same problem. Modern rationality is essentially focussed on power and philosophically self-centred. But people who ‘believe in’ have had an experience that makes them ‘not at the mercy of an argument’.
NOTE: I am not here to argue Creationism nor Intelligent Design. I am not here to support Deism (the clockmaker) or Pantheism (Everything is God and God is everything). I am here for Theism (or its variant Panentheism). That is, a personal intelligent spirit who lives beyond but in communion with the material world and who can not be fully described or circumscribed.