Explore your doubts, but do so in peace

iStock 000007015213XSmall Explore your doubts, but do so in peaceI hear from a lot of people who fear they’re losing their faith. They’ve had some doubts come to mind that they just can’t seem to get past, and they’re rattled to the core to think that their entire belief system just might be false.

Since I’ve spent so much time in the spiritual desert, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve spent a long time thinking and praying about how to respond to people in this difficult situation, and thought I would share my answer, which has two key parts, in case it’s helpful to anyone else.

Explore your doubts…

The first part of my answer is simply to say: be not afraid. Doubts aren’t a bad thing; they’re a sign of a questioning mind. That’s good. My entire conversion from lifelong atheism to Catholic Christianity was paved by asking every difficult question I could think of, and I’ve heard a lot of conversion stories very similar to my own. I also know a lot of people whose faith grew by leaps and bounds when they began seeking answers to what were originally disturbing doubts.

So look at it is an exciting intellectual quest, and get ready to go seek some answers!

But before you start, there’s something you should keep in mind about this process:

…But do so in peace

I’m no psychologist, but I’ve been through a lot of spiritual ups and downs, and I’ve corresponded with countless people who have navigated through intense periods of extreme doubt. And what I’ve learned from all of this is that the search for truth is not as simple as it seems — especially when it comes to the truth about God.

God is love, love itself, so keep in mind that a quest to find the truth about God is a quest to find the truth about Love. And it doesn’t take much life experience to know that the way we approach love can be easily tainted by bad experiences and woundedness. An example I often think of is someone who has a hard time forming healthy, loving relationships because of unresolved hurts from his past: he can’t see the truth about current, potentially positive relationships because his view is clouded by all the lingering negativity. He can’t see the truth about love. Similarly, when we’re looking for the truth about Love itself, it’s as much an emotional quest as it is an intellectual quest, and it’s easy for emotions to throw us far off course.

I think of all the various forces that can cloud our quest for truth like a fog descending on a traveler: you can see bits of the road here and there, but can’t quite get the big picture. It commonly descends in the form of unresolved feelings of hurt, especially if someone feels like he or she has been harmed by:

  • family members
  • parents
  • fellow Christians
  • the Church as a whole
  • God himself (e.g. feeling like critical prayers weren’t answered)

Our relationships with all of these entities are sacred, and should be should be sources of pure love. So any festering hurts in those departments are going to be particularly virulent sources of that “fog” that can obscure the truth.

And then, of course, there’s our own sin. I know that in my own life and the lives of people I’ve talked to about this, some common sins that can turn honest doubts into a dangerous road away from God are:

  • Pride – e.g. associating lack of faith with the intelligentsia, therefore thinking you’re more sophisticated and erudite if you don’t believe; feeling like your life is 100% under your control and therefore God is irrelevant to you; refusing to see evidence for God if it doesn’t look like you would expect it to; etc.
  • Laziness - e.g. feeling lured by the idea of having free time on Sunday mornings; not wanting to sacrifice yourself for others; etc.
  • Desire for revenge – e.g. enjoying the idea that it would hurt family / community / church members who have harmed you if you announced that you were no longer a Christian.
  • Greed / Vanity: e.g. becoming wrapped up in the glamor of the pursuit of money, status, career advancement, etc. and feeling like the Christian faith is bogging you down.

…And so on. Now, again, rarely do we articulate these things to ourselves. At no point in my own conversion did I say to myself, “I think I’ll bias my research toward atheism because it’ll make me look smarter! And, plus, I’m lazy!” Yet, on a subconscious level, that is exactly what happened. Without doing a regular, serious examination of conscience in a spirit of humility, I never even realized that those forces were at work within me.

It’s all about the big picture

To give you an example of one very small way these sort of forces played out in my own life, I’ll tell you about a day a few months ago when I was at Mass:

I’d been sitting there thinking about the Ascension, and how odd the specifics of the event seem to me. Admittedly, it’s one of the harder Christian stories for me to grasp. Jesus floated up into the air? Behind a cloud? When I first read the New Testament I was amazed by how honest and authentic it all seemed. But when I got to Acts 1:9 I thought, “Umm. Seriously?”

So anyway, that morning at Mass turned out to be one of those survival days. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, including encountering a man who was shockingly rude to me. By the time I had to haul a screaming toddler outside into cold drizzle, let’s just say I was not fully at peace. I felt so weighed down with frustration, so exasperated that something as simple as going to Mass should be so difficult, and so indignant that a fellow parishioner would be so rude in the sanctuary during the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

I paced around outside, fuming so much I thought the rain might turn into steam when it hit me. And then it occurred to me: this would be the perfect time to take another look at the Ascension!

“That really DOES seem kind of fantastical!” I grumbled. My mind quickly trotted out some of the old, comfortable atheist arguments about how that kind of story was rooted in ancient people’s ignorance about meteorology, when they thought that heaven literally existed in the clouds, and that it was ultimately a retelling of Greek traditions about Zeus, the God of the Sky.

And there was more! Now, I was on a roll. I did the same analysis for the few other doctrines I had questions about, and by the time the Mass was over I had worked myself into a tizzy in which I had pretty much convinced myself that the entire Faith was false.

But here’s the thing: I had thought of all these questions plenty of other times, when I was in a peaceful state. I had taken the time to do my homework and seek — and actually listen to – the Christian explanations of these teachings, and I found them to be solid. Not only that, but I was able to see the big picture: the overall evidence had convinced me that this belief system is reasonable and true. There were no fatal flaws that I could find. Sure, there were a few things that struck me as odd, like the specific details of how Jesus returned to heaven, but, in a peaceful state of mind, I could recognize that this was not a linchpin on which the Faith hinged — plus, I could see that maybe I was just missing something.

