Recently a friend of mine issued a challenge via Facebook: he claimed that he could tear anyone's religion apart in an argument and make that person look like a fool. Now, I actually tend to avoid those arguments; I am well aware that if someone is determined to tell me that I'm wrong and call me a fool, he or she will do so no matter what I say. Something about my friend's challenge intrigued me, however. I decided to send him a Facebook message. "Ok, I'll bite," I told him. "So you think you can make me look like a fool for believing in God? Really, I'm interested in how you're going to tear my beliefs apart. :)" What am I doing? I wondered as I sent the message. What good can I possibly do by answering this challenge?
The truth is, I needed an outlet. I have become so frustrated with Christianity as it exists in the mainstream. I'm at a conservative Christian Bible college. I am surrounded by people who I'm sure mean well, but who fail to understand that hit-and-run evangelism (throwing Jesus at people immediately upon meeting them and expecting them to pray and "ask Jesus into their hearts" right there on the spot) is very rarely effective. Most people don't respond well to being beaten over the head with the Bible. Unfortunately, that's exactly what many people expect when they encounter a person claiming to be a Christian. Shaming people into "faith" isn't Christianity. If a Christian is a person who is supposed to follow the example of Christ, then a Christian should be a person who loves other people. If you read the gospels, you'll notice that Jesus didn't hang out with the militantly "holy" religious leaders of His day. He spent his time with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other such "unholy" people. And He loved them. He didn't give them verbal beatings about their sins. He loved them, and because He loved them, they followed Him.
As I started writing about my beliefs, they actually became progressively easier to articulate. I realized that, if that is in fact the case, I should be writing about what I believe more often. My friend's two biggest questions (after he decided not to call me a fool, since I actually respected his views, unlike the other people who had decided to take him up on his challenge) were, "How can God be all loving and still allow pain?" and "Why do Christians claim that they're the only ones that are right and everyone else is wrong?" I've done a bit of reprocessing and condensing so that my thoughts are (hopefully) a bit better organized, and this is what I've come up with so far.
I don't have the answers. I wish I did, but I don't. I guess in the end my line of reasoning is that if God exists, and He is good, then He must also be loving. I don't know why there has to be suffering in the world other than this: God, in love, gave us free will, the power to make our own choices. Some people use that power to do horrible, horrible things. It sucks, but if we weren't allowed to make our own mistakes, we wouldn't have free will. I don't know why innocent people have to suffer the consequences of the mistakes of others, but it happens, and I have to believe it's for a reason, and that God's heart is broken when He sees what a mess we’ve gotten ourselves into with our power to choose. He could stop suffering, yes...but He'd be making us into robots. He'd be taking away the very freedom that makes us human.
Christians believe they are the only ones who are "right" because if a person believes the Bible to be absolutely true, there's simply no other option. Jesus said: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." In other words, Christ's sacrifice is the only way to salvation. Personally, I do believe that. However, I also believe that there is truth in other religions. I don’t think that other religions have the whole truth, but there's truth there. I also believe that God is bigger than institutionalized religion, and that He can work in ways I can't understand to bring people to Him. I’m not denying that Christ is the only way; I’m just denying that Christians are the ones who save people. That is God’s job, and He knows how to do His job a lot better than I do.
What sets Christianity apart from other religions is the belief in a God who is personal, who is deeply interested in your life, who loves you completely, and who wants to have a relationship with you. It sounds corny, but I can honestly say that God is my best friend. I sincerely believe that God has carried me this far, and that He'll continue to do so. Sometimes I run away and get myself into trouble. Even when I'm trying really hard and things are going really well with me and God, shit happens. I just believe that I can lean on the Creator of the universe for support when life gets crazy. There was a time in my life when I did try to walk away from God completely. I have never felt as alone as I did then. It terrified me. I felt like I was completely lost in the vastness of the universe, like I was completely helpless (and I’m not exactly a helpless sort of person). With God in my life, I still get lonely, but it’s never as...absolute as it was then. There's this undercurrent of peace in my life that comes from believing that no matter what happens, God is still God, and He is still good, so somehow, things will work out. Life still gets chaotic and crazy and I still have days and weeks and months when I'm depressed and maybe even suicidal. Life still sucks, but it sucks less knowing I've got the Creator of the universe to rely on. I'm a control freak. I'm independent. The idea that God is really the one in control sometimes makes me want to run away screaming, because I want to believe that I'm really in charge. In the end, though, there's something beautiful and relieving about knowing that I'm still responsible for what I do, and I really fuck things up sometimes, but God still somehow has a plan and a purpose for the world and for my life that's so much bigger than what I can understand. I might not know the plan, but I know it's there, and I can see it unfolding if I stop and pay attention. Sometimes I take really big detours, but it's there. It's actually...comforting to know that there's Someone in my life bigger, stronger, and wiser than I am...Someone who doesn't make mistakes and who won't turn His back on me when I do make them.
I know my answers aren't anything particularly original or special, but that's what they are. I'm not going to take my Bible and beat you with it. I'm not going to tell you you're a horrible person if you don't believe what I do. I can disagree with you and still respect you as a person. I guess I'm just asking for the same respect in return.