A Crisis of Trust

I think most people go through phases in which they question fundamental aspects of their beliefs.  Some people don’t experience this at all, and just go on blissfully believing what they were taught in Sunday School all their lives; oh, how I wish I was one of them (sometimes).  When questions arise, I’m the kind of person who tends to tackle them head on, but at the same time I’m very hesitant to commit to any particular answer.  It can be exhausting, sitting on a fence all the time.

Let’s see… where to begin?

I guess I began to question certain aspects of my religion around the time I realised that women were beautiful (approximately grade 1?).  Or maybe it was when I realized that not everyone believed what I believed, which might have been even earlier.  Either way, my questioning “phase” hasn’t stopped since.  I haven’t flat-out abandoned my faith, which is actually somewhat miraculous, but I’m about as skeptical as they come within the church.  The thing is, when it comes down to it, I want to be a part of the church and to believe what I believe.  And I have a pretty strong conviction that just about everyone actually just believes what they want to in the end, and backs up their position by selectively drawing from literature of a similar persuasion.

When I first learned the details of evolutionary theory (the origin of species by means of natural selection) in first-year university, I was unexpectedly impressed by its thoroughness.  I thought it was going to be some shaky nonsense that would be easy to refute, but as I read through my textbooks I found it quite well presented, consistent, and even believable.  This initiated a bit of a crisis of faith for me, since I found myself actually enjoying the study of evolution/geology, and more or less believing the content.

This experience led to a practically ongoing phase in which I’ve tried to reconcile belief in God/Jesus with belief in evolution, which the well-known atheistic evangelist Richard Dawkins has claimed is not genuinely possible, since the latter is fundamentally corrosive to the former.  The more I think about it, the more I’m tending to agree with him.  The problem is, at the same time, I’m not entirely convinced that I can accept 6-day creation (thus abandoning mainstream science).

It’s not that there aren’t enormous, physics- and biochemistry-defying holes even in the fundamental aspects of evolutionary theory.  It’s actually too easy to identify them.  It’s just that I empathize with both sides of the argument.  I understand the odd sort of comfort that could be found in this life being all there is to it, no strings attached to a non-existent soul.  But at the same time I find the evidence for the truth of the Bible (taken in context) and Jesus’ claims/actions to be stronger than what I’ve seen for an entirely naturalistic view of life.  So what’s making me hesitate to hop off the fence and fully onto conservative Christian terrain?

Basically, it’s Hell. H, E, double hockey sticks.

This is the crux of my crisis of trust (to use a religious metaphor/semi-pun).

It’s not a crisis of faith, because to be honest I don’t have any difficulty believing in God.  I think the evidence is abundant, in the existence of everything (anything), in my personal experience and that of friends and fellow believers, and in the fact that so many things in life are just so wonderful to experience without offering any conceivable survival advantage (granted, my mind may not be creative enough to conceive of the advantages…).

But I recently read this book on hell by Francis Chan, which was basically a rebuttal to Rob Bell’s latest book that stopped just short of stating that everybody goes to Heaven in the end, no matter what (apparently, although I haven’t read it since I couldn’t get into Bell’s earlier books).  I think the book was designed to strengthen Christians’ faith or something like that, but it only left me convinced of one thing: if you want to believe the words of Jesus, you also have to accept his stance on hell, which is pretty clear; that it’s not just a destination for Hitler and priests who molest children, but for any individual who doesn’t accept that Jesus is the literal incarnation of God, who died on humanity’s behalf to justify us before God, and was raised from the dead to demonstrate his authority.  Nobody else is exempt, even those who have never heard of him, or who are “good” people, or who go to church every Sunday out of habit/tradition but have never personally acknowledged him.

That is a tough pill to swallow, and that is why I’m having a crisis of trust.  The thing is, I honestly think Jesus is fantastic.  I love to read the accounts of his life (i.e. the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the things he said.  I love the way he stood up for the disadvantaged, dished out relentless, scathing criticism on the selfish and overtly ‘religious’, and laid down his life out of love for his friends.  He was amazing, really, a top notch kind of guy.