But in my burdened, unsettled state of mind, I was drawn to fixate on details. I just couldn’t pull my head up far enough to see the big picture. I’d fallen down a rabbit role, and I started running.

Now, this situation wasn’t that big of a deal. I ended up feeling fine after we got home, and all my angst about faith dissipated as well. But it’s a small example of what can happen at a larger level in anyone’s spiritual life.

In summary, if you’re plagued with doubts, my heart sincerely goes out to you. I’ve been there, and I know it’s painful. The very short version of my advice would be: explore your doubts, but do so in peace. And never forget the the search for God, i.e. for Love, is inextricably entwined with our spiritual and emotional states. Any kind of unresolved stress in those departments can cloud our vision and keep us from seeing the big picture, and therefore the truth.

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52 Responses to “Explore your doubts, but do so in peace”
  1. Liesl says:

    Wow, great post. I think we all can relate.

    I think one of the greatest things I’ve discovered as I learn more about the faith that God likes us to ask questions – so sometimes doubts can be OK because they lead to questions, which hopefully leads to a better understanding and deeper faith.

  2. Leslie says:

    Thanks for this post, Jennifer. You hit so many nails on the head.

  3. Jaimie says:

    This post is full of win. Thanks, Jennifer, for keeping things grounded.
    Jaimie recently posted..Elevator pitches

  4. Erin says:

    Wonderful post and some great points.

    I recently have tackled some doubts of faith and it resulted in exactly the same experience as Liesl mentioned.

    Last April I was checking my Yahoo email and saw a Yahoo article regarding the sexual abuse scandal in the church. I have no idea what made me click (yes, I do, the grace of God), but I did. I was appalled by the hatred and lack of knowledge about the Catholic Church and it’s teachings. I stayed for 4 months defending the faith against mainly intellectual atheists and catholic-hating protestants (I want to say that I don’t believe all protestants hate Catholics, but these sure did.)

    I would sit at my computer late into the night armed with my Catechism and anything else I could find that would address the topics being “discussed” (Mary, the Rosary, ordination of women, married priests, Eucharist, the pope, the existence of God,etc. etc.)

    Of course I was learning more about my faith that I had in a long time, but the longer I stayed on there (it was most definitely a toxic environment for a true Christian, especially a Catholic), the more I started to question that very faith I was defending. Some of their arguments were starting to make sense to me and I was starting to have doubts about my faith. What if THEIR reality of the world were true. Intellectuals aren’t called intellectuals for nothing, they really are brilliant. I finally had to stop going to the site because it was really effecting my peace and I needed to reconnect with God.

    Funny thing happened. Once I got off, Jesus started putting things in front of me that reconfirmed my faith over and over and over. My faith is most definitely much strong now after having been through those 4 months. And in my advent preparation, I felt like Jesus was telling me to pray for more faith and hope this year. I have experienced tremendous graces since Christmas which have profoundly increased my faith.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think that when someone is experiencing a “crisis of faith” it is more than likely God’s way of bringing that soul into a deeper level of faith. We just have to make sure that we don’t let go of God’s hand and fall into the abyss that is the world.

    God Bless!!!
    Erin recently posted..Purity of Heart

  5. Dawn says:

    I think part of the difficulty of being a practicing Catholic and having doubts is that you feel an enormous pressure to be a witness to the world, so you’re not supposed to have doubts. I went through an excruciating spiritual desert when my son died a few years ago, but I found myself spouting platitudes because I was afraid it wouldn’t do for a “good Catholic” like me to say she was struggling with her faith. I’ve encountered this numerous times among other practicing Catholics, too, who are going through the most agonizing suffering but through clenched teeth and tears will tell you that “Everything’s wonderful! The Lord be praised!” Another woman told me she had wrestled with whether Catholicism were true in college, but when I later mentioned her “spiritual crisis,” she said to me, “Oh, it wasn’t a crisis. I was just deciding between whether to be an atheist or a Catholic.” It was like it would have killed her to admit she had serious doubts. I don’t think this helps any of us. Doubts and struggles are an inevitable part of the spiritual life and we need to be able to share our difficulties with each other without feeling as if we will be viewed as weak, less holy, or less faithful to God.

  6. Great post! It reminds me of the advice- never grocery shop while you are hungry- so it follows, don’t think Theology when the baby threw up on you during Church and a parishioner snarled at you! :)

  7. Nina says:

    This post has needed to be written. I know many souls are hungering to hear compassionate but *strong* words, rooted in absolute truth. And ALL of us constantly need to be reminded—albeit, gently and lovingly—-how often personal sin that we are refusing to confront in our “secret hearts” is clouding our vision and affecting our ambivalence or complacency. It is hard to do! I am not surprised that you chose to accept the mission/ hear the call of God, Jen, and write this perceptive and sensitive “exhortation”.

    “Behold, you desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart…Restore to me the JOY OF YOUR SALVATION, and uphold me with a WILLING SPIRIT…..The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51—my caps ;))

    Thanks for the reminder! Give me the grace, O Lord, to confront and root out what is holding me back from You……!

  8. Young Mom says:

    My efforts to find “God ie Love” always seem to lead me away from the church. Christianity is just full of judgmental angry people who are out to tell other “what God wants” from them. I have reasons that pull me to the church, but looking for examples of love is not one of them.
    Young Mom recently posted..Quick Takes 32- Sick Babies- Book Reviews- and a Pregnant Belly

  9. Dawn Farias says:

    I do that all the time, too!

