i’m not one who’s normally praised for my great memory, but certain memories stand out pretty vividly from over the years. for example, I can remember pretty vividly two classmates from my middle school years. two classmates who still stand out to me to this day. they stand out in my mind largely because they helped shape much of the way in which i thought about believers and nonbelievers. at least, they did for quite some time. we’ll call them greg and mindy.
greg and mindy
greg was known for being incredibly bright. his interests lied mostly in the realm of politics. yes, even in middle school, he was the one who always wanted to talk foreign policy and the like. he had an incredible vocabulary, one that made him stand out like a sore thumb from most other middle schoolers. he spoke in a calm, dry tone most of the time. except when he got worked up. then it would quicken into almost a frantic pace. he loved to debate, and he was quite good at it.
mindy, on the other hand, was known for being, well, a goody-goody, for lack of a better way to put it. she was nice, to be sure, and i’m sure she received good grades (as a result of being quite diligent in her studies, like most things), but she wasn’t known for her intellect. not like greg.
and the debates between greg and mindy were well known in our school. debates that centered on Christianity, and the existence of God. greg lying on the side of unbelief, mindy on the side of belief. and, as a result of their natural talents, greg typically steamrolled mindy in these debates. recognizing her defeat, mindy would often become visibly frustrated, which only encouraged her classmates’ laughter at the scene. to anyone watching, it would appear obvious that greg had won the debate.
the unfortunate thing is, to me at least, i associated such debates with reality. i would think to myself, “how could an intelligent individual accept such things of the faith?” for mindy’s arguments seemed so frail in the face of greg’s intellectual beatings. he almost seemed to be making a joke out of the fact that anyone could believe such things.
it was at that time that greg and mindy became caricatures of believers and nonbelievers to me. believers, in my mind, were associated with mindy. simple. naive. willing to accept seemingly ridiculous beliefs. not truly knowing how or why they should believe such things, but simply accepting them because that’s what their parents taught them to believe. or, because they thought they should believe it.
nonbelievers, on the other hand, were associated in my mind with greg. intellectual. considerate of their beliefs (but not necessarily considerate of others’ beliefs). not accepting things on faith, but critically analyzing that which they believed before accepting it as truth.
and this was unfortunate. it was unfortunate because i considered myself a believer. i prayed every night. i believed in an intelligent Creator. i believed that Jesus had come, in the flesh, that He had died in my place, and that He had risen again. all seemingly laughable things, to greg, and the rest of the nonbelievers out there. yet i believed them. and this left me torn. torn because i considered myself a relatively smart kid. i considered myself pretty analytical, and not necessarily willing to just accept that which i was told.
i didn’t want to be naive, and i certainly didn’t want people to think i was naive. which was likely largely responsible for me not wearing my faith on my sleeve, like mindy. but, rather, placing my faith quietly in my back pocket, where no one would notice it. except in the comfort and safety of other believers.
my introduction to lewis
it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that i met c.s. lewis for the first time in the book mere christianity (which still stands as my all-time favorite writing, to this day, apart from God’s Word). i had never read lewis before. i was, apparently, the only kid on the planet not to have enjoyed the chronicles of narnia series growing up. which was probably for the best, for my introduction to lewis was thus fresh. i had no preconceptions about this man, i could read him with open eyes. and i was completely blown away.
here was an obviously brilliant man. he used pinpoint logic and illustrative analogies to support each point he made. and, most incredible of all, here was perhaps one of the most intellectual men i had ever read who was, before my very eyes, supporting christian truths! faith in a Creator. Christ’s deity. the doctrine of sanctification. and never once did his points come across as preachy or a stretch. they were simply logical approaches to things i had been taught and struggled to believe for so many years.
that was when things changed for me. that was when my mental caricatures of believers and nonbelievers were smashed to pieces. that was when i realized i did not have to sacrifice my intellect to believe the things of the Christian faith. and, for that, i am forever grateful to lewis and his writings.
two types of belief
it’s thinking about this experience in my own life that has caused me to stop and consider the things i believe in. be they spiritual or not. for, i believe the way in which we approach general beliefs must not differ from the way in which we approach spiritual beliefs. let me try to explain.
in general, the things i believe in fall into one of two categories: beliefs by experience and beliefs by faith.
the experiences we go through cause us to hold certain beliefs. for example, it is my belief that if i board an airplane in seattle headed to orange county california, that after about two and a half hours of being in the air, i will arrive in orange county. that belief is based on my own experience. this may not seem like a difficult concept for you, but that is likely because you have also experienced air travel, and you know it works. people unfamiliar with the concept of flying by plane (rare as they may be), though, may have difficulty with this concept. “you’re telling me that you’re going to get in that giant metal bird and that it’s going to carry you and hundreds of other people through the air?”
