Spiritual Peripheries: The War Between Nihilism and Faith

HEAVY SPIRITUAL BURDEN

In the spiritual static of despair, doubt roams steadily but uneasily, prepared to consume and destroy but unable to capitulate the desire to understand and heal.

For several weeks now, I have been experiencing a heavy spiritual burden that has had me vacillating between the darkness of disbelief and the hope that the pieces will eventually fall into place before I lose my sanity, my faith, or both. 

From the buoyancy of this spiritual ambivalence comes the whirlwind, the inner-storm, of misunderstanding the roots of faith itself. What do you believe, and why do you believe it? These are the questions my storm has brought to me the last several weeks, and the lingering silence has been haunting me. What could cause a believer to doubt and question in this way? Which direction does doubt take the precarious Christian? If you find it in yourself to follow my pattern of thought and self-examination, we will search for the clarity of truth underneath this lull of uncertain theism.

LOGIC’S INCOMPREHENSION OF FAITH

In hindsight, I realized a while ago that for the majority of the past 8 years, I’ve been trying to understand Jesus through the conduit of logic. It’s no surprise then, looking back over how my faith came to be, that if I am to find logic as one of the pillars of how I came to grasp what faith is and what it means to me, then my foundations have indeed been frivolous and fallible. In retrospect, understanding faith through logic is like estimating the loyalty of a relationship by scoring how many kisses and hugs prescribe genuine commitment. There is no such equation, of course, and as such, the “formula” to faith is arbitrary and oppositional to any methodical delineation of digits or images. Faith is unlike logic in that it commences in the spirit. Concordantly, one must in the least acknowledge belief in both the human spirit (in addition to the body) as well as a personal, sentient God to grasp more fully the significant purpose of the Christian God in Jesus Christ.

THE REASONING OF AN ATHEIST

An atheist commenting on one of my previous articles turned into an e-mail discussion between the two of us, which eventually culminated in his inquiring for “good reasoning” in order to believe in God and Jesus. In light of arguing God’s existence over the constituents of logic and reasoning, the reason for belief in God comes down to purpose. When I disbelieved in both God and Jesus back 10 years ago, I was nearly certain I had no purpose, which is why I wanted to end my life. The atheist I confabulated with expressed himself with stubborn, austere logic, preventing him from viewing Jesus as any more than a fantasy conjured in the imaginative minds of ancient authors from millenniums past. Reasoning itself, I find, is the schism between the conduit of faith and logic, since logic and faith use different patterns of reasoning to understand their own platforms of belief. Let me explain.

LOGIC VS. FAITH

Logic is made viable through the reasoning of mathematics, formulas, particulars and specifics to reach a narrow and condensed table of exacts. Faith is a much more open-ended platform which allows room for belief in the spirit to expand what we declare to know and believe about our own metaphysical existence—apart from our physical, bodily existence in this three-dimensional world. If one grows skeptical over this “expansion” of belief, the believer could ask the skeptic to explain, from their point of view, the otherwise mysterious paranormal activities and spiritual interventions, such as bodily possession, dramatized vocal changes, telekinetic movement of inanimate objects—and all of these apart from the more “benevolent” testimonies of the inner transformation of murderers and addicts into devoted Christians committing their life to Jesus, praising His name publicly and living drastically altered lifestyles after declaring Jesus as Lord. Logic cannot adequately examine such miracles with mathematical particulars. These are beyond explanation, as they act solely as their own evidence in spiritualized empiricism. 

“THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL”

The foggy haze I’ve experienced for the last several weeks has kept my spirituality from moving out of stagnancy and into growth. I’ve considered the possibility that I’m experiencing what is known as the “Dark Night of the Soul,” (St. John of the Cross, 1542-1591) and it’s quite possible this is far from over. This spiritual stint is as unpredictable as it is unmeasurable, since the purification of the soul is commensurate with how much space in the spirit the grace of God frees and opens in the vessel He is refining.

Such a darkness is very familiar to me, especially since I spent years devoting my spirit (though I didn’t believe in the spirit at the time) to doubt and rage, becoming familiar with agnosticism, disbelief, loneliness, and suffering. Familiarity with these led me to expect them to remain my rock and comforters, rather than Jesus. Therefore the darkness in correspondence with “The Dark Night of the Soul” is merely different in the way this new darkness is wielded by God with the intention of making my faith stronger through the conduits of humility, surrender, and reformation; whereas the darkness from many years ago was initiated and manipulated by traumatic circumstances.

Unrestrained familiarity with misery, suffering, and pain (i.e. emotional trauma) would affect a person’s clarity in discerning the reasoning for their belief, as well as awareness of that belief—by confining the conduits of clarity and reasoning to the darkest recesses of the human psyche; namely, the claustrophobic anti-belief of nihilism—that everything we do, are, and experience hopelessly exist without meaning or purpose. 

THE ANTI-THEISM OF NIHILISM

Spiritual tension-turned-rebellion, born of aggressive unbelief, is a sure-fire trajectory into the dangerously obscured, empty waters of nihilism. How is this true? Spiritual tension is the static thought between our desire for purpose and our denial of its manifestation in our lives, and when this static thought is left undeveloped or unmoved, it can transmute to the colorless backdrop of nihilistic beliefs, beginning with the fallacy that purpose itself is an ideological myth conjured in order for people to tolerate the inevitable tragedy of suffering.

Ultimately, every person believes in something, if nothing less than the something of nothingness (the anti-theism born of nihilism). In order to incarnate the belief in nothingness into its own ideology however, one must incorporate the anti-belief into action by implementing a lifestyle commensurate with the immaterial of its corresponding anti-faith. In order to accept such a broad, ambiguous, and practically anarchic freedom from spirituality or religiosity, one must force-feed themselves the tentative possibility that purpose does not matter, inferring that the significance of meaning itself is purely subjective. In effect, this inference demands that we indefatigably consider accepting that we need neither (purpose nor meaning) to determine whether or not either are mandatory to live a fulfilling, complete life.

SEVERING EMOTIONAL BONDS

Surely we can try to imagine a life without purpose, but such a life demands the severing of emotional association or attachment; connections to people and things which feed us the feeling of acceptance and belonging. Purpose demands that a person finds an intrinsic truth regarding his or her life in feeling connected to a person or thing, and that that connection is their reason to live. We innately seek a feeling of connection, belonging, and acceptance, as this is the criteria from which we search our lives for purpose. Oppositely, the severing of bonds as required of nihilism demands that we retire this criteria and resist/ignore/avoid the desire to connect at all.

THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF PURPOSELESSNESS

The very substance of relationships is how we sense our purpose inside the connections we feel safest in. Safety guards our purpose with closure, rebuking the fear we have of losing our purpose and ensuring our existence with the emotional belief that we need connection to live. Purposelessness demands the opposite, requiring that we sever this connection and live under the belief that we need nothing; the thoughts in our head and the repetition of routine—or the adventure of spontaneity—survive merely as luxurious conveniences and psychological appendages stuffed within the unnecessary fat of our brain. However, these “appendages” are also connected to us via purpose—we derive a sense of purpose from either being on the go, or being swept up by the monotonous flow of expecting our life to mirror itself day-by-day. In other words, even what we may refer to as a literalistic sense of purposelessness requires that we remain connected to purpose in such a way as to continue living in the wavelength of a predictably phlegmatic nonchalance.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as purposelessness, as even declaring ourselves without purpose commands that we seek purpose in some other materialistic way. To be completely without purpose would infer a premature nonexistence; not even in death, but only in never having been born into an earthly body in the first place would we no longer carry a purpose. We would then be void of the spirit sustaining this psychological dichotomy between living for someone or something, and living only for the uncompromising dissatisfaction of materialism—both of which require a connection to purpose through the conduit of belief to remain coherently true.

NIHILISM’S CATCH 22

If we are to accept that we have a purpose, then we must also accept the truth behind nihilism, namely that it is a lie attempting to manipulate us into believing there is nothing to believe. Since that is the fundamental root of nihilism, which in itself is a belief, then what we can gather is that the purpose of nihilism is to believe that there is nothing to believe—or, in other words—a “catch 22.” Once we accept this ‘catch’ as a lie, we simultaneously grasp the truth of our purpose, which promises—through the Christian faith—that our most intrinsic need is to connect, belong, be accepted, feel loved, and trust this feeling of safety within the parameters of intimacy (fellowship)—through our belief that life is fulfilled by experiencing intimacy with other people by the love and grace of God through Jesus. 