    Thank you for this post.

  10. Erin says:

    OH Young Mom,

    Don’t put your faith in humans. Our Human love is flawed. Even the best people are sinners. WE all are. The judgemental, unkind things you experience from people are the result of deep wounds that they haven’t opened up to Jesus. They need our prayer.

    Put your faith in Jesus Christ who loves you more than any human ever could. His love is real. His love is true. His love will never let you down. Only Jesus can save our eternal souls. The humans we meet along our journey to heaven can only assist us (or hinder) us on that journey, but the journey is ultimately a journey of two: us and Jesus.

    I have met people who allow Jesus to shine right through them and just knowing them brings me closer to Jesus, but if they turn around and hurt me the next day, I go to Jesus and He tells met, they are only human. They are wounded souls. That’s why we need a Savior.

    Seek Jesus with an open heart. You will NEVER regret that. Go to church with ONLY the expectation of “Jesus, what do you have to say to me today?”

    God Bless you, Young Mom, You are a beautiful child of God and it would leave a gaping hole in His heart if you left Him.

    • Nina says:

      YES! And how I recommend the book “God Alone Suffices” by Stawomir Biela wich lays out so simply and beautifully one of the gems of Catholic spirituality: that God, will teach us, in different ways, that we can not rely on anything but Him, ultimately. He will remove our reliances, that reliances are “a mirage”, that God wants us to depend only on Him, and it is a process in our sanctification and means of drawing us closer to Him that he teach us this. It can seem painful in the beginning until we start recognizing it for what it is. And understanding that it is LOVE that purifies us, and prunes and purges us, and that we are grafted into Christ, that difficulties become our help, because we are pushed into the arms of Christ. It is so much more beautiful and simple than how I am describing it, of course; I complicate everything…..;)

      Anyway, also: one of my most favorite books— Abandonment to Divine Providence by Fr. Caussade, reminds us so simply and beautifully how “all things work toward good” for those who are sincerely seekly God and trying to do His will, that it doesn’t have to be and SHOULDN’T be complicated to serve and love God. He doesn’t want us to struggle; He has tried to make it easy for us by giving us His Church and His very own presence in the Eucharist for strength in the daily battle. The spiritual life is not just for intellectuals; it’s really very simple and shouldn’t confuse us. We must see God in everything, in the present moment—everything is a grace. I highly recommend this book, as well.

      And lastly, I BELIEVE IN LOVE is a very good book, which weaves the spirituality of St. Therese into beautiful, uplifting reflections (they were actually conferences) on how much God thirsts for us, and how much Confidence we should have in Jesus.

      I have had an interesting life! :) I have had many many struggles, and still do—- and probably will for every day I breathe on this earth. I have doubted, and searched, and questioned, and yelled and screamed at God, and intellectually pursued every aspect. I have sought Him and I have burned for the Truth. I have fought against Him and kicked against His Will, and begged for Peace. In the end, with all of the contradictions, and all of the challenges of living this life, it has all come down to the reality of His Kingdom on earth and the secret treasure of His Real Presence, and that all is contained in the Catholic Faith. Ultimately nothing else….no other road….no other “state” or practice, brings true fulfillment, even if we don’t “feel it” for a while. We will have true peace and joy when we stop fighting His Will, and believe that there is a reason for EVERY suffering and every struggle that He has allowed us to go through. Nothing is in vain for a soul in a state of grace. Peace!

      • Erin says:

        My post ended up down there.

        Anyway, I forgot to mention that I am currently reading Father Jacques Phillippe. His books Interior Freedom and Searching for and Maintaining Peace have been compared to Abandonment to Divine Providence by Father Caussade, but are very short, easily read books.

        God Bless you!!
        Erin recently posted..Purity of Heart

  11. Lauren says:

    This is a very Saint Francis de Sales post!!!! I love how he’s shining through your writing!

    Excellent post with excellent points! Thank you!
    Lauren recently posted..Faith in Government Spending

  12. lethargic says:

    I’m reminded of the advice of some Catholic sage, whose boots I am not fit to polish, but whose name escapes me at the moment: we must be careful to distinguish between doubts and difficulties. Questions or lack of understanding are not necessarily doubting the faith … they may just be difficulties with knowledge or understanding. Don’t sell yourself short by immediately assuming you’re blacker than the devil in your doubts … you might just need some education, or perhaps a snack or a coffee or a nap … or a frank talk with a holy priest. God bless.

  13. Loki says:

    This is an excellent article, but it fails to address the concern of many atheists and those doubting, insofar as faith is the abrogation of reasoned thought and its connection to evidence in the natural world. Many people lose their faith because doctrines are self-contradictory, require mental gymnastics, and cause cognitive dissonance – a state which most minds will endeavor to resolve or avoid. The veracity of the claims of the christian church have yet to be validated by objective evidence, in short there is – for many people – no *reason* to believe. Personally I would very much enjoy it if there was someone looking out for me continually, but I cannot believe such a thing because what evidence I have been shown has been facile and transparently grasping at emotion rather than the prefrontal cortex. That calm you speak of sounds much like an unquestioning unskeptical mindset which is fine most of the time but is not a useful took in verifying the truth of a claim. I do hope you take this into consideration when writing another article about loss of faith, I would very much enjoy reading about how you deal with this issue. I was a bit taken aback that the only reasons you listed for loss of faith were entirely negative attributes, it seemed to me like a bit of confirmation bias was going on.

