Pursuing God is my life. It’s not simply an academic pursuit. It has involved academics, but really that’s a small part of the life and the Way into which I’m trying to live. Pursuing God is more than just reading the Bible or doing a Bible study. It’s more than just going to a worship service or saying prayers. It’s more than preaching or teaching; if I stopped preaching and teaching tomorrow, it wouldn’t bring my pursuit of God to a halt. If I woke up tomorrow and didn’t have access to any Bibles in the world, I wouldn’t suddenly stop pursuing God. I believe that God is present and active in all of creation, and I think my pursuit of God reflects that belief.
I’ve learned that this makes some people uncomfortable. It might be more accurate to say that it makes some Christians uncomfortable and it confuses some atheists. Because of that, I want to talk a little bit about how I understand pursuing God.
My Belief in God Is Irrational
My belief in God isn’t an exercise in empiricism. One of the common things my atheist friends have said is that you can’t prove that God exists. I always agree; no one can prove the existence of God. Even if a person can evidence that this world (this creation) is enchanted in some way (i.e. is more than just what we see and measure, physically), that’s not proof of any particular meta-physical reality, let alone the one true God of Judeo-Christian religions.
This idea might make some readers uncomfortable, but please understand that when I say “prove,” I mean definitively, like if a person proves they were someplace at a certain time. One could provide eyewitnesses and video/photo evidence or GPS data that could all work together to show in a rather definitive way that a person was where they said they were. I don’t believe God can be proven that way. If it’s easier for you to say, “God can’t be proven scientifically or empirically,” that’s pretty much the same thing I’m saying.
That’s what I mean when I say my belief in God is irrational; it’s not based on conventional scientific evidence or empiricism. Some Christians take that admission to be heretical, because it implies that scripture (i.e. the Bible) isn’t “proof enough” of God. Some non-Christians are confused by the admission, because why would I believe in something that I freely admit can’t be proven? Maybe someday I’ll write at greater length in response to both of those positions, but for now, I just want to touch on them briefly.
The Bible as Proof
The Bible as proof of God’s existence is circular reasoning. I think that in order for the Bible to be proof of God, it has to be divine. That is, it has to have some kind of authority to testify to what we can’t prove empirically, and the best way I can think of for a text to have that kind of authority is for it to be inherently supernatural. It has to be more than just something a human being made up or wrote down.
One position some Christians take is that the Bible has that authority because it’s inspired by the Holy Spirit and is, therefore, supernatural in some sense. In order for that to be true, God (i.e. God the Spirit) has to exist; the Holy Spirit as a divine being can’t inspire a divine text if the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist.
The point is, a person has to jump in somewhere. They can believe that the Bible is divine and, therefore, authoritative enough to testify to the existence of God, or they can believe that God exists and, therefore, was capable of inspiring a divine text, which then testifies to God’s existence, or they can believe that the text and God are linked and testify to themselves (e.g. the Bible and the Holy Spirit are one and the same), etc. That’s why it’s circular. It doesn’t provide proof unless a person already believes in something within “the circle.”
I have jumped in. I believe in God. I don’t believe because the Bible proved God; I believe in the Bible and the God I find in the Bible, and I can’t remember ever not believing. That’s why I say my belief in God is irrational. No one had to prove God’s existence to me, and no one can disprove God’s existence to me. No matter what questions I’ve struggled with — no matter how my theology has changed over the years — my belief in God has never been on the table, only my understanding of God.
Believing in the Unprovable
Believing in the unprovable doesn’t bother me at least partly because I’m not out to prove God to anyone else. I see proof as being about persuasion and/or defense. That is, proof is necessary if the goal is to persuade someone of something or if the goal is to defend something from someone else. This is true even if the person I’m persuading or defending against is myself. If I’m not sure whether I believe in God, I might go seeking proof of God’s existence or non-existence. If God exists (or doesn’t exist), I can persuade myself of that, or I can defend against my own doubts.
Some atheists have tried to convince me that they only believe in things they can prove or that can be logically concluded from empirical evidence. I find that hard to believe since so much in life has to be taken on “faith.” It’s not only religious beliefs into which a person must jump.