But why did he have to go along with the whole hell thing?  Couldn’t he have clarified that it was symbolic?  Does it really have to be this way?  Perhaps worst of all, do I even WANT to believe in a God who is just letting this happen?  I know there are answers (e.g. he’s letting it happen because his holy nature doesn’t allow him to be in the presence of sinners, so as a result hell exists.  And people need to be allowed the choice to love or reject God freely, because love that isn’t a choice isn’t genuine, etc.), but I just don’t know if I want to trust him on this.  I’ve been feeling like a victim of the holocaust who’s been offered an opportunity to operate the gas chamber his family and friends will be in.  I’d say “No, I don’t want to be part of your exclusive group that’s been set apart – I’d rather die with the ones I love”.  Kind of harsh maybe, but surely the holocaust is a mild analogy for hell!

If you’ve read all the way through this, I’m guessing you may have had similar questions.  Have you got resources to share on the topic?  Do you understand how I feel/think?   Like I said, if only I could be one of those people who cruise through life on faith!  Alas, it seems that personality trait just wasn’t in my genes…

 

 

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24 thoughts on “A Crisis of Trust

  1. WordPress offered me this quote once I had published this post:

    “If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.” — Tennessee Williams

    I’m putting a big part of myself out here, a topic that takes up a lot of my thinking time (which is too much!). Thanks for going through the thought process with me, and I look forward to what you’ll have to share.

  2. Hi Tim, interesting read. I have contemplated the same questions, likely much more than most. In the end, my reasoning allowed me to comfortably reject any and all religion. You might be familiar with the books written by Sam Harris ie. “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” etc. What I found to be an even more entertaining/sometimes thought provoking read were the discussions on his web forum where believers and non-believers hash it out on a myriad of different topics. Here’s the link in case your interested, and may the power of reasoning be with you. http://www.samharris.org/forum/

    • Thanks for the link, Luke – I will definitely check that out… still pretty sure reasoning and faith can co-exist (it’s actually encouraged in the Bible), but I appreciate your contribution. As for whether religion is a mental disorder, I hadn’t contemplated it before, but it seems like a bit of a stretch. I think it’s quite natural to have a desire for something greater/beyond what we see… that said, in some populations/individuals, it does lead to symptoms which could be classified as disease-like (abuse of self/others, various complexes, etc..).

      I think a genuine faith/lifestyle as Jesus taught couldn’t lead to these exceptions though, and religion couldn’t be the right place to lay the blame.

  3. You’re dealing with the same crisis that all of us need to confront at one point or another, and it tends to boil down to this: I want God to conform to my understanding of “what’s fairness.” If He knows all things, and knew Adam would fall, why didn’t He just save himself a lot of grief and not create? If He knew John Doe would never come to love Him and would therefor fall under his wrath, why did He allow John Doe to be born? That doesn’t seem fair! Even as a Calvinist (and you don’t much more committed to God’s sovereignty than that), I still struggle with these questions.

    Thankfully, you’ve hit the nail on the head by defining it as an issue of trust. Paul deals with a similar hypothetical argument in Romans 9, where a hypothetical objector points out that since God made us this way, we can’t be held accountable. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” (v.19) Though my human nature doesn’t like it very much, Paul responds with the only rational answer one can give to such as question in verse 20…

    But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

    …and that’s where the trust part really comes in. If God is who He says He is, do we trust him that His final accounting will ultimately be to His glory? Will I be displeased with His final results? Do I trust Him to do the right thing or not?

    • Hey Pete, thanks for the response.

      That verse you referenced is one of the most disturbing for me in the whole Bible… that’s actually the point at which my crisis of trust really began, when Chan referenced it in his book I mentioned.

      Sure, God would have the right to do what he pleases, but it’s hard to accept a choice like that, even if resistance is futile. I guess I just hope these feelings pass when they do come.