    Thanks for the read :)

    • Anonymous says:

      Loki,

      Allow me to offer my two cents — and thank you for your patience with us all.

      I suppose part of the question lies with what one will accept as “proof”: different objects take different KINDS of proof [sorry, I can’t emphasize except with large font. :) ] For example, I can’t prove that Julius Cesar existed IN THE SAME WAY that I prove that 1 + 1 = 2. But I can prove it.

      If I were riding an airplane, as long as I was sitting in the passenger seat, I would be unable to examine the engine — touch it, smell it, examine it’s workings. But I would be confident that it was really there, because I’d be flying through the sky. God is kind of like that: while we can’t directly touch and examine Him (He is immaterial; matter is of its very nature limited and subject to decay), we can examine His effects (one of which would be His revelation to us, but that is a question for another time). If there is a Creator, there would be evidence from His effects, just like we can know something about dinosaurs by an examination of the footprints that they have left in the mud millions of years ago.

      So, let’s examine the material world. Newton’s Law of Motion states that “an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion”. Science — astronomy, physics, etc. — has dated the beginning of the universe to about 14.5 Billion years ago (unless there is currently a new estimate). A material object (a planet, say) cannot change itself; if it changes, something ELSE must have changed it. We know, we can prove by an examination of the physical world around us, that the universe went from not-existing to existing, began to expand, and then unfolded itself like the blooming of a wonderfully exotic flower.

      [One] definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over again and expect different results. The scientific equivalent is to say: (a) matter is unable to cause itself (b) this matter is caused (c) let me throw in older, more matter – more of the same thing – to explain this. It doesn’t work. There must be a DIFFERENT-KIND-OF-THING or the material world would not exist. The kinds of things we know (material) need a cause. A DIFFERENT-KIND-OF-THING that isn’t bound by the limitations of matter, and yet is able to provide for the goodness and grandeur of material things.

      This Different-Kind-of-Thing, Loki, we call God.

      I would be more than happy to discuss this further, if you so desire. I don’t claim to know or be able to answer everything, but feel free to ask me, or anyone else if you want. However, this might not be the best forum for that…if we can figure out a different way to communicate, say e-mail, I’d be happy to do so. If not, or till then, God bless you!

  14. Very well put, Jen! I think all of us must sometimes have doubts such as you mention go through our heads. It’s important not to be horrified at ourselves and just scurry past them. I try to remember that feelings are very changeable and cannot be controlled, but my faith does not depend on feelings, but rather a choice. I choose to love God, who loved me first.
    Judy @ Learning To Let Go recently posted..Challenge to Service – Week 3

  15. Erin says:

    I want to give you an AMEN, Nina!!!!

    I especially like your last paragraph. It appears you and I have lived parallel lives.

  16. Erin says:

    Loki,

    There are those in that have proven certain different aspects of Christian claims with scientific proof, but that proof is “reasoned” away by most in the scientific world. I am thinking in particularly of the man here at Texas A & M who used Astronomy computer program that had already been designed by another scientist to prove that there was a supernatural astrological phenomenon going on right around the time of Jesus birth. It is a phenomenal documentary.

    Anyway, my point is that some things actually can be proven, but hardened hearts will never see. The thing about faith is that you can’t really approach it from an intellectual perspective. I know that Jen did that, but her heart had to be open, even a little. And there, undoubtedly was someone praying for her. We, souls created by God, are always trying to put God and His ways into the box we call our human brain, working at only 20% capacity for those with the highest IQ’s. It can’t be done.

    Faith can’t be proven, it is experienced. When you seek God with your heart, HE proves to you that He exists. That’s His job, not ours. That experience is initially, in most cases, a heart experience. Your brain will soon follow as you start to see Him in EVERYTHING and HE begins to teach you His truths and before you know it, you have given Him everything because He first gave it to you. And that’s where you will experience the peace and joy that surpass understanding. Your struggle won’t go away and the world won’t magically change around you, but He can transform your HEART and make you a new creation. I know this happens because it has happened to me and I have seen it happen to others countless times. There countless stories and books written to attest this happens. Most of us on the blog, although our stories are different, can attest to an experience when we KNEW we encountered GOD and our lives have never been the same since.

    I invite you to seek God with all your (open) Heart. You will NOT be disappointed.

    I just want to add one more Scientific study I came across once and I just remembered. Since the visionaries of Medjudorge (who claim to see the Blessed Virgin Mary) are living in the age of technology, they have had almost every modern test performed on them. One of these tests was one that tested brain activity. During their visions, their brains were recorded as using the full 100% capacity.

    May God Bless you, Loki on your journey. You are a beautiful child of God and He is just waiting for you to turn to Him so He can love you with a real and profound love.

    “You created us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until then rest in You” – St. Augustine
    Erin recently posted..Purity of Heart

    • Loki says:

      Your utilization of the fallacy of “we only use X percent of our brains” is indicative of level of scrutiny you apply to your own beliefs. In twenty seconds of search time I located two sources countering your claims, while you have provided no sources to your evidence, though I cringe to use the word in such context. (Here are the links: http://www.csicop.org/si/show/the_ten-percent_myth/ http://www.snopes.com/science/stats/10percent.asp ). I’d love to see any source or citations on the studies you’re citing so I can read them for myself. I hope you will understand that there is little reason for me to simply accept what you say as fact without verifying it myself.

      Furthermore, that an astrological phenomenon happened when jesus was purported to have been born is irrelevant if you understand the frequency with which stars go nova and become visible in the night sky – if indeed that was the phenomenon you reference as your explanation left me uncertain.