A DARK BURDEN REVEALED

This said, as a believer unsure of the source point from which my faith originally began, I am curious to understand the basis of the faith I first started ingesting 8 years ago. My reasoning for this choice is this. Either I completely engage with Jesus, or I pull back entirely by refusing Him. If I refused Jesus access to my heart and gave Him a definitive “no” for an answer (which isn’t something I’m prepared to do), I believe I would end up returning to the lonely, dejecting life of doubt and uncertainty which, after the terrible despair of my adolescent years, I know would be far more severe. Aware of this, I am not ready to refuse Jesus, but careful to tread the waters slowly, unsure of whether this water is where I belong (purpose); not so much because of whether it is too “hot” or “cold,” (preferable or not) but based on whether or not it is the life I feel (spiritually) intrinsically associated with. For example, there are places in this world where each of us feel out of place, out of sync, and disconnected—not only with our environment and the people in it, but also with ourselves. This disconnectedness is our spirit speaking to our subconscious, making known that we don’t belong there and commanding that we find the place where we do. In likeness, I need to comprehend my connectedness with Jesus to move forward with Him.

This is how I know I don’t belong within the torture of refusing Jesus: I can sense—even in the hospitable rumination of denying Him—that He would let me turn away to walk towards to the darkest of the black of anti-faith to allow me to experience the burden I had chosen, in order to reveal why I would ultimately choose to come running back to Him, sincerely desperate for a Savior once more.

THE SOURCE OF THE BATTLE

Sometimes, in the midst of spiritual chaos, there is no happy ending in sight. That is a reality just as there is no war without bloodshed and pain. We began our introspection with the question, “What do you believe, and why?” This question leads us in many directions without an effective compass. We know we cannot expect logic to help us determine a direction because the brain cannot comprehend the spirit. In the middle of this desert-like darkness myself, I have few helpful words to write about where to turn to other than towards the hope that a response from Jesus will come. I am not without any personal experiences inviting me to believe Jesus is real in my life, but I am attempting to understand whether my previous experiences conjured a belief I wanted to cling to for the sake of having something to cling to (careening on the periphery of nihilism while insinuating a lack of genuine surrender to the invitation of Christianity from the start), or whether my beliefs were conjured inevitably from a supernatural source of spiritual transcendence (grace). 

A GLIMMER OF HOPE

Despite my storm, I believe faith to be necessary because without it, we leave all our questions and curiosities without answers or explanations— without even so much as acknowledgement that our questions and yearning to understand derive from our desire to know our life purpose.

Our need to know our purpose is given to us from our Creator, and it is my awareness of this which gives me the one and only glimmer of hope that there must be a reason I want the belief in Jesus as Lord to make more sense in my spirit, and less like an “I told you so” from the outside world. It is this desire to understand why I would want Jesus to be my Lord that keeps me from asking Him to leave me in utter darkness. Moving forward, may God open our eyes and help us to see the Truth He has called us to embrace, and be transformed by his grace in the process. I pray this for myself and for you, in the name of Jesus.

CONNECT WITH ME

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Foggy

Disbelief & Finding My Way Home: Part 1

THE WHOLE STORY

I would like to fully explain why I converted from atheism to Christianity. I have shared bits and pieces of my conversion story in previous articles, but I want to tie it all together in this two-part series. Here, I hope to clarify for people who may relate to my testimony just how powerful God truly is. Needless to say, Part 1 will be darker/heavier because of context that this took place before I understood what to make of my past, emotionally and spiritually. Part 2 will complete the story and bring us to the present where I can now see God working in my faith, and I will share more on that with you as well. 

By writing this, I hope to bring clarity, hope, and direction to others who are in the position of searching for life’s answers without knowing which way to turn.

THE BETRAYAL OF TRUST THROUGH TRAUMA

My parents’ divorce left me reeling, drowning in questions and denial. Growing up, I’d grown extremely fond of the security of familiarity, of placing all of my trust in my family’s presence, the memories we made, and the traditions that made being a part of family so special. For example, we were told to wait upstairs on Christmas morning until our dad turned on the foyer Christmas tree lights in order to come downstairs and see the mountain of presents in the living room. They would dim the lights, and we would never think anything of my parents’ droopy eyes as they had been up an hour earlier preparing the eye-popping display.

In another example, my family was active—we would go outside and play ball after dinner as the sun went down. We did this frequently, and it fed me the passion for exercise, activity, adventure, and fun.

When my parents divorced, the very cheerful, optimistic, positive part of me became very serious, quiet, reserved, and exclusive. My thoughts burrowed inward, trying to grasp with profundity the depth of my own pain.

My dad would urge me to keep going to church, since we were raised Catholic—but I refused to attend over the course of two church invitations. The notion of any kind of God was not only unappealing, it was detestable. How could a God allow this suffering to take place? I was sure there was no God because no God would allow me or anyone to experience this excruciating emotional pain and familial division. But that was only the beginning of the pain.

SUICIDE AND PURPOSELESSNESS

When my questions following the divorce became unbearable and everything I’d believed seemed to be wrong, I felt myself imploding intolerably. This new reality where my mom slept in another house and everything was drastically different was utterly nightmarish and terrifying to me, emotionally. The rules had changed and life had become more about survival. Nothing I had believed about life seemed real anymore. I couldn’t find myself embracing this new reality with my family torn apart and unfamiliarity at every corner, and I also couldn’t wrest the old reality back from its grave. This realization birthed the deepest, darkest feeling I ever thought was possible: I wanted to kill myself.

For 11 years, this wasn’t even a thought. Suicide was not even a vocabulary word that I was capable of conjuring. But suddenly, out of absolute nothingness, death became a possibility; a desire. I’ll never forget, because wanting death was the most degrading feeling. I’ve learned there is nothing darker than wanting death, and that death’s invitation is consuming.

MENTAL BREAKDOWN

I was in my teens, 13-15, lying on the floor of my room with the door closed, crying until I could barely breathe through my nose. All I could think of was how nothing was the same anymore; there were no remnants left of my past reality, everything was over and there was no going back.

My mind tried to get creative about how to end my life, and I took myself to my bathtub. On more than one occasion, when the water pressure began choking me, my mind was screaming to find a reason to live to avoid the pain of air emptying from my lungs. My chest was growing tighter and I had to decide if I was going to die this way. I started seeing stars and I could hear my own heartbeat; time was drawing close and I didn’t want to let in—I wanted to die. Alone, my family outside somewhere, clueless to my intentions, I was merely moments away from breathing my last, when I came out of the water. I breathed, looked at the walls of the tub, and begged myself for justification as to why I had chosen against death. I didn’t have a good reason: I was afraid of the pain of losing air—my lungs screaming for me to save myself was horrifying. Living in a house full of people who didn’t know me or my pain was also horrifying. There was no escape. The misery drew anguish and bitterness.

No, there is no God. A God wouldn’t allow this suffering. God would be evil to allow this. These were my thoughts and I got out of the tub to continue living, although without certainty; wondering how else I could end my life.

PARALYZED RELATIONSHIPS

My relationship to my mom was strained after the divorce. As soon as she left home to move to another house, I had to begin learning to pack bags for sleepovers. Every week I would pack necessities to take back and forth. There was more than one problem with this. The first was that right after the divorce, the presence of my mom was very different than from before the divorce; her new presence was something I did not like, nor did I want to be around. Because of her attitude and behavior, I did not want to see her often, and I felt guilty for not wanting to see her. After all, she was my mom. Not only did this seem contradictory, but it was causing me mountains of stress, guilt, anxiety, and racing thoughts. I would constantly analyze everything that was said and how it was said to pick up on anything I could in order to placate the disagreements we had. Mom had picked up on my lack of desire to spend more time with her and became angry and hurt. Her anger made me withdraw even further, and I quickly learned that our new relationship dynamic was terrifyingly different from the way it was growing up. This change haunted me—what was to become of my mom and me?

