Friday, June 24, 2011

my love affair with agnosticism

Sometimes I have serious doubts about the existence of God. Sometimes I feel like such a phony that it keeps me up at night. I'm fluent in Christianese and I know how to craft my words so they build up the image of me that I want to convey. And the image isn't just for other's as much for myself as it is for anyone else. The confident, stable, and certain Charissa is the one that seems the safest. But it's much harder to fool yourself than it is to fool the people around you.

These past few weeks have been tough. God had been silent leading up to John's death (hence, all the blog posts about spiritual deserts), but I guess a part of me believed and hoped He would break the silence to comfort me in my sadness. But He didn't and I stopped asking. I began to slosh through the aftermath of losing a dear friend on my own. It took almost two weeks for me to realize how angry I was with God. Not for John's death...people die every day; I'd have to be just as angry about everyone else who ever died. I was angry because God wasn't doing much to quiet my fears that He might be just figment of my imagination, a coping mechanism for living in such a screwed up world.

And maybe that's all He is. It's possible.

The truth is that not one of us can prove that God is real. That's not to say there aren't compelling reasons to believe that He is. I can think of plenty. But in the end each of us in turn succumbs to the unknown, in death, hoping we were right.

Jose Ortega said,
“And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost – he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked.”
I admit, all this sounds pretty bleak: a lost, shipwrecked soul, grasping on to a seemingly frail hope that all is not pointless. And yet, as I've begun to embrace my lack of certainty, God has grown larger and larger, the ground beneath me firmer and firmer. The end of the quote says the only genuine ideas are the ideas of the shipwrecked, the lost. All this time I've been living my life in chains. Everywhere you go in the church you run into people who think they have it figured out, or are striving to figure it out. We live our lives as Believers thinking there is an exact, right combination of beliefs and doctrines, if we can only just line them up- a theological Rubix Cube. And we strive and toil and agonize our whole lives in this pursuit, under the banner of "glorifying God". I do believe there is absolute truth. I DON'T believe we'll ever know which one of us has it. We're missing the forest for the trees. And I'm only now beginning to see how beautiful and massive the Forest is.

My embrace of agnosticism is freeing me from the chains I put on myself. And the God that I hope with all my heart and soul is real, seems to be breaking His silence. My "tragic, ruthless glance" towards Him, my hope of salvation, is bringing order to the chaos of this life.


  1. I'm confused on how your lack of certainty has made God larger and your foundation firmer. Could you explain that a little more? It seems that as your uncertainty grows, your certainty that God is there should diminish, not grow.

  2. Great reflection Charissa! I don't know where we ever got the idea that we could have absolute certainty about God, but I suspect it's pretty flawed. There are certainly a few things that we can know a bit better, but the level of certainty some people feel they can say about God on a variety of issues, well... I just don't get it.

    I think something that we often miss in this though is what kind of person is our devotion shaping us into. That always has to be a question for me when I'm going through periods of not hearing from God, and I've had many such periods over the last few years. But that's when I ask, is the sort of person I'm becoming in following Jesus good? I tend to think yes, and many times that keeps me going when I might otherwise want to stop.

  3. Isn't it wonderful to find that God isn't generated by the fervency and accuracy of our beliefs-- that God doesn't ditch us or dissolve into nothing if we can't maintain the confidence we had as kids? I blogged about this: how certainty gives way to humility and hope.

  4. Jordan- good question, sorry I didn't explain myself more. What I meant by that is that when you spend your whole life being told exactly what God is/isn't, who he likes, who he doesn't, etc God seems pretty small and manageable. He fits nicely in a box and I should know exactly how to live my life in relation to him. So naturally, when things aren't as certain anymore, the possibilities for who God is and how I should live in relation to him start growing. God gets bigger and bigger. If He's there, I don't think He fits in the box I was trying to fit him in before. Likewise, when you realize the ground beneath you is crumbling away, acknowledging your uncertainty actually gives you a new place to plant your feet. At least that's how it feels to me. Does that make sense?

    Bryan- some of my worst times of doubt, the thing that has kept me going is seeing what beautiful things come out of my life when I'm trying my hardest to imitate Jesus.

    Ouisi- I loved that blog. I definitely track with you that uncertainty leads to hope. It sounds so counter-intuitive, but I guess a lot of things work that way.

    thanks for all your thoughts guys!

  5. Augustine wrote a prayer that concludes:

    "And we need not fear lest we should find no place unto which to return because we fell away from it; for when we were absent, our home-- Thy Eternity-- fell not."

    A beautiful reminder not just for the whole frail and fallen species, but also for those of us who worry that God is going to up and vanish on us.