Yesterday something happened in me that I want to share. And it includes a confession. But first, a little history. (Oh, and please enjoy the subheadings throughout the post, just a little somethin I’m tryin out… I like the pop of pink but the words will only be pink if I make them a hyperlink. So I’ve attached mystery websites. Maybe they’ll be related, maybe not… hehe. You might want to just keep reading and click them all when you’re done.. I can’t be serious for my life. Anyway…)
Until I was 19 years old, most of my belief in God stemmed from what I had experienced, and since nothing I’d experienced was particularly radical, I didn’t live very differently than most people. I was nice, tried to be good and successful. Nothing wrong there.
Then, I rather spontaneously dedicated an entire summer to serving God in Chicago with a ministry called CRU. I began to grow in my faith due to even more experiential encounters with God, and godly people speaking truth to me. I began to learn more about what the Bible says and why it’s trustworthy… experientially.
For the first time I began to feel God’s love and began to experience a relationship with Him.
From my upbringing in the Church I already had a foundation of theological knowledge, and from most standpoints and applications in life, what my parents had taught me seemed to work out.
I found that when I applied the biblical concepts that my new friends believed in to my own life, things seemed to work better, as many of Jesus’ teachings are practically wise.
I liked being in a biblical Christian community, because for whatever reason, friendships seemed to work out more easily and with greater depth within that construct.
I heard lots of things about Jesus and God that I didn’t have factual evidence for, but they came from the mouths of people I trusted and esteemed. So I didn’t do any further digging.
But one day, I started to have doubts. And they kept comin’. It wasn’t too long before the initial novelty of clean, fun Christian community was beginning to wear off, revealing that there were still a lot of things I didn’t quite understand. What if the whole thing was actually… crap? What if the holes in my understanding (the ones I’d been ignoring) couldn’t be filled?
Suddenly my faith didn’t feel good anymore — I wasn’t seeing this God of Israel like I’d seen him in the past. There was too much mystery, and I didn’t REALLY trust him.
But I wasn’t ready to give up. I spent a full year trying to find answers to big questions — about the validity of the Bible, Jesus and his reality, and the supernatural/the Holy Spirit.
With tears, small victories, and a whole lot of crying out to God, I got many questions MOSTLY answered during that time. I learned a lot about FAITH. Which is key. But after my battle of faith and reason, I still really just had a lot more experiential evidence, a few more facts from scholars and pastors, and a new-found ability to trust God without having all the answers. Which was all good, because the important thing is a relationship with Christ.
But I still didn’t have all the answers.
And this left annoying, lingering doubts that I had learned to push away.
In regard to that time,
I have a confession to make.
I have talked to a lot of people about my “year of doubt.” It was a pivotal time for me, and I don’t want to undermine that. But I have to come forward and say: my research of my own Christian faith was feeble and biased. It was ineffective, inconsistent, unsystematic, and the entire time I really just wanted to skip the doubt. I wanted God to come down and say THE BIBLE IS TRUE AND JESUS IS THE TRUE SON OF GOD. CASE CLOSED. I wanted to return to the comfort I’d felt in my ignorance. And I especially wanted to believe based on more experiential evidence, instead of putting Jesus in our world today and seeing if He stuck. When I “finished” my year of doubt, the truth is, I was still seeking. I never stopped.
But yesterday I finished a book called The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel, and suddenly I am aware of exactly how little (and how aimlessly) I did my own research.
If you’ve ever read a book by Jodi Picoult or watched a court trial on TV, you know what it’s like to be sucked in by a fascinating case. As evidence after piece of evidence is laid down, everyone is on the edge of their seat wondering if the defendant will be declared guilty or innocent.
This is essentially what it was like to read The Case for Christ, except my whole belief system was on the line. Now don’t get me wrong, the book is very, very, very, very, thorough… which means it doesn’t read QUITE like My Sister’s Keeper. It’s basically a systemized legal investigation/analysis of the Bible and the person/ministry of Jesus Christ, which means I kept wishing I’d had a pen with me as I read to circle the words I didn’t know. It’s not a difficult read by any means, but I wanted to be extra careful to make sure I knew what was being said at all times. So I wasn’t sitting rapt as I read 13 involved interviews of triple-degree scholars, but my interest was obviously held. As the book progressed, the Jesus of history started to take form, and I was able to stack Him up against my Jesus of faith. Through the second half of the book I repeatedly teared up, as some of the remaining holes in my belief of these foundational things — the validity of the Scriptures and Jesus’ ministry — were finally being filled.