More confusing was the way my dad seemed so uninvolved with me. Our relationship seemed to have retreated, which lasted about a decade. Throughout all of my adolescence, I didn’t talk to my dad very much. In every sense of the word, my relationships with both of my parents were paralyzed. We weren’t moving forward, no one seemed to want to move back, and we were not on the same page. The horrors of the divorce crippled us and made everything that once was so beautiful into something unrecognizable, dilapidated, obsolete, disappointing. My heart was throbbing with fear, but there was no closure.

KORN/CLOSURE/VALIDATION

When I was 16, I found my first Korn album, “The Untouchables.” Upon playing the first song, “Here To Stay,” I was hooked. Never again would I find a band as interesting and addictive as Korn; their lyrical expression of rage, pain, depression, and self-mutilation were spot on with that of my own thoughts. I quickly learned that I not only related to Korn, but that they spoke into my experiences. Korn became my musical “Gospel,” in that I would listen to them for hours on end, embracing their anger, resistance, and ability to fight pain with rage and hate as my own. I soon believed that anger and hatred were ways to find strength in my darkness of despair and trauma. My desire for death was still present, but Korn was like a strong dose of morphine; they would speak into my darkest place and tell me my feelings were valid.

LAST RESORT

Along the way of finding myself tortured by the questions challenging my sanity, I found myself drawing closer to girls. Their attention gave me energy and I desired to impress them and earn their loyalty; their relationship. I ended up bringing my search for purpose to my girlfriend my senior year of high school; someone who I would learn later on could never have fulfilled that part of me. No girl ever could have, but I didn’t know where else to search for closure from all the pain. I didn’t know where else to search for purpose. I was living for me, and hating every second of it.

FINAL ULTIMATUM

After all those years of heavily contemplating my life and its brokenness, topped off by resorting to lust and infatuation—I decided to pursue film studies in Florida when I was 21 to make something of my life while I continued my search for something beyond the pain. By moving to Florida to study film, I was intending to also leave behind all of my memories in Michigan. Like a placebo pill however, my mind wanted to make believe leaving Michigan would numb the pain (my past). But, after many years of being away, I’d learned that the kind of pain I experienced wasn’t solved by geography, but by the spirit. My spirit had been plagued by anger, bitterness, selfishness, and resistance to any sort of aid—and in turn, my mentality, maturity, and belief system were closed-minded and shallow. More on this will be elaborated upon in Part 2.

JUST THE BEGINNING

What is important to note here and now is that this isn’t the end of my story. This is just the first step in the path. All of this, as it were, marked by darkness, bitterness, and despair–this is not the end of anyone’s story. This is the reason for Part 1 and 2; I need you, as the reader, to fully grasp this picture as its own image, because when you understand the rest of the story, you will come to see where the transformation is, where God’s hand was, and how it’s a matter of taking a leap of faith to see what even our physical eyes cannot. In Part 2, I will explain all of this so that you can see for yourself that our pain and our questions have answers and solutions, even if it doesn’t seem like it yet. I can tell you right now that despite my pain, God is still good!!

LET’S CONNECT

If you resonated with this article and would like to read more, please follow this blog, and please share this with anyone. You may also find me at my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to leave your thoughts or any questions you may have in the comments below. I’ll do my best to respond as promptly as possible. May God bless you today!

Jolt

Movie Review: The Case For Christ

Based on the book written by Lee Strobel, “The Case For Christ” pensively digs into Lee’s elaborate journey and bold attempt to disprove the legitimacy of the gospel claims that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Along the way, he faces the reality of witnessing his wife seemingly transformed by her newfound faith—and, ultimately, he discovers a truth beyond his wildest expectations. 

“The Case for Christ” is long overdue, and was incredibly refreshing to see on the big screen.

THE DEPTH OF SKEPTICISM

One of my personally favorite aspects of “The Case For Christ” was the relevant and very real skepticism. As a previous atheist myself, this entire film was extremely relatable as it pervasively and heavily questioned the roots and foundation of Christianity: Did Jesus raise from the dead? How can we know? Did Jesus even actually die

What tops off the heaviness in the film like icing on the cake is that it answers every last question with such refreshing perspectives and scientifically founded research by the world’s most renowned scientists, skeptics, and writers (obviously portrayed by actors here). No stone is left unturned—even in the sense that the pinnacle of all questions for the skeptic, “How much evidence is enough?” is given the time and space to breathe.

NOT TAKING SIDES

I appreciated this film’s ability to take belief in Christ as seriously as it took atheism, giving both points of view equal weight without trying to take sides. This approach allows the viewer to watch, observe, contemplate, and ultimately face the very difficult question: “What do you believe?”

While the film’s finale does have an answer for the main character (since this film is based on a true story and the events have already unfolded), it still leaves room for the viewer to decide for themselves what makes more sense, and which direction they would rather take the questions and answers. What is admirable about such a Christian film like this, and what is truly powerful in the end, is how this film’s message is not “Believe! Faith the right answer!” Rather, it is, “These are the facts, the evidence, and the answers to these questions. Now, what do you make of it?” In other words, by no means does this film try to claim that one way is right and the other wrong. There is simply, “If you don’t agree, how do you explain it, then?” For me, as an audience member, that gave the film stats for being confident enough not to need to be trying to prove itself.

A CHRISTIAN FILM THAT DOESN’T FEEL FORCED

Every conversation in this movie has a strong, welcoming sense of realism to it. There are the atheists and the believers, but Jon Gunn places careful weight into each scene of dialogue, balancing a story based on true events and grounding the conversations inspired by a man’s journey through controversy and doubt, surrounded by facts pointing in an unexpected direction and the egocentric tenacity to be right before being open-minded.

There have been several films that have tried to include the message of Jesus but awkwardly end up portraying evangelism as forced and overplayed. Sometimes the “evangelism scenes” have been so obvious as to be cringeworthy as the viewer sinks in his or her seat trying to escape the awkwardness of a camera centered on an actor’s face clearly reading dialogue that didn’t come from their mouthes first. In “The Case For Christ,” these issues are refreshingly replaced with genuine emotion and authentic angst. Here, believers do not produce cringeworthy moments. These scenes, back-to-back, are so natural as to be inviting. Each scene seems to point to the next without trying to hold your hand or convince you of anything. The script speaks for itself, and it does so flawlessly.

Once more I will add how atheism in this film is given the space to speak skepticism and scrutiny into the most scandalized and controversial story in human history—and, important to note, this is not done by making the unbeliever to be the “bad guy,” but simply as another curious character in the story.

Lee faces challenges of his own as his friends oppose his rigidity while he journeys to discover answers to the most difficult and straining Christian questions. What is so riveting about witnessing these questions unfold into deeper, more challenging questions and equally satisfying discoveries throughout the movie is how we are invited to intimately take part in these difficult conversations—drawn in by their relatability and firm grounding. Reason being, we would be asking the same questions if we had never honestly or intentionally pursued the answers of such a heavily influenced faith before, and we would be just as skeptical if we started off without any answers. Mike Vogel portrays this doubt and skepticism so naturally that it is a heart-wrenching, mind-bending experience to follow him through his story, realizing there’s no way around the facts; this helps the viewer both empathize with his frustration, while simultaneously and incorrigibly feeling inspired by the results. 

THE BEST LOVE STORY

The love story here is unlike any other we’ve seen before. An atheistic couple becomes traumatized when their daughter almost chokes to death before their eyes, and when a random Samaritan comes to their aid, their lives change forever. Lee’s wife (portrayed beautifully by Erika Christensen) is the first to feel the effects of the miracle and cannot let go of what has embraced her heart through the unthinkable. Her spirit is moved and transformed, and soon enough she is seeing everything differently through the eyes of a faith she never thought she would have given a second thought to. 

What’s beautiful is the way this transformation plays into her marriage with Lee, and their daughter. Throughout the movie, this marriage relationship is the framework for the story. As Lee chases the answers to the controversy of a resurrected Messiah to prove once and for all how hokey it is—his marriage is directly impacted by both his tenacity to be right, and his wife’s oppositional desire to draw him into the love that she has discovered by faith in the transcendent God of the Bible she reads. Experiencing their scenes together as their story unfolds is extremely moving, inspiring, heart-breaking, full of substance, and absent of any wasted time. Their marriage is portrayed with the realistically problematic characteristics of a couple experiencing the stress of disagreement and change, and simultaneously the desire to not lose one another no matter the cost. Truly, as a born-again Christian myself, watching this relationship on-screen brought tears to my eyes more than once as I carefully considered the reality behind every line spoken, every motive and every hope of each character, delicately and passionately moved for both of them to grow closer and not farther apart. 

WHY YOU SHOULD SEE THIS MOVIE

Whether or not you are a Christ-follower matters not with regards to whether you should see this movie or not. By the time this movie ended and the credits rolled, I felt very grateful for the experience because I didn’t feel as though I was favored by the movie for being a Christian, and I didn’t get the impression that atheists were targeted or shoved into the corner and given some kind of speech or pep talk. This film speaks candidly, informatively, open-mindedly, and factually with evidence that has been retrieved regarding the resurrection, and the best part of this movie is the delivery: There is no preaching here. Yes, there are multiple scenes which take place in a church building, but these scenes are used in context. Rather than being “those scenes with the preacher,” these scenes are used for the purpose of motivation; we come to understand the lead characters on deeper level by seeing them interact with different environments as they try to discover more about this “Jesus” they have been introduced to through others.

I love how human this movie is, so down to Earth. There is nothing about this film that tries to be more than it is organically. This film is open-minded and simultaneously well-informed—so much so that the only debate is between the viewer and him/herself. 

PARENTAL ADVISORY

This film is rated PG, and just about all of the rating lends itself to the subject matter and thematic material associated with it. The rating is not so much referring to any viscerally inappropriate content. There are some hand-drawn images of the crucifixion and examples of various aspects of the flogging, and while they are not gratuitous, they do imply, unambiguously, what happened to Jesus in the last 12 hours of his life. Be discerning of whether or not your child can or should handle viewing images of crucifixion-related events–even if they are not portrayed with actors and gruesome effects/makeup. These images are, of course, brief enough that you could cover your child’s eyes and not have them miss several minutes worth of the film. There is also a scene of domestic drama late in the film which, for its own right, is certainly something to be mindful of for children who are sensitive to altercation. But, to be clear, there is no graphic violence, nor any obscene language. Lastly, there is a hospital visit scene in which a prisoner’s face is shown after a beating, and it may be slightly unsettling for young children. Again, please use your own discernment with regards to your child’s sensitivity. Other than these details, the film does not contain anything so inappropriate that a child would need to be shielded.

Overall, I give “The Case For Christ” a 5/5. There is story, character development, great writing, and fantastic delivery on all fronts. This film will challenge, inspire, and inquire that you question further anything you don’t understand. The film motivates us not to leave anything unfinished. Lee Strobel went to the end of his rope trying to prove the resurrection was a hoax, and ultimately, he was shocked to discover a different set of answers. That doesn’t mean you will as well, but it does mean that when we search for the answers, and if the answers themselves don’t seem strong enough, we can ask ourselves, “How much evidence is enough?” Even an atheist must take a leap of faith to believe there is nothing to believe. 

CONNECT WITH ME

If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to read more, please follow this blog, and please share this with anyone. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog 2017, Twitter at LPBlog2017, Instagram at LPBlog2017, Pinterest at Lance Price Blog 2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to leave your thoughts or any questions you may have in the comments below. 

Did anyone else enjoy watching this film? Feel free to leave those thoughts below as well. God bless you!!

Unravel

Reminiscence: The Power Of Testimony

As we entered 2017, I rediscovered a song by one of my favorite rock artists, Red, called “Take Me Over”, from their album Of Beauty and Rage. As I listened, I found memories flooding through me—reminders of where I’ve come in my journey as a believer in Christ, and how, at first, I didn’t take my faith very seriously. Not all that different from dipping your toes in the pool to test the temperature, and then questioning the jump. Through reminiscence, I want to share myself with you in the hopes that, through reflection and testimony, I can meet you where you are, where you may have been, or where you may want to go.

My faith, starting off about six and a half years ago, commenced with uncertainty and skepticism, dubious about what I was getting into and ascertaining the Christian faith made sense before completely committing myself to applying what faith meant: Fully embracing a relationship with Jesus as Lord. At first, honestly, I was curious but simultaneously critical. As an atheist, I was about to leave disbelief behind and accept an invitation to a world most of society lambasted as fallacious and cynical; a religion, so it seemed, that I had been raised around but had never accepted into my heart. Many people looked down on (or were puzzled by) believers for embracing Christ as Lord, openly with faith, rather than only admitting to Christ as a man. I was one of the puzzled bystanders, at one time.

On top of skepticism and doubt was my ever-reductionist perspectives of Jesus and God: He was still fairly one-dimensional to someone like me, someone who, encountering faith as an onlooker while hesitantly inching closer to hear more of the story—took some time to unveil the clandestine Jesus not accurately or effectively described in religion, but described by those walking with Him in intimate relationship; delineating Christ with substance, color, warmth, and reality—truly helping me understand Him relationally and not just knowledgeably.

According to me and my atheism, anyone who believed in a higher power was giving up their ability to live life without concerns (I now understand that belief to be morally indignant). What I would later learn through humility and consequent understanding of the person of Christ through Scripture, Christian friends, and prayer, was that my resistance to surrendering my life to live for Christ clashed with His command to love others who seem to hate us back, and the claim that He was a just, loving God at a time when everything in my life was falling apart; which obviously didn’t seem to align with that claim.

An atheist isn’t ostracized by secularized society because their thinking coincides in believing everything metaphysical or spiritual in life just happens the way it does because it does (despite their disbelief in spirituality altogether). Secularized society also relates to the atheist more than the Christ-follower in their definition of and justification for morality, explaining that they know right from wrong by “what feels right”. The fallibility of this argument, as I would come to understand during my time of learning about Christianity, is that there is no basis for such a belief; morality cannot be singularized to the individual because the individual has nothing firm on which to instill their self-defined moral compass. In other words, unbelievers claiming to feel they know what is right versus wrong categorize morality in terms of emotion (see Timothy Keller’s Reason For God). However, since morality isn’t founded on emotion, but rather on the soul, this argument falls weightless. Believers accept the Ten Commandments, as well as the complementary (and conglomerative) Golden Rule, therefore the believer’s basis of belief is planted in acknowledging God’s sovereign, divine will above their own. In this belief, morality is set above humanity; transcendent, if you will, and therefore it cannot “just be known” (innate morality) without acknowledging the source of our moral compass—God—and getting to know Him in order to understand better how the Bible calls us to live and act in a morally righteous way.

As for the secularized worldview of unbelievers not interested in explaining nor fully understanding the mysteries of spirituality in the world, and thus choosing to deny spirituality altogether—I didn’t search for an explanation for the way the world worked until after my parents divorced. For me, the world was perfect as is up until then. Their divorce turned everything upside down, including my naivety in seeing the world as some perfect place to feel safe in.

With regard to my drastic spiritual perspective shift after my parents divorce, I think an excerpt by C.S. Lewis’s from Mere Christianity says it best:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”? … What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fantasies… Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.”

Like Lewis, my parents’ divorce, and every event which ensued—my only brother moving out, my mom moving out, each family member dealing with pain and suffering uniquely and differently; entering middle school from elementary school, feeling the condemnation of my family and students at school for not believing in God—seemed extremely “cruel and unjust” to a young mindset like my own. I couldn’t find the idea of God as legitimate in any of my misery. Denying God’s love and very existence was a commensurate response to a childhood not founded on faith, followed by events too threatening to a heart like mine, and at a time when nothing appeared to be pointing me towards Him, but towards the need for closure I ended up discovering through lust. I wouldn’t receive C.S. Lewis’s wisdom for myself until years later.

