I know it’s a not a matter of being hard headed. Actually, you probably have an incredibly sharp intellect that wants to believe everything you read in the Gospels so you dedicate yourself to the path of understanding. Brilliant. A hunger for truth puts you in the good company with the likes of Augustine and Aquinas. So why can’t you just get on board with the idea of how simple faith is? If you could only believe the wonderful promises of Jesus Christ… this would not be a difficult task. I’m sure you’d willingly walk through fire laden down with the cross. Because Jesus said we would not be overcome. Jesus said this was the way to truly follow Him. Jesus said there is merit in this. And Jesus said He was going ahead of us to prepare a place in His Father’s house.
So rise up and go.
Oh, you can’t? It’s not that easy, you say? I know, because I’ve said the same things. The good intention is there but so is the doubting and the analyzing. “What if it’s all a lie?” “How can I make sense of a benevolent God in face of all the suffering in this world?” “What if Christianity is a masterful delusion and becoming worm food is the end of my story?”
“Just have faith! Keep praying! One foot in front of the other!” These are usually the answers from devout Christians. (As if we don’t want to have faith or move forward in the hope that they seem to have.) But what they don’t understand is that you’re stuck wondering if these characters are part of the fairy tale chasing a fantasy castle or credible, rational, tried beings who simply haven’t thought this issue out as thoroughly as you.
Pascal and Peter have already offered some guidance for those of us plagued with second-guessing. Pascal in reasoning that it doesn’t matter if it’s a worm-destined fairy tale or not… we’ve got nothing to lose by buying in. And Peter by reasoning “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter was no philosopher. So he hadn’t weighed out the nihilism of Nietzsche or the atheism of Dawkins. But this fisherman did have some business savvy. He knew hope when He saw it. He knew which path offered life and which one didn’t. So he picked his investment accordingly, and unto death, by the way.
Well there’s a third route to faith for non-simpletons, that isn’t as famous. It’s a second-hand, rabbit trail through the woods of your intellect. And it is good.
If you can’t buy into faith because it’s a smart gamble, and you can’t buy into faith because it is the most attractive narrative explaining human existence (relativism being patently irrational and worm food being patently depressing), perhaps the proper marketing technique is celebrity endorsement. And I’m not just talking about “Oh look how awesome Mother Teresa was! I want to be in her club.” There are hundreds of extraordinary examples of saints. But before going on, I want to preemptively address the devil’s advocate in you that wants to retort “So what? Gandhi was awesome and he wasn’t Christian. Buddhism produces nice people. And my atheistic neighbor is one of the most generous people I know!”
And I say “Good for them!” There will always be exceptions because Truth trickles its way into every human heart, regardless of the straw house resistance we might unwittingly put up around it. But even you, YOU—the one who prizes science and logic— can’t overlook the data while maintaining intellectual honesty. This isn’t as cursory as “There’s been more admirable Christians than people of other faiths…” because numbers aren’t enough to justify the fairy tale. However, what you begin to learn… what you begin to experience upon studying the saints of history and by rooting yourself into a life of prayer (even if it’s praying to a God out of a Petrine default, rather than having a zealous belief in Him), is that something changes. You change. Prayer is always heard. Always answered. But a god of any sort can’t be confined to our finite understanding. Letting go of the demands we want to make of Him in light of the intricate, stringy mess we are facing, and trusting the Weaver’s Hand to do His work on the other side of the loom will do massive work to you and for you and in you. It will slough off pride. It will expand the heart. It will inspire true compassion and a beautifully genuine faith. And you will access that part of your spirit that can’t be counted, classified and filed into your mental hard drive.
And it will be good. You will be good. The kind of good that reverberates through the ages because Love that lives in these changed sorts of people never dies. These are people from every age and from every nation. Universal people. Easter people! Magdalen. Francis. Kolbe. Bahkita. Miguel Pro. And countless others who’ve lived hidden lives in the shadows of the cross. These are the lives well lived. These are the ones who spilled their blood with a love that lived on far longer than their bodies. These are my people. The ultimate non-conformists who mastered their intellects by subjecting their wills. When I am skittish about Pascal’s wager… when I lack the devotion and certainty of Peter’s commitment… I think of what kind of person I want to be. How do I want my story to play out? To end?
So I rise up. I pack up my doubts, intellectual hesitations and fears in my rucksack to carry with me through the woods. They are part of my cross as I stumble towards the light. Because who wants a god that can be fully comprehended anyway? Folly or not, the love that the saints had transformed their characters. If they were wrong, I want to be wrong with them— but going down that mental vortex is ultimately a fruitless exercise. Because genuine love doesn’t die and can’t be convincingly imitated. By its very nature, love transcends our mental calculations and understanding. These people were radiant and fully alive. So the idea of believing and living and dying like these saints is enough. And meeting up with them for the greatest after-party we could ever possibly imagine is far too enticing for me to pass up. That’s where I want to be.
How about you?
Very respectfully from my own overthinking, underloving heart-under-construction: