Belief is a funny thing. There are many who would say that over the last few years my beliefs have changed. And I think they have. But what I’m beginning to realize is that it has been less about change and more about discovering what I truly believed all along.
I grew up feeling very strongly about what I believed. And there were things that I truly did believe. But there were many doubts that I could never fully shake my entire childhood. Even though my parents created a safe environment for asking questions and never told me to stop asking those questions, I always felt guilty about it. My assumption was that if I truly believed, then I would have no doubt.
In order to be free to doubt, I had to face and let go of one of the strongest beliefs I held, and that was that my salvation depended on my faith. My tradition, my family, and my culture taught me that in order to be saved from hell, I had to believe. Even if it wasn’t always clear exactly what I was supposed to believe, the focus was always on this vague idea of belief. Perhaps my truest belief was this idea that my salvation depended on my faith. It is definitely what fueled all my internal angst. When I doubted I was truly afraid that I was in danger of losing my way. When my actions didn’t match what I said I believed, I was frustrated, because I recognized somewhere subconsciously that this didn’t make sense. Dallas Willard talks to this in his book The Divine Conspiracy:
“In a setting where a social premium has been placed upon believing certain things for the sake of group solidarity, we must face the fact that human beings can honestly profess to believe what they do not believe. They may do this for so long that even they no longer know that they do not believe what they profess. But their actions will, of course, be in terms of what they actually believe. This will be so even though they do not recognize it, and they will lose themselves in bewilderment about the weakness of their ‘faith.’”
Some people live in fear that others will see what they truly believe. I was afraid that I would see what I truly believed. I hid parts of myself from myself. It was too hard to open those doors to see what was truly there because it would mean admitting that I wasn’t who I said I was, who I wanted to be. I prayed and hoped that the desire would be enough.
But still, I lived in fear. Fear that my God would somehow be shaken by my doubts. Oddly I couldn’t think clearly about it enough to realize that if my God was weak enough to fall apart under my barrage of questions, than he wasn’t a God worth believing in. Of course, the truth was that my God was in danger of being shaken by my doubts, because my God was just a picture I had made of a larger truth that stood behind it. And if what I believed most in was a picture I had constructed, than it is good to release that, even if it means having to spend a life searching for the truth that stood behind it.
I am no longer living with the same level of fear that I dealt with before. I feel freedom to ask questions that were always too hard for me to ask before. I am now willing to take the risk of being wrong, because I hope in a God who is right, and because I no longer believe it depends on me. I am joyful to be on a pilgrimage searching for truth, rather than sitting still pretending I have found it.
*Art by Seth. A visual representation of fear.