Right after the divorce, I felt dead inside in a way I didn’t know was even possible up to my 12th year of life. See, as a child with married parents (who appeared to be alright), I had been so filled with bliss that I was a giddy. I was the first kid running outside right after dinner finished to play ball, and I was the one excited to watch a movie with the family later on every weekend. I was hyper, cheerful, and satisfied; but naive, shielded, and not made aware of the importance of faith in Jesus. When their divorce hit, the shock imploded on me like an earthquake, minimizing my worth and my passion for life as a child. Ultimately, the stronghold of agnosticism transmuted into atheism, confiscating the home of my reason, logic, and mental health; dilapidating all the cheeriness, hyperactivity, and giddiness—which then became quiet pensiveness, darkness of thought, and eventually suicidal tendencies. During my darker years, I picked up the habit of lifting weights at school to land my rage in something tangible. I listened to Korn because I was constantly feeling hurt or angry, and I needed the validation. Those dark, raging emotions never left. Disbelief became my identity, and I didn’t try to understand the misconstrued idea of a loving God, or Jesus. They were lost characters in a book too old to worry about until I was 22.

Listening Red’s “Take Me Over” reminded me of where I come from, how at one point I begged for death and thought of nothing else but death, but now I feel inspired to remember that I’m far from where I was back then; disbelieving in God, hating myself, everything in my life and this world. The song encouraged me to continue to desire Christ because He is my Rock, my stability, my Lord, my best friend, and my God. His love endured through my most painful years and met me at college in Florida where He helped me see that my story wouldn’t end in disbelief. Through friends, church, prayer, support, and encouragement, faith became my life, and I never let go.

Faith, not religion, is my answer to pain now. I will never forget where I come from, and I think that’s healthy because my testimony is that much stronger now: I started off without Jesus, officially denied Him when my life revealed its depravity of suffering and pain… then Jesus opened my eyes to see His reality, and His reality is glorious, perfect, beautiful, and worthy of surrender and hope. My hope is in Him, because where it was—life as only “happy” when seeking relationship to ease my pain, putting pressure on girls to fill God’s role in my life—that wasn’t my purpose, and that isn’t humanity’s purpose. My old mentality and lifestyle didn’t prove to be a life at all because it didn’t offer any form of hope. No more can money buy happiness than can hedonism and narcissism feed a person the reason and passion to truly live. I learned this after years of pursuing idols (music, lust, movies, and social acceptance from people ultimately not worthy of that effort), and seeing the reality of Jesus through the actions of others; through prayers answered right in front of me, through feeling my own transformation from the inside, and amazingly—witnessing my story of conversion inspire and encourage others.

I’ve written this before, but this is why I have a blog—in hopes that maybe you’ll relate to my past, my history, maybe even just one aspect of it—or perhaps, of the traumas I’ve experienced, you have suffered one or more in your own way. I believe what matters is not what we go through, but how we respond to our circumstances. More importantly, what matters is who we believe is behind the scenes of our pain, and whether or not they have the power and the love to help us learn, heal, and grow from those experiences. The divorce nearly killed me—but it didn’t. I didn’t believe in God, but I do now, and I believe in Jesus as Lord. I would never have thought I would say that in my teens. But this is my life now, and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.

How do you see your traumas in life? Have they become your identity, or have you been looking for something bigger than yourself or your adversities to find your identity in? Perhaps you’ve tried putting all of your hope in yourself; but you won’t last on your own. We all need something stronger than ourselves to get through the chaos of life, and numbing ourselves through stoicism isn’t strength, but muted agony. We need strength through hope and love, which derives not of ourselves, but through the eternity promised us in Christ’s resurrection.

I thought I would include some of the song’s which inspired me to start this post, maybe you’ll find something relevant in the words for you as well:

RED‘s “Take Me Over” (Album: Of Beauty and Rage)

Find my life ahead–
Oh I don’t know, I don’t know where…
But, I’m starting on my way—
Will you meet me, will you meet me there?
Echoes in the night…
Like a melody is haunting me…
But then I meet your eyes—
With the fire of a rising sun—
I am standing on the edge:
Take me over, take me over!

See how fast this life can change!
Take me further, lead me further–
Do you believe a life can change?
Take me over, Take me over!…

I heard these lyrics and they reminded me of my desires to know Jesus, and why I want that. I don’t know what His plan is, but I know I am passionate to know Him and to follow Him. When I meet Him in my heart, I am already standing on the edge of life, and my desire is for Him to take me beyond my hopes and fears and into His desires for me. My life changed because of Jesus, and now I just want Him to live through me. I want Him to take me over, encompass my mind and heart, and bless others through His works in me. I am only a vessel (2 Timothy 2:21); my life isn’t mine, my story belongs to Him.

I hope you will find encouragement and inspiration in my words; a reason to consider faith in the ambush of chaos in life. God loves you, and He will show you His love and His healing power if you will ask and have faith in what He can do. I had to put forward faith before I was really able to see the way Jesus worked in my life, but once I did, I find that my eyes cannot look away. My prayer is that you will try to put hope where you haven’t before in faith that Jesus will be there waiting to reveal Himself to a humble, curious heart. And once you see what I’ve come to see, may your eyes never depart from experiencing His grace and love opening the path before you, showing you towards the hope of Heaven.

To read more, please follow this blog. You may also find me my Facebook page at Lance Price Blog, Twitter at LancePrice2017, or on Tumblr at lancepriceblog2017. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think would benefit, and feel free to write in the comments below–I would love to hear from you! God bless you!!

Year

Recognizing the Broken Soul In the Mystery Of Faith

 

Before I received Jesus into my life, I was an atheist; and before I was an atheist, I was raised Catholic in a very traditional church where repetition seemed more sacred than relationship, and repentance more emphasized than forgiveness or community. The concept of God always seemed a one-dimensional idea that didn’t breathe, feel, or matter, and therefore it never pulled at me during those years. I didn’t pray because I didn’t have any faith in receiving an answer, and also because I didn’t believe with my heart that there was even a God listening. 

PHYSICAL STRENGTH & IDENTITY

During the end of seventh grade, when I was going on 14—I began weight-lifting to get in shape for the football season the following fall. What I eventually grasped, after playing for one season and disliking it at the time—was that I only had a passion for muscle-building. I enjoyed my time in the weight room far more than my time on the field. Once I fully realized my interest for weight-lifting as a bodybuilding exercise and not as preparation for any specific sport, I began idolizing muscle-building, putting more emphasis on working out my body to receive attention from society than on challenging my mind and soul to stretch and understand the esoteric of the supernatural and the theological. If I couldn’t work out, it was a big deal because I had associated looking strong as a part of my identity; trying to act strong with my body without actually being strong of heart or pertinacious of will.

Years of this mentality drove me to take offense when anyone would label me as thin or weak, because I tried so hard to be the opposite. Truth is, I only weighed 155lbs, but my pride told me I was 200lbs of muscle. In fact, my pride convinced me that my identity had to be stronger than I really was, and it rejected the humility of accepting that I was holding myself back from my true potential. What my true potential was—or what I learned it was later on—obviously had nothing to do with my muscular physique. But I was stubbornly clinging to the artificiality of strength for power in a lifestyle void of spiritual purpose or meaning.

From where does our desire for power derive from? Everyone wants to feel powerful, but not always in the same way. Some people want power in the form of wealth, where others want power in the form of fear or intimidation. I wanted power in the form of strength, volition, and recognition/validation. And while none of these related to my true potential, they all drove me towards the desire for a purpose that made sense to a heart lacking belief in the supernatural; I didn’t believe in God, therefore power and validation were my reasons to breathe and to live for the next moment, the next hour—and even for tomorrow.

UNINSPIRED BY RELIGION

The impersonal aspects and disconnects of my childhood religion–preceding the trauma of my parents’ divorce, grandparents’ death, and being forced to cope with the repercussions of such drastic life changes–were still my reasons not to return to some one-dimensional religious system. However, looking back now, lacking faith in God changed everything for the worse.

There was a time in my life when I was only open to the topic of God if I was allowed to exit as soon as possible. I remember choosing to restrain my capacity to accept the topic of the possibility of God’s existence to enter the conversation long enough to make me think. Now, I consider myself a very deep thinker, and quite analytical, but at the time I was an atheist, I was “deep” in that I was studious about the psychology of the mind; not so much the influence and influx of spiritual matters and their pertinence to human purpose.

I obstinately rejected the consideration of a world in which supernatural forces could coincide with the existence of mankind; where the insidious actions of some God seemed to leave behind a trail of devastation, heartache, misery, and pain.