      I am a bit offended by the insinuation that I have a hardened heart. It would be wonderful if there was actually a benevolent hand in my life, but there is simply a vast body of evidence against it, and the people who say it exists can provide nothing but “open your heart” and “seek and you will find” type of empty platitudes. These are entirely insufficient for anyone reasonable to decide that a deity exists. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      I read your third paragraph as “Once you accept god, you’ll see god in everything, this proves god, also many other people have written about this”. I’m sensing a lot of circular logic here, though I understand that its a primarily emotional aspect. Emotions are not good tools to verify the world around us, they are easily swayed and notoriously capricious, and also delightfully enjoyable at times as well. I sought god a little bit when I was a small child being brought up in one of the myriad christian denominations, but ultimatly I learned to question everything and to utilize the tools of reason and evidence because they have provided the most reliable and substantial results for humanity and for myself.

      I have felt transcendent euphoria from a multitude of things, most of them tangible, all of them real. Contemplating the vastness of our universe, the manifold of time and space, and the love I have for my incredible girlfriend; also a fellow nurse. I love my fellow human beings and have dedicated my life to bettering their lives though the science of medicine and building real human relationships.

      My life is fulfilling, happy and on track to be awesome. In my first comment I explained how there is no good evidence to believe, this one has had less focus. I suppose I’ll end with a question, what exactly does it mean to “Open your heart” to your judeo-christian tradition? What are the mechanisms of how it works, what processes do I utilize, where do I learn such a technique and how was it originated?

      • Erin says:

        Loki,

        I am sorry if my comment about hardened hearts offended you. When I wrote it, I really wasn’t accusing you personally, but only generalizing those who choose not to be open to God. I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that I am not a reasonable person because I do choose to open my heart to God.

        Also, I’m sorry I didn’t provide cites for my claims. I didn’t have cites because these are just things I read or saw. I found this information regarding these two things. Here is the link to a video of Dr. Steven McEveety speaking of his discovery of the star (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=venqYheEqic) and here is the other link (http://www.medjugorje.org/science3.htm).

        I simply threw those two out to say that there is some scientific information out there, but it will always be flawed for those who choose not to believe. You can no more prove that God doesn’t exist than I can prove that He does. Again, Faith is not proven, it is experienced. If you are unwilling to experience God, you will never understand..

        It sounds as if you are a wonderful person. Of course you are, you are a beautiful child of God. Even though you may not acknowledge it, you already experience God in many ways through the love you have for your girlfriend, your amazement at the universe, service and love for people through the science of medicine, and I’m sure the list goes on.

        What I meant by “open your heart” is to be open to the possibility that God exists. Make yourself vulnerable before God and ask HIM to prove Himself to you and then look for that question to be answered. He loves you so much that He’ll do just that.

        Loki, I guess the questions I have for you are, “Why do you need empirical evidence of God before you believe?” and “What are you afraid of?”

        May God Bless you abundantly, Loki
        Erin recently posted..Purity of Heart

        • marie says:

          @Erin, As a Catholic, I would like to respectfully differ from your comment that God’s existence can’t be proven one way or another.
          @Loki, Perhaps you would be interested in this angle.

          In brief (very brief!), the simple fact that observable things exist – proves that there is an unobservable God. The observable things of which this world consists require a Source, a cause of their existence.

          (That’s in Aristotle, if you want an attributable source for the idea :) (I know this extremely abridged is probably unconvincing in and of itself, but I hope it may pique your interest enough to seek out and carefully consider the full arguments) Read Aristotle. Slowly and carefully. And read Aquinas – particularly the Summa Contra Gentiles. I love those books! (SCG is 2 volumes))

          Admittedly, acknowledging God simply as the “Uncaused Cause” or “Source of Existence” in this way is a far cry from the personal, loving Father of Catholic belief, but it is a start – a very good start! – and it’s entirely based on reason, not faith.

          Once someone reasons to God’s existence, that paves the way for faith. The next step after that is to desire to know his nature. Even some of that can be known without recourse to faith. Aquinas has a great deal to say about that (God’s nature) in the Summa Contra Gentiles – and Aquinas is very good about explaining the difference between things held by faith and things held by reason and when he’s claiming the one and when he’s claiming the other. Again, I highly recommend it!

          Once you have carefully pondered what we can know of God’s nature by reason, you may find yourself desirous of considering the claims of faith.

          Another thing, you can always pray even if when you aren’t sure yet whether God exists. It doesn’t hurt – no one else has to know. :) It’s a matter of your heart alone. Think of it this way – if he’s there, he’ll hear you and if he’s not you haven’t lost anything.

          Just say something (internally) from time to time like, “I’m not sure if you are there, but if you are, please help me to know you.”

        • Loki says:

          No worries, your post wasn’t offensive just confusing in some areas and counter to what I value in others. I very much enjoy dialog with believers as it gives me a greater understanding of a perspective that I do not hold. I love knowledge of all types.

          When you say that in order to open my heart to god I have to ask him (or her, or it) to prove himself to me, that presupposes a god in the first place. An analogy for you would be like asking vishnu or the flying spaghetti monster to reveal their presence in your life, something that seems foreign and nonproductive for those of us that don’t believe in the existence in the first place. What I do instead is look at the world around me for evidence of things, and learn from experts in the field. Our natural world is a complex place, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t all ultimately make sense even if I or scientists and philosophers cannot understand it *yet*.