      Of course, it’s much easier not to confront the issues if you isolate yourself in churchland, but I try to avoid that!

  4. Thanks for sharing this Tim. I to have had “lapses” in faith, actually I think you and I may have discussed once. I still don’t have the answers to my questioning but all I do is choose to believe that faith is true. As I have heard it said, “if I believe there is not a hell and I live according and there actually is one, I suffer the consequences. If I live life like there is a hell and there isn’t, no harm done.
    Susan Ashton wrote a great song years ago called Agree to Disagree, there is a verse that says “When the concrete and the supernatural clash” and that is so true. You can check out the rest of the lyrics here http://www.lyricstime.com/susan-ashton-agree-to-disagree-lyrics.html Also Nicole Nordman has a great song that looks at the two sides, believing and not believing that Christ is who the Word says he is. The song is called “What If” you can find that songs lyrics here http://www.lyricstime.com/nichole-nordeman-what-if-lyrics.html
    I love your philosophical, and deeply personal post, gives the brain a kick start for a work out. Keep them coming.

    • Hi Bev,

      That statement about believing just in case is something I have heard referred to as ‘fire insurance’, and it’s kind of a funny position to take, in my opinion. You can say that if it turns out to be false, no harm done; however, if that’s the case, you’ve (potentially) unnecessarily burdened yourself with guilt and restricted your lifestyle for no good reason,

      That said, a proper Christian life isn’t meant to be dominated by guilt and restriction, that’s just what the institutions have made it into over time, since they’re classic human control/manipulation tactics… Jesus teaches about a faith that is freeing and a burden that’s light, so I think that’s what was intended.

      Thanks for your input, hope all is well 🙂

  5. Hi! First of all, thanks for writing this! We need more open & honest discussions!

    Just remember, it isn’t like you have to sit back and helplessly watch your family and friends “go into the gas chamber”. If we really believe in hell, in an eternity away from God- then there is a huge amount of urgency to share the love to Christ with those we love- and everyone!! To make sure they know, hear and see what a relationship with Christ looks like from seeing it in our lives- and how Jesus is the solution to every problem they have.
    I see God as a father desperate for his children to know Him-(1 Timothy 2:4 He desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth) And that Christ himself intercedes for us!! (romans 8:34) But like you said, real love is a choice, and we all have free will. However the stakes are high- and the choice effects this life and the next..
    So our function, our mandate as a global church- to spread this message- it’s an urgent and desperate one! It breaks my heart to think of a person being away from Him forever- so imagine how much it breaks His! Not in a corny way, but like actually- deeply .

    It’s definitely (for me as well) the hardest part of the faith journey. However there is so much scripture about it that there is no way I can deny it. I can’t judge God- I can’t say “he doesn’t have the right”. ya know? He’s completely sovereign, yet there’s often a struggle in our flesh when he doesn’t do things “our way”.

    Thankfully we don’t have to have all the answers figured out to walk with Jesus. Not having an answer or not agreeing fully with something is not worth rejecting Him over. He takes us where ever we’re at- and shows us more and more of His heart as we walk with Him. It’s okay to struggle through it. God’s given you an incisive, analytical and discerning mind!! Just ask Him to show you his heart. Thanks for being honest and real!

    • Thanks Laura, for that very considerate and encouraging response. Your last paragraph especially speaks to me, about doubts being “not worth rejecting Him over”.

      David was “a man after God’s own heart”, and he called God out over struggles all the time in the psalms, so I figure it’s okay for us to do the same: be sincere, express our fears and doubts, etc.

      Thanks again for the input.

  6. Hey Tim, thanks for putting yourself out there on a really uncomfortable topic. Here’s something that occurred to my on reading your post that may be relevant: if God (Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit) is who the Bible says he is, then he is the source of ALL goodness. What are the implications of that?