PAIN, EVIL, TRAUMA, & GOD

What I failed to understand as an atheist, and one of the ways I now relate to atheists today, or even agnostics who aren’t sure of what they believe—is that pain, suffering, heartache, and even devastation—these are all circumstances God allows so we will call out to Him for help, closure, and guidance; where His response will not be to eradicate the danger or to rescind the trauma, but to guide us through our hurt and pain.

Does this all sound too technical or cliche? To rephrase: God uses trauma to help us to draw near to Him.

Another common argument I hear brought up is that if there is a God, He is evil because He allows evil. If you are someone who believes God causes evil, however, then you have misplaced the Devil with God, confusing the two by making the mistake of allocating evil to one spiritual force, and ignoring the other. Basically, you are–whether intentionally or not—dismissing the fact that there is not one, but two separate spiritual forces at play simultaneously: God and the Devil (good and evil). Ultimately, you absolutely cannot have one without the other while on Earth. To argue that point, you would have to claim that love can exist without evil—and on the plane of Earth, free will is what convolutes the nature between choosing one over the other. This picture of free will is what creates the undeniable schism between love and hate; good and evil. Free will dictates the extraordinary dichotomy in which humans have ably produced the atrocities of generations past, as well as the blessings of goodness in human history (good samaritans, acts of selflessness without credit or reward, etc.). The choice to love can replace—or override—the choice to do evil, because in order to decide on one and not the other, one must be decided against. Primordially, choice is what gave birth to sin to begin with: Choice (pride over humility) was what transformed Lucifer into Satan.

Therefore, God and the Devil cannot both be evil, otherwise love could not exist. But since we know love does exist, both of the spiritual forces cannot be evil. One must contradict the other in order for us to raise the dichotomy of their differences in debate, transmuting the concept of morality into a reality we can see, touch, taste, and smell.

For instance, the taste of flesh is connotative of cannibalism and, depending on which culture you reference—for the majority of people, cannibalism is considered “bad.” However, does it make a difference whether or not the person being cannibalized is an adult or newborn baby? Does your conscience not speak into this discussion and call for a timeout? If that is not an explicit indicator of the existence of morality, what is?

As an atheist, none of these thoughts were even given the light of day. Not until years into discovering Christ did I even give them any consideration to make sense of them at all. What’s important to me now is that I share where I am with people who are open to receiving it, and that I try to be as gentle as possible out of respect of understanding where they are now, considering where I was, many years ago.

GRACE AND MORALITY

For those who don’t believe in the love of Jesus–extending grace may at times becomes not a gift from one person to another in the name of something bigger than themselves, but rather the scoff of resentment for having to go out of the way to do good, and to be genuine about doing it. I remember as an atheist, I cared so much about what others thought of me that a lot of times, my actions were only influenced by my intention to get a reaction from the crowd. In hindsight, this indicated a lot of my actions were influenced by my desire to be accepted by others, and not by authenticity.

I witness so many secular-minded people dismissing morality as too complex to discuss, and theology as too unbelievable to process, and yet–magic seems a feasible topic because, when transfused subtly, it doesn’t require God or Jesus to be interjected in order to be validated. What also seems confusing and distorted to others–and what was distorted for me growing up in the Catholic church–is that God requires religion to initiate contact with. That is something I strongly disagree with. In fact, I detest religion, myself, as a Christian. I consider Christianity a walk of faith, not a religion, because to me–religion signifies rules, obligations, and false pretenses (“Talk the talk but not walk the walk.” Or, as another example, those who go to church and pretend to have it all together, just to leave the same way they walked in: unchanged and not trying to improve). I was raised to believe religion was the only way to God, but I’ve learned that Jesus wants intimacy; not false pretenses. I was convinced that God was a God of rules and expectations—not to mention a God who allows trauma because He is careless; but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Now I understand religion is not the way Jesus ever taught us to follow Him—He taught us the way was through HIM; through loving God, others, and ourselves, the way He loves us.

JESUS DESIRES INTIMACY

What I love about Jesus is that He doesn’t want me to come to Him uncomfortably in some formal fashion, but rather, He wants me to come to Him to build an intimate relationship with Him as Savior of my life and best friend, recognizing and worshiping His deity while also admiring His precious sin-consuming humanity (Jesus took all of our sin upon Himself when He was crucified; therefore He consumed all of our sin and paid the price for all of us at the same time). I couldn’t love Him more for that. And, if you will accept that into your heart—that is your choice, after all—could you not love Him for that as well—for being worth deifying and also worth the admiration of a best friend? Jesus is not just some character in a book; He is as real as anyone you know. I didn’t understand this truth until I was in my mid-twenties! You may not be ready yet, but I want to encourage you to open your mind and try to seek further into this truth for yourself.

My prayer for you is that you’ll come to understand whatever area of your life this represents, and that you’ll try to seek out the Truth for yourself. Whatever that means for you, I pray you will pursue this for your own sake so that you have answers where now, you have none. May you be blessed in that search, and may you do it authentically, putting intentional effort into uncovering whatever mystery is blocking you from living into the building of your soul, and not the hopes that this world will ever get you what you want. What you want is to feel important, validated, cared for, and loved. Intimacy, right? Guess what? God planted those desires in your soul, He knows what they are and why they are there; even why they are unique to you. Why don’t you try talking to Him about that, and see how He responds? It would be a great conversation starter:

“God, I’m not even sure if you exist… but You know me better than I know myself. Please help me to see you in my life, and in my heart. Help me walk away from my distortions of you, and towards the Truth that you are my loving Father. You know what is best for me, and You want that for me. Please help me to move towards what that is in my life. I have never tried trusting you before, but I want to trust you now. I’m sorry for ignoring You and not putting more time into understanding Your intentions for me. I want to try to do that now. Please meet me where I am, and help me to feel Your presence in my life now. In Jesus name.”

BE BLESSED!!

Artificial

Understanding the Finitude of Disbelief

As an atheist-turned-Christian, I have seen and experienced (and participated in) a lot of spiritual/religious contention. In fact, reminiscing on my atheistic years, I remember being the skeptic doubter to raise the questions and complaints about a world under the supreme rule of God to my friends and family. While they tried to mitigate my anger, hurt, and confusion with what came across as glib religious Bible talk, I tried to undermine their desire to help me understand the very religion they seemed hardly able to explain to themselves. Religion was cliche, faith was irrational, and unconditional love was connotative to sex.

Today, there is either an explicit, apparent, and salient disconcertion towards the idea of God; and a phlegmatic, subdued, and even numbed attitude towards the concept of morality and theology. Secularism has nearly exhausted the human heart of its attempt to grasp the fundamental importance of embracing a belief system by attempting to denude faith of its soul. That said, I don’t believe theology or morality have lost their place in the conversation; such a thick subject simply requires delicacy and endurance.

THE MIRAGE OF THE RELIGIOUSLY PIOUS

There seems to be a sanctuary being built for the spiritually nomadic to distance themselves from the community of believers obstinate in their faith in Christ. In actuality, unbelievers are distancing themselves from the mirage of the religiously pious. Understandably, there are many believers who are carried away with spiritual pride rather than humility driven by the love of Christ; however, many times what appears to be the pious from a distance just so happens to be a group of open-minded individuals genuinely trying to lead by a good example. Underneath faith, ultimately, is a soul can recognize that stepping back into the darkness is choosing to be lost once more, and by trying to be a good example, a believer reminds him or herself who it is that they answer to, and why. To the unbeliever, this appears to be brainwashing, when in fact it is the believer’s armor against believing the lie that all of life is meaningless albeit the narcissism and ephemeral bliss of naivety; that living for oneself ultimately leads to feeling unfulfilled. The human heart wants to believe there is more to life than narcissism, and when we receive Jesus’s love, we no longer feel the need to be so selfish. In fact, not only does faith make us feel fulfilled, but it reminds us how ugly living for ourselves feels, and that it contradicts the purpose of the heart: To commune; to love and be loved.

The secularist feels the need to grab something they can feel with their senses; ignoring and resisting the sense of God’s presence from within. Where God can’t intervene physically without harming us on this plane of sin, He uses humans to step in and help; and where humans cannot reach—the spirit and the soul—God plants Himself, directly.