          I need empirical evidence for anything I believe, otherwise it’s just a hypothesis or guess to me and won’t have any bearing on my decisions or life. I don’t live my life thinking that Russell’s Teapot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_teapot) exists or praying to it to reveal its presence. I evaluate all the available evidence and synthesize it into a tentative or solid conclusion, always attempting to factor in my own predispositions or wants. The evidence always supersedes my desires for reality. I prefer uncomfortable truths over not knowing at all.

          When I was a young kid I opened my heart to yahweh and looked for his presence in my life. I found a few things but ultimately when I looked closer I saw that naturalistic and nontheistic explanations could account for these events and phenomenon without the need to introduce a god. In essence, he was ancillary to my understanding of the universe and provided no extra insight or understanding to my knowledge of my experience.

          Things I’m afraid of isn’t a particularly long list, I tend to be very averse to death because I love life so much – but the idea of death and not existing is not something that causes me any existential angst. I’m content with the eventuality that I will, in the future, no longer be and that my consciousness will end. I focus on doing good things in the here and now and being remembered positively by those I interacted with. Exactly why I’m a bit nervous about passing the NCLEX-RN test tomorrow, but fear for me is not a justification for praying to something that as far as I can tell does not actually exist. Instead I’ll be studying all day and preparing my body and mind for the exam, active behaviors that will increase my chances of passing.

          My final thought is that the burdeon of proof is on those who are making the claim about the world around us. I have no desire to disprove the particular Judeo-Christian god that you believe in; the burdeon of proof is upon the believers if they wish to convince the empirically minded. Believing yourself is fine, but in order to be accepted as a true objective fact about our universe, you need to show that it is real. I can’t disprove Yahweh, but at the same time you cannot disprove every god and pantheon worshiped by humans since our rise from our common ancestor with the apes. You cannot prove that there is not an invisible elephant in your room right now that is weightless, soundless, and can move through matter like a neutrino. It is an important distinction to make for my own position to state that I do not state that “I believe there is no god” because that would require me to prove why I believe that. My position is just “I don’t believe there is a god, but there could be and if evidence is provided that unequivocally supports this god hypothesis, I will be forced to accept its reality by virtue of its truth”.

          I’m really enjoying this conversation, by far it is one of the most relaxed and equal I have ever had with one who believes. I would very much enjoy it to continue either here or via e-mail if you so desire.

          • Paul from San Antonio says:

            Loki,
            Assuming your time stamp is accurate, you are up replying to blog posts at 2AM. I’m impressed.
            Being a nerd from way back (I have a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry) I have been exposed to the naturalist world view for most of my adult life. These are the problems I have with it…
            1. Bias: Some examples of world-views that have proved to be wrong are earth-centered universe, Soviet science headed by Lysenko (Trofim Lysenko set Russian science back years, wikipedia has a good article on him), and slavery. For this discussion, the assumption that nothing immaterial exists introduces a lot of bias into your world view. Conversely, the acceptance that it is possible for immaterial things to exist does no damage to your everyday life, but it opens your mind to the possibility of things yet to be discovered.
            2. Denial: If naturalists believe that survival of the fittest is true and that everything eventually boils down to a series of chemical reactions then love, free will and human dignity (among many other immaterial things) don’t exist. But our human experience is full of examples that say otherwise. You know that love does exist (Jennifer shares her revelation in an encounter with her infant son. Thank you Jennifer), free will does exist and human dignity does exist. A naturalist has to deny his or her own life experiences to these immaterial things.
            3. Poor tool use: The scientific method was developed to learn the truth of the physical world. Naturalists have gone a step further and said that the scientific method is the only way to truth. This is the wrong use for this tool. We do not use a screw driver to take off a bolt, nor do we use a gas chromatograph to determine the crystalline structure of an alloy. We shouldn’t use the scientific method as the only tool to view the world. The philosophers have developed many tools to analyze the immaterial (I won’t attempt to list them as I am very new to metaphysics). Consider using the philosopher’s tools and your own life experience to inspect reality.
            In my analysis of my Catholic faith, I have found it, in the very least, to be reasonable. But in reality I have found it to be much more than that. I have found a person, Jesus Himself. It has been a journey that I would not trade for anything. Does this mean that I never doubt the validity of my journey? No, quite often I find myself analyzing my life as I have been trained to do and I question my Catholic faith, even question the existence of God. But when I review my life and look at the evidence for the validity of the existence of God and the validity of my Catholic faith I have to be honest and say that they do exist.

            May God bless your search for the truth (another immaterial thing).

      • Loki, evidence for God will depend upon observer bias. It has to.

        God is good, and will not, Himself, do anything which will cause us harm. Our free will is good, and so a good God will not act to abridge it. Hints in your commentary suggest that you are very upset about the problem of evil (e.g., “It would be wonderful if there was actually a benevolent hand in my life, but there is simply a vast body of evidence against it…”). I suspect your reaction, were you to come face to face with God, would be anger, along the lines of “Where were you when X, Y, and Z horrific things happened to me??!? How can you fail me so gravely and yet demand that I love you??”

        That would suggest to me that you really would prefer to live in a world where He is not. And, so as to permit you your rebellion, He will ensure that no evidence will compel your belief against your will. Only those who truly seek to find God will do so. I’ve explored this a bit more thoroughly on my own blog (in comments here and this post).
        Arkanabar T’verrick Ilarsadin recently posted..In Which I am Too Busy to Create Content of My Own

        • Erin says:

          Praise God! I knew if I got the ball rolling, HE would send others much more articulate and intellectual then I to join the discussion.