  7. Hi Tim, Thanks for sharing your feelings on this. I am also always marveled by people who can believe unquestioningly and sometimes wish I could. I do not deny that God and Jesus could exist, but I can’t believe with 100% certainty. I do believe that there is a higher power although I’m not sure what that is. I like many aspects of Christianity, but there are also some I don’t like, and Hell is one of them. I find myself afraid that because I don’t believe with certitude then I will go to Hell, which doesn’t make sense to me. Any god I would prefer to believe in would accept questioning because he/she created questioning beings. Definitely a lot to think about!

    -Chasity

    • I don’t think uncertainty is enough to get us “into” Hell, and just pondering the question of what saves a person or doesn’t save a person can be a slippery slope.

      I think the Bible actually does indicate pretty clearly that the only criteria for salvation from hell is trust, and I’m hoping that, from God’s perspective, trust is quantized. That is, you either trust or you don’t trust, and there isn’t a threshold (“Tim Cross only trusts 49%, to hell it is!”) at which your trust becomes too weak to make the cut.

      But who knows, obviously God’s thoughts on the matter are much higher than mine!

  8. Hey Tim,

    As I mentioned to you during our visit, this was the exact same thing that I was struggling with while in Japan. Not the creation thing so much, but certainly the hell thing. What I hear you saying is that you aren’t in question about whether or not the “rules of hell” are true or not, but WHY they are true. That is, why God made such an unfair policy. And let’s face it, from our prospective, “unfair” is an under-statement.

    I haven’t read the Francis Chan books you mentioned, but I have read another one of his books, in which he states that even most Christians won’t be in heaven. As he writes it, it seems as if 1% of the people ever born will ever see the face of God… and the rest of us have eternal damnation to look forward to.

    This together brings us to a very confusing and painful dilemma: we believe in God, so we believe his claims on hell are true. Yet, we are disgusted by a God who would allow so many people to suffer forever when he COULD do something about it. Yet, we don’t want to be one of those people, so we press on with it, feeling pressure to make sure other people are saved, and feeling guilty for those we can’t reach. And yet still, the people to which we share the gospel are disgusted with it for the exact reasons listed within this paragraph. It’s an awful cycle, and we want out of it, but feel the only option to avoid damnation and reverence to God is to stay in it.

    My personal belief and reconciliation is the fact that we can’t understand God, His mind, or His ways. We just can’t. The Bible makes that much clear. Whatever is going on, He alone understands it, and we just experience it without comprehending it. He has a plan for the beginning, middle and end, and time and time again, we’re furious about it, and protest to Him against it. But, there is no bigger plan than His. There is nothing decided by man than can overrule Him. There is, however, the possibility that God has something up his sleeve, something He either hasn’t revealed or we can’t understand.

    The way in which Jesus came to the Earth, the kind of man He was, and the kinds of things He did shocked and surprised everyone, even those who had been expecting him. God had something up his sleeve that we, as humans, did not expect. Jesus was not a mighty ruler who descended in a beam of light, banished evil and sat on a throne of glory. He was a regular old baby, born surrounded by donkey dung, raised up the oppressed while angering the religious leaders, and hung naked and bleeding on a symbol of shame as his “throne”. When this happened, I have no doubt that his followers were asking the “How can you be a loving God and allow this to happen!?”… the same one we ask now. And you know what? God STILL didn’t reveal his plan.
    Yet, three days alter, Jesus came back to let us know that, guess what, God did have a plan, God was right, and God does love us and does have it under control.

    I guess I believe this because it’s all there is left to believe in to reconcile everything together. I don’t think it is humanly possible to live with joy in our hearts and peace in our soul when all around us we see souls of the people we care about and love who are damned to screaming and bleeding for the rest of eternity. If we can’t believe that God will do something amazing, something we don’t yet know about, something that really does make sense and shows His compassion and love, then I don’t really know what we can hold on to and be joyful to do so.