THE REALITY OF SUFFERING

Suffering makes the argument for disbelief in God more understandable—resisting the truth of the Bible, however, does not disprove its authenticity. Further, aiming vitriol at those who respond to its invitation sincerely does nothing but legitimize Jesus’s very warning to early Christ-followers that we would experience opposition in His name.

He already knew what was coming for the generations to follow—from public ridicule and censure to martyrdom itself. There was no doubt that Jesus knew the consequences of the reality He was calling us into as believers, but He did not lead us into a war blindly; Jesus warned us of what was coming and exemplified what it means to fight with love. After claiming to be God Himself, He was crucified. But when He rose again, the promises He made and the reality of life He called us into while leading us into battle became real, and that’s when we knew that what we were fighting for carried significant purpose. Now we need have no fear of death; Jesus overcame death itself by rising from the dead. Jesus does not call us to suffer in this life for the sake of His name for nothing—He was willing to suffer and ultimately sacrifice Himself—and in doing so, He defeated the sting of death and the fear of what’s to come by giving us the hope of a painless eternity with Him.

Believing in a personal God of love we cannot “see” is the foundation of faith, but Christ-followers do not follow this belief system blindly. In fact, if you asked a Christian how they “see” God working, they would give you tangible examples of how God speaks and acts through other people. In fact, one of the main differences between believers and unbelievers is that unbelievers expect if there is a God that He should be visible with hands and feet, ears and a head; whereas believers understand if God showed Himself in His natural form on Earth it would destroy us—we look for God inside of others, since the Bible promises us Jesus lives within us through the Holy Spirit. Demanding empirical evidence of God’s existence is more naive to a believer than rational because we believe God withholds Himself for our sakes. While Christ-followers do believe in miracles, more often than not the most personal miracle to occur is the testimony of a person’s heart being surrendered to Jesus and being born again.

I empathize with atheists first because I once was an atheist myself. What changed me from disbelief to belief was curiosity, first and foremost. I wasn’t looking for Christ, mind you—I was looking for answers. I searched for purpose, and I ultimately found God. I was willing and open to other faiths, but they sounded distorted.

DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS PERSPECTIVES

For me, “blindness” really means to convince ourselves that the answer to suffering in life is to pretend we don’t really feel pain, with the intention of feeling convinced we don’t have any pain—and that is how I would define what Buddhism teaches. The detachment from desire is the Buddhist’s way of denuding pain from the human experience. But I believe there must be more purpose behind pain than for it to be detached and ignored. Would we not automatically jump to the conclusion that God is evil if we feel we must ignore our capacity for desire if some desires lead to pain, while other desires lead to blessings? Is our desire for food bad? I don’t believe so. But desire for unhealthy, fattening foods all day long, every day is. But that is a matter of self-control, readers, no? If our reason for calling God evil is because we dislike the idea that God gave us choice–to control ourselves or to be manipulated—how is that reason to call Him evil and not call ourselves unaccountable or irresponsible? Not that Buddhists call God evil, but some people who think in the vein of “God must be evil because He gives us desire” sometimes lead themselves to the Buddhist mentality to eradicate the “problem” of desire and the pain derived of desire (and the eventually loss of Earthly attainments). Since that notion has never sat well with me, I never followed Buddhism.

Hinduism seemed far too ambiguous to me with so many different gods, and no authentic, distinctive way to practice the faith. If reincarnation is the heart of Hinduism, and our lives are only “correcting our spiritual wrongs by trying again,” then logically-speaking, the motivation behind Hinduism seems more like the logic of a video game: You just retry until you make it. If that is true, then what does that say about hate, sin, and evil? That undermines free will and serves the impression that justice isn’t necessary. Basically, if all we ever have to do is try harder, then we claim accountability to grow into perfection is attainable. But if that is true, what is the purpose of justice? What would that say about our intrinsic desire to see justice for wrong-doing? Would we really say “Hitler will be given more chances to live again and learn from his mistakes,” rather than, “Justice will be served on behalf of that person’s choice to act on behalf of evil”? If we acknowledge the weight of evil, then we comprehend how important justice is. Can we really trivialize evil to the degree that justice is no longer required? I think not. Therefore, Hinduism also did not resonate with me.

PERFORMANCE ISN’T THE POINT

In other religions, we must act and perform well in order to reach God. That is exhaustive and emotionally heavy to live a life where, for everything we do “wrong”, we must perform better to make up for it. What kind of god towers over our shoulder to make sure we’re acting perfectly all the time? Is that commensurate to an unconditionally loving God—looming over our every move like a secret agent waiting to shoot an electric shock down our spine every time we act out of line?

The Christian God does not need us to perform—instead, He invites us to be loved by Him. There is no ambiguity here: Jesus died for us on His own accord so that we could be with Him forever. He never asks us to be perfect, but He asks us to love each other as ourselves, and to love God with all of our strength, all of our soul, all of our hearts, and all of our minds. That doesn’t spell perfection, that spells choice. Will we choose to love others now that we know God loves us, or will we choose to be selfish and live only for ourselves? That is not a trap or a threat, that is an invitation.

INVITATION–NOT A “THREAT”

Atheists may see this invitation in the form of a threat, as if God’s ultimatum is “worship me or suffer,” but the resistance of the invitation to love is what causes us to suffer—not punishment by God. Does that make sense? Our suffering isn’t caused by God, but by our resisting His love for us. We are naturally created to receive love from our Father, similar to how we naturally receive and believe whole-heartedly in the love of our Earthly parents. We were made in the image of God, not the image of humanity. Therefore, we were created to be loved by God, and when we resist His love, we suffer. He is not causing us to suffer, but He does give us permission to choose to resist Him, and naturally, resisting what is good for us hurts. The same way choosing not to sleep makes us tired and choosing not to eat gives us a stomachache, choosing to rebel against God hurts our spirits for as long as we live in denial.

The way a car won’t work if you won’t put gas in the gas tank, we just don’t function well if we don’t have God in our heart. We weren’t made for anything else. And when we try to believe otherwise, the disbelief in what is real hurts us inside. So, can we understand the drastic pain of hating the idea of God and calling Him evil due to suffering, when we’re the ones resisting love from the God we’re complaining about? It’s sounds contradictory and even childish, no? The atheist sees Christianity as a joke, but the Christian sees atheism as closed-minded and empty. The believer also recognizes the bitterness of the unbeliever, wanting to share the Good News to offer them the hope of Jesus. It’s only sad when an unbeliever can’t see their own contradiction of belief: They would rather stay doubtful and unfulfilled than joyful an fulfilled.

The invitation presented to us all by God has nothing to do with earning or deserving anything. There is nothing we could do to earn God’s love. Not only because we are so imperfect and flawed by our sin, but because God has already chosen to love us, regardless. The problem is never whether or not God loves us, the problem is whether or not we receive His love. Secularists may complain that God must be evil and has favorites, but there is no proof of this stated anywhere in the Bible, so this claim has no grounding. God loves equally, and He sees us the way He sees Jesus if we believe in Jesus. That is a free gift of love. Receiving it is a choice we must make, and once we do, everything changes. And that “changeby the wayis what is described by the Christian as being “reborn.”

MOVING FORWARD

Where do you stand today in your faith? Do you dismiss the idea that love is in fact a free gift of God, and not something you must earn first before asking? What about Christianity makes you question the love of God, and the sacrifice of Jesus? What loopholes have you found, and what would you like explained or uncovered? If there is anything at all, please post that in the comments below, and I will happily address anything as best as I can.

Today is a day for us to walk away from confusion and to start clearing the fog: Christ loves us! If there is anything you need to know today, it is that. The truth of life is that Jesus loves you. Whether or not you receive that is a choice you must make, but the choice you make to receive His love or to resist it is a choice that will change your life for the better or worse. You will feel pain, yes–with or without God. But without God, you will experience pain as if alone—though you are never alone. People will try to comfort you, but our energy-spans are limited. God is infinite and omnipresent; He will never leave you to your pain by yourself. God doesn’t always erase the pain in this life, but He promises us eternity without any at all if we will follow Jesus first and foremost. Jesus is the answer because He did what no man could ever do: He defeated sin on the cross. Because of that, He is our best friend and “closer than a brother.” Resist this and yes, we will suffer the feeling of being alone because God won’t force Himself upon us. But receive His love, and we will come to know the feeling of never being alone again. Receiving His love into our hearts means believing in the Truth that His love is real, it exists, and it is FOR us. Once we have it, we can never lose it! It’s ours! Receive His love and be transformed by it, loving others with the love that becomes of that transformation inside you. Jesus will lead you on this journey. He has been knocking on your door since day one. It’s time to decide whether such a loving, persistent Friend is worth letting in; one that holds the keys to hope itself. He has proven Himself worthy. Will you release your doubt and accept His love? You don’t have to deserve it, because you never will.