          He is faithful and trustworthy. Before I had my experience of God, I believed in coincidence. The more I began to know God and see Him working through and in my life AND the profound change, I no longer believe in sheer coincidence. God is guiding us always on our path to our eternal home, heaven. His grace is all around us, assisting us with whatever we will need to get through. It almost always involves some effort or action on our part, otherwise, It wouldn’t be our free will or choice, right? There is a profound peace in that.

          Thank you!
          Erin recently posted..Purity of Heart

          • Anonymous says:

            Loki,

            I was just wondering if anyone had taken you up on your offer to correspond via email…you had several responses to you quarries: is someone still carrying on a conversation with you?

            Take care!

          • Anonymous says:

            Whoops! (Mine is the comment below this one; due to an interesting feature of the comment box, this is appearing before the comment I made.) I meant to add, that if not, I would be happy to do so, if you wished.

  17. Sarah says:

    Jennifer, thank you for this. I have been reading your blog for over a year now, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented. I have been going through a long season of doubt lately and what you have written has really resonated with me. I printed it out so that I can put it in my journal and reread it now and then. Thank you for your ministry to all of us through your blogging! Many blessings to you and your family.

    Sarah

    • Loki says:

      Assuming you’re the anonymous poster (or accidental anonymous poster above me :P) then yes, i’d be interested in some e-mail correspondence on this subject. I’m always down for some intellectual stimulation. sevenfivenine at gmail dot com.

  18. Laura says:

    These are the days I’m glad you’re still in my email subscription feed.
    I’m guilty of ALL those dangerous roads! It’s easy to feel like atheists are the intelligentsia with their “it’s all a bunch of pagan myths” and “it was all a political scheme”. Luckily, I know some very smart religious people so that’s not my biggest worry.

    But I just realized I am guilty of #3—I want revenge, and I didn’t even know it! Sometimes, (converting to Judaism) it seems like no one wants you (especially in Judaism…they take their anti-proselytizing seriously), so naturally I think, “Well, you don’t want me? I don’t want you either!”

    I pull the same thing with God, too: “You don’t want me to convert? Well, I hate you too, then!”
    Laura recently posted..Well- I’ve decided something

  19. Anonymous says:

    Forgive this armchair *ehrm* theologian… I just wanted to throw out a couple of thoughts on the Ascension. I know that wasn’t the point of the post, but what the hey — you can delete this if you want to.

    First, everything that Our Lord did and said was to teach. After He rose He ate and drank to prove that He really had a Body, that the Resurrection wasn’t just a smoke-and-mirrors show. Perhaps one reason why He left the world in the usual manner that things leave it was to emphasize that point once again.

    Second, He Ascended so that He could raise the nature of man even to the heights of the Trinity. He went to Heaven, the Seat of Power, and sent God the Holy Spirit to apply the Grace He won on Calvary to His Church — and He did so as a man.

    Ok. I’m done.

    Great post, and God bless!

  20. Denise says:

    Great article!

    Not only are all of us not alone in doubts about our faith, but we are in company with many great and holy people, among them St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

    Faith is faith because it can’t be “proven” completely – otherwise it wouldn’t be faith. I think God purposely set things up so we have to choose Him, not have the choice essentially made for us by some empirical evidence that noone can argue away.

    • Nina says:

      So true. That is what I finally came to….in the end—— it has to be an assent of the will. Some of us are just not consolation-types. That is not how God has made us, temperamentally. We may never feel that we have surety or exist in a state of serene confidence, because we are by nature doubters and perhaps more skeptical, restless, or anxious.

      And faith builds, as we choose to obey, make that leap of faith, and give more and more assent. It becomes and matures into a deep *knowing* that this is true—— if we like it or not!

      But I DO believe that there is one way, and that Jesus is the Way and that specifically, He stays with us and works specifically through the Body and Family that he has set up for us (which I believe is the Apostolic and Catholic Church). I do not believe all ways lead to peace. God can work along any path; yes, and does, and uses everything to work our sanctification, and will be with us along the way. BUT—– the discomfort many feel with certain religious backgrounds, upbringings, and associations are perhaps, part of His plan, part of enlightening that soul, and giving insight into what is NOT His true Way, yes? And perhaps it is a MERCY that He is allowing someone to feel uncomfortable with a particular spirituality or sect….because it is *wrong* and He doesn’t want them there! :)

      Look, living this life is hard. Living the Catholic life IS the narrow way. And often, there are many signs of contradiction, things that don’t “appear” right to us. We aren’t comfortable with them. Why does God allow so much suffering in His Church, so many Judases? Well….he does!

      1/12 of the *chosen ones* of Jesus, for this ministry, the LEADERS—– totally betrayed Him; 2/12 betrayed or denied Him; and 11/12 ran away when things got really scary. I have always seen this as Jesus trying to teach us that people will fail and even the “holy ones” will scandalize us and disappoint us. We must hold on and hang on and trust. He is still there. The “rightness” of His Church is not dependent on the people in it, it is dependent on His Will, and what He invests them with.

      Jesus didn’t promise us it would be easy, but if we choose it, and embrace it with all of our hearts, we will be comforted and rewarded with the fullest Love possible.

      Such a great conversation, everyone! So comforting. Thank you.

  21. Lizzie says:

    I always remember a priest saying to me once ‘faith without doubt is fear’ – healthy doubts coupled with prayer and a ‘seek and you will find’ attitude hopefully always serve to increase our faith, hope and love.
    You are such a great writer Jennifer – I love the way you articulate things in such a straightforward, simple way that has real depth too. What a blessing! Thank you.

  22. Andrew W. says:

    You couldn’t have written this at a better time! I had been restruggling with some thoughts yesterday and couldn’t figure out why I was having trouble. Then this lands in my inbox!