    • Just catching up with all the comments here… it’s crazy, reading your words is like reading my own thoughts, except that it sounds like you’ve resolved your crisis a little more than I have. I’m happy for you for that!

      I’m really hoping God does have something up his sleeve that’s beyond our understanding, and I’m sure that when that day comes when all the unknowns become known, and we see the full picture, we’ll understand that he truly is good.

      Thanks for your response 🙂

  9. Hi Tim. I always love your philisophical posts and this one hit especially close to home. Not that i hever held much of a belief but the heaven vs hell thing is where I started to question my already shaky believes. I was never comfortable with the idea that even if someone was inherently good (kind, honest etc..) but did not hold a belief in god they would go to hell. I can’t understand how the bible can say that these good and productive members of sociaty are akin to the the genocidal maniacs of the world like Hitler or Idi Amin.

    There are so many more parts to the bible that I can’t wrap my head around as well, the so called abominations for example:

    Leviticus 11:10-19 – (6) “But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is an abomination to you. They shall remain an abomination to you; of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall have in abomination. Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales is an abomination to you.”

    Isaiah 66:17 “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, says the LORD.”

    Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”

    So I’m to believe that eating bacon wrapped scollops while wearing Joe’s borrowed jacket (because I’m cold) that I have now commited 3 abominations int he eyes of the lord?

    Religion (all of them, I’m not just picking on Christinaity) has so many holes and I know science does not have the answer to everthing but I can’t bring myself to believe in the existance of a creator while being offered what I feel is no credable evidence.

    I hope you find what you are looking for and come to peace with whatever conclusions you draw from your journey.

    • Hey Emma,

      Glad you liked the post, and thanks for your response. It’s great to hear your thoughts, especially since you haven’t had a christianity-saturated life.

      There are lots of responses available for the points you bring up, but I think I’ll just address the abominations for now, try and put them in perspective. In order to understand the Bible properly, it’s really critical for people to realize that there is actually a major division within it: the “old testament” (or covenant) lays out the jewish history, laws, poems, and prophecies, and the new testament (covenant) then tells about Jesus’ life and those of his followers, in the decades following his life.

      Basically it can be understood as two different ways in which God approached/reached out and communicated with people; first mainly by law (old), and then personally (new). The new supersedes the old, so reading the old testament as a current rule-book is inappropriate/out of context. Jesus basically taught that he fulfilled the law, removed the need for much of what it required of people.

      The abominations may have been suitable for that time: perhaps the translation makes it sound more “extreme” than it was, and the purpose of the instruction was more like: “avoid eating these creatures”, with the implication being that there was something inherently dangerous, or at least non-ideal, about those animals. Perhaps they tended to be more prone to disease, that kind of thing. It’s hard to say, but that’s just a possibility. As for wearing Joe’s jacket, I don’t God’s concerned about it, haha!

      I would argue that there is, in fact, more credible evidence for a creator than for many accepted scientific theories (e.g. big bang), even though it pains me to stick to that stance. I have to acknowledge that it’s all just too fantastic to have simply come about on its own, and to overlook what is plain and obvious (i.e. the wonder of creation) is negligent. But that’s just my perspective 🙂

  10. Great post Tim. I have read Rob Bell’s Love Wins and have a copy of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell but haven’t read it. I enjoyed Bell’s book because of his creativity and style more than the power of his argument. He always appreciates questioning and stimulates thinking. A year or two ago we had a Sunday morning elective, led by John DeLong, which basically outlined about 20 physical constants (distance of earth from sun, etc) that were precisely tuned to allow life as we know it to exist on planet earth. One day John was away and I led the class. The first question asked after the lesson was, “Is it possible for a Christian to believe in evolution?” This was not a question that I anticipated and I was a tad taken aback. I was tempted to reply, “What do you mean by Christian? and “What do you understand a Christian must believe?”. I think the short answer to the student’s question is yes. See Francis Collins’s The Language of God in which he seems to espouse theistic evolution.

