Lent 2016

Losing My Religion (Part 2): how to radically lose in order to win

Do you think it is possible to lose one’s faith and remain a follower of Jesus? If you examine the caterpillar, the insect must retreat into a different mode in order to shed its skin and become a butterfly. It is in this way that I am using the term “faith,” which I take to mean a way of interacting in the world. And it is precisely this kind of faith, which is one of possibilities, that opens the person up to the reality of the Kingdom of God. Of course, “faith” doesn’t “save” someone, only Jesus who saves. Given that it is Jesus saves, remember that my name is Jon Beadle, with no resemblance to that of an insect. Thus, my second point of the three:

#2: Losing one’s religion is as much an experience as it is a rite of those committed to growing in the Kingdom of God.

I have lost my faith on at least three separate occasions. Let me explain…

  • The first was during my first ever, foreign missions trip.
    • A group of us had set out to aid the poorest of the poor in Honduras, distributing medical supplies and removing lice form the heads of some of the scrappiest, but loving, kids you could ever meet. I remember thinking to myself, how can such a good God allow this kind of poverty in the world? I nearly kicked myself the first time I thought that kind of question because I had heard it asked before by people I was trying to win over to the Kingdom of Christ. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was not a complete “loss” of my faith, but I had found myself in a situation where the former ways of understanding God and the world didn’t work anymore. And when I say they “didn’t work,” I mean that I was unable to comprehend all of the suffering around me with the former tools and was in desperate need of new ones. Fortunately, I came out the other end of that loss with a renewed faith that could handle such suffering, given that now I was responsible for my own participation in it, for I was no longer ignorant–thus responsible. But I was now able to sense a deeper chasm between the things we say we believe and the things we actually live out. Of course, I realized later on that what I believed was not so much what I said but actually what I did.
  • The second time I lost my faith was shortly after I had started a Christian group on campus, devoted to bringing the gospel to the unreached.
    • We had seen many people come to faith for the first time, as well an outbreak of signs and wonders. It was beautiful. And it was especially apparent we had increased in influence whenever professors began to show up to our meetings, engaging in beautiful conversation about reason, faith and existence after these meetings–then allowing us to pray for them. At one point, we were told by one of the higher-ups in the administration that, upon our request to baptize people in the school fountain, we were not allowed; nevertheless, he would not do anything to stop us from initiating such activity on campus. Aslan was on the move it seemed, until one afternoon, I became an atheist. Even though it was only for an hour, it is kind of odd that this occurred during Friday afternoon sermon preparation.
    • It was a moment of terror and clarity, by which I was sitting there wondering, “Is this even real, and does it matter?” All of a sudden I was awash with doubt and questions. And honestly, it felt awful. Not that I am saying that doubt is synonymous with unbelief, because I believe doubt is faiths twin brother. But I couldn’t grasp belief. And in that moment I took a personal inventory within my heart. What I discovered was shocking.
    • What was “shocking” was that I had grown weary of all the people I had poured my life into, only to turn around and walk away from Jesus. I felt under-appreciated by those who had known me the longest, and who persisted in gossiping behind my back. I also felt frustrated that even given the outbreak of salvations, I was still unsatisfied and tired. It was in that moment that I simply did what I knew to do, even though I realized I didn’t believe in “God”: I prayed. I didn’t feel anything, but deep in my body rumbled a voice that I sensed more than heard. And that voice said, “God is dead.” What I was to learn in the following few hours was not that God himself was actually nonexistent, but that my current perception of who I thought “God” was simply wasn’t going to work if I was to continue moving forward. As a result, I wrote a short talk on the simplicity of the resurrection, and that night I was able to break free from weariness and find renewed energy in the hope of a new world — what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. I was never the same.
    • I can remember going back to those old debates, specifically those between atheists and theists. What I discovered was that when someone says, “I don’t believe in God,” I needed to ask them the following question: “Describe the God you don’t believe in.” The odds are I don’t believe in that “god” either. Now, allow me the honor of telling you about the God I do believe in, and specifically, the God of Jesus Christ.
  • And lastly, I lost my faith again when my son was born.
    • I know this final point seems shocking, but hopefully you are beginning to notice a trend here. We all go through seasons of growth where we experience something that brings us to an impasse, and the former way of “knowing” is challenged and we are forced to either give up, or press on to more difficult and rewarding ventures.
    • Now, to another story. My wife and I had just left a church where a deep misunderstanding seemed to win the day, resulting in a response analogous to that old saying: Bye, Felicia! I had been working in churches since I was 19, and had already grown accustomed to the faithful wounds of the belief-police in churches who, after growing used to power, wield their ignorance at the expense of truth. Instead of desiring a leadership of dynamic understanding, they preferred a static clergy that never changed their minds about anything.
    • Now, we remained close friends with many of those beautiful people, but my wife had never experienced what we affectionately came to know as, the “whirlwind.” It was a mere 5 days after we left “Felicia” that my wife had a seizure, and nearly died. After rushing her to the hospital, the Doctor resolved to take the baby nine weeks ahead of time in order to prevent a forthcoming seizure that would definitely kill both my wife and my son. I found myself plunged into an awkward experience where I could sense the presence of God all around me, and yet I couldn’t pray.
    • It was an odd time where my wife and I could sense the hand of God holding us, but it was nearly impossible to find the words to say. People tried to give us the words by doing what is known as the silver-lining effect. “O, remember that God is in control, and that He had a good reason for risking the life of your wife to bring your son into the world early.” However well-intentioned, these silver-lining statements were logically and even “biblically” bankrupt. We needed people who would sit with us in this struggle, and we found many of them, and even more came out of nowhere, extending tremendous levels of generosity and support. I get emotional just thinking about it.
    • It was nearly two weeks into the whirlwind that we attended a local Anglican church in order to be with the saints before we returned to the hospital. The service was far different from our normative experience of church, but we discovered something unexpected: We were able to pray like it was for the first time. These people prayed in unison, recited the creeds, and took communion together. In other words, in their midst we were able to pray with them when it seemed we were unable to pray on our own. Where words had escaped us, we stumbled upon a people who were tapping into an ancient tradition of prayer that transcended doubt and uncertainty, leading us to encounter Jesus as if for the first time and discover our “prayer language” again.

What I have learned about God is that He is not static, but dynamic. Moving us into deeper and truer experiences, the limits are endless but they are hard to gain. It takes time, patience, and even humility to go to new levels in God. Unfortunately, many have chosen to get off the train before they saw the next junction. Burying themselves in scientism, agnosticism, and materialism, it is there that a deep sense of hopelessness thrives and seeks its own satisfaction apart from God, but I challenge my readers to accept the tension of life’s experiences. One never knows the good that can come from embracing the chaos of existence, only to declare, “This is not the end.”