    Great read and God bless.

  23. Christine says:

    Awesome post, as always! A good friend of ours, a priest for over 20 years left the priesthood 2 years ago. This man was so broken spiritually & so disappointed with the faith that he wasn’t even attending Mass anymore!

    What happens in your heart that a man of God, this excellent pastor, could become so doubtful that he would simply leave his bride that way?

    This is one of Satan’s victories – how pleasing this must be to the evil one!

    It’s been a lesson for me – if this can happen to Fr Phil, it can certainly happen to any of us.

    God Bless you!
    Christine recently posted..Moving on…

    • Erin says:

      Christine,

      I am so sorry about your friend and what happened. I know you have no way of knowing this, but I would be curious as to what kind of prayer life Fr. Phil had. I say this, not to judge him, but I know by experience that when my life starts to get a little crazy and overwhelmed, sometimes the first thing I let go of is my time with Jesus. I often don’t realize it until a few days go by and I feel very agitated and I start to see things lots of worldly views and things start to creep into my thought. I start to feel sorry for myself because my life is so difficult. In the past, I have allowed my self to go months without daily time with Jesus. I still go to church, but I don’t spend that time with Jesus so He can pour His love and teachings into my heart.

      I truly believe with everything that is in me that our Great God is Faithful and as long as WE hold onto Him, He will NEVER let us go.

      But of course, He will not take away our free will to NOT choose to hold onto Him.
      Erin recently posted..Purity of Heart

  24. Agree completely. One of my rules of thumb is never to make any decisions about *anything* when I’m feeling frazzled or upset.
    Julia at LotsaLaundry recently posted..Emergency room insights

  25. Dorian Speed says:

    To get all St. Anselm up in here, this post reminds me of his motto of “faith seeking understanding.”

    I think about this a lot in the context of preparing high school students for Confirmation – it seems like many of them view it as “the Sacrament of all my questions have been answered and I’m ready to sign up,” and I’ve seen kids decide to not receive the Sacrament because they weren’t 100% doubt-free. As though once you’re Confirmed, it means you shut down the part of your brain that is curious about knowing where our beliefs come from.

    I’m going to bookmark this to refer back to when I’m talking to them about the role that questioning plays in the growth of our faith.

    (Disclaimer: I totally googled “faith seeking understanding.” Did not remember that was St. Anselm all by myself.)
    Dorian Speed recently posted..Apology not accepted

  26. Lauren says:

    Intelligent plus belief is perfect especially if one had struggled a bit and had doubt. These are the chosen few of God…

  27. Magda says:

    This is so coincidentally funny! I just told my husband the other day I had no why I was still a Catholic and that I thought I would take up smoking!! Sometimes I think there are thought viruses going around and people are catching them at the same time.
    Fortunately, I am still Catholic, because everything else is so bogus in comparison. Besides – I really love the Eucharist.

  28. Andie says:

    Wonderful thoughts Jennifer. We must question because it is then that the faith becomes ours, personal and not simply something that we blindly accept. God loves us too much for that. It is then that we make the move from blind obedience to obedience through love. And to doubt in and with peace makes all the difference.
    Andie
    Andie recently posted..Numbers

  29. Melanie says:

    I’ve fallen down a similar rabbit hole myself in relation to your experience at mass. When my husband and I were preparing for marriage, we left our individual parishes and joined a new one in town. In the process, my daughter’s Catholic school verified my status and found I was no longer practicing at my church on record. Because there is a fee difference for non-Catholics, I received a rather nasty letter about how I’d been abusing the privilege offered only to practicing Catholics. Before the end of the night, I was ready to withdraw her from school and convert to a different faith after I worked through several doubts and identified many shortcomings of those who serve in the Church.

    It’s silly to think about it now but in my broken, prideful state it was serious business. How dare they accuse me of not being Catholic. I’ll show them.
    Melanie recently posted..Movie night

  30. Craig says:

    Amen – explore doubts in peace.

    I’ve found this truly important thing:

    Doubt is the handmaiden of faith – the touchstone of truth” God – if he be God arises from an honestly challenged doubt unscathed – and faith grows as doubts are addressed.

    Thank you for this.

    God Bless
    Craig recently posted..In which God sometimes misleads us pt6

  31. OrtizLina24 says:

    People deserve very good life time and mortgage loans or just short term loan will make it better. Just because people’s freedom is grounded on money state.

  32. lavender oil says:

    I was checking my Yahoo mail and I saw an article on Yahoo’s intercourse abuse scandal in the church. I have no idea what to do to me then yes, I, by the grace of God, but I did.
    lavender oil recently posted..Golden Seal Bio Health – £1050

  33. Carlos N says:

    Thank you for writing this article. It is the fruit of your honest struggles and I think that is why it rings true. As a diocesan seminarian I have study for 7 years now and I know from my experience and others of these spiritual attacks that creep in and can total confuse your faith. In the seminary they always recommend meditation, self reflection at the end of the day, Reconciliation at lest once a month, a spiritual diary etc, and now it is clearer to me that this helps me keep the big picture of God’s love. Praying for you please pray for me. God bless.

  34. Stephanie says:

    Oh I love your post! Not so much am I having doubts about faith, but doubts about balancing some other things in my life. I would like to take #1, #2, and #4 as my vices that have nothing to do with the spirit of Christ. GREAT BLOG! I really needed that clarity – to understand my own weaknesses in decision making.

  35. Verl says:

    I was a Catholic and had doubts. Do not be afraid to follow your doubts. It may lead you to truth.