    A recently read The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith by Peter Hitchens, brother of more famous and now the late Christopher Hitchens. It is not a great book but he make some good points. He notes that societies that have tried to eliminate God and replace him with notion of human or scientific progress have ended up as cruel totalitarian nations (USSR, China). He states that “good societies need God.” Peter H was a journalist in the latter stages of the USSR so he has first hand experience.

    An excellent book that I just finished is N.T. Wright’s Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why It Matters. If you were closer, I’d hand it off to you. I’ll give one quote to whet your appetite, “Jesus’ kingdom project is nothing if not the rescue and renewal of God’s creation project.” I am told that Wright’s previous book Simply Christian is also excellent. He writes with some authority, sort of like a modern C.S.Lewis, which is high praise indeed.

    Now back to the Steelers x Broncos wildcard game!

    Shalom

    • Hey Dr J!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and book recommendations. I have read some literature from the theistic evolution viewpoint, but the creationists’ arguments against that stance are fairly compelling too. The thing is, the creationists have gone far enough to convince me that the evolutionary argument is too weak to trust, but not quite far enough to believe wholeheartedly in a young earth. It’s kind of the worst spot to be in!

      I’ve got a couple more books in mind to read before I perhaps take an official stance, so I’ll have to add your recommendation to that list.

  11. Hey Tim, Thanks for being so open about this. I have definitely struggled with this as well and I still do. A few things that have helped me to accept it are:

    1) For people who have never heard of Jesus, this verse gives me comfort “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD…” Jeremiah 29: 13-14. I have heard stories of Jesus appearing in people’s dreams who had never heard of him before. God is a good & just God.

    2) I’ve been reflecting on Heaven actually and I’ve been realizing that Heaven is not just a happy place where there will be no more suffering etc. But Heaven is where we get to be with God forever, where we get to worship Him and delight in His presence. If we don’t delight in His presence here, then once we get to Heaven, would heaven be that “heavenly” for us? Do you know what I mean? If we don’t love God, would we love Heaven?

    3) In reality, we all deserve to go to hell. Not one of us deserves heaven. We have all sided with the devil and therefore have rejected God and don’t deserve to be with Him. There are no “good” people, we are all selfish, we all have evil in our hearts and it is God who transforms our hearts. But He made a way to pay for that ugly sin that we have held onto and we see how ugly sin is when we look at the ugliness of the cross. That is the price that He was willing to pay, that is the price that He had to pay. And we are saved through what He had to go through. If people reject that and reject Him, why should He spend eternity with them? I know this point still sounds harsh, but it is still helpful for me.

    I hope this helps a bit.
    Love you guys.

  12. Pingback: From the Great Red North « K & T

  13. Hi Tim,
    I know I’m weighing in on this much later, and I haven’t read all the comments & responses in detail, but I wanted to write that I don’t think trust, belief, and faith are the same. Personally I think belief is very narrow – it can be reduced to a list. And while it doesn’t make sense to call yourself a Christian without believing God exists, the belief part is not the most important. Belief is just the mind (assenting to propositions), but faith is more – not only the mind but the heart. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt but unfaithfulness (like in a relationship) or indifference. What I’m trying to say is that actions, world view, relationships… all these are a part of faith.
    If we pay attention to what Jesus did, as well as what we said, we see someone who cared deeply for others, especially those who were poor, excluded, outsiders, ill. He held up a Samaritan as an example of how to love your neighbour, even though Judeans and Samaritans did not get along at the time. In Jesus, God shows love for us all, seeing the best in each person. I don’t think it’s necessary to believe each word as literal truth to trust in the most important truth that God so loves us…

  14. Oh, and I thought you might be interested in this quotation:
    “Christianity is prone to becoming a book religion, a religion that worships a book. It must not be. If we remember that the church produced the book, and not vice versa, that ordinary people like us recorded their experiences of God’s liberating love from their various personal and social contexts, we are less likely to deify the Bible.” – Sallie McFague _Life Abundant_

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