It’s His gift to give, and He’s handing it to you right now.

What will you do? Be blessed!

Sated

Paving the Path For Trusting God: Part 1

By and by, I feel the need to respond to secularists, atheists, and unbelievers whose questions scrutinize the Bible, its authenticity, and what it calls Christians to believe and live by. After so much skepticism, these people’s questions leave them baffled, silenced, confused, and bitter– their hearts malformed by cultural and societal misunderstandings, resenting the censure of a massive conglomeration seemingly tossing all their eggs into the basket with a dusty old book called the Bible. One of the most powerful questions–even for the Christian, is: Why should I trust God? You see, if we don’t trust God– the Source of all argument for theology, religion, morality, and faith–then we undermine those concepts altogether by claiming the Creator and Causality of such inquisition is scandalous, fake, and too ambiguous to be real, mighty, or supernatural. And if God isn’t who He claims to be– if He is not really with us today– then how can we trust Him with our lives

As a former atheist and current Christian, these questions are poignantly familiar to me, sinking right into home base with my history of disbelief years ago. The mystery of trusting the concept of a God was what instigated my departure from the Catholic church at age 11, when my parents divorced. After that, the mystery of trusting God became the seed for dark humor when I was about 14. The notion that God would do such horrible things–such as allow trauma, suffering, and death–did not match up with the type of loving God people seemed to profess that He was. How do you trust in a God who allows suffering and death? How do you trust in a God you can’t touch with your own hands—scream at while anticipating His reaction with heavy breathing and clenched fists? How do we come to try to understand this dilemma of the misunderstanding of God, and how He fits into the very relationship He calls us to be a part of? First, as I discovered, we must try to understand the context of God.

What is the space He lives in, and how does His presence and existence affect what is around Him? The Bible says God is love:

(1 John: 4:8) “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (italics mine)

The Bible gives an explicit example of the way He physically affects those around Him when anything of His true physical nature is revealed. When Moses came down the mountain after God had passed around Him– Moses’s face was literally glowing from exposure to seeing the backside of God (Exodus 33:18-34:9); not God’s face, no– His back. God warned Moses if he saw His face, He would die:

(Exodus 33:20) “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face. For no one may see me and live.”

If people would not survive witnessing God back in Moses’s day, surely they would not survive the experience today. Why is that? What is the nature of God? He is love. Then what is our nature–human natureWe are sinners.

How do we know we’re sinners? First, we have to define sin. The dictionary defines sin as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” One might think of “divine law” as represented by God’s ten commandments**, others might add that it refers to the Golden Rule (Mark 12:28-34). I refer to sin as the rebellion to, the transgression of, and the deliberate departure from– what God wants with us in our relationship with Him. Rebelling against His love is to resist it, living apart from its blessings.

When we don’t accept His love, many times that can be as simple as not thanking Him for the blessings in our lives (food, apartment/house, job, friends/family, etc.), and likely taking them for granted, rather than lifting them up with thanksgiving and gratefulness. We have a tendency to sometimes assume what we get in life, we just get, without recognizing them as blessings. Even the secularist must admit, however, that finding that random samaritan willing to help fix a flat tire is less likely to be someone who doesn’t believe in random, selfless acts of kindness without getting something in return. People hardly extend themselves without a scoff, sigh, or moan when their desire to do the deed derives their own esteem, or their own conditional supply of grace. Those who extend themselves with a smile on their face have a Source which they pull from, and this Source derives from faith in something bigger than themselves. For many, it’s the karmic belief in what comes around goes around. Others, holding to a more eternal perspective, understand loving others is their way of loving the Creator of existence, time, space, purpose, love, and reason; they extend themselves from the reservoir of faith in that Creator, knowing that He bestows His gift of love on them constantly; in turn, their response is incorrigibly the desire to share that gift with others, which just so happens to be expressed in the form of the contagious attitude reminiscent of the character of Jesus: joyful, graceful, and unconditional.   

**(The Ten Commandments are a set of guidelines meant to help us stay intimately close with God, and in harmony with one another. Many unbelievers regard the ten commandments acrimoniously with repulsion and bitterness. Perhaps the commandments feel like an unnecessary scolding for choices and lifestyles we view as innocuous. The rules of the commandments, for many, don’t seem have any basis other than inconvenience. The question then becomes: Is convenience the way to God? Secondly, if we can explain the difference between our incomplete understanding of the need for the ten commandments, and the reason for which they were originally given–we may come to grasp the truth that the ten commandments are really just lifestyle principles God requested us to instill in our lives in order for us live more fully, not just indulgently. The question which may then arise is: Do we want to be close to a God who wants to feel close to us by providing a fuller life?)

When we resist His love, we are saying one or more of these:

  1. I don’t believe in His love
  2. I don’t need His love
  3. I don’t want His love
  4. I don’t deserve His love
  5. I can’t live up to His love

Resisting what God wants for us–as a fuller life–is to claim we believe God’s intentions are not aligned with the best version of what our life could be, and instead, wresting the control of our futures out from His hands, not seeking His help or involvement. If we can understand this as the reason for the mistake of missing out on our best life, then we can understand the waste and nuisance of denying the power of God, capable and willing to create the entire cosmos for our benefit. But, for those who adhere to denial, God continually reaches out with His love, hoping we’ll surrender our resistance and choose to see His intentions as they are; authentic and rooted in love.

How can the human race put trust in a God we can’t see with our physical eyes, nor touch with our hands? How do we know when or if He hears us–or if He does or doesn’t want to respond when we ask Him a question–or how He feels when we cry out to Him in frustration? Something critical to understand about our relationship to God is the significance of the differentiation between the way we need God, and the way God doesn’t need us. It’s the most beautiful dichotomy really, because God speaks and acts through what could be just as arbitrary to Him as choosing what color underwear to put on is to us: He chooses to love a species which cannot give Him anything other than praise and worship–because He is love. Do you follow me on that train of thought? God is love–meaning–He doesn’t have a limited amount of love to distribute in specific amounts to each component of creation He makes, careful not to run out—no, He IS love, so He has an infinite supply to give from. There are no bounds, no lengths, no limits– no measurements to God’s love. We could never fit God’s love into a math equation because it would break every rule in the book. God’s love is unlimited, permanent, and forever; powerful, unshakeable, incorrigible, and it’s a decision He’s already decided on.

Is it harder or easier to trust in a God, who, despite not needing us for anything–loves us more than all of creation? Does the truth of this explanation change anything in your heart, or help you see God’s love in a different light? God’s love isn’t just comprised of some words in the Bible, His love is real and–yes–tangible. Perhaps not from his hands or arms themselves–but through others; through nature, and through circumstances— God loves us constantly

In Part 2, I will touch on ways we can see God’s love for us through creation, how we can tie that back to trusting in Him, and I will close with an example from my personal life; an explicit example of God’s love for me in my life, and, consequently—proof of God’s for us as a species.

For now, I want to leave you with some questions to ponder for the sake of your own faith journey and spiritual life. When you think of God, how do you feel? Do you feel judgment, disappointment, and frustration? Do you feel as though God only comes to you or answers you when you’re “performing well”? How do you feel God sees you as His child? How do you define the concept of God’s love in your life today, and what prevents His love from making more sense to you than it does right now? What would have to happen to cause you to consider the possibility that God loves you more than you can imagine, and that He wants you to accept that gift and let it transform your life? What is your response to an invitation like that?

May God bless you as you look inside yourself to discover these answers, growing towards freedom from confusion and the entanglement of the lies of the world and the enemy. I’ll see you in Part 2! 

Trust