I don’t think my faith was ever invalid or incomplete for the past 20 years because I didn’t have all the eyewitness, rebuttal, documentary, corroborating, scientific, medical, historical evidence put into place for me by recognized theological, psychological, medical, and archeological scholars, but I have to say… I don’t know if I’ve ever believed in Jesus Christ as much as I do right now.
Granted, I never had the time, resources, or training to do an investigation like Strobel’s. But this is why the book is so great — he did the investigation for me, and documented it extremely well.
If you’re a Christian already, there are many things that knowing factual, historical evidence for Christ can do for your faith. For me, it is helping to merge the world I live in and my relationship with God. Sometimes they feel separate, but finally I’ve seen Jesus picked up out of the cartoon bible-land of my childhood, and placed into the realm of secular research. Reading a book like this has not only supplemented my faith, it has built onto the foundation.
If you’re not a believer, but have any interest in religion, the existence of a God, or the person of Jesus Christ, this is an interesting book that was extremely non-objective (I thought) and thorough in its research. Since Lee Strobel starts his investigation as an atheist, he goes in trying to disprove that Jesus is God. Spoiler alert: he does end up deciding it’s extremely plausible and necessary to follow Christ. But he encourages you to found your own opinion as you read, and decide on your own verdict. I’d recommend this book to anyone.
So yes, I confess I didn’t do my research thoroughly, and although I have been confident in my mostly experiential faith without having filled all the holes, it wasn’t responsible of me to have left any of them in the first place. I say this simply because I know so many non-believers, and seem to get into conversations with them about faith and life on a regular basis. Sometimes I don’t have answers for them. I could have cut out the time to do my own scholarly research, but I didn’t because I didn’t know where to begin. However, I always want to honor 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
So as a believer I would challenge other believers to fill those holes if they have them. That doesn’t necessarily mean read The Case for Christ, since there are so many other books with logical evidence for Christ. In fact, Strobel cited a good number of the resources he used. But maybe it means to go to scholarly sources and find out for yourself what critics and scholars say.. just find out what they say in one way or another. I would say that TCFC is a great, digestible place to start learning more of the concrete evidence for our faith. It’s out there to be learned and committed to memory. So we should know it, right?
I’m not saying that I read one condensed book of historical research about Christ and now I have all the answers. There’s still more action that follows, namely, more diggage. The book is pretty clear that when you get into the details of the resurrection and other supernatural elements of Christ, those things aren’t as easy to pin down. But if everything of God was completely digestible and understandable, would He still be God? What’s important is that the foundational evidence for this “case for Christ” is solid. I’m so glad to know that now, in addition to feeling it.
However, even as I walk through an existing relationship with Christ, I am going to continue my research. This is why we do Bible studies, right? This shouldn’t be overlooked. The parts of God we struggle to understand are the supernatural ones, namely, the Holy Spirit. But according to what I’ve just learned, Jesus is incredibly alive, real, and trustworthy… and HE says the Holy Spirit is inside of me. I believe it too, because I’ve seen and felt Him do amazing things in and through me. But I’ll admit I still get confused a lot. Therefore, the next book on my list is Forgotten God by Francis Chan (who I respect greatly). I hope to also do a lot more intentional bible-study concerning the Holy Spirit. This is something we may never nail down, but our God is not a God of confusion. I always would say that when I was confused… I suppose wanting Him to magically take my confusion away. But I think instead it means He’s set up a number of things in this world that prove Him, explain Him to us and help us know Him better, if we’ll look for them. I think I’ve been convinced of that through reading The Case for Christ, and of course, the Bible.
So bottom line, I’ve been really encouraged and strengthened by this book. Also, let’s not go through this life with holes in our faith, or worse, not knowing what we believe at all! There are answers if you’re willing to keep looking. 🙂
This message was brought to you by The Seeker Who Still Lives Inside of Jordan, written for Seekers and Intellectuals everywhere. Love you guys.