If a doctor runs some blood tests for me and tells me the results, how far do I go before accepting those statements as fact? Do I contact the lab directly to verify if the doctor showed me the same results? Do I check that the doctor has a degree? I usually assume they do if they’re employed at a hospital, but what if they’re a quack or a very good con artist? Do I check the credentials of the university from which the doctor received the degree? Do I check the accrediting body that gave the university those credentials? Do I check the people who certified or recognized the accrediting body? And so on…
Just like with my belief in God, everyone has to jump in somewhere. There’s no such thing as a purely empirical system of beliefs. At some point, everyone has to have “faith” in something. Is it really so confusing that I believe in a God who can’t be proven? In the big scheme of things, it’s hardly a stone’s throw from any other unproven belief.
I understand that a person can decide how much evidence they need before they consider something to be proven. For example, if I check that my doctor has a degree, that the degree is from a reputable and accredited university, and that the accrediting body seems legitimate, that might be enough for me to decide the doctor’s authority is “proven,” but see my post about the problem of first premises for why I think that sort of linear reasoning is insufficient.
My belief in God is irrational, but it’s still my belief. It’s where I started, and I haven’t encountered any good reason to abandon it. It seems equally irrational to abandon it for no reason, although I’ve found many good reasons to “correct” my theology.
What Does This Have to Do with Pursuing God?
I believe that God is, and I believe that God is God. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with God. I’m drawn to God in deeply impelling ways. I not only believe that God exists, but I also believe in God. I believe in God the way a person might believe in a partner or significant other. I trust in God to be there, because I believe that God has always been there. I believe in what God has done and what God is doing, and so I trust and hope in what God will do.
Because I believe in God — because I trust in God — I desire after God, and because I believe God is in all creation, I believe God can be encountered in my whole life. That’s what I meant when I said that pursuing God is my life. It’s a holistic journey of discovering that which is other and divine. It’s the pursuit of God that characterizes my faith.
In other words, it’s not a pursuit of Christians. It’s not a pursuit of intellectual knowledge. It’s not a pursuit of status or titles. It’s not a pursuit of belonging to one group or another. It’s not a pursuit of acceptance or recognition. All of those things inform, and are informed by, my pursuit of God, but it’s God that I pursue.
When groups of Christians do things that I think are completely antithetical to how I understand God, it doesn’t shake my faith in God. It only shakes my faith in those groups of Christians. When a passage in scripture seems to contradict my understanding of God, it doesn’t shake my faith in God. It only causes me to question my understanding. My faith in God is not what’s on the table; God is the core of what I pursue. Everything else is peripheral; everything else in on the table.
Any Christians who think I’m losing my faith to secularism or pluralism or postmodernism or “denominationalism,” etc. misunderstand my faith. My faith was never on the table, because God isn’t rooted, for me, in any particular expression of Christianity or interpretation of scripture. I don’t need to prove God to myself or anyone else, so there’s no fear of God being disproved to me. I’m free to pursue God wherever the Holy Spirit leads me, and I’m free to create safe spaces for the voices of others without worrying about whether their beliefs match my own.
Any non-Christians who wonder why I choose Christianity misunderstand my faith. I didn’t “choose” Christianity. I wasn’t reasoned into a belief in God or a belief in the resurrection. It’s what I believe. I don’t need to be able to prove any of it to myself or anyone else. I’m free to pursue a God who was before “Christianity” even existed. I’m free to listen to the beliefs of others without threat and without expectation.
My wife sometimes asks me why I love her. I don’t have an answer for her. If I say, “I love you because…” then no matter how I end that sentence, it never succeeds in capturing the reality of my love; I love my wife. I can’t articulate why, and I can’t boil it down to a list of things. I simply do. It’s a part of who I am, and I love her more and more every year.
In a similar way, I love God, and I pursue God; it’s who I am, and it isn’t rooted in any particular expression of Christian faith. God is God regardless of what I or any other of his self-proclaimed followers do or think, and that is the God I pursue.
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