and yet, i know and believe in the concept of air travel because i have experienced it. in the same way, i believe if i hop on I-5 and head south from my hometown, barring any significant traffic delays, i will arrive in seattle about an hour and a half later. i have made this drive many times, and i know that that is the route and roughly the time it takes for such trips.
so you see, i have come to hold these beliefs through life experiences that support my faith in them. but not everything i believe is based on experience.
there are many things in this life that i simply have not had the benefit of experiencing. some i will come to experience. others i will likely never have the opportunity to experience first-hand.
take space travel, for example. i have never traveled to outer space. yet, that does not prevent me from believing in space travel. why? because i take it on faith that it is possible. faith that is based on video of shuttles being launched from cape canaveral into outer space. shots of astronauts circling the globe from the dark, depths of space. i’ve even had the fortune to meet buzz aldrin, a man who has not only traveled in outer space, but who has stepped foot on the moon. and i believe his story. i believe the fact that he has traveled in outer space, even though i have never experienced it myself.
or take, if you will, another example. say you are traveling in an area you’re not familiar with. if you get lost, and if you are not too terribly stubborn, you are likely to stop and ask for directions. after finding someone who knows the area, someone familiar with not only where you’re currently at, but where you’re going, and someone who’s willing to point you in the right direction, you’re likely to be more confident of your path. why? because you have faith in this person’s directions. you believe that this person’s knowledge and familiarity will help you find your destination, even though you have no such familiarity or experience. you are acting on faith.
believing something you’ve experienced takes little effort. you know it to be true. you’ve experienced it for yourself. believing something you don’t have experience with, though, believing something you have not touched or gone through yourself, that takes more work. that takes faith. and there are certain things in this life that we must take on faith. for, we may never have the opportunity to fully experience them. such is the case with many things of the Christian faith. we will never be able to experience Jesus’ virgin birth, His resurrection or other difficult to comprehend beliefs of the faith. instead, we must rely on the testimony of those who were there. however, that does not make our belief any less valid. for, as we have seen, we believe things we haven’t experienced for ourselves all the time.
belief without complete understanding
some people will try to make you feel stupid, naive or even irresponsible with your faith for believing in something you don’t fully understand. others will never let themselves believe in something until they feel as though they have all of the questions answered. both situations run the risk of preventing someone from enjoying the fruits of faith, and there are significant mistakes in both scenarios.
i couldn’t tell you exactly how an airplane works. were you to put me on the spot and ask me to explain just how it works, i would stumble through some sort of an explanation that included my feeble concept of aerodynamics and lift. but it would soon become apparent that there were many gaps in my understanding of this process.
however, my lack of knowledge of the inner workings of an airplane has never prevented me from riding in one. never prevented me from putting my life on the line, so to speak, with each ride. no, for even though i don’t totally understand how it works, i have good reason to believe that when i board the plane in one city, that i am going to find myself in a completely different city when the doors open. this belief is based on my past experience. but experience only comes from stepping out in faith. for, experience itself always has a beginning, and that beginning is called faith.
my first airplane ride, even though i cannot now recall it for you, was not based on experience. no, it was based on relying on those who told me it was going to be okay. it was based on faith.
and that is the case with many things in our life. we don’t fully understand them, but that does not prevent us from relying on them. that does not prevent us from believing in their capabilities or their functions. i can no more explain to you how a microwave oven works, and yet i believe it will heat up my leftovers when need be. i cannot explain to you how a cell phone allows me to talk to my loved ones on the other side of the country at the push of a button, and yet i don’t think twice to pick up the phone when i want to reach them.
so you see, such belief is not stupid, naive or irresponsible at all. in fact, we act on such beliefs each day.
the first step
like many things, the first step in belief is always the most difficult. but, once we’ve taken that first step (in faith), the subsequent steps are that much easier, and they require much less faith (because of our experience). the first ride on an airplane requires significantly more faith than does the 17th ride. and the 32nd ride even less.
grasping at straws
and yet, we all know that attacks on the Christian faith will come. faith in a Creator, faith in a loving, righteous and holy God, faith in the risen Son of God. if you haven’t faced such attacks, you will. and if you never do, well then, perhaps that is saying something about your faith.
these attacks are rarely new. in fact, they are the same attacks that were used 2,000 years ago against Jesus’ first followers: “the guards were sleeping…,” “His followers stole the body…” like most things, these arguments are not new.
however, these attacks must never give rise to concern about such belief or faith. for, as we have seen, we apply belief and faith to many things in our lives every day that we do not fully comprehend or have not experienced for ourselves. and we do so without thinking twice about it.
people will always grasp at straws when they are drowning. it is our duty not to argue with those who are drowning for the sake of argument, but to offer them our hands in help. i pray you would do so in the firm confidence that He will provide understanding where understanding is necessary, and faith where understanding is not.